Earp at about age 33.
|Born||Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp
March 19, 1848
Monmouth, Warren County
|Died||January 13, 1929
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Gambler, lawman, buffalo hunter, saloon keeper, gold/copper miner, pimp, barber|
|Years active||1865 – 1898|
|Known for||Gunfight at the O.K. Corral|
|Opponent(s)||William Brocius; Tom and Frank McLaury; Ike and Billy Clanton|
|Spouse(s)||Urilla Sutherland (Wife)
Celia Ann "Mattie" Blaylock (Common law wife)
Josephine Sarah Marcus (Common law wife)
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848 – January 13, 1929) was an American gambler, Pima County Deputy Sheriff, and Deputy Town Marshal in Tombstone, Arizona and took part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral during which lawmen killed three outlaw Cowboys. To Earp's displeasure, the 30-second gunfight defined the rest of his life. He is often regarded as the central figure in the shootout in Tombstone, although his brother Virgil was Tombstone City Marshal and Deputy U.S. Marshal that day, and had far more experience as a sheriff, constable, marshal and in combat.
Earp was at different times in his life a city policeman, county sheriff, a teamster, buffalo hunter, bouncer, saloon-keeper, gambler, brothel owner, pimp, miner, and a boxing referee. Earp spent his early life in Iowa. His first wife Urilla Sutherland Earp died while pregnant less than a year after they married. Within the next two years he was arrested, sued twice, escaped from jail, then was arrested three more times for "keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame". He landed in the cattle boomtown of Wichita, Kansas where he became a deputy city marshal for one year and developed a solid reputation as a lawman. In 1876 he followed his brother James to Dodge City, Kansas where he became an assistant city marshal. In winter 1878, he went to Texas to gamble where he met John Henry "Doc" Holliday whom Earp credited with saving his life.
Earp moved constantly throughout most of his life from one boom town to another. He left Dodge City in 1879 and with his brothers James and Virgil, moved to Tombstone, Arizona where a huge silver boom was underway. The Earps bought an interest in the Vizina mine and some water rights. There, the Earps clashed with a loose federation of outlaw cowboys. Wyatt, Virgil, and their younger brother Morgan held various law enforcement positions that put them in conflict with Tom and Frank McLaury, and Ike and Billy Clanton, who threatened to kill the Earps. The conflict escalated over the next year, culminating on October 26, 1881 in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in which the Earps and Holliday killed three of the Cowboys. In the next five months, Virgil was ambushed and maimed, and Morgan was assassinated. Pursuing a vendetta, Wyatt, his brother Warren, Holliday, and others formed a federal posse that killed three of the Cowboys they thought responsible. Unlike his lawmen brothers Virgil and James, and his most famous ally, Doc Holliday, Wyatt was never wounded in any of the gunfights he took part in, which only added to his mystique after his death.
After leaving Tombstone, Earp and his third wife Josephine Earp moved from one boomtown to another, starting in Eagle City, Idaho; followed by San Diego, California; Nome, Alaska; Tonopah, Nevada; and finally Vidal, California. An extremely flattering, largely fictionalized, best-selling biography published after his death created his reputation as a fearless lawman. As a result of the book, Wyatt Earp has been the subject of and model for a large number of films, TV shows, biographies and works of fiction that have increased his mystique. Earp's modern-day reputation is that of the Old West's "toughest and deadliest gunman of his day". Until the book was published, Earp had a dubious reputation as a minor figure in Western history. In modern times, Wyatt Earp has become synonymous of the stereotypical image of a lawman, and is a symbol of American frontier justice.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Move to Tombstone, Arizona
- 3 Gunfight and aftermath
- 4 Earp vendetta
- 5 Life after Tombstone
- 6 Death
- 7 Contemporary reputation
- 8 Later image
- 9 Earp's story
- 10 Modern image
- 11 In movies and television
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth in Warren County in western Illinois, on March 19, 1848, to widower Nicholas Porter Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey. From his father's first marriage, Wyatt had an elder half-brother, Newton, and a half-sister Mariah Ann, who died at the age of ten months. Wyatt was named after his father's commanding officer in the Mexican-American War, Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp, of the 2nd Company Illinois Mounted Volunteers. In March 1849 or in early 1850, Nicholas Earp joined about one hundred others for a trip to California, where he looked for good farm land, not gold. Nicholas decided to move to San Bernardino County in the southern part of the state. When their daughter Martha became ill and later died, the family instead stopped and settled in Pella, Iowa. Their new farm consisted of 160 acres (0.65 km2), 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Pella, Iowa. Another source reports he never reached California, but found the land in Iowa suitable to his needs.
Nicholas and Virginia Earp's last child was a daughter named Adelia, born in June 1861 in Pella. Newton, James, and Virgil joined the Union Army on November 11, 1861. While his father was busy recruiting and drilling local companies, Wyatt, along with his two younger brothers, Morgan and Warren, were left in charge of tending 80-acre (32 ha) corn crop. Only thirteen years old, Wyatt was too young to enlist, but he tried on several occasions to run away and join the army. Each time his father found him and brought him home. James was severely wounded in Fredericktown, Missouri, and returned home in summer 1863. Newton and Virgil fought several battles in the east and later followed the family to California.
On May 12, 1864, Nicholas Earp organized a wagon train and headed to San Bernardino, California, arriving on December 17, 1864. By late summer 1865, Virgil found work as a driver for Phineas Banning's Stage Coach Line in California's Imperial Valley, and 16-year-old Wyatt assisted. In spring 1866, Wyatt became a teamster, transporting cargo for Chris Taylor. His assigned trail for 1866–1868 was from Wilmington, through San Bernardino then Las Vegas, Nevada, to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory.
In spring 1868, Earp was hired by Charles Chrisman to transport supplies for the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. He learned gambling and boxing while working on the rail head in the Wyoming Territory. Earp developed a reputation officiating boxing matches and refereed a fight between John Shanssey and Mike Donovan.
In spring 1868, the Earps moved east again to Lamar Missouri, where Wyatt's father Nicholas became the local constable. Wyatt rejoined the family the next year. When Nicholas resigned on November 17, 1869 as constable to become the justice of the peace, Wyatt was appointed constable in his place. On November 26, in return for his appointment, Earp filed a bond of $1,000. His sureties for this bond were his father, Nicholas Porter Earp; his paternal uncle, Jonathan Douglas Earp (April 28, 1824 – October 20, 1900); and James Maupin.
In late 1869, Earp met Urilla Sutherland (c. 1849–1870), the daughter of hotel-keeper William and Permelia Sutherland, formerly of New York City. They married in Lamar on January 10, 1870, and in August 1870 bought a lot on the outskirts of town for $50. Urilla was pregnant and about to deliver their first child when she died from typhoid fever later that year. In November 1870, Earp sold the lot and a house on it for $75. He ran against his elder half-brother Newton for the office of constable, winning by 137 votes to Newton's 108.
Lawsuits and charges
After Urilla's death, Wyatt went through a downward spiral and had a series of legal problems. On March 14, 1871, Barton County filed a lawsuit against Earp and his sureties. Earp was in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar, which funded local schools, and he was accused of failing to turn in the fees. On March 31, James Cromwell filed a lawsuit against Wyatt, alleging that Wyatt had falsified court documents about the amount of money Earp had collected from Cromwell to satisfy a judgment. To make up the difference between what Earp turned in and Cromwell actually owed (and claimed he had paid), the court seized Cromwell's mowing machine and sold it for $38. Cromwell's suit claimed Earp owed him $75, the estimated value of the machine.
On March 28, 1871 Earp, Edward Kennedy, and John Shown were charged with stealing two horses, "...each of the value of one hundred dollars", from William Keys while in the Indian Country. On April 6, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens arrested Earp for the horse theft. Commissioner James Churchill arraigned Earp on April 14, and set bail at $500. On May 15, an indictment against Earp, Kennedy, and Shown was issued. Anna Shown, John Shown's wife, claimed that Earp and Kennedy got her husband drunk and then threatened his life to persuade him to help. On June 5 Edward Kennedy was acquitted while the case against Earp and John Shown remained. Earp didn't wait for the trial. He climbed out through the roof of his jail and headed for Peoria, Illinois.
Years afterward, Wyatt's biographer Stuart Lake reported that Wyatt took to hunting buffalo during the winter of 1871-72, but Earp was arrested three times in the Peoria area during that period. Earp is listed in the city directory for Peoria during 1872 as a resident in the house of Jane Haspel, who operated a brothel. In February 1872, Peoria police raided the brothel, arresting four women and three men: Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, and George Randall. Wyatt and the others were charged with "Keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame". They were later fined twenty dollars plus costs for the criminal infraction. He was arrested for the same crime in May 1872 and late September 1872. He may have been a pimp, but historian Robert Gary L. Roberts believes it is more likely that he was an enforcer, or a bouncer for the brothel. It's possible he hunted buffalo during 1873-74 before he went to Wichita.
Wichita was a railroad terminal and a destination for cattle drives from Texas. Like other frontier railroad terminals, when the cowboys accompanying the cattle drives arrived, the town was filled with drunken, armed cowboys celebrating the end of their long journey, and the lawmen were kept busy. When the cattle drives ended and the cowboys left, Earp searched for something else to do. A newspaper story in October 1874 reported that he earned some money helping an off-duty police officer find thieves who had stolen a man's wagon. Earp officially joined the Wichita marshal's office on April 21, 1875, after the election of Mike Meagher as city marshal (or police chief), making $100 per month. He also dealt faro at the Long Branch Saloon.:135
In late 1875, the Wichita Beacon newspaper published this story::209
On last Wednesday (December 8), policeman Earp found a stranger lying near the bridge in a drunken stupor. He took him to the 'cooler' and on searching him found in the neighborhood of $500 on his person. He was taken next morning, before his honor, the police judge, paid his fine for his fun like a little man and went on his way rejoicing. He may congratulate himself that his lines, while he was drunk, were cast in such a pleasant place as Wichita as there are but a few other places where that $500 bank roll would have been heard from. The integrity of our police force has never been seriously questioned.
Earp was embarrassed in early 1876 when his loaded single-action revolver fell out of his holster while he was leaning back on a chair and discharged when the hammer hit the floor. The bullet went through his coat and out through the ceiling.
Wyatt's stint as Wichita deputy came to a sudden end on April 2, 1876, when Earp took too active an interest in the city marshal's election. According to news accounts, former marshal Bill Smith accused Wyatt of using his office to help hire his brothers as lawmen. Wyatt got into a fistfight with Smith and beat him. Meagher was forced to fire Earp and arrest him for disturbing the peace, which ended a tour of duty that the papers called otherwise "unexceptionable". When Meagher won the election, the city council was split evenly on re-hiring Earp. When his brother James opened a brothel in Dodge City, Kansas, Wyatt joined him.
Dodge City, Kansas
After 1875, Dodge City became a major terminal for cattle drives from Texas along the Chisholm Trail. Earp was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City under Marshal Lawrence "Larry" Deger in 1876. There is evidence that Earp spent the winter of 1876–77 in another boomtown, Deadwood, Dakota Territory.:31 He was not on the police force in Dodge City in late 1877, and rejoined the force in spring 1878 at the request of mayor James H. "Dog" Kelley. The Dodge City newspaper reported in July 1878 that Earp had been fined $1 for slapping a muscular prostitute named Frankie Bell, who (according to the papers) "...heaped epithets upon the unoffending head of Mr. Earp to such an extent as to provide a slap from the ex-officer..." Bell spent the night in jail and was fined $20, while Earp's fine was the legal minimum.
In October 1877, Earp left Dodge City to gamble throughout Texas.:31 He stopped at Fort Griffin, Texas before returning to Dodge City in 1878 to become the assistant city marshal, serving under Charlie Bassett. He may have met John Henry "Doc" Holliday while in Texas. In summer 1878, Holliday assisted Earp during a bar room confrontation when Earp "was surrounded by desperadoes". Earp credited Holliday with saving his life that day and they became friends.
While in Dodge City, he became acquainted with brothers James and Bat Masterson, Luke Short, and prostitute Celia Anne "Mattie" Blaylock. Blaylock became Earp's common-law wife until 1881. When Earp resigned from the Dodge City police force on September 9, 1879, she accompanied him to the Las Vegas in New Mexico Territory, and then Tombstone in Arizona Territory.:47:152
George Hoyt shooting
At about 3:00 in the morning of July 26, 1878, George Hoyt (spelled in some accounts as "Hoy") and other drunken cowboys shot their guns wildly, including three shots into Dodge City's Comique Theater, causing comedian Eddie Foy to throw himself to the stage floor in the middle of his act. Fortunately, no one was injured. Assistant Marshal Earp and policeman James Masterson responded and "...together with several citizens, turned their pistols loose in the direction of the fleeing horsemen". As the riders crossed the Arkansas river bridge south of town, George Hoyt fell from his horse from weakness caused by a wound in the arm he had received during the fracas. Hoyt developed gangrene and died on August 21. Earp claimed to have sighted on Hoyt against the morning horizon and to have fired the fatal shot, but Hoyt could easily have been shot by Masterson or one of the citizens in the crowd.
Move to Tombstone, Arizona
Wyatt's older brother Virgil was in Prescott, Arizona Territory, in 1879 and wrote Wyatt about the opportunities in the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone. In fall 1879, Wyatt, his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock, his brother Jim and his wife, and Doc Holliday and his common-law wife Big Nose Kate, all left for Arizona. They stopped in Las Vegas and at other locations, arriving in Prescott in November. The three Earps moved with their wives to Tombstone while Doc remained in Prescott where the gambling afforded better opportunities. Tombstone had grown from less than 100 souls, when created in March 1879, to about 1000 when the Earp group arrived in November.:50 On November 27, 1879, three days before moving to Tombstone, Virgil was appointed by Crawley Dake, U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory, as Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Tombstone mining district, some 450 kilometres (280 mi) from Prescott. The Deputy U.S. Marshal in Tombstone represented federal authority in the southeast area of the Arizona Territory.
Wyatt brought horses and a buckboard wagon that he planned to convert into a stagecoach, but on arrival he found two established stage lines already running. In Tombstone, the Earps staked mining claims and water rights interests, attempting to capitalize on the mining boom. Jim worked as a barkeep. On December 6, 1879, the three Earps and Robert J. Winders filed a location notice for the First North Extension of the Mountain Maid Mine. When none of their business interests proved fruitful, Wyatt was hired in April or May 1880 by Wells, Fargo & Co. agent Frederick James Dodge as a shotgun messenger on stagecoaches when they transported Wells Fargo strongboxes.:54 In summer 1880, younger brothers Morgan arrived from Montana and Warren Earp moved to Tombstone as well. In September, Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday arrived from Prescott.
First confrontation with Cowboys
On July 25, 1880, U.S. Army Captain Joseph H. Hurst asked Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp to assist him in tracking Cowboys who had stolen six U.S. Army mules from Camp Rucker. Virgil requested the assistance of his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, along with Wells Fargo agent Marshall Williams, and they found the mules at the McLaurys' ranch. McLaury was a Cowboy, which in that time and region was generally regarded as an outlaw. Legitimate cowmen were referred to as cattle herders or ranchers. They found the branding iron used to change the "U.S." brand to "D.8." Stealing the mules was a federal offense because the animals were U.S. property.
Cowboy Frank Patterson "made some kind of a compromise" with Captain Hurst, who persuaded the posse to withdraw, with the understanding that the mules would be returned. The Cowboys showed up two days later without the mules and laughed at Captain Hurst and the Earps. In response, Capt. Hurst printed a handbill describing the theft, and specifically charged Frank McLaury with assisting with hiding the mules. He also reproduced the flyer in The Tombstone Epitaph, on July 30, 1880. Frank McLaury angrily printed a response in the Cowboy-friendly Nuggett, calling Hurst "unmanly", "a coward, a vagabond, a rascal, and a malicious liar", and accused Hurst of stealing the mules himself. Capt. Hurst later cautioned Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan that the cowboys had threatened their lives. Virgil reported that Frank accosted him and warned him "If you ever again follow us as close as you did, then you will have to fight anyway.":28 A month later Earp ran into Frank and Tom McLaury in Charleston, and they told him if he ever followed them as he had done before, they would kill him.
Becomes Deputy Sheriff
On July 28, 1880, Wyatt was appointed Deputy Sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County, which included Tombstone, by Democratic County Sheriff Charlie Shibell.:65 Wyatt passed on his Wells Fargo job as shotgun messenger to his brother Morgan. Wyatt did his job well, and from August through November his name was mentioned nearly every week by the The Tombstone Epitaph or the Nugget newspapers.
The deputy sheriff's position was worth more than US$40,000 a year (about $977,517 today) because he was also county assessor and tax collector, and the board of supervisors allowed him to keep ten percent of the amounts paid.:157 Wyatt, however, only served for about three months.
In November, Shibell ran for re-election against Republican challenger Bob Paul. Wyatt, a Republican, favored Paul, and when Shibell won the election, Wyatt resigned on November 9, 1880, only twelve days after the White shooting. Shibell immediately appointed Behan as the new Deputy Sheriff for eastern Pima County. However, Paul filed charges alleging that Shibell's Cowboy supporters Iike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius, and Frank McLaury had cooperated in ballot stuffing.
Paul was eventually declared the winner of the Pima County sheriff election but not until April 1881. By that time Paul could not replace Behan with Earp because on January 1, 1881, Cochise County was created out of the eastern portion of Pima County.
Earp and Behan applied to fill the new position of Cochise County sheriff, which like the Pima County Sheriff job paid the office holder 10% of the fees and taxes collected.:157 Earp thought he had a good chance to win the position because he was the former undersheriff in the region and a Republican, like Arizona Territorial Governor John C. Fremont. However, Behan had greater political influence in Prescott.
Earp testified during the Spicer hearing after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that he and Behan had made a deal. If Earp withdrew his application to the legislature, Behan agreed to appoint Earp as undersheriff. Behan received the appointment in February 1881, but did not keep his end of the bargain and instead chose Harry Woods, a prominent Democrat, as undersheriff. Behan testified at first that he had not made any deal with Earp, although he later admitted he had lied. Behan said he broke his promise to appoint Earp because of an incident that occurred shortly before his appointment.
This incident arose after Earp learned that one of his prize horses, stolen more than a year before, was in the possession of Ike Clanton and his brother Billy. Earp and Holliday rode to the Clanton ranch near Charleston to recover the horse. On the way, they overtook Behan, who was riding in a wagon. Behan was also heading to the ranch to serve an election-hearing subpoena on Ike Clanton. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Earp later testified that when he arrived at the Clanton ranch, Billy Clanton gave up the horse even before being presented with ownership papers. According to Behan's testimony, however, Earp had told the Clantons that Behan was on his way to arrest them for horse theft. After the incident, which embarrassed both the Clantons and Behan, Behan testified that he did not want to work with Earp and chose Woods instead.
Town marshal shot
On October 28, 1880, popular Tombstone town marshal Fred White attempted to break up a group of late night, drunken revelers shooting at the moon on Allen Street in Tombstone. Wyatt was nearby, though unarmed. He borrowed a pistol from Fred Dodge and went to assist White. When White grabbed Curly Bill Brocius' pistol, the gun discharged, striking White in the groin.:117 Wyatt pistol-whipped Brocius, knocking him to the ground. Then he grabbed Brocius by the collar and told him to get up. Brocius protested, asking, "What have I done?":117
Fred Dodge arrived on the scene. In a letter to Stuart Lake many years later, he recalled what he saw.
Wyatt's coolness and nerve never showed to better advantage than they did that night. When Morg and I reached him, Wyatt was squatted on his heels beside Curly Bill and Fred White. Curly Bill's friends were pot-shooting at him in the dark. The shooting was lively and slugs were hitting the chimney and cabin... in all of that racket, Wyatt's voice was even and quiet as usual.:117
Wyatt told his biographer many years later that he thought Brocious was still armed at the time and didn't see Brocius' pistol on the ground in the dark until afterward. The pistol contained one expended cartridge and five live rounds.:118 Brocius waived a preliminary hearing so he and his case could be transferred to Tucson District Court. Virgil and Wyatt escorted Brocius to Tucson to stand trial, possibly saving him from a lynching. White, age 31, died of his wound two days after his shooting.:119
On December 27, 1880, Wyatt testified that White's shooting was accidental. Brocius expressed regret, saying he had not intended to shoot White. It was also shown that Brocius' single action revolver could be fired when half-cocked. A statement from White before he died was introduced stating that the shooting was accidental. The judge ruled that the shooting was accidental and released Brocius. Brocius however remained intensely angry about how Wyatt had pistol whipped him and became an enemy to the Earps.
Conflicts with Sheriff Behan
In the personal arena, 32-year-old Wyatt Earp and 35-year-old Johnny Behan shared an interest in the same 18-year-old woman, Josephine Sarah Marcus. She first visited Tombstone as part of the Pauline Markham Theatre Troupe on December 1, 1879 for a one-week engagement, the same day that Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan arrived in Tombstone, though it's not known if they met at that time:19 or on May 12, 1881.:59 The Pauline Markham troupe, including Sadie Marcus, took their show to Prescott, Arizona for several months. In February, 1880, just after the Markham troupe ended its initial run of performances in Prescott, a woman named Sadie Marcus left the acting troupe and a woman named Sadie Mansfield arrived in Tip Top. Behan owned a saloon where he maintained prostitutes. In September 1880, Behan moved to Tombstone. Marcus went to San Francisco and then joined Behan in Tombstone, where she and Behan continued their relationship.
In spring 1881, Marcus found Behan in bed with the wife of a friend and kicked him out, although she still used the Behan surname through the end of that summer. Earp had a common-law relationship with Mattie Blaylock, who was listed as his wife in the June, 1880 census. She suffered from severe headaches and became addicted to laudanum, a commonly used opiate and pain killer. There are no contemporary records in Tombstone of a relationship between Josephine and Earp, but Behan and Earp both had offices above the Crystal Palace Saloon.
Marcus and Wyatt went to great lengths to sanitize their history. For example, they worked hard to keep both her name and the name of Wyatt's second wife Mattie out of Stuart Lake 1931 book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, and Marcus threatened litigation to keep it that way.:101 Marcus also told Earp's biographers and others that Earp never drank, didn't own gambling saloons, and that he never provided prostitutes to customers, although all were true.
Interest in mining and gambling
Losing the undersheriff position left Wyatt Earp without a job in Tombstone; however, Wyatt and his brothers were beginning to make some money on their mining claims in the Tombstone area. In January 1881, Oriental Saloon owner Lou Rickabaugh gave Wyatt Earp a one-quarter interest in the faro concession at the Oriental Saloon in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer.:41 Wyatt invited his friend, lawman and gambler Bat Masterson, to Tombstone to help him run the faro tables in the Oriental Saloon. In June 1881, Wyatt also telegraphed another friend and gambler from Dodge, Luke Short, who was living in Leadville, Colorado, and offered him a job as a faro dealer.
Bat remained until April, 1881, when he returned to Dodge City to assist his brother Jim.:206:206 On October 8, 1881 Doc Holliday got into a dispute with John Tyler in the Oriental Saloon. A rival gambling concession operator hired Tyler to make trouble at the Oriental and disrupt Wyatt's business. When Tyler started a fight after losing a bet, Wyatt threw him out of the saloon. Holliday later wounded Oriental owners Milt Joyce and his partner Lou Rickabaugh and was convicted of assault. Around this time Earp saved gambler Michael O'Rourke ("Johnny Behind the Deuce") from being hanged after he was arrested for murdering a miner. O'Rourke said he killed the miner in self-defense. Earp stood down a large crowd that wanted to lynch O'Rourke, an incident that added to Earp's legend as a lawman.:39
Cowboys rob stagecoaches
Tensions between the Earps and both the Clantons and McLaurys increased through 1881. On March 15, 1881 at 10:00 pm, three cowboys attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach carrying US$26,000 in silver bullion (or about $635,386 in today's dollars) near Benson, during which the popular driver Eli "Budd" Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig were killed.
The Earps and a posse tracked the men down and arrested Luther King, who confessed he had been holding the reins for Bill Leonard, Harry "The Kid" Head, and Jim Crane as the robbers. King was arrested and Sheriff Johnny Behan escorted him to jail, but somehow King walked in the front door and almost immediately out the back door.
During the hearing into the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt testified that he offered the US$3,600 in Wells Fargo reward money ($1,200 per robber) to Ike Clanton and Frank McLaury in return for information about the identities of the three robbers. Wyatt testified that he had other motives for his plan as well: he hoped that arresting the murderers would boost his chances for election as Cochise County sheriff.
According to Earp, both Frank McLaury and Ike Clanton agreed to provide information to assist in their capture, but never had a chance to fulfill the agreement. All three cowboy suspects in the stage robbery were killed when attempting other robberies. Wyatt told the court at the hearing after the O.K. Corral shootout that he had taken the extra step of obtaining a second copy of a telegram for Ike from Wells Fargo assuring that the reward for capturing the killers applied either dead or alive. In his testimony at the court hearing, Clanton offered different testimony about the incident and accused Earp of leaking their deal to his brother Morgan or to Holliday.:42 He said that Morgan Earp had asked him about whether he would make the agreement with Wyatt, and four or five days afterward Morgan confided in him that he and Wyatt had "piped off $1,400 to Doc Holliday and Bill Leonard" who were supposed to be on the stage the night Bud Philpot was killed. During his testimony, Clanton told the court "I was not going to have anything to do with helping to capture—" and then he corrected himself "—kill Bill Leonard, Crane and Harr." Ike Clanton denied having any knowledge of the telegram confirming the reward money.
September stagecoach robbery
Meanwhile, tensions between the Earps and the McLaurys increased with the holdup of a passenger stage on the Sandy Bob Line in the Tombstone area on September 8, bound for nearby Bisbee. The masked robbers shook down the passengers and robbed the strongbox. They were recognized by their voices and language. They were identified as Pete Spence (an alias for Elliot Larkin Ferguson) and Frank Stilwell, a business partner of Spence who had shortly before been fired as a deputy of Sheriff Behan's (for county tax "accounting irregularities"). Spence and Stilwell were friends of the McLaury brothers. Wyatt and Virgil Earp rode with the sheriff's posse attempting to track the Bisbee stage robbers, and Wyatt discovered an unusual boot heel print in the mud. They checked with a shoemaker in Bisbee and found a matching heel that he had just removed from Stilwell's boot. A further check of a Bisbee corral turned up both Spence and Stilwell. Stilwell and Spence were arrested by sheriff's deputies Breakenridge and Nagel for the stage robbery, and later by Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp on the federal offense of mail robbery.
Released on bail, Spence and Stilwell were re-arrested by Virgil for the Bisbee robbery a month later, October 13, on the new federal charge of interfering with a mail carrier. The newspapers, however, reported that they had been arrested for a different stage robbery that occurred (October 8) near Contention City. Occurring less than two weeks before the O.K. Corral shootout, this final incident may have been misunderstood by the McLaurys. While Wyatt and Virgil were still out of town for the Spence and Stilwell hearing, Frank McLaury confronted Morgan Earp, telling him that the McLaurys would kill the Earps if they tried to arrest Spence, Stilwell, or the McLaurys again.:43
Gunfight and aftermath
On Wednesday, October 26, 1881, the tension between the Earps and the Cowboys came to a head. Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and other Cowboys had been threatening to kill the Earps for several weeks. Tombstone city Marshal Virgil Earp learned that the Cowboys were armed and had gathered near the O.K. Corral. He asked Wyatt and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday to assist him, as he intended to disarm them. Wyatt was acting as a temporary assistant marshal, Morgan was a Deputy City Marshal, and Virgil deputized Holliday for the occasion. At approximately 3:00 p.m. the Earps headed towards Fremont Street where the Cowboys had been reported gathering.
They confronted five Cowboys in a vacant lot adjacent to the O.K. Corral's rear entrance on Fremont street. The lot between the Harwood House and Fly's Boarding House and Photography Studio was narrow—the two parties were initially only about 6 to 10 feet (1.8 to 3.0 m) apart. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled the gunfight. Tom and Frank McLaury along with Billy Clanton stood their ground and were killed. Morgan was clipped by a shot across his back that nicked both shoulder blades and a vertebra. Virgil was shot through the calf and Holliday was grazed by a bullet.
From heroes to defendants
On October 30, Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. Justice Spicer convened a preliminary hearing on October 31 to determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial. In an unusual proceeding, he took written and oral testimony from a number of witnesses over more than a month.
Sheriff Behan, testifying for the prosecution, said the Cowboys had not resisted but either thrown up their hands and turned out their coats to show they were not armed. He said that Tom McLaury threw open his coat to show that he was not armed and that the first two shots were fired by the Earp party. Sheriff Behan insisted Doc Holliday had fired first using a nickel-plated revolver, although other witnesses reported seeing him carrying a messenger shotgun immediately beforehand.
The Earps hired an experienced trial lawyer, Thomas Fitch, as defense counsel. Wyatt testified that he drew his gun only after Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury went for their pistols. He detailed the Earps' previous troubles with the Clantons and McLaurys and explained that they intended to disarm the cowboys. He said they fired in self-defense. Fitch managed to produce testimony from prosecution witnesses during cross-examination that was contradictory and appeared to dodge his questions.
After extensive testimony, Justice Spicer ruled on November 30 that there was not enough evidence to indict the men. He said the evidence indicated that the Earps and Holliday acted within the law and that Holliday and Wyatt had been deputized temporarily by Virgil. Even though the Earps and Holliday were free, their reputations had been tarnished. Supporters of the Cowboys in Tombstone looked upon the Earps as robbers and murderers and plotted revenge.
On December 28, while walking between saloons on Allen Street in Tombstone, Virgil was ambushed and maimed by a shotgun round that struck his left arm and shoulder. Ike Clanton's hat was found in the back of the building across Allen Street from where the shots were fired. Wyatt wired U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake asking to be appointed deputy U.S. marshal with authority to select his own deputies. Dake granted the request in late January and provided the Earps with some funds he borrowed from Wells, Fargo & Co. on behalf of the Earps, variously reported as $500:238 to $3,000.:238
In mid-January, when Earp ally Rickabaugh sold the Oriental Saloon to Earp adversary Milt Joyce, Wyatt sold his gambling concessions at the hotel. The Earps also raised some funds from sympathetic business owners in town. On February 2, 1882, Wyatt and Virgil, tired of the criticism leveled against them, submitted their resignations to Dake, who refused to accept them because their accounts had not been settled.:470 On the same day, Wyatt sent a message to Ike Clanton that he wanted to reconcile their differences, which Clanton refused. Clanton was also acquitted that day of the charges against him in the shooting of Virgil Earp, when the defense brought in seven witnesses who testified that Clanton was in Charleston at the time of the shooting.:242
The Earps needed more funds to pay for the extra deputies and associated expenses. Contributions received from supportive business owners were not enough. On February 13, Wyatt mortgaged his home to lawyer James G. Howard for $365.00 (about $8,920 today) and received $365.00 in U.S. gold coin. (He was never able to repay the loan and in 1884 Howard foreclosed on the house.)
After attending a theatre show on March 18, Morgan Earp was assassinated by gunmen firing from a dark alley through a door window into a room where he was playing billiards. Morgan was struck in the right side. The bullet shattered his spine, passed through his left side, and lodged in the thigh of George A. B. Berry. Another round narrowly missed Wyatt. A doctor was summoned and Morgan was moved from the floor to a nearby couch. The assassins escaped in the dark and Morgan died forty minutes later.
The day after Morgan's assassination, Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt, his brother James, Doc Holliday, and a few others who Wyatt deputized took Morgan's body to the railhead in Benson. They put Morgan's body on the train with James, who accompanied it to the family home in Colton, California, where Morgan's parents and wife waited to bury him. They guarded Virgil and Addie through to Tucson, where they had heard Frank Stilwell and other Cowboys were waiting to kill Virgil. The next morning Frank Stilwell's body was found alongside the tracks riddled with buckshot and gunshot wounds. Wyatt and five other federal lawmen were accused of murdering him and Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued warrants for their arrest.
The Earp posse briefly returned to Tombstone where Sheriff Behan tried to stop them. The heavily armed posse brushed him aside and set out for Pete Spence's wood camp in the Dragoon Mountains. They found and killed Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz. Two days later, near Iron Springs (later Mescal Springs), in the Whetstone Mountains, they were seeking to rendezvous with a messenger for them. They unexpectedly stumbled onto the wood camp of Curly Bill Brocius, Pony Diehl, and other Cowboys. According to reports from both sides, the two sides immediately exchanged gun fire. Except for Wyatt and Texas Jack Vermillion, whose horse was shot, the Earp party withdrew to find protection from the heavy gunfire. Curly Bill fired at Wyatt with a shotgun but missed. Eighteen months prior Wyatt had protected Curly Bill against a mob ready to lynch him and then provided testimony that helped spare Curly Bill from a murder trial for killing Sheriff Fred White. Now, Wyatt returned Curly Bill's gunfire with his own shotgun and shot Curly Bill in the chest from about 50 feet (15 m) away. Curly Bill fell into the water by the edge of the spring and died.
Wyatt received bullet holes in both sides of his long coat and another struck his boot heel. After emptying his shotgun, Wyatt fired his pistol, mortally wounding Johnny Barnes in the chest and wounded Milt Hicks in the arm. Vermillion tried to retrieve his rifle wedged in the scabbard under his fallen horse, exposing himself to the Cowboys' gunfire. Doc Holliday helped him get to cover. Wyatt had trouble remounting his horse because his cartridge belt had slipped down his legs. He was finally able to get on his horse and with the rest of the posse retreated.
The Earp Party rode north to the Percy Ranch, but were not welcomed by Hugh and Jim Percy, who feared the Cowboys; after a meal and some rest, they left at about 3:00 in the morning of March 27. The Earp party slipped into the area near Tombstone and met with supporters, including "Charlie" Smith and Warren Earp. On March 27, the posse arrived at the Sierra Bonita Ranch owned by Henry C. Hooker, a wealthy and prominent rancher. That night Dan Tipton caught the first stage out of Tombstone and headed for Benson, carrying $1,000 from mining owner and Earp supporter E.B. Gage for the posse. Hooker congratulated Earp on the murder of Curly Bill. Hooker fed them and Wyatt told him he wanted to buy new mounts. Although Hooker was known for his purebred stallions and ran over 500 brood mares that produced horses that became known for their speed, beauty and temperament, he refused to take Wyatt's money. When Behan's posse was observed in the distance, Hooker suggested Wyatt make his stand there, but Wyatt moved into the hills about three miles (5 km) distant near Reilly Hill.
The federal posse led by Wyatt Earp wasn't found by the local posse, led by Cochise County Sheriff John Behan, although Behan's party trailed the Earps for many miles. In the middle of April 1882 the Earp party left the Arizona Territory and headed east into New Mexico Territory and then into Colorado. :263
The coroner reports credited the Earp party with killing four men—Frank Stilwell, Curly Bill, Indian Charlie, and Johnny Barnes—in their two-week long ride. In 1888 Wyatt Earp gave an interview to California historian H. H. Bancroft during which he claimed to have killed "over a dozen stage robbers, murderers, and cattle thieves" in his time as a lawman.
Life after Tombstone
The gunfight in Tombstone lasted only 30 seconds, but it would end up defining Earp for the rest of his life.:135 After Wyatt killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson, his movements received national press coverage and he became a known commodity in Western folklore.
After killing the four Cowboys, Wyatt and Warren Earp, Holliday, Sherman McMaster, "Turkey Creek" Jack Johnson, and Texas Jack Vermillion left Arizona. They stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they met Deputy U.S. Marshal Bat Masterson, Wyatt's friend. Masterson went with them to Trinidad, Colorado where Masterson owned a saloon. Wyatt dealt Faro for several weeks before he, Warren, and Holliday rode on to Gunnison, Colorado. Holliday headed to Pueblo and then Denver. The Earps and Texas Jack set up camp on the outskirts of Gunnison, where they remained quietly at first, rarely going into town for supplies. Eventually, Wyatt took over a faro game at a local saloon.:66
Wyatt left his common-law wife Mattie Blaylock their house in Tombstone, but she waited for him in Colton where his parents and Virgil were living. She eventually accepted that Wyatt was not coming for her and moved to Pinal City, Arizona where she resumed life as a prostitute. Mattie struggled with addictions and committed "suicide by opium poisoning" on July 3, 1888. In late 1882, Wyatt went to San Francisco and joined Josephine Marcus and his brother Warren. Josephine was his common-law wife for the next 46 years.:29 Josie, or Sadie as he called her, and Earp left San Francisco for Gunnison, where Earp ran a Faro bank until he received a request for assistance from Luke Short in Dodge City.:p275-298
Dodge City War
On May 31, 1883, Earp and Sadie along with Bat Masterson arrived in Dodge City to help Luke Short, part owner of the Long Branch saloon, during what became known as the Dodge City War. When the Mayor tried to run Luke Short first out of business and then out of town, Short appealed to Masterson who contacted Earp. While Short was discussing the matter with Governor George Washington Glick in Kansas City, Earp showed up with Johnny Millsap, Shotgun John Collins, Texas Jack Vermillion, and Johnny Green. They marched up Front Street into Short's saloon where they were sworn in as deputies by constable "Prairie Dog" Dave Marrow. The town council offered a compromise to allow Short to return for ten days to get his affairs in order, but Earp refused to compromise. When Short returned, there was no force ready to turn him away. Short's Saloon reopened, and the Dodge City War ended without a shot being fired.:67
Idaho mining venture
In 1884, Wyatt and his wife Josie, his brothers Warren and James, and James' wife Bessie arrived in Eagle City, Idaho, another new boomtown that was created as a result of the discovery of gold, silver, and lead in the Coeur d'Alene area. (It's now a ghost town in Shoshone County). Wyatt joined the crowd looking for gold in the Murray-Eagle mining district. They paid $2,250 for a 50 feet (15 m) diameter white circus, in which they opened a dance hall and saloon called The White Elephant.
Earp was named Deputy Sheriff in the area including newly incorporated Kootenai County, Idaho, which was disputing jurisdiction of Eagle City with Shoshone County. There were a considerable number of disagreements over mining claims and property rights, which Earp had a part in. On March 28, several feet of snow were still on the ground. Bill Buzzard, a miner of dubious reputation, began constructing a building when one of Wyatt's partners, Jack Enright, tried to stop the construction. Enright claimed the building was on part of his property. Words were exchanged and Buzzard reached for his Winchester. He fired several shots at Enright and a skirmish developed. Allies of both sides quickly took defensive positions between snowbanks and began shooting at one another. Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp and his brother James stepped into the middle of the fray and helped peacefully resolve the dispute before anyone was seriously hurt.:p275-298 Shoshone County Deputy W. E. Hunt then arrived and ordered the parties to turn over their weapons.
In about April 1885, it was reported that Wyatt Earp used his badge to join a band of claim jumpers in Embry Camp, later renamed Chewelah, Washington. Within six months their substantial stake had run dry, and the Earps left the Murray-Eagle district. About 10 years later, after the Fitzimmons-Sharkey fight, a reporter hunted up Buzzard and extracted a story from him that accused Wyatt of being the brains behind lot-jumping and a real-estate fraud scheme, further tarnishing his reputation.:p275-298
San Diego real estate boom
After the Coeur d'Alene mining venture died out, Earp and Josie briefly went to El Paso, Texas before moving in 1887 to San Diego where the railroad was about to arrive and a real estate boom was underway. They stayed for about four years. Earp speculated in San Diego's booming real estate market. Between 1887 and around 1896 he bought four saloons and gambling halls, one on Fourth Street and the other two near Sixth and E, all in the "respectable" part of town. They offered 21 games including faro, blackjack, poker, keno, and other Victorian-American games of chance like pedro and monte. At the height of the boom, he made up to $1,000 a night in profit. Wyatt also owned the Oyster Bar located in the Louis Bank Building at 837 5th Avenue, one of the more popular saloons in the Stingaree district.:71 One of the reasons it drew a good crowd was the Golden Poppy brothel that Earp ran upstairs. Each room was painted a different color, like emerald green, summer yellow, or ruby red, and each prostitute was required to dress in matching garments. In 2003, the Oyster Bar saloon was converted into a restaurant, named as of April 2013 George's On Fifth.
Wyatt had a long-standing interest in boxing and horse racing. He refereed boxing matches in San Diego, Tijuana, and San Bernardino. In the 1887 San Diego City Directory he was listed as a capitalist or gambler. He won his first race horse "Otto Rex" in a card game and began investing in racehorses. He also judged prize fights on both sides of the border and raced horses. Earp was one of the judges at the County Fair horse races held in Escondido in 1889. As rapidly as the boom started, it came to an end, and the population of San Diego fell from a high of 40,000 in 1885 when Earp arrived to only 16,000 in 1890.
Move to San Francisco
The Earps moved back to San Francisco in 1890 or 1893 so Josie could be closer to her family. Wyatt took a job managing a horse stable in Santa Rosa. Earp developed a reputation as a sportsman as well as a gambler. He owned a six-horse stable in San Francisco. At Santa Rosa, Earp personally competed in and won a harness race. From 1890 to 1897, they lived at four different residences in the city: 145 Ellis St., 720 McAllister St., 514A Seventh Ave. and 1004 Golden Gate Ave.:171 Josephine wrote in I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus, that she and Wyatt were married in 1892 by the captain of multimillionaire Lucky Baldwin's yacht aboard his yacht. Raymond Nez wrote that his grandparents witnessed their marriage aboard a yacht off the California coast. No public record of their marriage has ever been found. Baldwin also owned the Santa Anita racetrack, which Wyatt — a long-time horse aficionado — frequented when they were in Los Angeles.
During summer 1896, Earp began to write his memoirs with the help of John H. Flood, an engineer whom he hired as his secretary.
Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight referee
On December 2, 1896, Earp was a last-minute choice as referee for a heavyweight boxing match at the Mechanics' Pavilion in San Francisco between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. He had refereed 30 or so matches in earlier days, though not under the Marquis of Queensbury rules. The fight may have been the most anticipated fight on American soil that year. Fitzsimmons was favored to win, and bets flowed heavily his way. Wyatt entered the ring still armed with his customary Colt .45 and drew a lot of attention when he had to be disarmed. He later said he forgot he was wearing it. Fitzsimmons was taller and quicker than Sharkey and dominated the fight from the opening bell. In the eighth round, Fitzsimmons hit Sharkey with his famed "solar plexus punch", an uppercut under the heart that could render a man temporarily helpless. The punch caught Sharkey, Earp, and most of the crowd by surprise, and Sharkey dropped, clutched his groin, and rolled on the canvas, screamed foul.
Wyatt stopped the bout, ruling that Fitzsimmons had hit Sharkey when he was down. His ruling was greeted with loud boos and catcalls. Earp based his decision on the Marquis of Queensbury rules, which state in part, "A man on one knee is considered down and if struck is entitled to the stakes." Very few witnessed the foul Earp ruled on. He awarded the decision to Sharkey, who attendants carried out as "...limp as a rag".
Fitzsimmons obtained an injunction against distributing the prize money until the courts could determine who the rightful winner was. The judge ruled that prize fighting was illegal in San Francisco and the courts would not determine who the real winner was. The decision provided no vindication for Earp and he soon left San Francisco for good. The San Francisco papers lampooned and scrutinized Wyatt for a full month, questioning his honesty. The San Francisco Call vilified him, calling him a crook and a cheat. Earp was accused of having a financial interest in the outcome. Earp was also accused of pulling a gun on Fitzsimmons when confronted.
Klondike Gold Rush
In fall 1897, Earp and Josie once again joined in a mining boom when they headed for Nome, Alaska and the Alaska Gold Rush. He operated a canteen during summer 1899, and in September, Earp and partner Charles E. Hoxie built the Dexter Saloon in Nome, Alaska, the city's first two story wooden building and its largest and most luxurious saloon. The building was used for a variety of purposes because it was so large: 70 by 30 feet (21.3 m × 9.1 m) with 12 feet (3.7 m) ceilings. Earp also kept a brothel upstairs, another fact that was omitted from stories about him.
While there, he rubbed elbows with writer Jack London, future author Rex Beach, playwright Wilson Mizner, and boxing promoter Tex Rickard, with whom Earp developed a long-lasting relationship. Wyatt was arrested twice in Nome for minor offenses, including being drunk and disorderly, although he was not tried. In 1903, he reportedly was playing Faro in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, the center of the Klondike Gold Rush, when he temporarily refused to stop carrying his weapon in public. Earp, who was over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, was confronted by a short 5 feet (1.5 m) Cockney Canadian Mountie, who required him to leave his weapon in his room. Earp was described by the newspaper as having a reputation as a gunfighter.
Return to California
Wyatt and Josie returned to California in 1901 with an estimated $80,000, a relative fortune (equivalent to about $2,270,000 today). In February, 1902, they arrived in Tonopah, Nevada, where gold had been discovered and a boom was under way. He opened the Northern Saloon in Tonopah, and served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal under Marshal J.F. Emmitt. His saloon, gambling and mining interests were profitable for a period.
After Tonapah's gold strike boom waned, Wyatt staked mining claims just outside Death Valley and elsewhere in the Mojave Desert. In 1906 he discovered several deposits of gold and copper near the Sonoran Desert town of Vidal, California on the Colorado River and filed more than 100 mining claims near the Whipple Mountains.:83 Wyatt and Josie Earp summered in Los Angeles and lived in at least nine small Los Angeles rentals as early as 1885 and as late as 1929, mostly in the summer. They bought a small cottage in Vidal and lived there during the fall, winter and spring months of 1925–1928, while he worked his "Happy Days" mines in the Whipple Mountains a few miles north. It was the only permanent residence they owned the entire time they were married. Wyatt had some modest success with the Happy Day Gold Mines and they lived on the slim proceeds of income from that and Kern County Oil.
In about 1910, when he was 62, the Los Angeles Police Department hired Wyatt and former Los Angeles detective Arthur Moore King at $10.00 per day to carry out various tasks "outside the law" such as retrieving criminals from Mexico, which he did very capably. This led to Wyatt's final armed confrontation. In October, 1910 he was asked by former Los Angeles Police Commissioner H. L. Lewis to head up a posse to protect surveyors of the American Trona Company who were attempting to wrest control of mining claims for vast deposits of potash on the edge of Searles Lake held in receivership by the foreclosed California Trona Company. Wyatt and the group he guarded were regarded as claim jumpers and were confronted by armed representatives of the other company. King wrote, "...that it was the nerviest thing he had ever seen". With guns pulled, Wyatt came out of his tent with a Winchester rifle, firing a round at the feet of Federal Receiver Stafford W. Austin. "Back off or I'll blow you apart, or my name is not Wyatt Earp." The owners summoned the U.S. Marshal who arrested Earp and 27 others, served them with a summons for contempt of court, and sent them home. Earp's actions did not resolve the dispute, which eventually escalated into the "Pot Ash Wars" of the Mojave Desert.
On July 23, 1911 Earp was arrested by the LAPD. He was charged with attempting to fleece J.Y. Peterson, a realty broker, in a fake faro game. Since money hadn't changed hands the charge against Earp was reduced to vagrancy and he was released on $500 bail.
Earp eventually moved to Hollywood and became an unpaid film consultant for several silent cowboy movies. In the early 1920s, Earp was given the honorary title of Deputy Sheriff in San Bernardino County, California.
The last surviving Earp brother and the last surviving participant of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp died at home in the Earps' small apartment at 4004 W 17th Street, in Los Angeles, of chronic cystitis (some sources cite prostate cancer) on January 13, 1929 at the age of 80. His Associated Press obituary described him as a "gun-fighter, whose blazing six-shooters, were for most of his life allied with the side of law and order". It gave prominent attention to his officiating of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight. His pallbearers were W. J. Hunsaker, (Earp’s attorney in Tombstone and noted L.A. attorney); Jim Mitchell (Los Angeles Examiner reporter and Hollywood screenwriter); George W. Parsons (founding member of Tombstone’s “Committee of Vigilance”); Wilson Mizner (a friend of Wyatt's during the Klondike Gold Rush); John Clum (a good friend from his days in Tombstone, former Tombstone mayor, and editor of The Tombstone Epitaph); William S. Hart (good friend and western actor and silent film star); and Tom Mix (friend and western film star). Mitchell wrote Wyatt's local obituary. The newspapers reported that Tom Mix cried during his friend's service. His wife Josie was too grief-stricken to attend. Josie, who was of Jewish heritage, had Earp's body cremated and buried his ashes in the Marcus family plot at the Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California.
Although it never was incorporated as a town, the settlement formerly known as Drennan located near the site of some of his mining claims was renamed Earp, California in his honor when the post office was established there in 1930. At the time of his death, he was more famous for his decision ending the Fitzimmons-Sharkey fight than for the Tombstone shootout.
When she died in 1944, Josie's ashes were buried next to Earp's. The original gravemarker was stolen on July 8, 1957 but was later recovered. Their gravesite is the most visited resting place in the Jewish cemetery.
Like his brothers, Wyatt Earp was a physically imposing figure for his day: 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, when most men were about 5 feet 6 inches (1.68 m). He weighed about 165 to 170 pounds (75 to 77 kg), was broad-shouldered, long-armed, and muscular. He was very capable of using his fists instead of his weapon to control those resisting his authority, and was reputed to be an expert with a pistol. He showed no fear of any man.:83 The Tombstone Epitaph said of Wyatt, "bravery and determination were requisites, and in every instance proved himself the right man in the right place".
Among his peers, Wyatt was respected. His deputy Jimmy Cairns described Wyatt's work as a police officer in Wichita, Kansas. "Wyatt Earp was a wonderful officer. He was game to the last ditch and apparently afraid of nothing. The cowmen all respected him and seemed to recognize his superiority and authority at such times as he had to use it." He described Wyatt as "the most dependable man I ever knew; a quiet, unassuming chap who never drank and in all respects a clean young fellow".
When citizens of Dodge City learned the Earps had been charged with murder after the gunfight, they sent letters endorsing and supporting the Earps to Judge Wells Spicer.
Wyatt's manner, though friendly, suggested a quiet reserve... Frequently it has happened that men who have served as peace officers on the frontier have craved notoriety in connection with their dealings with the outlaw element of their time. Wyatt Earp deprecated such notoriety, and during his last illness he told me that for many years he had hoped the public would weary of the narratives—distorted with fantastic and fictitious embellishments—that were published from time to time concerning him, and that his last years might be passed in undisturbed obscurity.
Bill Dixon knew Wyatt early in his adult life. He wrote:
Wyatt was a shy young man with few intimates. With casual acquaintances he seldom spoke unless spoken to. When he did say anything it was to the point, without fear or favor, which wasn't relished by some; but that never bothered Wyatt. To those who knew him well he was a genial companion. He had the most even disposition I ever saw; I never knew him to lose his temper. He was more intelligent, better educated, and far better mannered than the majority of his associates, which probably did not help them to understand him. His reserve limited his friendships, but more than one stranger, down on his luck, has had firsthand evidence of Wyatt's generosity. I think his outstanding quality was the nicety with which he gauged the time and effort for every move. That, plus his absolute confidence in himself, gave him the edge over the run of men.
Public perception of his life has varied over the years as media accounts of his life have changed. The story of the Earps' actions in Tombstone were published at the time by newspapers nationwide. Shortly after the shooting of Curly Bill, the Tucson Star wrote on March 21, 1882 in an editorial about the O.K. Corral gunfight that the Cowboys had been ordered to put their hands up and after they complied, were shot by the Earps, stating, "The whole series of killings cannot be classed other than cold blooded murder."
Famous lawman Bat Masterson described Wyatt in 1907.
Wyatt Earp was one of the few men I personally knew in the West in the early days whom I regarded as absolutely destitute of physical fear. I have often remarked, and I am not alone in my conclusions, that what goes for courage in a man is generally fear of what others will think of him – in other words, personal bravery is largely made up of self-respect, egotism, and apprehension of the opinions of others. Wyatt Earp's daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger is wholly characteristic; personal fear doesn't enter into the equation, and when everything is said and done, I believe he values his own opinion of himself more than that of others, and it is his own good report he seeks to preserve... He never at any time in his career resorted to the pistol excepting cases where such a course was absolutely necessary. Wyatt could scrap with his fists, and had often taken all the fight out of bad men, as they were called, with no other weapons than those provided by nature.:150
Experience in gun fights
Wyatt was lucky during the few gun fights he took part in from his earliest job as an assistant police officer in Wichita to Tombstone, where he was briefly Deputy U.S. Marshal. Unlike his lawmen brothers Virgil and James, Wyatt was never wounded, although once his clothing and his saddle was shot through with bullet holes. According to John H. Flood's biography (as dictated to him by Wyatt Earp), Wyatt vividly recalled a presence that in several instances warned him away or urged him to take action. This happened when he was on the street, alone in his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, at Bob Hatch's Pool Hall, where he went moments before Morgan was assassinated, and again when he approached Iron Springs and surprised Curly Bill Brocius, killing him.
After the shootout in Tombstone, his pursuit and murder of those who attacked his brothers, and after leaving Arizona, Wyatt was often the target of negative newspaper stories that disparaged his and his brothers' reputation. His role in history has stimulated considerable ongoing scholarly and editorial debate. A large body of literature has been written about Wyatt Earp and his legacy, some of it highly fictionalized. Considerable portions of it are either full of admiration and flattery or hostile debunking.
Wyatt was repeatedly criticized in the media over the remainder of his life. His wife Josephine wrote, "The falsehoods that were printed in some of the newspapers about him and the unjust accusations against him hurt Wyatt more deeply than anything that ever happened to him during my life with him, with the exception of his mother's death and that of his father and brother, Warren.":xiv
On April 16, 1894, the Fort Worth Gazette wrote that Virgil Earp and John Behan had a "deadly feud". It described Behan as "an honest man, a good official, and possessed many of the attributes of a gentleman". Earp, on the other hand, "was head of band of desperadoes, a partner in stage robbers, and a friend of gamblers and professional killers... Wyatt was the boss killer of the region." Before he died, Behan lambasted the Earps as the bad guys who had attacked the cowboys.
Earp's handling of the Tom Sharkey – Bob Fitzsimmons boxing match in San Francisco on December 2, 1896 left a smear on his character. In late 1899, Wyatt opened a gambling concession in Seattle, Washington. On November 25, the local paper, the Seattle Star, described him as "a man of great reputation among the toughs and criminals, inasmuch as he formerly walked the streets of a rough frontier mining town with big pistols stuck in his belt, spurs on his boots and a devil-may-care expression upon his official face". The Seattle Daily Times was less full of praise, announcing in a very small article that he had a reputation in Arizona as a "bad man".
During 1922, Frederick R. Bechdolt published the book When the West Was Young, a story about Wyatt's time in Tombstone, but he mangled many basic facts. He described the Earp-Clanton differences as the falling out of partners in crime. Both of these reports bothered Wyatt a great deal, but he remained stalwart.
On March 12, 1922, the Sunday Los Angeles Times ran a short, scandalous article titled "Lurid Trails Are Left by Oldentime Bandits" by J.M. Scanland. It described Wyatt and his brothers as a gang who waylaid the cowboys in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It said that the Earps were allies of Frank Stilwell, who had informed on them, so they killed him, and that Earp had died in Colton, California. Josephine and Earps' friend and actor William Hart both wrote letters to the publisher and demanded correction with equal attention given to the correction as to the original article, which the paper published. It took Earp until 1927 to track the author of the LA Times article down, but the event galvanized Earp. He was tired of the all the lies perpetuated about him and became determined to get his story accurately told.
In 1924, a story in a San Francisco paper said interviewing him was "like pulling teeth". Earp didn't trust the press and he preferred to keep his mouth shut.:xiv
Walter Noble Burns
Author Walter Noble Burns visited Earp in September 1926 and asked Wyatt questions for the book he was writing about Doc Holliday. Wyatt told him he was working on his own book and turned him away. Burns visited Tombstone and based on what he learned about Wyatt decided instead to focus his book on him. He pestered Wyatt for facts, and on March 27 the next year, Wyatt finally responded to Burn's repeated requests in an 11-page letter outlining the basic facts from Earp's point of view.
When their efforts to get the Flood manuscript published failed, the Earps decided to appeal to Burns, whose own book was near publication. But he was not interested. His book was about to be published, free of the constraints imposed by a collaboration with Earp. Burns told them, "I should not now care to undertake another book which, in part at least, would be upon much the same lines... I should have been delighted six months ago to accept your offer but it is too late now. My book has championed Mr. Earp's cause throughout and I believe will vindicate his reputation in Tombstone in a way that he will like." When Burns turned them down, Josephine actively worked to stop the publication of his book, fearful that their efforts to publish Wyatt's biography would be thwarted as a result.
In late 1927, Burns published Tombstone, An Iliad of the Southwest, a mesmerizing tale "of blood and thunder", that christened Earp as the "Lion of Tombstone".:xvi Readers and reviewers found they had a difficult time discerning between "fact and fiction". One reader notes, "Walter Noble Burns would become famous as one of the first authors to paint Wyatt Earp as the hero in white who saved Tombstone."
William M. Breakenridge's book, Helldorado: Bringing Law to the Mesquite, ghost written by Western novelist William MacLeod Raine, was published in 1928 before Wyatt died. Wyatt and his wife Josie claimed that much of what Breakenridge wrote was biased and more fiction than fact. Breakenridge interviewed Earp in Los Angeles but the picture he painted of Wyatt was that of a thief, pimp, crooked gambler, and murderer. Earp loudly protested the book's contents until his death in 1929, and his wife continued in the same vein afterward. One critic writes that, "Breakenridge was insanely jealous of the notoriety Wyatt Earp had received and he made it very clear on more than one occasion that he thoroughly disliked the Earps." Breakenridge referred to the Clantons and McLaury brothers as "cowboys" and said the Earps and Doc Holliday aggressively mistreated the guiltless cowboys until they were forced into a fatal confrontation.
Edwin V. Burkholder, who specialized in stories about the Old West, published an article about Wyatt in 1955 in Argosy Magazine. He called Wyatt Earp a coward and murderer, and manufactured evidence to support his allegations. He also wrote, using the pseudonyms "George Carleton Mays" and "J. S. Qualey", for the Western magazine Real West. His stores were filled with sensational claims about Wyatt Earp's villainy, and he made up fake letters to the editor from supposed "old-timers" to corroborate this story.
Frank Waters interviewed Virgil Earp's widow, Allie Sullivan Earp, to write The Earp Brothers of Tombstone. Waters used her anecdotes as a frame for adding a narrative and "building a case, essentially piling quote upon quote to prove that Wyatt Earp was a con man, thief, robber, and eventually murderer". Waters vociferously berated Wyatt, writing that he "was an itinerant saloonkeeper, cardsharp, gunman, bigamist, church deacon, policeman, bunco artist, and a supreme confidence man. A lifelong exhibitionist ridiculed alike by members of his own family, neighbors, contemporaries, and the public press, he lived his last years in poverty..." Allie Earp was so upset by the way Waters distorted and manipulated her words that she threatened to shoot him. So he waited until 1960, 13 years after her death, to publish the book as The Earp Brothers of Tombstone: The Story of Mrs. Virgil Earp. It was described by one reviewer as "a smear campaign levied against the Earp brothers".
S.J. Reidhead, author of Travesty: Frank Waters Earp Agenda Exposed, spent nearly a decade searching for Water's original manuscript, researching him, his background, and his bias against the Earps. In doing so, the author discovered that the story Waters presented against the Earps was primarily fictitious. "Nothing is documented," she wrote. "There are no notes nor sourcing. There is only the original Tombstone Travesty manuscript and the final Earp Brothers of Tombstone. Because of his later reputation, few writers, even today, dare question Waters' motives. They also do not bother fact checking the Earp Brothers of Tombstone, which is so inaccurate it should be considered fiction, rather than fact."
Anti-Earp writers and researchers use Frank Waters' Earp Brothers of Tombstone, as their primary source for material that presents Wyatt Earp as something of a villainous monster, aided and abetted by his brothers who were almost brutes. Waters detested the Earps so badly that he presented a book that was terribly flawed, poorly edited, and brimming with prevarications. In his other work, Waters is poetic. In the Earp Brothers of Tombstone, he is little more than a tabloid hack, trying to slander someone he dislikes. To date, no reason has been uncovered for the bias Frank Waters exhibited against Wyatt Earp and his brothers.
In 1963, Ed Bartholomew published Wyatt Earp, The Untold Story followed by Wyatt Earp: Man and Myth in 1964. His books were strongly anti-Earp and attacked Wyatt Earp's image as a hero. Bartholomew went about this by reciting snippets of accumulated anti-Earp facts, rumors, gossip, and innuendo. Bartholomew's books started a trend of debunking Earp, and the academic community followed his lead, pursuing the image of Earp as a "fighting pimp".
In reviewing Allen Barra's Inventing Wyatt Earp. His Life and Many Legends, William Urban, a Professor of History at Monmouth College in Warren County, Illinois, pointed out a number of factual inaccuracies in the book. One inconsistency by Barra pointed out by another reviewer includes a description of the poker game the night before the shoot out. Ike Clanton's account of the game (the only one that exists) gives the participants as John Behan, Virgil Earp, Ike Clanton, Tom McLaury, and a fifth man Ike didn't recognize.:115 Barra is criticized for adding Doc Holliday as the game's winner, although this is possibly done as a joke, since Barra also notes Wyatt and Doc had gone home for the night, before the game.
Earp was dismayed about the controversy that continually followed him. He wrote a letter to John Hays Hammond on May 21, 1925, telling him "notoriety had been the bane of my life". Finally attempting to counter negative accounts in newspapers and books, Earp tried to persuade his good friend, well-known cowboy movie star William S. Hart, to make a movie about his life. "If the story were exploited on the screen by you," he wrote Hart, "It would do much toward setting me right before a public which has always been fed lies about me." Hart encouraged Earp to first find an author to pen his story. Starting in 1925 Earp worked with his personal secretary, the former mining engineer John H. Flood, Jr. to get his life story committed to paper.
In February 1926, Hart encouraged The Saturday Evening Post to publish Flood's biography so "that... the rising generation may know the real from the unreal", but Flood was a horrendous writer, and publisher after publisher rejected the manuscript.:xvi In February 1927, Bobbs Merrill editor Anne Johnston wrote a painfully direct criticism of Flood's writing. She said the language was "stilted, florid and diffuse". She said, "Now one forgets what it's all about in the clutter of unimportant details that impedes its pace, and the pompous manner of its telling."
Unlike most legendary lawmen of the American West, Earp was relatively unknown until Stuart Lake published the first biography of Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal in 1931, two years after Earp died. Lake portrayed Earp as a "Western superhero" who single-handedly cleaned up a town full of cowboy criminals. In fact Earp had worked as a stagecoach guard for Wells Fargo, a full-time gambler, was a regular associate of prostitutes, and was occasionally a lawman.
Lake wrote the book with Earp's input, but was only able to interview him eight times before Earp died, during which Earp sketched out the "barest facts" of his life. Despite having received very little information from Earp, Lake wrote the biography in the first person.
Lake initially sought Earp out hoping to write a magazine article about him. Earp was also seeking a biographer at about the same time. Earp, who was 80, was concerned that his vantage point on the Tombstone story may be lost, and may have been financially motivated as he had little income in his last years of life.:115
During the interviews and in later correspondence, Josephine and Wyatt went to great lengths to keep her name out of Lake's book. After Earp's death on January 13, 1929, Josephine continued to try to persuade Lake to leave her and Earp's former wife, Mattie Blaylock, out of the book, even threatening legal action.
In 1927, Earp wrote Lake,
For my handling of the situation at Tombstone, I have no regrets. Were it to be done over again, I would do exactly as I did at that time. If the outlaws and their friends and allies imagined that they could intimidate or exterminate the Earps by a process of murder, and then hide behind alibis and the technicalities of the law, they simply missed their guess. I want to call your particular attention again to one fact, which writers of Tombstone incidents and history apparently have overlooked: with the deaths of the McLowerys, the Clantons, Stillwell, Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill, and the rest, organized, politically protected crime and depredations in Cochise County ceased.
Lake wrote Earp that he planned to send portions of the book to his New York agent, but Earp objected because he wanted to read it first. Lake finally published Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal in 1931, two years after Earp's death.
Lake's creative biography portrays Earp as a "Western superhero", "gallant white knight" and entirely avoided mentioning Josephine Earp. Later Hollywood portrayals continued to exaggerate Earp's profile as a western lawman. The book drew considerable positive attention and established Lake as a western screen writer for years to come.:36 It also established the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in the public consciousness and Earp as a fearless lawman in the American Old West.
Reputation as a teetotaler
Earp's image is that of a teetotaler, but as a saloon owner and gambler, he drank occasionally as well. When Flood and Lake wrote their biographies, Prohibition was in force. Among the other facts Josephine wanted scrubbed from Earp's history, she persuaded biographers Flood, Lake and Burns to write that Earp was a non-drinker. A good friend of Earp's, Charlie Welsh, was known to disappear for days at a time "to see property", the family euphemism for a drinking binge, and Earp was his regular partner.
In his book, Lake wrote about the Colt Buntline Special, a variant of long-barreled Colt Single Action Army revolver. According to Lake's biography, dime novelist Ned Buntline had five Buntline Specials commissioned. Lake described them as extra-long, 12 inches (300 mm)-long barrel Colt Single Action Army revolvers. Buntline was supposed to have presented them to lawmen in thanks for their help with contributing "local color" to his western yarns. According to Lake, the pistol was equipped with a detachable metal shoulder stock. Lake wrote that Earp and four other well-known western lawmen—Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett and Neal Brown—each received a Buntline Special. However, neither Tilghman nor Brown were lawmen then.
Researchers have never found any record of an order received by the Colt company, and Ned Buntline's alleged connections to Earp's have been largely discredited.
After the publication of Lake's book, various Colt revolvers with long (10" or 16") barrels were referred to as "Colt Buntlines". Colt re-introduced the revolvers in its second generation revolvers produced after 1956. The Buntline Special was further popularized by The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp television series.
Dubious claims by Earp
Earp's reputation has been confused by inaccurate, conflicting, and false stories told about him by others, and by his own claims that cannot be corroborated. For example, in an interview with a reporter in Denver in 1896, he denied that he had killed Johnny Ringo. He then flipped his story, claiming he had killed Ringo. In 1888, he was interviewed by an agent of California historian Hubert H. Bancroft, and Earp claimed that that he had killed "over a dozen stage robbers, murderers, and cattle thieves". In about 1918 he told Forrestine Hooker, who wrote an unpublished manuscript, and then Frank Lockwood, who wrote Pioneer Days in Arizona in 1932, that he was the one who killed Johnny Ringo as he left Arizona in 1882. However, Earp included details that do not match what is known about Ringo's death. Earp repeated that claim to at least three other people.
At the hearing following the Tombstone shootout, Earp said he had been marshal in Dodge City, a claim he repeated in an August 16, 1896, interview that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. But Earp had only been an assistant city marshal there.
During an interview with his future biographer Stuart Lake during the late 1920s, Earp said that he arrested notorious gunslinger Ben Thompson in Ellsworth, Kansas, on August 15, 1873, when news accounts and Thompson's own contemporary account about the episode do not mention his presence. He also told Lake that he had hunted buffalo during 1871 and 1872, yet arrest records show he was arrested and jailed on a horse theft charge on April 6, 1871, and arrested in Peoria during February 1872.
In the same interview, Earp claimed that George Hoyt had intended to kill him. He also said he and Bat Masterson had confronted Clay Allison when he was sent to Dodge City to finish George Hoyt's job, saying that they had forced him to back down. Two other accounts contradicted Earp, crediting cattleman Dick McNulty and Long Branch Saloon owner Chalk Beeson with convincing Allison and his cowboys to surrender their guns. Cowboy Charlie Siringo witnessed the incident and left a written account.
Due to Lake's biography and later adaptations of it, Wyatt is often mistakenly viewed as the central character and hero of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In fact, Virgil Earp, as Deputy U.S. Marshal and Tombstone City Marshal, actually held the legal authority in Tombstone the day of the shoot out. Virgil had considerably more experience with weapons and combat as a Union soldier in the Civil War, and in law enforcement as a sheriff, constable, and marshal than did Wyatt. As city marshal, Virgil made the decision to enforce the city ordinance and disarm the Cowboys. Wyatt was only a temporary assistant marshal to his brother.
Earp's modern-day reputation is that of the Old West's "toughest and deadliest gunman of his day". He is "a cultural icon, a man of law and order, a mythic figure of a West where social control and order were notably absent". Due to Lake's fanciful biography and because Wyatt outlived all of his brothers, his name became famous and he is the subject of many movies, TV shows, biographies and works of fiction.
Josephine Earp memoir
One of the most well known and for many years respected books about Wyatt Earp was the book I Married Wyatt Earp, originally credited as a factual memoir by Josephine Marcus Earp. Published in 1976, it was edited by amateur historian Glenn Boyer, and published by the University of Arizona Press. It was immensely popular for many years, capturing the imagination of people with an interest in western history, studied in classrooms, cited by scholars,:50 and relied upon as factual by filmmakers. Frank Waters wrote Tombstone Travesty, in which he condemned the Earp brothers' character and called them names. The book "further embroidered upon Frank Waters's imaginings about Wyatt's adulterous affair" with Josephine.
In 1998, writer Tony Ortega wrote a lengthy investigative article for the Phoenix New Times for which he interviewed Boyer. Boyer said that he was uninterested in what others think of the accuracy of what he has written. "This is an artistic effort. I don't have to adhere to the kind of jacket that these people are putting on me. I am not a historian. I'm a storyteller." Boyer admitted that the book is "100 percent Boyer". He said the book was not really a first-person account, that he had interpreted Wyatt Earp in Josephine's voice, and admitted that he couldn't produce any documents to vindicate his methods.
Boyer and the University Press' credibility was severely damaged. In 2000 the University referred all questions to university lawyers who investigated some of the allegations about Boyer's work. Later that year the Press removed the book from their catalog. The book has been discredited as a fraud and a hoax that cannot be relied on.:154
Other works by Boyer subsequently were questioned. His book, Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta, published in 1993, was allegedly based on an account written by a previously unknown Tombstone journalist that Boyer named "Theodore Ten Eyck", but whose identity could not be independently verified. Boyer claimed that the manuscript was "clearly authentic" and that it contained "fascinating revelations (if they are true) and would make an ace movie". Boyer later said the character was in fact a blend of "scores of accounts", but could not provide any sources.
Willian Urban also described "the questionable scholarship of Glenn Boyer, the dominant figure in Earpiana for the past several decades, who has apparently invented a manuscript and then cited it as a major source in his publications. This does not surprise this reviewer, who has personal experience with Boyer's pretentious exaggeration of his acquaintance with Warren County records."
In movies and television
First depiction in film
Earp's good friend William Hart produced and wrote the first movie to depict Wyatt Earp, the seven-reel epic Wild Bill Hickok released by Paramount in 1923. Hart played Wild Bill Hickok and Bert Lindley played Earp. Earp has been depicted dozens of times in film and television, but this was the first movie that depicted Wyatt Earp, and the only movie that included his character before he died in 1929. Earp's part in the movie was small. Bert Lindley is not listed on some descriptions of the movie and this portrayal of Earp is often overlooked. Alan Barra, author of Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends, overlooked this movie in his biography. In the film, Earp joined Calamity Jane, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Charlie Bassett, Luke Short and Bill Tilghman in cleaning up a wild cowtown. Promotional copy for the film prominently mentioned Earp: "Back in the days when the West was young and wild, 'Wild Bill' fought and loved and adventured with such famous frontiersmen as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp." Earp was described in the promotional copy as "Deputy Sheriff to Bat Masterson of Dodge City, known as one of the three greatest gun-men that ever lived, along with Bat Masterson and 'Wild Bill' Hickok". In reality, Earp was a virtually unknown assistant marshal in Dodge City when Wild Bill Hickok was murdered in 1876.
Depiction of Old West lawmen
Wyatt Earp both directly and indirectly influenced the way movies depict lawmen in the American Old West. While living in Los Angeles, Earp met several well-known and soon-to-be famous actors on the sets of various movies. He became good friends with Western actors William S. Hart, and Tom Mix. Lake's book was the basis for how Earp has been depicted in a large number of films and books as a fearless Western hero. The book was first adapted into a movie for Frontier Marshal in 1934. Josephine Earp successfully pressured the producers to remove Wyatt's name from the film, and the protagonist was renamed "Michael Wyatt". The film was made again in 1939. Josephine sued 20th Century Fox for $50,000, but with the provision that Wyatt's name be removed from the title, and after she received $5,000, the movie was released as Frontier Marshal starring Randolph Scott playing Wyatt Earp. Sol M. Wurtzel produced both films.
Lake wrote another book about Wyatt Earp titled My Darling Clementine in 1946 that Director John Ford developed into the movie My Darling Clementine, which further boosted Wyatt's reputation. The book later inspired a number of stories, movies and television programs about outlaws and lawmen in Dodge City and Tombstone. Lake wrote a number of screenplays for these movies and twelve scripts for the 1955-61 television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp starring Hugh O'Brian as Earp.
The popular movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral released in 1957 starring Burt Lancaster as Earp cemented his place in Western history as a hero lawman. The movie also altered the public's perception of cowboys, who in Earp's time and locale were outlaws, but in the movies were reinvented as good guys assisting the lawmen in their fight against the outlaws.
Director John Ford said that when he was a prop boy in the early days of silent pictures, Earp would visit pals he knew from his Tombstone days on the sets. "I used to give him a chair and a cup of coffee, and he told me about the fight at the O.K. Corral. So in My Darling Clementine, we did it exactly the way it had been.":234 When Ford was working on his last silent feature Hangman's House in 1928, which included the first credited screen appearances by John Wayne, Earp used to visit the set. John Wayne later told Hugh O'Brian that he based his image of the Western lawman on his conversations with Earp. Wyatt Earp's character has been the central figure in 10 films and featured in many more. Among the best-known actors who have portrayed him are Randolph Scott, Guy Madison, Henry Fonda, Joel McCrea, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Jimmy Stewart, Hugh O'Brian, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.
With the emergence of television in the 1950s, producers spun out a large number of western-oriented shows. At the height of their popularity in 1959, there were more than two dozen "cowboy" programs on each week. At least six of them were connected to some extent with Wyatt Earp: The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory, Broken Arrow, Johnny Ringo, and Gunsmoke.
The Earp legend in film and television
- Frontier Marshal (1934) – The first film adaptation of Stuart N. Lake's novel. George O'Brien plays "Michael Earp".
- Frontier Marshal (1939) – Randolph Scott as Wyatt Earp.
- Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die (1942) – Stars Richard Dix.
- My Darling Clementine (1946) – Stars Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford.
- Wichita (1955) – Stars Joel McCrea.
- The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp TV series (1955–1961) – Starring Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp.
- Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) – Stars Burt Lancaster.
- Hour of the Gun (1967) – Stars James Garner in the first of two movies with Garner as Earp.
- Doc (1971) – Gunfight of the O.K. Corral from Doc Holliday's point of view. Stacy Keach as Doc and Harris Yulin as Wyatt.
- Tombstone (1993) – Stars Kurt Russell.
- Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone (1994) – Film combines colorized footage of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp with new scenes filmed in Tombstone.
- Wyatt Earp (1994) – Stars Kevin Costner.
- Black Hats (film) (in pre-production) – Stars Harrison Ford.
- Wyatt Earp's Revenge (2012) – Stars Val Kilmer.
Earp as a character or adaptation of the legend
- Law and Order (1932) Walter Huston as Frame Johnson, a character inspired by Wyatt Earp.
- Dodge City (1939) – Errol Flynn as Wade Hatton, inspired by Wyatt Earp.
- Winchester '73 (1950) – James Stewart wins a rare Winchester rifle that is stolen. Will Geer portrays Wyatt Earp.
- Gun Belt (1953) – Outlaw Billy Ringo tries to go straight.
- Masterson of Kansas (1954) – Bat Masterson is assisted by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
- Badman's Country (1958) – Pat Garrett catches up to Butch Cassidy's gang and calls in Wyatt Earp.
- Alias Jesse James (1959) – Bob Hope stars and Hugh O'Brian briefly appears as Wyatt Earp.
- The Secret World of Eddie Hodges (1960) – TV musical starring Jackie Gleason Hugh O'Brien as Wyatt Earp.
- Cheyenne Autumn (1964) has a sequence featuring James Stewart as Earp and Arthur Kennedy as Doc Holliday in Dodge City.
- Desafío en Rio Bravo (1965) – Guy Madison as Wyatt Earp.
- "The Gunfighters" (1966) Doctor Who episode – The TARDIS materializes in Tombstone, where the characters become embroiled in the events leading up to the famous gunfight.
- "Spectre of the Gun" (1968) Star Trek: The Original Series episode – The officers aboard the USS Enterprise reenact the roles of the Clanton gang. Ron Soble plays Wyatt Earp as a criminal.
- Alias Smith and Jones – Cameron Mitchell as Wyatt Earp and Bill Fletcher as Doc Holliday.
- I Married Wyatt Earp (1983) – Television docudrama based on the fictionalized memoirs of Josephine Marcus Earp, played by Marie Osmond.
- Sunset (1988) – Bruce Willis as Tom Mix and James Garner as Wyatt Earp team up to solve a murder at the 1929 Academy Awards ceremony.
- Shanghai Noon (2000) – Towards the end of the film, Roy O'Bannon (Owen Wilson) reveals his true name to be Wyatt Earp, playing on the real Earp's legendary character aspect as Chon Wang (Jackie Chan) laughingly dismisses the name.
- Deadwood (2006) – Wyatt and Morgan appear in two episodes. Gale Harold as Wyatt Earp.
- Hannah's Law (2012) – Earp, played by Greyston Holt, is a suitor to Hannah Beaumont in Dodge City.
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