GMIH-008 Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp


There is probably no more famous gunfight in the Old West than the Gunfight at the OK Coral. And from that gunfight there is probably no more famous lawman than Wyatt Earp. Top that off with one of the coolest mustaches in the Old West and you have the ingredients for another episode of Great Mustaches in History.

Wyatt Earp was born March 19, 1848. He is one of the best know figures from the American West. He was a lawman who helped tame the frontier.

In Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt Earp got into a feud with a local rancher that ended up in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. That gunfight is probably the most famous gunfight in American history. Spoiler alert, Wyatt Earp survived the gunfight and died in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929.

Wyatt Earp’s Early Years

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born on March 19, 1848, in Monmouth, Illinois. His father was Nicholas Earp and his mother was Virginia Ann Earp. Wyatt Earp had two older brothers and two younger brothers.

Wyatt Earp’s father Nicholas Earp, was a hard man and a heavy drinker. Wyatt Earp and his family moved around a lot when he was young.

Statue of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona

Statue of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona

The American Civil War started when Wyatt Earp was 13 years old. Wyatt Earp really wanted to leave his father’s farm in Illinois. He also wanted to have adventures. Wyatt Earp tried to join the Union Army several times because his two older brothers, Virgil and James,were in the Union Army. Wyatt Earp ran away from home to try to join the fighting but each time he was caught and returned home before he ever reached the battlefield.

When Wyatt Earp was 17 years old, he finally left his family. His family was living in California, at that time. Wyatt Earp left that all behind for a new life along the frontier.

A couple of his first jobs were hauling freight and working for the Union Pacific Railroad. While was doing those jobs he learned to box and became a good gambler.

By 1869, Wyatt Earp decided to move back near his family. His parents now lived in Lamar, Missouri. It looked like Wyatt Earp was going to settle down and live a peaceful live. His father was the constable of the township. When his father resigned, Wyatt Earp became constable.

Over the next year Wyatt Earp married Urilla Sutherland. She was the daughter of the local hotel owner. During that year he also built a house in town. And Wyatt and Urilla Earp were expecting a child. It seemed like everything was going well for Wyatt Earp.

But then, something terrible happened. Urilla Earp came down with typhus and she died. That was bad enough but her unborn baby died too.

Out West

As you might imagine Wyatt Earp was devastated. Wyatt Earp left Lamar, Missouri. He really did not have any purpose to his life. He drifted along. When he went to Arkansas, he stole horses and was arrested. He escaping from his jail cell.

For a few years Wyatt Earp kind of drifted from town to town in the frontier. He lived in saloons and other shady places. He became friends with men who were up to no good and women who did very naughty things.

In 1876 Wyatt Earp moved to Wichita, Kansas. Wyatt Earp’s brother Virgil Earp had a business where shady women were paid to go on dates with the cowboys coming off long cattle drives.

Wyatt Earp also worked as a part-time police officer. His job was rounding up bad guys.

Wyatt Earp really like the job and he was even written up in the newspapers. He got more involved and finally became the city marshal of Dodge City, Kansas.

Things were going pretty well as Wyatt Earp now seemed to be on the right path as a lawman. But remember how I told you his father like to move around to try to make more money? Wyatt Earp had that same spirit.

Location of Tombstone, Arizona

Location of Tombstone, Arizona

In December of 1879, Wyatt Earp moved from Dodge City, Kansas all the way to Tombstone, Arizona to be with his brothers Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp.

Tombstone, Arizona was a lot different than Dodge City, Kansas. It was a brand new town right on the frontier. It was just built there recently because someone had found a lot of silver in the area and prospectors were pouring in to try to mine the silver.

Another famous Old West character named Doc Holliday was Wyatt Earp’s friend. The two had met in Kansas. Doc Holiday joined Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona.

The Earp brothers thought that they would get rich mining silver but they never did. Wyatt Earp needed money so he became a lawman again. He did not really want to but he needed a job. Tombstone, Arizona and the whole area were very, very wild so the town was glad to have a lawman with some experience.

Gunfight At The O.K. Corral

Map of the Gunfight at the OK Corral

Map of the Gunfight at the OK Corral

In March 1881 some cowboys had robbed a Tombstone stagecoach and its driver. Wyatt Earp set out to find them and bring them to justice. As Wyatt Earp was trying to catch the stagecoach robbers he made a deal  with Ike Clanton. Ike Clanton was a rancher so he knew most of the cowboys working around Tombstone. Wyatt Earp promised Ike Clanton he could collect a $6,000 reward if Ike Clanton helped him.

This arrangement did not work out at all. Ike Clanton was afraid that Wyatt Earp might tell people about this arrangement. Ike Clanton was afraid that the bad guys would then be mad at him. So, he turned against Wyatt Earp. This did not go well.

Ike Clanton and Wyatt Earp’s trouble got worse each day. By October, Ike Clanton kind of started acting crazy. He would get drunk a lot and when he was drunk he would go to all the saloons in Tombstone saying he would kill one of the Earp men.

Everything sort of blew up on October 26, 1881. On that day the Earp brothers, along with Doc Holliday, met a group led by Ike Clanton. The group that opposed the Earps was made up of Ike Clanton, his brother Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury. This meeting took place on a small lot near the O.K. Corral. So the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral did not even really happen in the corral but in a vacant lot nearby.

Clanton Gravestones

The Gunfight at the OK Corral took place on October 26, 1881

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was one of the greatest gunfight in the Old West.

It lasted just 30 seconds, but during that half-minute there was a lot of shooting.

The men stood almost toe to toe. There is a lot of conflicting accounts about what happened. But when the smoke cleared these things are certain. Billy Clanton and both of the McLaury brothers all died. Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, as well as Doc Holliday were injured. The only one that did not get shot was Wyatt Earp.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral did not settle anything. It just made things worse. Ike Clanton had Virgil Earp shot and Morgan Earp assassinated.

Wyatt Earp wanted revenge because of Morgan Earp’s death. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and small posse went all over the frontier killing outlaws. This made the news all over the country. Some thought they were great for taking on the lawless culture of the Old West. Other people condemned them for going too far and for doing what they did for revenge instead of doing it to uphold the law.

Final Years

The American West eventually became more settled. Wyatt Earp did not really know what to do as things became more civilized. Wyatt Earp ran saloons in California and even took part in the gold rush in Alaska. But he finally settled down in Los Angeles.

In his old age, Wyatt Earp was very interested in how movies portrayal of the Old West and especially how they portrayed him. He hoped there would be a movie that told his story and set the record straight. Wyatt Earp died January 13, 1929, at his Los Angeles home.

Although Wyatt Earp never lived to see it, just two years later in 1931 Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake was published. This book helped make Wyatt Earp the kind of hero that he always wanted to be. Wyatt Earp was transformed into a Western hero that Hollywood and the American public loved

Interesting Facts About Wyatt Earp

  • Wyatt Earp loved ice cream. He did not drink alcohol at all. But, every day in Tombstone, he would stop into the local ice cream parlor and have a scoop of ice cream.
  • Wyatt Earp was never shot during a gun fight; not even one time. This contributed to his legend.
  • He once accidentally shot himself (but the bullet just hit his coat). Although Wyatt Earp was never hit by the bullet of an opponent, once, his gun fell out of his holster while he was leaning back in a chair. The gun discharged and the bullet went through his coat and out the ceiling.
  • Wyatt Earp was a friend of John Wayne when John Wayne was very young. In Wyatt Earp’s later years he was a technical adviser on several silent cowboy films. Young John Wayne used to fetch Wyatt Earp cups of coffee.
  • Wyatt Earp’s last words were mysterious. Just before he died in January of 1929 Wyatt Earp said, “Suppose, suppose…” Wyatt Earp’s friends and biographers all have only made guesses at what he was about to say to complete his thought before he passed away.

Wyatt Earp’s handlebar mustache is one of the most famous mustaches from all of the Old West and one of the reasons “Handlebar Mustaches” are thought of as manly, even today.

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