Wyatt Earp - Lawman

Wyatt Earp 1848-1929

Wyatt Earp was born at Monmouth, Illinois on March 19, 1848. He came to California with his family in 1864. Along the way they encountered Indians at Fort Laramie. He also went on a buffalo hunt with Jim Bridger at Bridger's Fort. When he arrived in California, Earp became a driver for the Banning Stage Line. By 1868 he had his stage line and was working for Charles Chrisman, hauling provisions for the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1870, he returned to Monmouth, where he married a girl named Willa Sutherland. Sadly, she died a few months after their marriage from typhus. Earp moved on to Lamarr, Missouri, where he worked as the town Marshall for a year.
Over the next three years he spent much of his time hunting buffalo. He met Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, and many other characters during that time. In April 1875 he became deputy marshal at Wichita, Kansas. He had many run-ins with criminals there, one of them the notorious John Wesley Hardin. After that, he became deputy marshal of Dodge City, Kansas. Once deputized, Earp hired several other deputies. He hired his brothers Morgan and Virgil, Bat and Jim Masterson, Joe Mason, and Neal Brown to help him keep order. He made a few rules for the towns rowdies. They were to keep their horse play on the south side of town and they would be left alone. But if they crossed the line, they could expect to be carted off to jail. He also kept loaded guns at strategic locations about the town so he would always be ready to take care of a problem.
In 1876, he left Dodge City and headed for Deadwood, in the Dakota Territory. He went there to prospect, but most of the good spots had been taken. For a short time, he made a living protecting Wells Fargo shipments. Then he drifted to Texas where he worked as a cattle detective. While hunting for rustler Dave Rudabaugh, he met Doc Holliday. In April 1877, he went back to Dodge City. By then, he was enjoying a reputation as a tough lawman. He was able to get the gunman Clay Allison to back down and leave town without resorting to violence. That summer an anonymous horseman tried to take Earp out of the picture. But Earp, always quick on his feet, ducked the shots and killed the rider.
The following year, Earp came close to losing his life again. A large group of Cheyenne Indians had passed near the town and some of the townsfolk figured they would go out and kill a few. Earp remained in town, refusing to participate. While the town was practically deserted, Tobe Driskill and some hired hands trapped Earp at the Long Branch Saloon. Driskill had a grudge against Earp. Just when Earp thought the end was near, Doc Holliday saved the day and shot one of the cowboys. It was enough distraction that Wyatt was able to talk himself out of it. After that, only a couple of other violent incidents occurred, before Dodge City settled down to a quiet little town. Earp got bored and decided to move on. He headed to Tombstone, Arizona, where rich silver strikes were making men rich. His brother James and his family went to Tombstone with Earp. Upon his arrival at Tucson, his old friend Charles Shibell appointed him deputy sheriff of Pima County. On December 1, 1879, the small party arrived at Tombstone. In January, brother Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday came to Tombstone too. The town was only a few months old, it was already full of outlaws. Most famous of the outlaws were John Ringo, Curly Bill Brocius, and the Clanton brothers. The lawmen and the outlaws were always at odds. Sometime after his arrival in Tombstone, Earp married a woman named Mattie.
The most famous incident of Wyatt Earp's career was the shootout at O. K. Corral. It occurred on October 26, 1881. The shootout was not actually in the corral but on a vacant lot near an assay office and Fly's Photographic Gallery. About two o'clock that afternoon, Sheriff John Behan told the Earp brothers about some outlaws that were in town. He said that they had been bragging about how they would take down the Earp brothers. He tells the Earp brothers he should go arrest the bad men before there can be any kind of a confrontation. Unfortunately, it appears Behan then went and warned the outlaws that the sheriff was coming.
The Earp brothers, joined by Doc Holliday sought out the bad guys, walking along Fourth Street, heading toward Fremont. The townspeople must have known something was up as they watched the determined walk stroll by. Just up the street Tom McLaury sees them coming. He warns the others, Frank, Billy, and Ike Clanton; Billy Claiborne; and his brother Frank. As the lawmen draw close to the outlaws, Sheriff Behan appears near Bauer's Meat Market and tells them that he has disarmed the outlaws so that a shootout won't be necessary. However Virgil Earp, who was actually the sheriff, while the others were deputies, insisted that the gang be arrested.
When the lawmen approached the outlaws, Virgil Earp commanded that they give up their guns and surrender. Then the bullets started flying. No one knows for sure who shot who. What is generally accepted is that Wyatt Earp shot Frank McLaury and that Doc Holliday shot Tom McLaury. Ike Clanton ran away before he could be shot, escaping with the aid of Sheriff Behan. Claiborne also escaped with Ike Clanton. Billy Clanton died of his gunshot wounds.
Shortly after the O. K. Corral incident, his brother Morgan was killed by outlaws. The incident spurred Earp into action. He had avoided violence up to that point. But he had to avenge his brother's death. His first victim, at a shootout in Tucson, was Frank Stillwell. He also assembled a posse and shot Florentine Cruz and William B. Graham. After that he seemed to have hung up his sheriff's badge forever.
He headed for Colorado where he hung out at Trinidad, where Bat Masterson ran a saloon. He and brother Warren tried their hands in various gold camps of Colorado. In 1884 they tried the silver strikes in the Idaho Panhandle, but they had no luck. From there the brothers split and Earp headed back to Texas. He was only there a short while, when he moved to San Diego, where he set up a thoroughbred ranch.
In July 1888 his wife Mattie died. In 1896 he married Josephine Sarah Marcus. The two spent the next several years wandering among the gold and silver boom towns of the West. They also speculated in oil and mining properties and actually did quite well for themselves.
In 1927, he recounted his memoirs to writer Stuart N. Lake, who wrote Wyatt Earp's biography. It was close to the end of Earp's life, for he died on January 13, 1929. Josephine lived until 1944. He was cremated and buried at Colma, California.

-copyright 2005 by Beth Gibson