Wyatt Earp was a famous frontiersman, gambler and marshal. He was known for taming the wild cowboy culture that had taken over the west, but after moving to Arizona, he got into a feud which ended with a gunfight at O.K. Corral.
Name: Wyatt Earp
Born: March 19th 1848
Death: January 13th 1929
Occupation: Law enforcement
Place of Birth: Monmouth, Illinois
Place of Death: Los Angeles, California
Born on 19th March 1848, Wyatt Earp was an icon of the American Wild West. As a member of law enforcement he played a huge part in the taming of wild cowboy culture that had taken over the frontier. However, after moving to Tombstone, Arizona he became involved in what is perhaps the most famous gunfight in American history at the O.K. Corral.
Born in Monmouth, Illinois, as the third of five sons to Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp became one of the most celebrated legends of the American West.
Earp’s father, a heavy drinker, was constantly on the lookout for ways to make it rich, which resulted in the family constantly moving around the unsettled west.
When he was 13, the American Civil War broke out and Earp saw this as the opportunity for adventure he’d been looking for. Absolutely desperate to get away from the family home, he tried to run away several times to join his older brothers in the Union army. However, on each attempt he was caught and returned home to his parents before reaching the battlefield.
He finally got his wish and left home at the age of 17. He moved to California and began living on the frontier, making a living hauling freight and then moving on to grade track for the Union Pacific Railroad. When he wasn’t working he trained hard and became a skilled boxer and a proficient gambler.
In 1869 he moved back to his family, who were then settled in Missouri, and he took over from his father as constable of the township.
In 1870 he married the daughter of a hotel owner, Urilla Sutherland; they built a home and were expecting a baby. However, within a year of their marriage, his wife contracted typhus and died, along with their unborn child.
The man of Western America
In a state of complete devastation after the death of his wife, Earp upped sticks again. In Arkansas he stole a horse and was arrested but managed to avoid punishment by escaping from his prison cell. The next few years he spent roaming the frontier, making his home in brothels and saloons, and making friends with a number of prostitutes along the way.
He moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 1876 where his brother had opened a brothel, and it was here that he once again took up a role in law enforcement, as a part time police officer. Earp loved the adventure that came with the job and thanks to the press that he received, along with his successes, he soon became city marshal of Dodge City, Kansas.
Just like his father, Wyatt Earp was constantly on the lookout for riches, and in 1879 he moved to join his brothers Morgan and Virgil, in Tombstone, Arizona. Tombstone became a booming frontier town after it was discovered that the land contained large quantities of silver.
However, the riches that the brothers were hoping for never arrived which forced Earp back into law enforcement in a place where lawless cowboy culture had taken over.
O.K. Corral gunfight
In March 1881 an old American stagecoach and its driver were robbed by a posse of cowboys. Earp set out in search of the group and in an effort to close them down quickly, struck a deal with a local rancher – Ike Clanton – and promised a reward of $6,000 for his help.
However, this relationship soon turned sour, as Clanton became paranoid that Earp would reveal the details of their bargain, and therefore turned against him. By October of the same year, Clanton, drunk and out of his mind, was venturing around the town’s saloons bragging about his intention to kill one of the Earp men.
On October 26th, the Earp brothers and their friend, Doc Holliday, met Clanton, his brother and two other men – brothers, Frank and Tom McLaury – at an enclosure called the O.K. Corral.
Just moments later this became the location of the most famous gun fight in the history of the American West. Within the course of thirty seconds, a number of shots were fired and resulted in the deaths of the McLaury brothers and Ike’s brother, Billy Clanton. The two Earp brothers and Holliday were all injured, the only one that got away unscathed was Wyatt.
This resulted in building tensions between the cowboy community and those hoping for a settled West. It also led to Ike Clanton plotting the shooting and Virgil Earp and the assassination of Morgan Earp.
The death of his brother led to Earp and Holliday roaming around the frontier on a killing spree that gained coverage around America and earned them both praise and criticism for taking on the wild cowboy culture that had taken over the west.
Earp spent the remaining years of his life in search of the success that had eluded him during his formative years, running saloons in California and Alaska, before finally settling in Los Angeles.
During the final years of his life, he became obsessed with the way that the West was portrayed in Hollywood. He craved a film that would tell his story and set the record straight, detailing exactly what he’d accomplished. However, the recognition he longed for didn’t come until after his death.
In 1931 his story was made, ‘Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal’, by biographer Stuart Lake. It was within the pages of this book that Wyatt Earp became a Western hero who was loved by all.