1848 - 1929
The subject of a good deal of Western movies, Wyatt Earp
attained a legendary aura. But the man was definitely real. One
might consider the movies detailing him to embellish his
character. However, it is known that Earp was a fearless law
enforcer, a shrewd gambler and foremost in The Gunfight At The
OK Corral and in avenging the death and serious injury of his
Wyatt berry Stapp Earp was born in March of 1848 at Monmouth,
Illinois. At the age of two the family moved to Pella, Iowa,
where Nicholas (the father) became Provost Marshal of Marion
County. Young Wyatt was restricted to working on the farm. That
somewhat boring existence was dramatically ended in 1863. Earp
had had enough of the droll existence on the quiet farm, and,
hearing tales of his father’s exploits as a captain of the Union
Army in the Mexican War, and seeing his three older brothers
leave to enrol, fled to join in the action. The young man was
brought crashing down to earth when trying to enlist. He was
spotted by his eagle-eyed father and sent back home immediately.
In 1864, the family was on their travels once more. Wyatt was
given his first gun to protect himself from the dangers of being
on the road. By 1869, he had arrived with his brother at Lamar,
Missouri. They both ran for the post of Constable of the Lamar
Police Force. Wyatt won the vote and so his long career in law
enforcement began. A year later he fell in love with and married
Urilla Sutherland. Unfortunately, that same year she died,
possibly because of typhoid or due to complications in
childbirth. This led to her family falling out with Wyatt Earp.
They accused him of stealing horses and he was locked up in a
Cherokee jail. As soon as his bail was paid though, he escaped
It is thought that the young gunslinger then became a buffalo
hunter, possibly to avoid the public eye and to clear his mind
concerning the death of his first wife. Before long though, the
call of the law caused him to travel to the unruly cattle town
of Wichita. He became a law enforcement officer there in 1875,
staying for approximately a year.
He moved on to Dodge City (that of fabled Western movies) and
met Bat Masterson, who he became good friends with. He also
became acquainted with John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday, the hard
drinking sharpshooter and gambler. The prostitute Celia Ann
‘Mattie’ Baylock became his new partner. Although Wyatt Earp
never became official Marshal of Dodge City he was at the
forefront of police work. It is known that he killed at least
one cowboy – George Hoy – who had entered the city looking for
trouble. Judging from press cuttings of the time Earp was
respected by the community for his bravery and ability to defuse
awkward situations with malevolent characters, without excessive
use of violence.
Earp made his living primarily from gambling, another area in
which he was respected by fellow professionals. If one could
cheat well in those days it was considered part of the game.
Wyatt Earp was an expert and made his fair share of money.
In November of 1879 Earp, his three brothers (Morgan, Virgil and
Warren) and ‘Doc’ Holliday entered Tombstone, Arizona lured
there by the prospect of finding gold. Tombstone was a gold
boomtown and therefore thriving. In 1880, Wyatt Earp was
appointed Pima County Deputy Sheriff, although the reputation of
him and his brethren as strict law enforcers had gone before
them. It is alleged that cowboys such as the Clanton family,
Johnny Ringo and Curly Bill Brocious, were controlling
Tombstone. They performed robberies, cattle theft and other acts
of terrorism at free will, but now that the Earps were in town
they were on a collision course with the law.
The two factions squared up in the now famous Gunfight At The OK
Corral. Wyatt Earp was the only person to avoid injury in the
battle, but his brother Morgan was shot dead and Virgil was
crippled. After the fight, Wyatt hunted down many of the cowboys
responsible for his brothers’ misfortunes and summarily executed
He then returned to Dodge City for a while, teaming up again
with Bat Masterson and other law enforcers in the famous peace
commission. At the age of sixty he married again, to Josephine
Marcus. The couple went prospecting to Alaska where Earp
refereed boxing matches. Always the gambler, he bet on those
fights and showed bias towards the fighter he backed! Later in
life he advised Western movie producers on authenticity. Wyatt
Earp died in his Los Angeles cottage in 1929, aged eighty years,
but his legend will live on for many, many years.
Description: 6 ft. tall, a wiry 155 lb. Squarely chiseled jaw,
blue eyes, a long, dark, droopy mustache. Cool demeanor. Usually
wore black stetson, black high-heeled boots, long-skirted,
square-cut black frock coat, white shirt, and black string tie.
Resume: Like many western heroes and antiheroes, Wyatt Earp
belonged to a clan of brothers, named James, Virgil, Morgan, and
Warren. Young Wyatt farmed with his father in several states,
drove a stage in California, worked as a bartender, and
eventually became a gambler. In 1871 he was indicted for horse
stealing, but he raised $500 bail and skipped town.
As a policeman in Wichita, Kans., in 1874, Earp was caught
pocketing the fines he collected. He made no important arrests
and soon was dismissed from the force for fighting with a
In Dodge City, Kans., Earp was a policeman and a deputy marshal
from 1876 to 1879. Although he killed his first man in Dodge, a
drunken cowboy named George Hoyt, he was a run-of-the-mill peace
officer seldom mentioned in local newspapers.
Earp arrived in Tombstone, Ariz., in 1879 and quickly became
involved in "Tombstone after dark." (The county register listed
him as "saloonkeeper.") When his brother Virgil was appointed
town marshal, Wyatt became his deputy. Their zealous enforcement
of the law (due more to protecting their own casino interests
than dedication) led to the legendary gunfight at the O.K.
Corral, which blasted three cowboys into eternity and Wyatt Earp
into the history books.
Later, friends of the men killed at the O.K. Corral crippled
Virgil with a shotgun blast and killed Morgan with a sniper
shot. In revenge, Earp gunned down Frank Stilwell and Indian
Charlie. With a posse on his trail, he left Tombstone.
Plying his trade as saloonkeeper, Earp ventured to Nome, Alaska,
during the Klondike gold rush, and eventually drifted to San
Francisco in search of Josephine Sarah Marcus, a vaudevillian
known in Tombstone as Sadie. They settled in Los Angeles, where
Earp was charged with vagrancy and conducting a bunco operation.
The last two years of his life he devoted to enhancing his
reputation in conversation with Stuart Lake, author of Wyatt
Earp, Frontier Marshal, from which much of the legend of Wyatt
Earp has been taken.
Favorite Weapon: The Buntline Special, made by Colt at the
behest of Ned Buntline the famous dime novelist had five of the
outsized pistols made for the peace officers he most admired:
Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett, Neal Brown, Bat Masterson, and
Wyatt Earp. Earp found the 12-in. barrel perfect for
"buffaloing" (his habit of subduing badmen with a whack across
Speed on the Draw: No record, but considered quick and deadly
accurate. Earp drew his gun from a leather-lined coat pocket
heavily waxed for a fast draw.
Victims: George Hoyt; Frank McLaury, and/or Tom McLaury, and/or
Billy Clanton; Frank Stilwell; Indian Charlie; and, according to
Earp's account, Curly Bill Brocious and Johnny Ringo, although
historians maintain Brocious was alive a decade later and Ringo
Leading Fight: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The Earps and Doc
Holliday attempted to disarm cowboys Ike and Billy Clanton,
Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claiborne. Some accounts insist
Ike and Tom were not armed. The shootout lasted 30 seconds, each
side firing 17 shots. The McLaurys and Billy Clanton were
killed. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled. Virgil was wounded
in the calf, Morgan in the shoulder, and Holliday in the back.
Wyatt, according to the Tombstone Epitaph, "stood up and fired
in rapid succession, as cool as a cucumber, and was not hit."
Earnings: $250 a month as deputy marshal of Dodge, and $1,000 a
month to keep order in Tombstone's Oriental Saloon.
How Died: Quietly in his sleep at his Los Angeles home.
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This web page was last updated on:
09 December, 2008