|By Eric C. Rodenberg
VENTURA, Calif. – “You never know what’s going to walk through this door,” says John Eubanks from California Auctioneers. “This is the kind of thing that keeps me going after 40 years in the business.”
What came through Eubanks’ door was “The Picnic Image,” a late 19th century tintype of Wild West icons Morgan Earp (brother of Wyatt Earp), gunslinger-gambler-dentist Doc Holliday and his paramour Kate Horony, infamously known as “Big Nose Kate.”
The tintype will be sold by California Auctions in Ventura, Calif. on July 28.
The tintype appears to portray a festive occasion – a picnic in the Dragoon Mountains, just outside of Tombstone, Ariz. Dressed in their “Sunday best,” Earp is wearing decorative suspenders and has a sleeve garter on his right arm, customarily worn by gamblers to permit more ease in dealing cards. It also served as a subtle sign that he was dealing a “square hand” of cards: nothing up the sleeve.
Gunslingers also typically wore the garter, giving them more freedom of movement when they went for their gun. Earp was both a gunslinger and gambler. He was also serving as Tombstone’s Special Policeman around the time the picture was taken, presumably by Erwin Baer, a portrait and landscape photographer from nearby Prescott, Ariz.
On the reverse side of the tintype is a date, 4/24/81, which was Earp’s 30th (and last) birthday. Sitting behind him and to his left is his wife, Louisa Alice Houston, who he married sometime between 1871 and 1877. Before arriving in Tombstone, Morgan Earp had served as a deputy marshal at the raucous cowboy town of Dodge City, Kan.
Morgan and Wyatt Earp served as deputies in Tombstone under the town marshal Virgil Earp, their older brother.
It appears to be convivial, tranquil period with friends and family crowded around Morgan Earp who appears to be the center of attention. If the date on the reverse is the true date of the tintype, it is only six months prior to the legendary “shootout at the O.K. Corral.”
On the extreme right of the tintype is a consumptive Doc Holliday, who was also deputized by Virgil Earp. A close friend of Morgan Earp, he is reputed to have killed more than a dozen men. Holliday, who is the same age as Morgan Earp, appears much older in the picture. He died in 1887 at the age of 36 years old from tuberculosis, the same disease that claimed his mother when he was 15 years old.
Holliday, originally from Georgia, is thought to have contracted the tuberculosis from his mother while tending to her needs when the disease was in a contagious stage. He moved to the Southwest, hoping to find some relief from the disease. His condition did little to advance his dental practice and he turned to gambling as a more lucrative profession.
Sitting to his right is Mary Katherine “Big Nose Kate” Horony, a dance hall woman and occasional prostitute that Holliday met while dealing cards in Texas. “It was true that Kat’s nose was prominent,” according to The Tombstone News, “but the rest of her was quite attractive. … Tough fearless and high tempered she worked at the business of being a prostitute because she liked it. She belonged to no man or no madam’s house but plied her trade as an individual in the manner she chose.”
At press time, California Auctioneers had not put an estimate on the tintype. It has been authenticated by Kent Gibson Forensics, best known for authenticating the Billy the Kid tintype which was purchased in 2011 for $2.3 million by collector William Koch.
Gibson identified Earp, Holliday and Horony by using computer-generated facial recognition procedures, comparing the tintype with known authentic photographs of the trio. The other figures in the tintype have not been identified.
The tintype has been in storage for 40 years, according to consignor Tom Anderson of Southern California.
“I bought it around 40 years ago among 60 or 70 other tintypes at an antique shop in the Southwest,” Anderson told AntiqueWeek. “I asked the shop owner who brought it in, and he said, ’just some old-timer.’ He didn’t think much about it; he just wanted to get rid of them.”
Anderson said he was recently digging through his storage area and ran across the tintype, thinking possibly the heavily mustached man was Morgan Earp. “When I bought these tintypes, there was no Internet,” the 60-year-old Anderson said. “But I got to looking at existing photos of the Earps and Doc Holliday and I thought there might be a similarity.
“Getting it authenticated has taken a lot of time, effort and frustration, but it would have been impossible without the technology that exists today. We’ve identified it as taken in the Dragoon Mountains, that part hasn’t changed. The Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday features are good matches. You can’t see it in the tintype, unless you really enlarge it, but Holliday is wearing a red ruby gambler’s ring on his pinkie finger.
“You look at Holliday who is just wasting away, and Morgan Earp’s last birthday, and it’s kind of sad in a way.”
Also selling in a separate lot is an account of the legendary “shoot out at the O.K. Corral” in the Oct. 29, 1881 Sacramento Bee. “This is the longest and most descriptive account on O.K. Corral that I’ve seen,” said Auctioneer Jewels Eubanks from California Auctioneers. “It is described as a “Coast Dispatch,” meaning that it was news that went from coast to coast. It was big news at the time, and soon to become legendary.”
On Oct. 26, 1881, merely months after the spring picnic, the Earp brothers, Morgan, Virgil and Wyatt, along with Doc Holliday, confronted the outlaw Cochise County Cowboys at O.K. Corral. The Cowboys had been threatening to kill the Earps for several weeks.
On Fremont Street in an alley between the Harwood House and Fly’s Boarding House and Photography Studio, the two parties squared off about 6 feet to 10 feet from each other. Ike Clanton, who had been threatening the Earps, and Billy Clanton fled the scene. But the Earps and Holliday got the drop on brothers Tom and Frank McLaury, along with Billy Clanton, and blew them to bits.
Morgan was clipped by a shot across his back, Virgil was shot through the calf and Holliday was grazed by a bullet.
Two months after the gunfight, in December 1881, Virgil Earp was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt. By February 1882, the situation in Tombstone was heating up, and Morgan sent his wife to live with her parents in California. Morgan stayed to backup his brothers.
On March 1882, Morgan was shooting a late game of billiards at the Campbell & Hatch Billiard Parlor. Shooting through the upper half of 4-pane windowed door, an assailant shot Morgan in the back. His brothers tried to help him stand, “Don’t I can’t stand it,” Morgan Earp said. “This is the last game of pool I’ll ever play.”
The shot was fatal. Morgan’s murder set the stage for a vendetta lead by his brother Wyatt, who deputized a group of loyal friends to hunt down the murderers. At the time, serving as a deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp deputized Warren Holiday, Doc Holliday, Sherman McMaster, Jack “Turkey Creek” Johnson, Charlie “Hairlip Charlie” Smith, Daniel “Tip” Tipton and John “Texas Jack” Vermillion, paying them $5 a day.
During the “Earp Vendetta Ride,” the federal posse killed four men thought to have been associated with Morgan’s assassination. Although accounts differ, and several conflict, Tucson Justice of the Peace ultimately issued arrest warrants for members of the posse. As persona non grata, Wyatt, Virgil and Doc Holliday left Tombstone for various parts of what was still the Wild West.
The death of Morgan Earp and the resulting repercussions was a far cry from that idyllic picnic captured in the Dragoon Mountains.
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