Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal

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The American West. Romantic and colorful, the setting and mystery behind the wild lifestyle offers the basis for many stories and figures. Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, Annie Oakley…were all characters whose stories have been told many times over. There’s only one problem – most of them are not true.

One of those stories is of Wyatt Earp. You know, the high and mighty lawman who, for many years stood for law and justice. More famous is Earp’s participation in the incident at Tombstone Arizona – the gunfight at the OK corral. You know the story. Wyatt, Doc Holiday and friends faced the notorious Ike Clanton gang in 1881. The bad Clanton boys tried to shoot it out with the good guys but were outgunned.

Well, parts of that story are true, but definitely not all. Most people are not aware of hist real story…

Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp, who lived in Monmouth, IL, had five children – all boys. Number three was named Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp. He was born in 1848, thirteen years before the American Civil war. When he was young, the family moved to Iowa.

When the Civil War broke out, Wyatt’s older brothers joined the union army. Wyatt tried to join them several times, but he was too young and sent home each time. After the war, Wyatt got a job with the Union Pacific Railroad. Four years later, Nicholas had become the constable in Lamar, MO where the family had moved to. Wyatt joined them to take over the job from his father. But he didn’t stay there long. A year later, he left Lamar (after having several bouts with the law) and found himself in Indian territory with no job or home. He was soon arrested for horse theft. While awaiting trial, he fled to Peoria, IL. There, he tried his hand at running prostitutes and brothels. While lucrative, he found the job to be more trouble than it was worth.

Wyatt then drifted from town to town and spent the next five years trying his hand as a gambler, a buffalo hunter, a saloon keeper, a minor, a boxing referee a bordello keeper, a lawman and a gunslinger. His most famous position was as the marshal of Dodge City, Kansas.   

An honorable, lighting-fast lawman? Probably not. However, he did possess one quality that was just as good as that of a fast-draw…he was cool-headed. He didn’t lose his temper and never let himself get out of control.

In 1881, it happened. The lawmen of Tombstone didn’t allow firearms in the city limits. When Wyatt, Virgil and gang went to warn the Clanton’s and friends about it, things escalated into a pistol-whipping on the Clanton gang by Wyatt and Co.  

About 3:30 the same day, the lawmen went to the bad guy gang to arrest them. The confrontation ended up in a 30-second, empty-your-guns-on-the-other-guys shootout in which twenty rounds were fired. The Clanton guys lost and the lawmen walked away with minor injuries.

So, what made Wyatt Earp famous as a moral giant? The media. In the 1880s, Wyatt settled in California and worked with John Flood to record his life story. He died in 1929 in Los Angeles. But an enterprising young man named Stuart N. Lake, wrote Wyatt’s biography after his death in the midst of the Great Depression. It was a hit, especially since most people couldn’t afford other means of entertainment.

The book, “Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal” pitched Earp as the epitome of honest lawmen. It was widely popular. Mr. Lake finally admitted that he only met Earp one time briefly. He also admitted to making up most of the stories.

So, the real Wyatt Earp isn’t close to the fictional Wyatt Earp. Interesting…

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