Famous people passed through San Diego on their way to, or from, history. These “temporary” San Diegans were here for weeks, sometimes years.
WYATT EARP: Came to San Diego with his common-law wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus “Sadie” Earp, between 1885 and 1888. The dates vary, because during that period Earp made several trips. In the 1870s, San Diego and Tombstone, Arizona, site of the OK Corral shootout, traded populations every few years, or so it seemed. Stewart: “There had been quite a bit of running back and forth between San Diego and Tombstone. After the boom of the early 1870s died in San Diego, and things were picking up in Tombstone, they said that every second man you met on the streets of Tombstone was from San Diego. One whole store, Whitfield’s Drug Store, even was moved by freight wagons to the Arizona territory town. Then when things began booming in San Diego in the mid-1880s, the tide turned the other way.”
Earp came here as a real estate speculator, not as “Wyatt Earp, lawman” (in local directories he listed himself as a “capitalist”). He built three gambling halls: one on Sixth next to the Hotel St. James, one on E Street near Sixth, and one on Fourth, across from the plaza, between D and E. Patrons played faro, blackjack, poker, and keno.
In 1885 Earp won a racehorse, Otto Rex (“fellow named Jim Leach sorta donated him to me in a poker game”). This began a 12-year venture as an owner — and sometimes jockey — of racehorses. His colors were navy blue polka dots on a white field. He ran trotters at the American Driving Park (a racetrack, built in 1887, now the site of Mossy Ford, on Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach) and on the California circuit.
“Those were the days,” writes Josie Earp, “when San Diego was coming out of its Mexican serape and putting on an American suit. The tourists hadn’t got there yet, thank goodness. We were visiting Coronado across the bay when it was subdivided into the lots they built all those old mansions on. The lots were sold from a big tent, and it seemed like a circus to me. This was my first experience with a real-estate boom. We saw the foundations laid for the old Hotel del Coronado. It became a ritzy spot.
“It may surprise you to know that Wyatt was fond of the theater and was especially partial to Shakespearean plays. When he heard that the famous Lillie Langtry was to appear in As You Like It, he bought tickets.”
Restless nomads, ever in search of the big payoff, the Earps were most fond of movement. In 1892, they sold everything and headed for the Klondike. In their last years together, they “wintered” in Vidal, California (near Parker, Arizona), and “summered” in Los Angeles. Earp died in 1929. He was 81. Josie lived to 83.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD: Enlisted in the Marines October 24, 1956, six days after his 17th birthday. He learned to fire an M-1 rifle at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruiting Depot’s Edson Range. The Marines have three rankings for riflemen: Marksman, Sharp- shooter, and Expert. On December 21, 1956, Oswald scored 212 (out of 250) on the Range’s A course. He qualified as a Sharpshooter by 2 points. Brown: “On May 6, 1959, he was barely able to fire a 191, only one point above marksman, the lowest designation you can achieve without disqualifying your- self from Marine Corps duty.”
ROY BEAN: San Diego’s first mayor, sworn in January 10, 1850, was Joshua Bean. His official title was alcalde, which “was something between a mayor, a police judge, and a Lord High Executioner.” (Sonnichsen) He also became major general of the state militia and was instrumental in capturing the renegade Antonio Garra, who referred to him as “General Frijol.”
Joshua’s younger brother, Roy, fled to San Diego for sanctuary. He had shot a man between the eyes in Chihuahua. Old Town was a dusty little pueblo, and Roy had an ingrained impulse to stand out in small arenas. According to Major Horace Bell, one of his few close friends, Roy “was soon prancing around the old town appareled in all the gay trappings of a California caballero on a spirited steed with silver- mounted saddle and bridle, and became the beau ideal of the aristocratic señoritas.”
Joshua left San Diego in 1851 (he was murdered in San Gabriel, by several assassins, in 1852). Roy stuck around San Diego but got in a duel with a boastful Scotsman named Collins. Somebody suggested, instead of an ordinary gunfight, they should fire at each other on horse-back. When Sheriff Agostin Haraszthy heard about it, he said they could shoot it out, just aim away from spectators.
The duel took place February 24, 1852, on Old Town’s main street. Since spectators lined both sides, “It was hard to shoot without knocking over a few... Back and forth and round and round the duelists galloped, jockeying for position. Finally Roy cut loose, winged Collins, then shot his horse out from under him.” (Sonnichsen) The sheriff stopped the duel, charged both men with assault with intent to murder, and put them in jail.
The jail was the pride of Old Town. Everyone believed it was “as safe as the United States Treasury,” because it combined cobblestones with a brand- new material, concrete. Ever the romantic, Major Bell swears that adoring señoritas helped him; others said inebriated natives. In either case, Roy escaped from jail on March 6, 1852.
He headed to San Gabriel and eventually to Texas, where he became Judge Roy Bean, justice of the peace of Langtry (like Wyatt Earp, Bean adored Miss Lillie — so much, in fact, he named his town after her). Instead of the dashing gringo-caballero ofOldTown,Bean“drank too much and washed too little” and labeled himself “the Law West of the Pecos.”
JEAN BAPTISTE CHARBONNEAU: If it weren’t for his mother, Charbonneau would be more famous in his own right. Everywhere he went, history happened. The American frontier, in fact, often advanced with him.
As a teenager he toured Europe with Prince Paul of Würtemburg. He spoke at least six languages. He was one of the first fur-trapping mountain men. He served under General Stephen Watts Kearny and was one of the chief scouts for the Mormon Battalion, famous for their arduous 2000-mile trek across the Southwest that remains the longest infantry march in United States history. While riding on a mule, he searched for water and routes the wagons could traverse, across rivers and through mountain passes. Some compared his skills to Kit Carson, and, thanks in no small measure to Baptiste’s guidance, the battalion forged a trail on which “two railroad lines and a much-used highway were later built.” (Tinling)
A friend of James Marshall, who discovered gold near Sutter’s Mill January 24, 1848, Charbonneau was among the first of the 49ers. He prospected at Murderer’s Bar, on the middle fork of the American River, where he lived in a “village of canvas.”
Charbonneau lived history. Yet people remember him for a journey he made as an infant on his mother’s back. He was born at Fort Mandan, February 11, 1805. His father was Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader, and his mother was a 16-year-old Shoshone woman named Sacagawea. Baptiste was two months old when his parents joined Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition as guides and interpreters. He was 18 months old when their journey ended.
Funkhouser: “Sacagawea carried him all the way across the country and back again. When she rode through rapids in a dugout canoe, she rode with her baby; when food was scarce, both she and her baby went hungry.”
On February 24, 1847, Baptiste became alcalde at Mission San Luis Rey. Since the mission had become secularized, it had fallen into disrepair. Tinling: “The California governor recommended him for the post because he had a reputation for trust- worthiness and because he spoke Spanish, a language the Indians at the mission understood.”
Baptiste discovered that the natives were the landowners’ economic prey. José Pico, for example, ran the mission’s store. He charged Flujencio, a native, $51.37 for “whiskey and other goods” and demanded payment. Tinling: “According to the law, Baptiste was obliged to sentence the laborer, whose pay was twelve and a half cents a day, to work for Pico until the debt was paid. Because the man had little chance ever to pay off his debt, the sentence was equivalent to slavery.”
Baptiste lasted eight months at the mission. Tinling: “In July 1848...he decided he could no longer enforce such unfair regulations.” In his resignation, Baptiste wrote, “A half-breed Indian of the U.S. is regarded by the people as favoring the Indians more than he should do, and hence there is much complaint against him.”
Baptiste went north, to the goldfields. He died May 16, 1866, at a stage- coach stop near Danner, Oregon. He was headed to the Montana Territory. Tinling: “It is appropriate that Baptiste died on the trail, like the adventurer he was.”
SOURCES CITED: Brown, Walt, The People vs. Lee Harvey Oswald (Car- roll & Graf, 1992)
Earp, Josephine Sarah Marcus, I Married Wyatt Earp, ed. Glenn G. Boyer (University of Arizona Press, 1976)
Funkhouser, Erica, “Finding Sacagawea,” Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (Knopf, 1999), pp. 176–183
Sonnichsen, C.L., Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos (Macmillan, 1943)
Stewart, Don M., Frontier Port: A Chapter in San Diego’s History (Ward Ritchie Press, 1965).
Tinling, Marion, Sacagawea’s Son: The Life of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau (Mountain Press, 2001)