One of my on-going research projects involves Soapy's time spent in Tombstone, Arizona. This led to another research project which entails just how much control and political clout the local bunco men had in Tombstone and the surrounding towns. It was when I found that the Tucson Daily Citizen accused police officer Morgan Earp of being in league with a bunco gang in 1881 that I started participating on the Tombstone History Discussion Forum to learn more.
From the very start I was not popular with some of the posters who believed the Earp's were not capable of operating on the wrong side of the law. Soapy and Wyatt Earp knew one another, as did some of those who associated with Wyatt, such as "Big Ed" Burns and "Texas Jack" Vermillion. The research I was working on uncovered bits of history that put dings in Wyatt Earp's shiny armor. My goal was not to hurt the Earp's, but rather to find out the truth about who controlled Tombstone's underworld, to what extent, and who were their allies and enemies. Unfortunately for those historians who believe the Earp's were incorruptible I began uncovering clues that indicate the Earp's might have been directly involved with the bunco gangs. Past blog posts I've written dealing with this research can be found at the following links: Nov 13, Sept 25, Mar 23, Jan 7.
In the October 2010 issue of Wild West magazine Earp historian Lee Silva published the article, The Mysterious Morgan Earp. In that article I found another clue. It may mean nothing but it belongs in the files none-the-less. Lee quoted the following newspaper article.
Daily Pioneer, July 25, 1878
“Mr. Morgan Earpt [sic] arrived last evening from the Tongue River, which he left about three weeks ago. At Miles City, he found Doc Baggs, Jim Levy and Mike Smith. They did not appear to have any objective point but said they were going in the direction of Bear Paw and would not stop so long as anyone led the way. On the trip, he estimates that his party passed 500 stampeders, most of whom were not well armed and provisioned for the expedition, and some were quite destitute.”
With the determination to find out more I posted the following on the Tombstone History Discussion Forum and received some interesting replies.
Morgan Earp and Doc Baggs?
Mon Aug 16, 2010 16:10
“In the article is a reference that Morgan met up with "Doc Baggs." Does anyone have any more on this? Was there another "Doc Baggs" or could it actually be Charles "Doc" Baggs, the famed fake gold brick bunko man?”
Wed Aug 18, 2010 13:11
Years before you came to the boards I connected Morg Earp with Doc Baggs. They would have met in Deadwood the year before (1877). In the 1878 article (which was partially quoted) Baggs, Leavy and Mike [sic Ed] Smith had just come from Deadwood.
So what's the connection?
Wed Aug 18, 2010 13:16
Why was Morgan Earp connecting with a well-known and successful confidence man?
Re: So what's the connection?
Wed Aug 18, 2010 15:37
When I use the word “connection” it is a general term. I am known for having dissected Deadwood and environs inside out, and six ways from Sunday. I could put together a very long list of gamblers who were there during the period specific interest - the boom years of 1876 - 1878. Make that a humongous list. I’ve studied their comings and goings from the passengers list on coaches back and forth to Sidney, Cheyenne, Pierre, Bismarck, and even Chicago coming and goings. Any gambler like Morgan Earp would know who the big names were in Deadwood, like Baggs, “Shang,” Billy Nuttall, Ed Chase, Storms, “Dublin,” Mulqueen; just to name a few. I also know why Baggs and Ed Smith needed a timely vacation from Deadwood because Judge Burke was trying to nail them in Justice Court - for you know what - nutshell swindling.
Upon arriving at Miles City the trio mentioned would have gone to check out the finest sporting joint in town, where Earp served as guardian up until July 5 or 6. But no bunko was carried on in that high-class place - just the basic variation of layouts plus sample room.
You can read more about "Doc" Baggs on this blog in a six part expose I wrote, at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.
"Doc" Baggs: pp. 61-62, 72, 75-76, 80, 82, 85, 88, 90, 135, 242, 254.
Wyatt Earp: pp. 74, 78, 84-85, 91-92, 163, 176, 224-25.
Morgan Earp: 78, 92.