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. Pursuing a vendetta, Wyatt, his brother Warren, Holliday, and others chased down the Cowboys they thought responsible thus, transforming Wyatt into an outlaw himself.
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, Wyatt, who outlived Virgil, and was made famous by a largely fictionalized biography by Stuart Lake, has been the subject of and model for a large number of films, TV shows, biographies and works of fiction. But it is true that, unlike his brothers and his ally Doc Holliday, who participated in several gun battles with him, Wyatt was never wounded during his entire lifetime, which only contributed to his mystique.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois, on March 19th, 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, the Earps left Monmouth for California but settled in Iowa. Their new farm consisted of 160 acres northeast of Pella, Iowa.
On March 4th, 1856, Earp's father Nicholas sold his farm and returned to Turtle, Illinois, where he was elected the municipal constable, serving at this post for about three years. He was caught and convicted in 1859 for bootlegging. Nicholas was unable to pay the fines, and a lien was put against the Earp's property. It was sold at auction in November 1859, and the family left again for Pella, Iowa. After their move, Nicholas returned to Monmouth throughout 1860 to sell his other properties and resolve several lawsuits for debt and accusations of tax evasion. During the family's second stay in Pella, the American Civil War began. Newton, James and Virgil joined the Union Army on November 11th, 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 their 80-acre corn crop. Only 13 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 the summer of 1863. Newton and Virgil fought several battles in the east and later returned. On May 12, 1864, the Earp family joined a wagon train heading to California.
By late summer 1865, Virgil found work as a driver for Phineas Banning’s Stage Coach Line in California's Omperial Valley, and 16-year-old Wyatt assisted. In the spring of 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 the spring of 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 railhead in the Wyoming Territory and refereed a fight between John Shanssey and Mike Donovan.
In the spring of 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, and James Maupin.
In late 1869, Wyatt met Urilla Sutherland, the daughter of hotel-keeper William and Permelia Sutherland, formerly of New York City. They married in Lamar on January 10th, 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 Wyatt 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.
After Urilla's death, Wyatt experienced a series of legal problems. On March 14th, 1871, Barton County Missouri filed a lawsuit against Earp and his sureties. He was in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar, which funded local schools. Earp was accused of failing to turn in the fees. On March 31st, 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 28th, 1871 Earp, Edward Kennedy, and John Shown were charged with stealing two horses, with each of the value of one hundred dollars, from William Keys while in the Indian Country. On April 6th, Deputy Untied States Marshal J. G. Owens arrested Earp for the horse theft. Commissioner James Churchill arraigned Earp on April 14th, 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 5th, 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. It’s not known if he was a pimp, an enforcer or a bouncer for the brothel. He may have hunted buffalo during 1873-74 before he went to Wichita.
Wichita was a railroad terminal that was a destination for cattle drives from Texas. Such cattle boom towns on the frontier were raucous places filled with drunken, armed cowboys celebrating at the end of long drives. When the summer-time cattle drives ended and the cowboys left, Earp searched for something to do. A newspaper story in October 1874 shows that he earned a bit of 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 21st, 1875, after the election of Mike Meagher as city marshal (modern police chief), making $100 per month. He also dealt faro at the Long Branch Saloon.
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 and arrest Earp 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.
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 Larry Deger in 1876. There is evidence that Earp spent the winter of 1876-77 in another boomtown, Deadwood, Dakota Territory. He was not on the police force in Dodge City in late 1877, and rejoined the force in the spring of 1878. The Dodge newspaper reported in July 1878 that he 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. 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 Doc Holliday while in Texas. In the summer of 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, Doc 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.
Wyatt's older brother Virgil was in Prescott, Arizona Territory, in 1879 and wrote Wyatt about the opportunities in the nearby silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone. In the fall of 1879, Wyatt, Mattie, his brother Jim and his wife, and Doc Holliday and his common-law wife Bog Nose Kate, all left for Arizona. They stopped in Las Vegas in New Mexico Territory 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 of 1879, to about 1000 when the Earp group arrived in November. On November 27th, 1879, three days before moving to Tombstone, Virgil was appointed by Crawley P. Dake, U.S. Marshal for the Arizona Territory, as Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Tombstone mining district, some 280 miles 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 6th, 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 & Company as a Shotgun messenger on stagecoaches when they transported Wells Fargo strongboxes. In the summer of 1880, younger brother Morgan arrived from Montana and Warren Earp moved to Tombstone as well. In September, Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday arrived from Prescott.
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.” 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.
On July 28, Wyatt was appointed deputy sheriff for the eastern part of Pima County, which included Tombstone. The deputy sheriff's position was worth more than US$40,000 a year (about $963,310 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. Wyatt, however, only served for about three months.
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 (about $626,152 in today's dollars) near Benson, during which the popular driver Eli Philpot and passenger Peter Roerig were killed.
Meanwhile, tensions between the Earps and the McLaurys increased with the holdup of another stage in the Tombstone area on September 8, this one a passenger stage in the Sandy Bob line, 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. On Wednesday, October 26th, 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 Marshall, 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 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.
On October 30, Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the Earps and Holliday. Justice Spicer convened a preliminary hearing on October 31st 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 30th that 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 and Co. on behalf of the Earps, variously reported as $500 to $3,000. After attending a theatre show on March 18, Morgan Earp was assassinated by gunmen firing from a dark alley through a door window into 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. Wyatt Earp felt he could not rely on civil justice and decided to take matters into his own hands. He concluded that only way to deal with Morgan's murderers was to kill them all. The day after Morgan's murder, Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt, his brother James, Doc Holliday, and a few others that 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 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 others 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 away. Curly Bill fell into the water by the edge of the spring and died.
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 a.m. 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 of 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, but Hooker refused to take the 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 distant near Reilly Hill. The Earp posse did not meet with the posse, led by Cochise County Sheriff John Behan, searching for the Earps, and in the middle of April 1882 the Earp party fled the Arizona territory, heading east into New Mexico Territory and then into Colorado. The coroner reports credited the Earp party with killing four men 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. The gunfight in Tombstone lasted only 30 seconds, but it would end up defining Earp for the rest of his life. After Wyatt killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson, his movements received national press coverage and he became a known commodity in Western folklore.
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 pallbearers were prominent men: George W. Parsons, Charles Welch, Fred Dornberge, Los Angeles Examiner writer Jim Mitchell, Hollywood screenwriter Wilson Mizner, Earp's good friend from his days in Tombstone, John Clum, and Western actors William S. Hart and Tom Mix. Mitchell wrote Wyatt's obituary. The newspapers reported that Tom Mix cried during his friend's service.
His wife Josie was too grief-stricken to attend. Josie had Earp's body cremated and buried Earp's ashes in the Marcus family plot at the Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery (Josie was Jewish) 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. When she died in 1944, Josie's ashes were buried next to Earp's. The original grave-marker was stolen on July 8, 1957 but was later recovered. Their gravesite is the most visited resting place in the Jewish cemetery.
Source: Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyatt_Earp
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