Everyone has heard about Wyatt Earp but do you really know who he was? Sometimes it’s hard to separate legend from fact. From the publication of the biography “Wyatt Earp – Frontier Marshal” by Stuart Lake in 1931 to the popularity of the 1993 film “Tombstone”, Earp has become impossibly tangled in his own myth. So let’s see what we can do to untangle him.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (named after Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp, who fought alongside Wyatt’s father in the Mexican War.)
March 19, 1848 in Monmouth, Illinois
January 13, 1929 in Los Angeles, California.
Wyatt had five brothers and two sisters.
6 ft tall, lean and blonde.
Wyatt grew up on a farm in outside of Pella, Iowa. When his older brothers Virgil and James to fight in the American Civil War, Wyatt (aged 13) was left behind along with his younger brother Morgan and Warren to look after 80 acres of corn. Wyatt ran away to join the army a couple of times but was always brought back to the farm. On May 12 1864, Wyatt’s father Nicholas organized a wagon train and the Earp family travelled out to California. They arrived in San Bernadino on December 17, 1864.
Farmer, lawman, teamster, gambler, prospector, realtor, boxing referee, horse breeder and saloon owner. Wyatt is also described as working as a buffalo hunter in his early years but new evidence suggests he was actually living in a floating brothel during this period of time.
Was Wyatt ever a town marshal?
Officially no. He was a police constable in Lamar, Missouri; a police officer in Wichita and the Assistant Marshal in Dodge City. He was Deputy Sheriff for Pima County under Sheriff Charlie Shibell in 1880 and resigned after three months so that he could support Bob Paul who was running for election as Sheriff of Pima County. Wyatt was deputised by his brother Virgil in Tombstone before the gunfight. After Morgan Earp was killed, Wyatt avenged his brother’s death as a US Deputy Marshal. Wyatt was also Deputy Sheriff of the Coeur d’Alene area of Idaho in 1884.
These included Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, John Clum and Dan Tipton to name a few. As an old man living in Los Angeles, Wyatt became friends with cowboy actors Tom Mix and William Hart. Both attended his funeral. John Ford claimed that Wyatt had befriended a young John Wayne and given him advice that coloured his western screen persona.
When did Wyatt meet Doc Holliday?
Wyatt claimed in “Frontier Marshal” that he met Doc in Fort Griffin, Texas in 1877 while looking for outlaw Dave Rudabaugh.
Why were Wyatt and Doc friends?
Wyatt claimed in “Frontier Marshal” that Doc Holliday had saved his life during a shooting in Dodge City, Kansas.
Was Wyatt married?
Yes three times although a wedding certificate has only been found for his first marriage to Urilla Sutherland in January 1870. Urilla died nine months after they were married. His second common law wife was Celia Ann Blaylock (Mattie). After the Earp family left Tombstone, Wyatt sent Mattie home to California to stay with his parents and wait for a telegram. She didn’t receive a telegram and left for Pinal, Arizona. She died of a drug overdose six years later. Josephine Sarah Marcus was Wyatt’s last wife. They met in Tombstone, Arizona and were together for 48 years. “Sadie” as Wyatt called her, was responsible for a great deal of the Earp legend. For better or worse it’s Sadie’s recollections that became Stuart N. Lake’s fodder for the book “Frontier Marshal”.
Wyatt lived in many different towns on the frontier during his lifetime. These include: Pella, Iowa; Lamar, Missouri; Peoria, Illinois; Wichita, Kansas; Dodge City, Kansas; Prescott, Arizona; Tombstone, Arizona; Los Angeles, CA; Nome, Alaska; Colton, California; Trinidad, Colorado; Pueblo, Colorado; Denver, Colorado; Eagle City, Idaho; El Paso, Texas; San Diego, California; San Francisco, California; Tonopah, Nevada.
Wyatt had a racehorse named Dick Naylor and in later years a dog named Earpie, a cat called Fluffy and a canary.
Wyatt’s last words before he died were “Suppose, suppose.”