Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Born 1848, March 18.

In the history of the old west, this was an important date because the man born on this day and called Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, would play a role in producing one of the most memorable of all Old West Stories.

Wyatt Earp has been credited with many heroic deeds including a pivotal role in a gun battle that became known as “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”.  An event that is grounded in historical fact became the subject of rumour, inuendo, exaggeration, lies, deception, avarice, artisitc license and more.  It is now and always will be, one of the greatest legends of the old west.

The author of this site has always been fascinated with just about everything to do with the old west.  In particular though, I have been intriqued with the lawmen of the age.  I suppose, being a police officer for nearly twenty years myself, may have played a role in generating my intense interest.  During that time, my greatest personal worry was that my family, friends or colleagues would be endangered because of my choice of employment.

With this in mind I found that the old west law man I indentified with most was Wyatt Earp.  Please note:- This is not because I fancy myself to be the kind of hero Wyatt Earp became in the legend that grew around him.  It is because he lost his two brothers during that part of his life when he was engaged primarily in law enforcement and this was my greatest concern.  Another aspect of his life that mirrors my own to some extent, was his political and business aspirations.  Whilst I never wanted to be a politician, I have been involved in working with political parties and have sought involvement in business ativity outside policing.

So if you like, keep reading and you will find my personal perspective on Wyatt Earp, laid out for your entertainment.

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A Brief Timeline of Wyatt Earp’s Life

Born –1848 March 19 – Monmouth, Illinois.

Early Childhood – Family farm near Pella, Iowa.

First Contact With Law Enforcement – Wyatt’s family travelled away from Monmouth during his early life.  Earp’s family moved back to Monmouth in 1856.  His father Nicholas, became a Municipal Constable for three years when Wyatt was 8 years old.

Civil War – Three of Wyatt Earp’s family joined the Union Army in 1861, November 11.

California – The Earp family left for California in 1864, May 12.

Stage Coach Driver – Wyatt and his brother Virgil started work as stage coach drivers in 1865.

Teamster – Wyatt became a teamster transporting product to Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

Businessman – Wyatt engaged in a range of business activities in including the leasing of saloons in the 1880s and having a race horse he is reputed to have won in his gambling activites.

Wyatt – the Lawman – In 1869 Wyatt Earp became a Constable in Lamar, Missouri.

Family – Wyatt married Urilla Sutherland in 1870, January 10.  His wife died not long after, possibly in November of that year.  Death occurred during child birth and there appears to have been a link with Consumption (Tuberculosis).

Arrested – Wyatt was arrested on charges of horse theft by United States Marshall J. Owens in 1871, April 1.  He was never convicted of this crime.

Marshall’s Office – Wyatt joined the Marshall’s Office in 1875, April 21.  During this period, he received the first of his many plaudits for work as a lawman.

Dodge City – Wyatt was appointed Deputy Marshall to Dodge City in 1876.  Sometime in 1878 Wyatt, while surrounded by a group seemingly intending to do him harm, he was assisted by “Doc Holliday” and his interesting and unusual friednship with a known felon began.

T0mstone – Wyatt and his bropther Janes and Virgil move to Tomestone in 1879, probably sometime in September.  In 1880, brothers Morgan and Warren also joined him in tombstone.

The O.K. Corral – The most famous incident in his life occurred at the O.K. Carrol in 1881, October 26.  Read more details on this incident further down the page.

Murdered – Morgan Earp was killed in 1882, March 18.  Morgan was attended by a doctor but died from a bullet wound in less than an hour.

Second Wife – Wyatt never officially married a second time but had a long standing common law relationship with Celia Anne Blaylock, usually known as Mattie.  The day after Morgan’s murder, she left with Virgil Earp and Morgan’s body to return to the family home.  It is uncertain when they first met and she died after leaving Tombstone without seeing Wyatt again.

Third Wife – Wyatt appears to have met his third wife Josie, a common law wife, during his time in Tombstone.  His relationship with her commenced whilst he was still associated with Mattie.  Their relationship continued for many years after Tombstone, right up to Wyatt’s death.

Vendetta Ride – Wyatt and his associates conducted what has become known as the Vendetta Ride.  This was a direct challenge to William Brocius and the cowboys during which Brocius and several members of his gang were killed.

Dodge City War – Wyatt played a part in the what is referred to as the Dodge City War in 1883.

Memoir  – Earp wrote his memoirs in 1896.

Alaska – In 1897 Earp took his common law wife Josephine Sarah Marcus (commonly known as Josie) to Alaska and ran saloons and gambling houses for several years.

Township of Earp – In 1906 Wyatt and Josie were in various parts of California including a small town (never actually proclaimed as a town) that was named “Earp”.

End of the Line – Wyatt died at home in 1929, January 13 at the age of 80.

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His life in More Detail.

Wyatt Earp was born in 1848, March 19, in Monmouth, Illinois.  Monmouth is situated more than 1, 500 miles from Tombstone, Arizona, where Wyatt Earp would gain the fame and notoriety that has been maintained past the date of his 160th birthday.  That sort of distance might not seem so much today, you could probably drive it in a couple of days without too much trouble.


Old West Stories

Wyatt Earp’s Birthplave

In 1848, this would have taken, perhaps, several weeks by wagon or at least several days by stage coach.  It was not until 1869 with the completion of the trans-continental railway that this kind of distance could be reliably traversed in times measured in a few days.

The area at the time was mostly farm country and just beginning to grow strongly.

The exact location of Wyatt’s birthplace is uncertain and there is still discussion regarding the matter.  More information on this topic is available through the Education Department in monmouth.

The house pictured above is most often accepted as his birth place and is located at 406, 3rd street, Monmouth.  Whether or not he was born in this house, it is widely accepted that he spent much of his first years there. 

Old West Stories

Wyatt Earp’s Borthplace 2

It contains a museum, historical artifacts and history of Wyatt Earp, his family and life in Monmouth at the time.  I certainly hope to have a chance to visit this wonderful part of the history that created old west stories.

His father is Nicholas Porter Earp, a widower from a previous marraige that had produced an older half-brother (Newton) and half-sister Mary-Ann, who sadly died before the age of only 1 year.  Nicholas had served in the military during the Mexican – American war and named his son after his commanding officer, Wyatt Berry Stapp.  Some basic information about this war and Stapp is available on the Old West Stories History Page.  More detailed information can be found on the links associated above.

His mother is Virginia Ann Cooksey and she had married Nicholas in 1840, July 30.  This marraige also produced:-

1841, June 28 – James Cooksey Earp.

1843, July 18 – Virgil Walter Earp.

1845, September 25 – Martha Elizabeth Earp.

1851, April 24 – Morgan Seth Earp.

1855, March 9 – Warren Baxter Earp.

1858, February 28 – Virginia Ann Earp.

1861, June 16 – Adelia Douglas Earp.

Wyat travelled with his family to Iowa in 1849 and for 7 years, operated a 160 acre farm.  The farm was sold though in 1856 and the family returned to Monmouth, Illinois.

Wyatt’s father made a bid to be elected as Municipal Constable in Monmouth.  This is probably Wayatt’s first experience of law enforcement.  During this time he also experienced the propsect of a law man making additional income with business interests on the side when his father became involved in the sale of alcohol whilst still constable.

In the following years the family also moved and travelled extensively, particularly between Pella in Iowa and Illinois.

During the American Civil War, Wyatt’s brothers Newton, James and Virgil joined the Union Army in 1961, November 11.  Wyatt was too young to join being only 13 years old at the time.  It appears this did not stop him making more than one attempt.

Old West StoriesIn 1864, May 12, Wyatt’s family joined a wagon train heading for California and by the summer of 1865 Wyatt and Virgil had began working as stage coach driver’s for the Phineas Banning Stage Coach Line in Imperial Valley, California.

In 1866, some time around April, Wyatt became a teamster.  Through until 1888 he worked the trails that included Wilmington California, Prescott Arizona, San Berardino, Las Vegas Nevada and Salt Lake City Utah.  In 1888 be began transsporting supplies for the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad.  If you are interested in more information on the railroad in this period, the link above will take you to the David Rumsey website that holds some tremendous resources and maps from the era.  Around this time he was introduced to boxing and refereed a match between John Shanssey and Mike Donovan.  It is believed that John Shanssey is the person who indtroduced Wyatt to gambling and his life makes interesting reading also.  At various times Earp engaged himself in enterprises that included leasing saloons and gambling halls in San Diego including the Oyster Bar on fifth avenue, real estate interests and even a race horse he is reputed to have won in a card game.

In 1869 Wyatt was appointed Constable in Lamar, Missouri, his first recorded term as a law man.

In 1870, January 10, Wyatt married Urilla Sutherland.  In a very short time, the marraige met a tagic end with Urilla’s death.  The date of her death is not know for certain but is believed to be late 1870, based on records of Wyatt’s movements and the sale of their property in November that had only been purchased in August that same year.

Wyatt Earp has a reputation as the ultimate of the legendary lawmen, a man of impeachable character who valued justice beyond all else.  Throughout his life though, he was dogged by controvery and allegations and his current reputation may have been created more of exaggeration and artistic licence following his death than reliance on strict historical accuracy.  One of those controversial mements was the filing of a law suit against him in 1871, March 14, by Barton County in Missouri for failing to deliver licence fees collected for use in funding schools.  If you are interested in more detail regarding his alleged transgressions, there are many references on the internet but they are not transcribed in detail here as they are not fundamental to the old west stories that are Wyatt Earp.

Some of the other issues that controversially followed Wyatt Earp during his life include:-

  • Allegation of stealing two horses worth $100 each;
  • Arrested for “Keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame.”  Later fined twenty dollars plus costs for the criminal infraction;
  • Arrested twice more for the same offence;
  • Shooting a hole in his own coat and the ceiling after dropping his own gun;
  • Arrested in Wichita for disturbing the peace while serving as Constable;
  • Accused of using the Wichita law office to hire his brothers; and
  • Fined $1 for slapping a prostitute.

In 1875, April 21, Wyatt recommenced his lawman career when he joined the Wichita Marshall’s Office in Kansas.  At this time, Wichita was four years into its period of mayoral/council government at it was not a great situation.  Coupled with ward politics and graft, the city sufferred greatly and was subject to outlaws of all descripions.  Check the Wichita link for more information.

The town was also subjected to large numbers of drunken cowboys celebrating at the end of long cattle drives.  Wyatt received what is the first of his significant public accolades whilst serving in Wichita.  This included arresting a group of wagon thieves and in some sources he is credited as achieving this feat single handed and without firing a shot.  Although other lawmen and towns people were involved, it is Wyatt that is credited as the peace keeper who effected the action.

Wyatt’s time as a Wichita lawman came to an abrupt finish when he apparently took an interest in the City Marshall’s position and got on the wrong side of political interests.  Accused of using his position to hire his brothers, his job ended in 1876, April 2.  Wyatt was involved in a fist fight with another law officer around this time and ended up heading for Dodge City, Kansas.  An interesting photographic history of early Wichita is available on this link.

Dodge City in 1876 was in the process of becoming a major terminal for cattle driven from Texas along the famous Chisholm Trail.  Wyatt was appointed as Assistant Marshall under Marshall Larry Deger that year.

Wyatt left Dodge but returned to service again as Assistant Marshall under Marshall Charlie Bassett.  It was during this time that Wyatt was involved in an incident with what is described as a gang of desperadoes and was assisted by Doc Hooliday (possibly saved by) and they subsequently became fast friends.

In 1878 a group of cowboys from Texas took shots at the Comique theatre on July 26.  Wyatt Earp and Police Officer James Masterson engaged the help of a number of citizens.  Whilst attempting to escape, George Hoyt was shot by one of the group and fell from his horse and eventually died from the wound.  Wyatt claimed to have fired the fatal shot but this is by no means certain.

Wyatt moved to Tomstone in September 1879 with his brothers James and Virgil.  The events that would immortalise him in history and in legend were about to come together.  Virgil has been appointed as a Deputy U.S. Marshall not long before moving to Tombstone and with the nearest U.S. Marshall being 280 miles away, his position as Deputy U.S. Marshall in Tombstone was the only federal authority of consequence.

Wyatt staked mining claims, rode shotgun for Wells Fargo and began to be involved in political matters.  The following year in 1880 his brothers Morgan and Warren moved to Tombstone and his old friend Doc Holliday also joined him.  With the brothers working together and Doc on board, along with Wyatt’s poloitcal and business contacts, the Earp’s influence was growing in Tombstone.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp put them on the wrong side of another faction in the town when he accused Frank McLaury of stealing Army horses.  A good account of Frank McLaury’s life and of his brother Frank, can be found at http://www.clantongang.com/oldwest/ganlaury.html.

In 1880, October 28, Tombstone’s Town Marshall Fred White, was shot during an attempt to disarm Bill Brocius.  Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan and a Wells Fargo agent went to his assistance.  Brocius, commonly known as Curly Bill, was arrested for shooting the Marshall who later died and the charge was upgraded to murder.  He was never convicted of the offence and released from custody.  He became a enemy of the Earp family and a serious threat to them.

A few days after the shooting, Wyatt resigned his position as Deputy Sheriff of Pima County.  A vote rigging dispute raged after the election of Sheriff Charlie Shibell who appointed Johnny Behan as his Under Sheriff in place of Wyatt.  After the charges of vote rigging were upheld, Bob Paul was installed as Sheriff but because of a boundary redistribution, it was too late for him to appoint Wyatt back to that position.  That boundary change created the area that became Cochise County and included Tombstone.

Wyatt Earp and Johnny Behan both ran for the position of Sheriff in the new district.  Wyatt withdrew and Behan took up the position.  There were disputes after the election and Wyatt claimed Behan has promised to appoint him as deputy but Behan disputed this.

Wyatt Earp appears to have been unemployed at this time but he and his brothers were beginning to make some money on their mining claims in the Tombstone area.  Wyatt Earp gained a share in the gambling operation at the Oriental Saloon around this time.  During this time Wyatt is also credited with saving the life of Mike O’Rourke who was reputedly an innocent man arrested for murder.  In later recollections of Wyatt Earp’s legendary status, this is one of the matters commonly referred to that demonstrates his iconic status as the true lawman with no interest in anything other than pure justice.

Trouble between the Earp camp and their enemies grew throughout 1881.  In March of that year three men botched a hold up of a stage coach but killed a driver and a passenger.  Wyatt was convinced that members of Curly Bill’s gang were responsible for this outrage but had no proof.

All of these events and more, led inexorably to the most famous moment in the life of Wyatt Earp, the

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Old West Stories

In 1881, October 26, what may have been an inevitable confrontation between Wyatt Earp, his family and Doc Holliday on one side and members of the Curly Bill’s gang, referred to as the “Cowboys”, came to a head.

The section below is an account of the events of that day, based on records from that time, recollections of witnesses and newspaper reports.  The truth of the situation will probably never be known with certainty because of the widely varying accounts and the apparent political interests affecting these events.  The account below, is one of I have put together to show what I have come to believe, represents what likely went down that day.  I make no representation that this is entirely accurate and I don’t believe anybody could make such a claim.

Wyatt Earp had made a deal with Ike Clanton, he would pay the whole of the reward due for the arrest of the stage coach bandits offered by Wells Fargo to him, if he revealed the location of Curly Bills men responsible for the robbery.  Nobody would ever know about the deal.  Ike was greedy for the cash but was scared from the outset that Curly Bill would find out about it and set his henchman on him.  After the suspects were killed in a bank robbery over the border, he came to town to try to make sure the deal the didn’t get out.


Too late, the rumour was rife in the saloons and Ike found himself in a tight spot.  If he went back to the ranch, he knew Curly Bill would never believe him and his life was forfeit.  If he stayed in town, very likely Doc Holliday would kill him on sight.  He located Wyatt Earp and confronted him with the accusation that he had told people about their deal.  Wyatt denied it but Ike Clanton wasn’t ready to accept that and continued to rant his accusations.


Pushed now, Wyatt struck him and warned him to leave town.  Then he threatened the Earps, telling them his brother Billy and the McLaury’s would be in town tomorrow and it would be the Earp’s that saw trouble, not him.


Just about then, Wyatt regretted involving Ike in the reward scheme, he was never a man to be trusted.


The following morning Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp gathered together, sensing the day may have arrived when the cowboys would push them into a corner.  The brothers determined that if they arrested Ike, that might settle the matter somewhat and give them the chance to handle matters without bloodshed.  They set about finding him.


They found Ike Clanton carrying a Winchester Carbine and a revolver on his hip.  Virgil and Morgan went to arrest him but he turned on them with the rifle.  Virgil was an experienced lawman soon disarmed him, dealing out some rough justice along the way.  He was arrested and taken to a hearing almost straight away.  The law in Tombstone did not allow the  carriage of guns in the street but everybody did  it.  It was a stretch to suddenly enforce this law against their sworn enemy.


A hasty municipal hearing was commenced and the judge heard the evidence from the arresting officers and the accused.  Virgil Earp recommended a short stay in the county jail for his own good but the judge fined him and released him.  He paid the fine but was not given back his weapons.


As Ike left the court room with the Earp’s on his heel, Tom McLaury was outside waiting.  He had heard that Ike had been arrested and came looking.  He stood there facing them down, feet firmly planted and his hands behind his back.  Another argument ensued and this time it was McLaury abusing the lawmen.


“What’s that behind your back” accused Virgil who stepped up and struck him hard across the temple.  He grabbed him and retrieved a colt that Tom had hidden behind his back, a common ploy in these days to make weapons a little less obvious around the law.  McLaury recovered somewhat and Ike Clanton helped him up and dragged him away before there was any more trouble with the Earp’s while they were both unarmed.


They soon found Bill Clanton and the other McLaury.  With them was Will Claiborne, a sometime member of the gang.  They discussed affairs and headed of directly to the gun shop to reacquaint Tom and Ike with a weapon or two.  In short order they had bought new weapons and went looking for the Earps, ready to force a confrontation.  There was disagreement among them, it was not necessarily a clever ploy to take on Wyatt Earp without Curly Bill knowing about it but they had their dander up and nothing was going to get in their way this day.  They headed up the street past the O.K. Corral and onto a vacant block next to the photographic studio.


Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan followed them at a discreet distance and stood in the shade of a board walk to discuss the situation.  Wyatt, as always, was keen to get things dealt with and avoid blood shed.  He asked if Virgil thought the men were going to force a fight today.  Virgil said they would, certainly.  Just then Doc Holliday came down the street and approached them saying, “Looks like the day has arrived, you weren’t going to leave me out were you”.


Of course Wyatt had planned not to deal him in because with his reputation, he didn’t need his friend involved in trouble with them.  If shooting went down and Doc Holliday was involved it would only go badly for Wyatt’s election chances in the upcoming run for Sheriff.  He denied this of course and in short order a shotgun was collected from a nearby hotel and they had Doc Holliday place it under the long coat he was wearing, to keep it hidden so as not to hasten a gun fight but have it ready if real action started.


The four men started walking toward the corral, strung out across the street in line.  Sheriff Behan raced up trying to talk them out of a confrontation.  There was no luck there, if the cowboys did not surrender their weapons, Wyatt had determined he would take those weapons by force.  He gave the Sheriff the chance to talk the cowboys into surrender and watched him scurry off to try just that.


No luck there though, Ike Clanton was wound up and working hard to make sure his brother and the McLaury’s did not back down.  As the Sheriff continued his arguments the four men rounded the corner and John Behan, not wanting to be in the middle of this, scurried off to find cover.


The Clanton’s and the McLaury’s spread out along the wall of the Harwood home on the far side of the vacant lot.  Wyatt and the boys approached directly until not more than ten feet separated them from the cowboys.  The gang remained in their places.


Virgil Earp was the official lawman of the group and barked out his official command to the cowboys, “Throw up your hands and surrender your weapons”.


Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury both reached for their guns and Wyatt Earp responded by grabbing his colt from his overcoat pocket.  A fraction slower, Virgil and Doc Holiday also drew their guns

Frank fired the first shot at Virgil but missed.  Wyatt raised his weapon and shot Frank in the stomach, the impact threw him against the wall.  Will Claiborne began running and disappeared behind the photograph gallery in a blur of speed.


Ike Clanton jumped forward to Wyatt, screaming to him not to shoot and that he was not armed.  Wyatt Earp grabbed him, shoved him aside and let him pass.  Ike ran for cover.


Holliday turned and fired two shots over his head as he ran.  Billy Clanton fired at Wyatt but also missed.  Morgan returned fire at Billy but was unsuccessful in that endeavour.  Billy fired back and Morgan went down with a savage wound to his left shoulder.  Tom McLaury jumped behind a horse and fired wildly over the top of the saddle.  Doc Holliday holstered his gun and pulled out the shotgun, triggering both barrels into Tom McLaury who now lay dead from the double impact.


Virgil got into the action and fired a shot that winged Billy Clanton.  Morgan was still on the ground and fired from that position, his bullet hit Clanton smack in the middle of the chest.  Frank McLaury, fatally wounded already from Wyatt’s first shot, staggered forward and fired at Virgil, hitting him the leg and bringing him down.  Doc Holliday, Wyatt and Morgan replied and the three shots, sounding almost as one, that tore him apart and the shoot out at the O.K. Corral had ended.


Three dead outlaws lay on the ground and two law men had received serious blows.  Not until now did anyone notice that Doc Holliday had also taken a shot to the hip.  Luckily, it hit only in the fleshy part of him just above the hip bone, a lot of pain but he would be alright.

Ike Clanton filed charges against the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday of October 30.  Wyatt and Holliday were arrested whilst his brothers remained in recovery from their wounds and the hearing began on Tuesday November 1.

Witnesses for the prosecution included Sheriff Behan.  The  prosecution built a strong case that indicated the Earp party fired the first several shots whilst the deceased were either throwing down their weapons or had demonstrated they were unarmed.  Several witnesses called supported this view of events which was very different from Wyatt’s version and that which had been published in a local paper.  A writ was issued and the defendant’s appeared before Judge John Henry Lucas.

After nearly seven days of evidence a strong case had been built.  Then Ike Clanton was called to the dock.  His version of events threw the prosecution case into chaos.  By the time cross examination had been completed, Clanton’s evidence had thrown suspicion on the entire prosecution case.

Wyatt Earp testified in his own defence.  Two witnesses that were viewed as independent and unbiased testified, including Addie Bourland, who claimed she saw the entire incident from a boarding house across the street.  Her evidence completed refuted Behan’s vesion of events and cast him in the light of a liar.  Another witness  was one with some clout in the community, Judge Lucas of the Probate Court of Cochise County.  His version confirmed Ms Bourland’s and asserted that Billy Clanton was firing at the Earp’s throughout the exchange although apparently, without significant effect.

Justice Spicer ruled that the Earps and Holliday acted within the law.  The Justice roundly criticized Virgil Earp’s actions in many areas including his choice of deputies but concluded by indicating, that aside, no laws had been contravened by Virgil Earp and his deputies at the time of the shootings at the O.K. Corral.

A Grand Jury reviewed the decision and upheld the not guilty verdict on December 16 that year.

Ike Clanton was not satisfied with the decision and tried to win his case in Contention City. Another trial proceeded but Judge Lucas eventually dismissed all charges.

On December 28 Virgil Earp was badly wounded by a shotgun blast to his left shoulder.  Suspicion fell to Ike Clanton when his hat was found nearby.  Virgil was shortly thereafter re-appointed as Deputy Marshall with authority to select his own deputies.

Tensions continued to escalate but events seem to indicate that Wyatt had just about had enough of the allegations and ongoing tensions and had determined to leave Tombstone.  He began to divest himself of gambling and other business interests in the town.

In 1882, February 2, Virgil and Wyatt resigned their commissions as lawmen with the U.S. Marshall service.  Their boss refused to accept.

In 1882, March 18, Morgan Earp was killed.  The killer or killers escaped into the darkness.

The day after Morgan’s  murder, his body was taken by James Earp to the family home in Colton, California.

On the very next day it was Virgil’s turn to need a safe exit out of Tombstone.  He was still incapacitated from his own wounds.  Warren Earp escorted him with the help of Doc Holliday, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Sherman McMasters.  Gunfire was exchanged as the train departed after dark and Frank Stillwell was found dead beside the tracks at day break.  In later years, Wyatt claimed he had shot Stilwell and Ike Clanton because they had come to the railway armed.

Warrants were issued for Wyatt Earp and four of the party travelling with him for Stillwell’s murder.  The group was joined by Texas Jack Vermillion and the Earp Posse was formed and rode out of Tombstone the next evening, completing ignoring Sheriff Behan.

Old West Stories

In 1882, March 22 the Earp party found Florentino “Indian Charlie” Cruz in the Dragoon Mountains, a notorious area of the Cowboys operations.  The area is often referred to as “The Stronghold” and used by many outlaws during the old west era.

The party shot and killed Cruz.  This was essentially the start of what became known as the “Vengeance Ride”.  There is much confusion about exactly what happened over the following days and different accounts claim differing names and numbers of men killed during that ride.

Old West Stories

What is accepted as a certainty is that Curly Bill Brocius and a group for the cowboys were involved in a gunfight and Wyatt Earp killed him during that exchange.  Earp and his men spent something in the order of two weeks riding through that country exacting vengeance on the cowboys everywhere they could find them.

During that time a posse led by Sheriff Behan was in pursuit but it appears the two groups never crossed paths.  Many have speculated this was because Behan was scared of Wyatt and was not willing to risk a deadly encounter.  Whether or not this is true, movies and stories seem to always take this to be historical fact.

Some time in April 1882, Wyatt Earp left the Territory and never returned.

The assets of Wyatt and his brothers in Tombstone were sold to pay taxes and was completely erased.

In late 1882 Wyatt arrived in San Franciso to join Wyatt and Warren.  In 1883 he left San Francisco with Josie and she lived as his common law wife for the next 46 years.

There has been much written about Wyatt Earp’s life after Tombstone.  I have provided a few date and key points but not gone into great detail here.  The events that have made Wyatt the undisputed, toughest lawman ever in all of the old west stories, happened primarily at  Tombstone, in the lead up to the shoot out at the O.K. Corral and immediately after during the revenge ride.  If  you would like to read more details of his life after Tombstone, I have provided some links below.

1883 – Wyatt Earp returned to Dodge City with Bat Masterson and tried to deal with a corrupt mayor.  Events that followed became known as the Dodge City War.

1884 – Wyatt was involved in mining interests in Idaho and continued to have mining interests over the next decade or so.

1886 – Wyatt moved to San Diego and was involved in gambling, real estate, horse racing and prize fights judging.

1890 – Wyatt returned to San Francisco with Josie, probably in 1890.

1896 – Wyatt wrote his memoirs with the help of a ghost writer.

1897 – Wyatt travelled to Alaska during the gold rush.  He was involved in the running of saloons and gambling houses in Nome,

1906 – Wyatt moved to Vidal in California where he founded a site that took the family name of “Earp”.  It was never formally declared as a town.

1907 – Wyatt moved to Hollywood and met a number of famous actors, including John Wayne who famously claimed he based his movie persona of a western lawman on Wyatt Earp.

John Wayne later told Hugh O’Brian that he based his image of the Western lawman on his conversations with Earp.

Old West Stories

1929, January 13 – Wyatt Earp died at home in Los Angeles.  Josie survived him by 15 years.

The original headstone from Wyatt’s finals resting place was stolen in 1944 after Josie’s death.  The new one, shown in the picture above, is engraved with the saying attribtued to Wyatt Earp as his final words:-

That nothing’s so sacred as honor,

and nothing so loyal as love.

Much of what is known of Wyatt Earp suggests that he truly lived his live by the ideal expressed in this phrase.  Please enjoy some photographs relevant to Wyatt Earp’s life, displayed below and followed by some references for further reading.


Monmouth Education department – http://department.monm.edu/history/urban/wyatt_earp/wyattearpsbirthplace.htm  – Mounmouth Education Department information

Lone Star Internet – http://www.lone-star.net/mall/texasinfo/mexicow.htm

The Genealogy Forum and genealogy.com – http://genforum.genealogy.com/stapp/messages/586.html

David Rumsey Collection – Historical Railroad Maps – http://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/view/all/what/Timetable+Map

Wichita politics from 1870 onward – Wichita Council – http://www.wichita.gov/Government/CityCouncil/Mayor/PreviousMayors/Mayor-Council.htm

Wichita County Museum, Historical Society and Great Plains Museum – http://www.wichitacountymuseum.org/

Frank and Tom McLaury – Account of their life as part of the Clanton gang – http://www.clantongang.com/oldwest/ganlaury.html

Movies and Television

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991) – An animated movie with a washed-up law-dog named Wylie Burp starring the voice of James Stewart.

Deadwood (2006) – Starring Gale Harold in two episodes as Wyatt Earp during season three.

Doc (1971) – Starring Stacy Peach as Doc Holiday and Harris Yulin as Wyatt Earp.  This  one tells the story of The Gunfight at the O.K Corral from Doc Holliday’s perspective.


Frontier Marshall (1934) – Wyatt Earp played by George O’Brien however, the character’s name was changed to Michael Earp.

Frontier Marshall (1939) – Starring Randolph Scott.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) – Starring Burt Lancaster and featuring Forrest DeKelley of Star Trek fame as Morgan Earp.

Hour of the Gun (1967) – Starring James Garner.

I Married Wyatt Earp (1983) – A television drama based on the alleged memoirs of Josephine Marcus Earp, starring Marie Osmond.

My Darling Clementine (1946) – Starring Henry Fonda.

Sfida Rio Bravo (1965) – Starring Guy Madison.

Spectre of the Gun (1968) – Star Trek episode featuring a re-enactment of the famous shoot out with the Star Trek crew playing the role of the Clanton Gang.

Sunset (1988) – Starring James Garner in his second movie as Wyatt Earp, solving a murder at the Academy Awards.

The Gunfighters (1966) – A Doctor Who episode with the Tardis arriving in Tombstone and the Doctor gets involved in the events leading up to the famous gunfight.

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955 – 1961) – Television series starring Hugh O’Brien.

Tombstone, the Town too Tough to Die (1942) – Starring Richard Dix.

Old West Stories

Tombstone (1993) – Starring Kurt Russell.  My favourite movie about Wyatt Earp.  “One of the best of the old west stories presented in an action packed and star studded version of the feud between Wyatt Earp and his family pitted against the Clanton’s.  Former U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp (played by Kurt Russell) plan for peace, quiet and prosperity goes wrong when with Doc Holliday (played by Val Kilmer) the family encounters ‘The Cowboys”  Great performances and explosive action make this the best of the Wyatt Earp screen portrayals”

Wichita (1955) – Starring Joel McCrae.

Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone (1994) – Starring Hugh O’Brien.  This movie combines coloured from the television series ‘The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp’ with new scenes shot in Tombstone.  Wyatt Earp returns to his old haunts, visits friends and teaches outlaws a few manners.

The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991) – Starring Kenny Rogers as the gambler and Hugh O’Brien in a brief appearance as Wyatt Earp.

Winchester ’73 (1950) – Starring James Stuart with Wyatt Earp played by Will Geer.

Wyatt Earp (1994) – Starring Kevin Costner.

3 Responses to Wyatt Earp

  1. Jim Frisbie says:

    I learned a lot from your stories. I really liked the 1994 movie “Wyatt Earp” directed by Laurance Casdan, and would like to find the author and book that was the basis for the movie. My interest in this history comes from the fact that my grandfather, J. Horace Frisbie, the night marshal for Lamar, Colorado, was himself shot and killed on December 24, 1906 while on duty. His killer was eventually caught by a posse in Nebraska, and the killer was eventually killed in a prison break from the Colorado state pen at Canon City. The killer had been sentenced to death, by my grandmother had petioned the governor to not allow the death penalty, and he was then sentenced to prison. My father told me that his father had known Bat Masterson at that time. I am now 82, and feel personally affected by the violence of the wild west.

    • wildwest says:

      Thanks Jim for your comment and feedback. Great to hear from someone with such a connection to a hero from that era. Regards, OldWestStories

  2. Malcolm Earp, says:

    I live in Bath, which is in the South West of the UK. My Dad, David Earp born 1903 said that his father told him as a young boy that he had a distant cousin in the USA who was a ‘Marshall’. This was pre-westerns, and by Dad assumed he was a ‘Field Marshall” (a senior military officer), only realising many years later that it was Wyatt Earp he was referring to.

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