Between the years 1917 through 1928 Wyatt Earp (shown) and his wife Josephine took residence in a home in Vidal, California. It was here that the Earp’s would spend their winters in a cottage Mrs. Earp called her dream home. The home was located on Highway 62 east of Palm Springs and was situated near Wyatt Earp’s mining claims. Vidal was just a tiny dot on the map but there were railroad tracks a short distance from the front of the Earp home. The Southern Pacific Railroad had a station there and a passenger service between Phoenix and Los Angeles. On the other side of the tracks in view from the Earp’s home was the town’s general store. The store was owned by Charles Bunnell where residents could find their needed provisions. It was also a place where Wyatt could find an occasional card game to pass his time. It was a happy and peaceful time where the aging Earp’s would enjoy their golden years.
One day in 1922, a male subject traveling from Arizona departed the Southern Pacific train when it made a scheduled stop in Vidal to board and discharge passengers. This passenger was armed and headed for the Vidal General Store. The proprietor of the store, Charles Bunnell, was working in the store as usual. We do not know the identity of the holdup man. This person’s identity is lost to history and was only referred to in the local newspaper as “the bad man.” Upon arrival at the store “the bad man” drew his gun and started waving it around in different directions. The man was there to commit a robbery and Mr. Bunnell saw the man with his gun and without delay made his escape from the store. The perpetrator was left alone in the store. As soon as Charles Bunnell retreated from his store, he contacted Constable Jim Wilson for help. Constable Wilson, a man in his seventies was the sole officer in the town and under the circumstances he desperately needed back-up. Ordinarily, back up would be provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. However, it would be several hours before the closest deputy could respond. This fact was due to the enormity of the size of San Bernardino County and how widespread the Sheriff’s deputies were spread out.
While these events were unfolding Wyatt Earp now a man well into his seventies, was standing nearby when, a desperate Constable Wilson requested his assistance. Without hesitation Wyatt came to the aid of this officer and both men proceeded to the store. Constable Wilson had worked out a plan in which Wyatt Earp would enter through the front door; he would enter from the rear. The plan was that Wyatt would flush out the robber causing him to run towards the rear door to make his escape. Then the waiting Constable Wilson would stop the robber and place him under arrest. Constable Wilson was armed and would use deadly physical force if necessary to affect the arrest. Upon entering the store, Wyatt Earp found the armed subject and walked up to him. In a strong commanding voice Wyatt Earp announced “My name is Wyatt Earp, hand over that gun!” The perpetrator was stunned to be facing the Wyatt Earp and immediately turned his gun over without incident. Could it be that this young perpetrator recognized Wyatt Earp and thought he may forfeit his life if he wasn’t cooperative? This is certainly plausible. Unknown to this holdup man, Wyatt Earp was unarmed when he confronted him and had no badge to distinguish himself as a police officer. It is important to note that Wyatt Earp did not say he was a lawman or even that he was assisting the law. With the perpetrator’s gun in one hand he used his other hand to grab him by the collar and marched him out of the store. Once outside he yelled for the Constable and turned the prisoner over to him.
After this arrest the word got back to the sheriff’s office and Constable Wilson did take some kidding from the men. However, in response to Wyatt Earp’s act of bravery in assisting Constable Jim Wilson the San Bernardino County Sheriff John Shay contacted Wyatt Earp. The Sheriff invited him to please come to his office at his convenience. A grateful Sheriff Shay would present Wyatt with a Deputy Sheriff badge. On the day that Wyatt Earp arrived at the Sheriff’s office, he was out of town. Because the Sheriff was not available, the Under Sheriff had the privilege of presenting Wyatt with his badge. Wyatt Earp became a non-salaried deputy sheriff. By doing this Sheriff Shay was thanking Wyatt Earp and gave him peace officer status in his county.