Chandler resident John Anderson has always had an appreciation for the Old West. It stems from his relation to a Los Angeles policeman named James Woodard, who happened to be friends with famous Western lawman Wyatt Earp.
“When you’re growing up you hear about the O.K. Corral and the famous gunfight and the lawmen of the early West,” Anderson said. “It was pretty interesting; I was always attracted to that kind of story.
“So, growing up and knowing that I had a relative that hung out with this guy was really cool.”
Anderson has a collection of more than 1,500 firearms locked away in a vault equipped with all kinds of lasers and sensors capable of giving Fort Knox a run for its money.
Two of the guns on their own may not strike anyone as overly impressive: a Winchester lever-action shotgun and a Remington cap-and-ball revolver. What makes them impressive, however, is their respective former owners — the shotgun belonged to Earp, while the revolver belonged to Earp’s father, Nicholas Porter Earp.
Anderson bought the guns and a collection of documents — 18 crates worth to be exact — from the estate of Glenn Boyer, a famous Wyatt Earp historian and author, from an auction at J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale in April.
The first day that news broke of the auction, Anderson said he received approximately 10 emails asking if he was going to attend.
Of course he was going to be there, and he ended up being one of more than 6,000 bidders there in person, over the phone or online, said Josh Levine, owner of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal.
Anderson had heard of Boyer before and had met him and even bid against him at other gun auctions. But Boyer was a controversial figure in the world of Earp history. He authored three books and numerous articles on the Earp family but was called into question when it was discovered he may have embellished or fabricated portions of his books.
That cast suspicion on the authenticity of some of the items at the auction, including its star, a .45-caliber Colt revolver that was supposedly owned by Earp and, possibly, used at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
The identifying serial numbers on the revolver had been filed off, making it almost impossible to verify that it was in fact Wyatt Earp’s. Anderson wasn’t going to risk bidding on an item that may not have been what it was claimed to be.
“Was it the one from the O.K. Corral? I don’t believe it was …,” he said. “I didn’t even bid on it because, truthfully, I don’t believe it was the pistol. I only bid on the things that I know are factual, that are historical, that are known and accepted by collectors and experts.”
Earp’s Colt may have had questions around it, but there were no such questions regarding the lever-action shotgun, which Anderson picked up for a cool $50,000. The shotgun was verified through the records of Bill Miller, Earp’s nephew.
The shotgun was appraised at $125,000, so the fact it sold for so little surprised Levine.
“It was my favorite piece because of its condition,” he said. “There was no controversy around the piece. It was just ‘this is Wyatt Earp’s shotgun.’ I just thought that was the best piece provenance-wise and everything, in my opinion.”
Originally, Anderson had “no intentions of bidding whatsoever,” on any of the items at the auction, but when he saw that the prices of the items weren’t as high as he anticipated, he had a change of heart.
“I’m watching this thinking ‘OK, I want to see who’s bidding on this,’ and they got up to $20,000, $22,000 and I looked to my son and said ‘this is ridiculous,’ one of those boxes is worth $22,000,” he said. “(His son) said ‘Are you gonna bid?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna bid. If it goes like this, I’ll keep it and give it to a museum just to save it.’ ”
That is exactly what Anderson plans to do. He believes the guns and records are something that should be shared with the public. He is looking for an accredited museum that will both display the items and promise not to turn around and sell them.
It’s that spirit of preservation and appreciation of history that compelled Anderson to buy the guns and the thing that motivates him to keep them in the area they are from.
“If we don’t preserve this stuff now, it’s going to be gone forever,” he said.