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Wyatt Earp, the West's tough gunman, poses for family photo

August 17, 2012|By John M. Glionna
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It’s run of the mill as family photos go, but this snapshot includes some folks who are pretty special to the heart of Americana: Wyatt Earp and his family in a wedding photograph that collectors are calling the Old West’s First Family.

The sepia-toned studio shot is the only known record of the male portion of the Earp clan and it's going under the hammer this weekend in a Reno event called the Hot August Auction.

“We don’t know what it’s worth, but it could be a lot,” auctioneer Fred Holabird told the Los Angeles Times. “It came from a California collection and we know it’s legitimate.”

The two-day, 1,700-lot auction at a downtown Reno casino is being staged by Holabird’s company, which advertises itself as “Rediscovering History; Remembering Legends; Collecting the West.”

Other lots include saloon, brothel and Old West items, including a large selection of railroad icons and a large selection of broadsides, or posters, Holabird said.

Before the advent of electronic media, Holabird explained, newspapers, magazines and hand-delivered leaflets were the only way for advertisers to get the word out. They also placed large signs in common areas to announce an event, show or service. These broadsides served as a sort of printed town crier, with bold lettering and often colorful illustrations, he said.

The wedding photograph shows the legendary Earp; his father, Nicholas;  brothers Morgan, Virgil, James and Warren; and a half-brother, Newton. The photo was taken in Dodge City in 1875, during the wedding ceremony of Morgan and Louisa (Lou) Earp and shows Morgan surrounded by his groomsmen.

Years later, Wyatt Earp’s participation in the bloody 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., the American West’s most infamous gun battle, would seal his place as one of the toughest gunmen in the Old West.

Holabird said he hopes the Earp photo brings the same interest as the the famous "Billy the Kid" daguerreotype that sold in 2011 for over $2 million.

“We got this photo with a question mark, and we knew that if it wasn’t real, we didn’t want it,” he said.

He sent the picture out for forensic analysis and soon received some good news. “The guy said ‘You’re not going to believe this, but every person in that photo is matching. It’s authentic,’ ” Holabird said.

He said such photos are rare not only because it’s the Earp clan but because of the nature of the Old West. “Families moved from place to place,” he said. “They threw things out. That’s why we don’t have a lot of records left.”

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john.glionna@latimes.com

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