Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was born in Montmouth, Illinois, on 19th March, 1848. His father moved the family, to San Bernardino, California and joined his older brother, Virgil Earp, as a freighter-teamster between Wilmington to Prescott, Arizona (1866-68).

In 1870 Earp was elected constable of Lamar, Missouri. Later that year he married Urilla Sutherland but she died soon afterwards of typhoid. His job as constable came to an end when Earp was arrested for horse theft. He managed to escape and became a buffalo hunter in Kansas. Earp then moved to Wichita where he married a local prostitute. He also joined the Wichita police force. However, he was discharged in April 1876 after a fight with a fellow officer.

A few months later Earp joined the police force in Dodge City . In 1878 he was appointed assistant city marshal under Charles Bassett. While in the city he became friends with the former dentist and now a professional gambler, Doc Holliday.

Earp's record as a marshal was unimpressive and in September 1879 he left Dodge City and three months later reached Tombstone where he became a farmer. Earp's brothers, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and James Earp also lived in Tombstone. Earp's best friend, Doc Holliday, was also based in this fast-growing town.

Virgil Earp eventually became city marshal of Tombstone. Soon afterwards he recruited Wyatt Earp and Morgan Earp as "special deputy policemen". In 1880 the Earp family came into conflict with two families, the Clantons and the McLaurys. Ike Clanton, Phineas Clanton, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury sold livestock to Tombstone. Virgil Earp brothers believed that some of these animals had been stolen from farmers in Mexico. Wyatt Earp was also convinced that the Clanton brothers had stolen one of his horses.

Wyatt Earp also came into conflict with John Behan, the sheriff of Cochise County. At first this started as a quarrel over a woman, Josephine Sarah Marcus. She had lived with Behan before becoming Earp's third wife. Earp also wanted Behan's job and planned to run against him in the next election. The two men also clashed over the decision by Behan to arrest Doc Holliday on suspicion of killing a stage driver during an attempted hold-up outside of town. Holliday protested his innocence and he was eventually released. In September 1881, Virgil Earp retaliated by arresting one of Behan's deputies, Frank Stilwell, for holding up a stagecoach.

On 25th October, Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury arrived in Tombstone. Later that day Doc Holliday got into a fight with Ike Clanton in the Alhambra Saloon. Holliday wanted a gunfight with Clanton, but he declined the offer and walked off.

The following day Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury were arrested by Virgil Earp and charged with carrying firearms within the city limits. After they were disarmed and released, the two men joined Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury, who had just arrived in town. The men gathered at a place called the OK Corral in Fremont Street.

Virgil Earp now decided to disarm Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury and recruited Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, James Earp and Doc Holliday to help him in this dangerous task. Sheriff John Behan was in town and when he heard what was happening he raced to Fremont Street and urged Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury to hand over their guns to him. They replied: "Not unless you first disarm the Earps".

Behan now headed towards the advancing group of men. He pleaded for Virgil Earp not to get involved in a shoot-out but he was brushed aside as the four men carried on walking towards the OK Corral. Virgil Earp said: "I want your guns". Billy Clanton responded by firing at Wyatt Earp. He missed and Morgan Earp successfully fired two bullets at Billy Clanton and he fell back against a wall. Meanwhile Wyatt Earp fired at Frank McLaury. The bullet hit him in the stomach and he fell to the ground.

Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury were both unarmed and tried to run away. Clanton was successful but Doc Holliday shot McLaury in the back. Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury, although seriously wounded, continued to fire their guns and in the next couple of seconds Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were all wounded. Wyatt Earp was unscathed and he managed to finish off Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury.

Sheriff John Behan arrested Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday for murder of Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury. However, after a 30 day trial Judge Wells Spicer, who was related to the Earps, decided that the defendants had been justified in their actions.

Over the next few months the Earp brothers struggled to retain hold control over Tombstone. Virgil Earp was seriously wounded by an attempted assassination and Morgan Earp was killed when he was playing billiards with Wyatt Earp on 18th March, 1882. Eyewitnesses claimed that Frank Stilwell was seen running from the scene of the crime. Three days later Stilwell's was found dead. A Mexican who was also implicated in the crime was also found murdered in a lumber camp. It is believed that Wyatt Earp was responsible for killing both men.

Earp was now forced to flee from Tombstone and eventually reached Colorado. Later he moved to Arkansas where he was jailed for theft in 1883.

In February, 1883, Luke Short moved to Dodge City and purchased the Long Branch Saloon with W. H. Harris. A power struggle now took place between Short and Nicholas B. Klaine, the editor of the Dodge City Times. In the election for mayor of the city later that year Klaine supported Larry Deger against Short's partner, W. H. Harris. Deger defeated Harris 214 to 143.

Soon after gaining power Deger published Ordinance No 70, an attempt to ban prostitution in Dodge City. Two days later the local police arrested female singers being employed in Short's Long Branch Saloon and accused of being prostitutes. That night Short and L.C. Hartman, the city clerk, exchanged gunfire in the street. Short was now arrested and forced to leave town.

Short had some powerful friends and in June 1883 he returned to Dodge City with Earp, Bat Masterson, Charlie Bassett, Doc Holliday and other well-known gunfighters such as, M. F. McLain, Neil Brown and W. F. Petillion. However, Deger and Klaine refused to be intimidated and when they refused to back down, Short and his friends had to accept defeat. In November 1883, Short and Harris sold the Long Branch Saloon and moved to Fort Worth.

In 1885 Earp was once again imprisoned for theft. After his release he opened a saloon in San Diego. He also attempted to breed racehorses in San Francisco.

In 1896 Earp agreed to referee the Bob Fitzsimmons-Tom Sharkey heavyweight fight in Oakland, California. Earp insisted that he should be allowed to carry a gun. This was needed when he controversially declared Tom Sharkey the winner, after he had taken a terrible beating and appeared on the verge of being knocked out. Earp also owned a saloon in Tonopah and Goldfield in Nevada before settling in Los Angeles in 1906.

In old age Earp was befriended by Stuart N. Lake who agreed to become his biographer. Wyatt Earp died on 13th January, 1929 and the book, Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall, was published two years later. The book was quickly denounced by people who knew Earp as being a very inaccurate account of his life. Allie Earp, the widow of Virgil Earp, described it as "a pack of lies".

Primary Sources

(1) Wichita Weekly Beacon (12th May, 1875)

On Tuesday evening of last week, policeman Wyatt Earp, in his rounds ran across a chap whose general appearance and get up answered to a description given of one W. W. Compton, who was said to have stolen two horses and a mule from the vicinity of Le Roy, in Coffey county. Earp took him in tow, and inquired his name. He gave it as "Jones." This didn't satisfy the officer, who took Mr. Jones into the Gold Room, on Douglass avenue, in order that he might fully examine him by lamp light. Mr. Jones not liking the looks of things, lit out, running to the rear of Denison's stables. Earp fired one shot across his poop deck to bring him to, to use a naughty-cal phrase, and just as he did so, the man cast anchor near a clothes line, hauled down his colors and surrendered without firing a gun. The officer laid hold of him before he could recover his feet for another run, and taking him to the jail placed him in the keeping of the sheriff. On the way "Jones" acknowledged that he was the man wanted. The fact of the arrest was telegraphed to the sheriff of Coffey county, who came down on Thursday night and removed Compton to the jail of that county. A black horse and a buggy was found at one of the feed stables, where Compton had left them. After stealing the stock from Coffey county, he went to Independence, where he traded them for a buggy, stole the black horse and came to this place. He will probably have an opportunity to do the state some service for a number of years, only to come out and go to horse stealing again, until a piece of twisted hemp or a stray bullet puts an end to his hankering after horse flesh.

(2) Wichita Weekly Beacon (5th April, 1876)

On last Sunday night a difficulty occurred between Policeman Earp and William Smith, candidate for city marshal. Earp was arrested for violation of the peace and order of the city and was fined on Monday afternoon by his honor Judge Atwood, $30 and cost, and was relieved from the police force.

(3) Dodge City Times (7th July, 1877)

Wyatt Earp, who was on our city police force last summer, is in town again. We hope he will accept a position on the force once more. He had a quiet way of taking the most desperate characters into custody which invariably gave one the impression that the city was able to enforce her mandates and preserve her dignity. It wasn't considered policy to draw a gun on Wyatt unless you got the drop and meant to bum powder without any preliminary talk.

(4) Dodge City Times (26th July, 1878)

Yesterday morning about 3 o'clock this peaceful suburban city was thrown into unusual excitement, and the turmoil was all caused by a rantankerous cow boy who started the mischief by a too free use of his little revolver.

In Dodge City, after dark, the report of a revolver generally means business and is an indication that somebody is on the war path, therefore when the noise of this shooting and the yells of excited voices rang out on the midnight breeze, the sleeping community awoke from their slumbers, listened a while to the click of the revolver, wondered who was shot this time, and then went to sleep again. But in the morning many dreaded to hear the result of the war lest it should be a story of bloodshed and carnage, or of death to some familiar friend. But in this instance there was an abundance of noise and smoke, with no very terrible results.

It seems that three or four herders were paying their respects to the city and its institutions, and as is usually their custom, remained until about 3 o'clock in the morning, when they prepared to return to their camps. They buckled on their revolvers, which they were not allowed to wear around town, and mounted their horses, when all at once one of them conceived the idea that to finish the night's revelry and give the natives due warning of his departure, he must do some shooting, and forthwith he commenced to bang away, one of the bullets whizzing into a dance hall near by, causing no little commotion among the participants in the "dreamy waltz" and quadrille. Wyatt Earp and James Masterson made a raid on the shootist who gave them two or three volleys, but fortunately without effect. The policemen returned the fire and followed the herders with the intention of arresting them.

The firing then became general, and some rooster who did not exactly understand the situation, perched himself in the window of the dance hall and indulged in a promiscuous shoot all by himself. The herders rode across the bridge followed by the officers. A few yards from the bridge one of the herders fell from his horse from weakness caused by a wound in the arm which he had received during the fracas. The other herder made good his escape. The wounded man was properly cared for and his wound, which proved to be a bad one, was dressed by Dr. T. L. McCarty. His name is George Hoy, and he is rather an intelligent looking young man.

(5) Paul Trachtman, The Gunfighters (1974)

On a blustery day toward the end of October, 1881, the town of Tombstone, Arizona, witnessed the most notorious shoot-out in the history of the West. In a vacant lot at the rear of the O.K. Corral, City Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, joined by a gambler friend, Doc Holliday, exchanged gunfire with four local cowboys, the Clanton and McLaury brothers. "Three Men Hurled into Eternity in the Duration of a Moment," blared the headline over the first report of the affair in The Tombstone Epitaph. The duration, in fact, was slightly more than half a minute, although a deadly staccato of vengeful gunfire echoed for months afterward.

The clash was not unique. Possession of firearms was far more commonplace on the frontier than back East, and newspapers across the West carried accounts of gunfights of every variety - saloon brawls, outlaw raids, vigilante wars and even an occasional face-off in the style of European duels. But the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral was better documented than most, and its fame as a classic confrontation of gunfighters was well deserved, for it embodied some basic frontier animosities - lawman against outlaw, cardsharp against cowboy, citified carpetbagger against weather-beaten settler.

Yet these divisions were far from clear-cut, as the shoot-out also made plain. Though some Western gunfight participants represented the law, the line between bad men and good was, at best, blurred. The facing foes usually had more in common than they cared to admit. Most were men of bristling spirit and minimal compassion or scruple. When they had scores to settle, it hardly mattered which side of the law they were on; their law was the gun.

(6) Ford County Globe (26th October, 1881)

A Tombstone, Arizona, dispatch says: Four cowboys, Ike and Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury, have been parading the town for several days drinking heavily and making themselves obnoxious. On Wednesday last the city marshal Virgil Earp arrested Ike Clanton. Soon after his release the four met the marshal, his brother Morgan and Wyatt Earp, and a citizen named (John H. "Doc") Holliday. The marshal ordered them to give up their weapons, when a fight commenced. About thirty shots were fired rapidly. Both the McLaury boys were killed. Bill Clanton was mortally wounded, dying soon after. Ike was slightly wounded in the shoulder. Wyatt Earp was slightly wounded, and the others were unhurt.

(7) Ford County Globe (8th November, 1881)

The Earp boys, who had the fight with the cowboys, at Tombstone, Arizona, which resulted in the killing of three cow boys, have been arrested by the friends of the men who were killed. The Earp boys were acting as peace officers, and from all reports were justified in doing what they did. Wyatt Earp was formerly city marshal of Dodge City, and a paper setting forth his good qualities was circulated last week and signed by all the prominent citizens.

(8) Dodge City Times (8th December, 1881)

Wyatt Earp, formerly a city marshal in this city, was recently under trial before a magistrate in Tombstone, Arizona, charged with homicide. Great interest was taken in trial which lasted four weeks. From the voluminous testimony taken the Justice makes a long review of the case and discharges the defendant. The following is an extract from his decision: "In view of all the facts and circumstances of the case; considering the threats made the character and position of the parties, and the tragical results accomplished in manner and form as they were, with all surrounding influences bearing upon the res gestae of the affair, I cannot resist the conclusion that the defendants were fully justified in committing these homicides; that it was a necessary act done m the discharge of an official duty."

(9) Judge Wells Spicer, statement at the trial of Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, James Earp and Doc Holliday (December, 1881)

When we consider the condition of affairs incidental to a frontier country, the lawlessness and disregard for human life; the existence of a law-defying element in our midst; the fear and feeling of insecurity that has existed; the supposed prevalence of bad, desperate and reckless men who have been a terror to the country, and kept away capital and enterprise, and considering the many threats that have been made against the Earps. I can attach no criminality to his unwise act.

(10) Dodge City Times (5th January, 1882)

A Tombstone, Arizona, dispatch of Dec. 29, to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says when the Clanton and McClary gang were shot by the Earps and Doc Holliday, about six weeks ago, the friends of the cowboys vowed they would have revenge for what they called the cold-blooded murder of their friends. Only a fortnight ago, Mayor John P. Clum, of Tombstone, was shot at in a stage near the city and one bullet grazed his head. Clum was a warm sympathizer with the Earps, and did much to secure their acquittal at the preliminary examination. Wednesday night, just before midnight, an attempt was made on the life of United States Deputy Marshal Earp, as he was crossing the street, between the Oriental Saloon and the Eagle Brewery. When in the middle of the street he was fired upon with double-barreled shotguns, loaded with buckshot, by three men concealed in an unfinished building diagonally across on Alien street. Five shots were fired in rapid succession. Earp was wounded in the left arm just above the elbow, producing a longitudinal fracture of the bone. One shot struck him above the groin, coming out near the spine. The wounds are very dangerous, and possibly fatal. The men ran through the rear of the building and escaped in the darkness

Nineteen shots struck the side of the Eagle Brewery, three going through the window and one passing about a foot over the heads of some men standing by a faro-table. The shooting caused the wildest excitement in the town where the feeling between the two factions runs high.

(11) Ed Colborn, Dodge City Times (23rd May, 1882)

Wyatt Earp arrived here some days ago and will remain awhile. Wyatt is more robust than when a resident of Dodge, but in other respects is unchanged. His story of the long contest with the cowboys of Arizona is of absorbing interest. Of the five brothers four yet live, and in return for the assassination of Morgan Earp they have handed seven cowboys "over to the majority."

Of the six who actually participated in the assassination they have killed three - among them. Curly Bill, whom Wyatt believes killed Mike Meagher, at Caldwell, last summer. Frank Stillwell, Curly Bill and party ambuscaded the Earp party and poured a deadly fire into them, Wyatt receiving a charge of buckshot through his overcoat on each side of his body and having the horn of his saddle shot off. Wyatt says after the first shock he could distinguish David Rudebaugh and Curly Bill, the latter's body showing well among the bushes. Wyatt lost no time in taking him in, and will receive the reward of $1,000 offered. From what I could leam, the Earps have killed all, or nearly all of the leaders of the element of cow boys, who number in all about 150, and the troubles in Arizona will, so far as they are concerned, be over.

Wyatt expects to become a candidate for sheriff of Cochise county this fall, and as he stands very near to the Governor and all the good citizens of Tombstone and other camps in Cochise county he will without doubt be elected. The office is said to be worth $25,000 per annum and will not be bad to take.

(12) Topeka Daily Commonwealth (5th June, 1883)

Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and all the sports in the country, held a meeting at Silverton and decided to take Dodge City by storm. Short is at Caldwell but will meet the party at Cimarron, 18 miles west of Dodge, perhaps Sunday night or soon after. Horses will be taken at Cimarron and the whole party will rendezvous at Mr. Oliver's, two miles west of Dodge. Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp are now secretly in Dodge City, watching matters. When the time for action comes a telegram will reach them worded as follows: "Your tools will be there at ____," giving the time agreed upon. The plan is to drive all of Short's enemies out of Dodge at the mouth of the revolvers.

(13) Kansas City Evening Star (7th June, 1883)

The much talked of band of noted killers who were to congregate here and accompany Luke Short, the exile, back to Dodge City, Kansas are in part at least, at that place now. Advices from there state that Luke Short, Bat Masterson, Charley Bassett and Doc Holliday at present hold the fort and that trouble is liable to ensue at any moment. Mr. Bassett was here for quite a time and with Colonel Ricketts at the Marble Hall. He is a man of undoubted nerve and has been tried and not found wanting when it comes to a personal encounter. But Masterson and Doc. Holliday are too well known to need comment or biography. A notice has been posted up at Dodge ordering them out and, as they are fully armed and determined to stay, there may be hot work there tonight.

(14) Bat Masterson, interviewed in the Daily Kansas State Journal (9th June, 1883)

I arrived here yesterday and was met at the train by a delegation of friends who escorted me without molestation to the business house of Harris & Short. I think the inflammatory reports published about Dodge City and its inhabitants have been greatly exaggerated and if at any time they did 'don the war paint,' it was completely washed off before I reached here. I never met a more gracious lot of people in my life. They all seemed favorably disposed, and hailed the return of Short and his friends with exultant joy. I have been unable as yet to find a single individual who participated with the crowd that forced him to leave here at first. I have conversed with a great many and they are unanimous in their expression of love for Short, both as a man and a good citizen. They say that he is gentlemanly, courteous and unostentatious - 'in fact a perfect ladies' man.' Wyatt Earp, Charley Bassett, McClain and others too numerous to mention are among the late arrivals, and are making the 'Long Branch' saloon their headquarters. All the gambling is closed in obedience to a proclamation issued by the mayor, but how long it will remain so I am unable to say at present. Not long I hope. The closing of this legitimate calling has caused a general depression in business of every description, and I am under the impression that the more liberal and thinking class will prevail upon the mayor to rescind the proclamation in a day or two.