Today, we want to highlight a special character of the Wild West, Wyatt Earp. Wyatt Earp is a household name, but you never know what you might not know about him. Mr. Earp played several roles throughout his life, some of those including a businessman, brothel bouncer, a gambler, and a lawman. He is most famously known for the shoot out at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, but what about before that? Let’s learn a little more about our western friend.
From the Beginning
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born on March 19, 1848, in Monmouth, Illinois, the third son of Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp. When he was just 13 years old, the Civil War broke out and due to his home environment at the time, Earp wanted to be fighting alongside his brothers in the war. He tried several times to make it to battle, but each time he was caught and returned home. When Wyatt turned 17, his family packed up and headed west to the sunny state of California where he learned to box and start his first career as a gambler.
When Wyatt turned 21 he turned towards living a new, more settled life that seemed to await Earp in Lamar, Missouri. It was then he took over as constable of town to replace his father, he married Urilla Sutherland, the daughter of the local hotel owner, built a house in town, and was an expecting father. It was a picture-perfect few years, but all good things must come to an end. Within his first year of marriage, his wife contracted typhus and died, along with her unborn child.
The Next Decade
Completely disheveled by his wife’s death, Earp left Lamar in hopes of starting a new life. This new life was rough, at best. His new life started in Arkansas, where he was arrested for stealing but somehow managed to avoid being tried by escaping from his jail cell. His next stop was Peoria, Illinois, where he was arrested for several different things, most for his involvement with local brothels. Sometime around 1874, he moved to Wichita, Kansas where he started in the brothel business, but eventually took place as a local police officer. And somewhere between 1875 and 1879, Wyatt moved from Wichita to Dodge City, to the gold rush in the Black Hills, then back to Dodge City where his life would change forever. In this time he became known for being both a lawman and a gambler and befriended gunmen, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson.
Tombstone & the O.K. Corral
With little left for him in the midwest, Earp headed west. This time for good! It was recorded that he spent his time traveling through New Mexico and then California, working for a time as a Wells Fargo guard. Then, he made his move to the historic town of Tombstone, Arizona. It wasn’t long before Wyatt became the town gambler and a guard in a saloon, while his brother Virgil became town marshal.
It was 1881, and Wyatt was on the hunt for a group of cowboys that had robbed a Tombstone stagecoach. In the midst of trying to catch the outlaws, Earp made a deal with a local rancher named Ike Clanton. A deal was made that Ike would collect a $6,000 reward, in exchange for his help. This deal couldn’t have gone any further south. Ike quickly lost faith in Earp and turned paranoid. Over time, Clanton’s mental condition worsened, and started spouting off that he was going to kill one of the members of the Earp gang.
It didn’t take long for Wyatt to catch and for everything to come to a head. The Earp gang, along with Holliday met up with Clanton, his brother Billy, and two others on the edge of town, near the infamous, O.K. Corral. In just 30 seconds, a flurry of shots was fired, killing three of Clanton’s gang and injuring three on Wyatt’s side. The only one that made it out without wounds was good ole Wyatt Earp. With the gunfight behind them and too many cowboys left standing, Ike Clanton wasn’t done with the Earps. He went on to orchestrate the shooting of Virgil, which, severely wounded his left arm and the eventual assassination of Morgan Earp.
As the West became more settled, Wyatt’s place in it was no longer concrete. He found another companion, Josephine Marcus, as he continued to seek out the success that he never found. He did quite a bit more traveling, running saloons in between moving, eventually settling down in Los Angeles, California. It’s been said that Earp longed for stardom. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t see the stardom in his lifetime. Wyatt Earp passed January 13, 1929, at his Los Angeles home. Since then, he’s been the star for several books, movies, and the icon that many of us think of when we think about the wild west.
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