Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848 – January 13, 1929) was an American investor and law enforcement officer who served in several Western frontier towns. He was also at different times a farmer, teamster, bouncer, saloon-keeper, miner and boxing referee. He is most well known for his part in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral during which three outlaw Cowboys were killed. The 30-second gunfight defined the rest of his life. Earp's modern-day reputation is that of the Old West's "toughest and deadliest gunman of his day."

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 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 marshal. In the winter of 1878 he went to Texas to gamble where he met John Henry "Doc" Holliday whom Earp credited with saving his life.

Continually drawn to boomtowns and opportunity, Earp left Dodge City in 1879, and with his brothers James and Virgil, moved to Tombstone, Arizona. 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, during which the Earps and Holliday killed three of the Cowboys. In the next five months, Virgil was ambushed and maimed and Morgan was assassinated. Wyatt, his brother Warren, Holliday, and others pursued the Cowboys they thought responsible in a vendetta.

After leaving Tombstone, Earp continually invested in various mining interests and saloons. He and his third wife, in their later years, moved between Los Angeles and the Mojave Desert, where the town of Earp, California was named after him. Although his brother Virgil had far more experience as a sheriff, constable, and marshal, because Wyatt outlived Virgil, and due to a largely fictionalized biography by Stuart Lake that made Wyatt famous, he has been the subject of and model for a large number of films, TV shows, biographies and works of fiction

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