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Wyatt Earp

Born March 19, 1848 in Monmouth, Illinois
Died January 13, 1929 (age 80) in Los Angeles, California

Wyatt EarpEarly life in Illinois and Iowa
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois, on March 19, 1848, to widower Nicholas Porter Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey (who were wed on July 30, 1840, in Hartford, Kentucky). 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, 7 miles northeast of Pella, Iowa.

On March 4, 1856, Nicholas sold his farm and returned to Monmouth, Illinois, but was unable to find work as a cooper or farmer. Faced with the possibility of being unable to provide for his family, Nicholas decided to run for, and was elected, municipal constable, serving at this post for about three years. He also earned income by selling alcoholic beverages, which made him the target of the local temperance movement. Tried in 1859 for bootlegging, he was convicted and publicly humiliated. Nicholas was unable to pay his court-imposed fines; on November 11, 1859, the Earp family's property was sold at auction. Two days later, the Earps left again for Pella, Iowa. After their move, Nicholas returned often to Monmouth, throughout 1860, to sell his properties and to face 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 11, 1861. Although, at thirteen, Wyatt was too young, he later tried on several occasions to run away and join the army, only to have his father find him and bring him home. While Nicholas was busy recruiting and drilling local companies, Wyatt—with the help of his two younger brothers, Morgan and Warren—was left in charge of tending an 80-acre (32 ha) crop of corn. After being severely wounded in Fredericktown, Missouri, James 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, Wyatt and Virgil found work as drivers for Phineas Banning's Stage Coach Line in California's Imperial Valley. This is presumed to be the time Wyatt first drank whiskey; he reportedly felt sick enough to abstain from it for the next two decades.
In the spring of 1866, Earp became a teamster, transporting cargo for Chris Taylor. His assigned trail for 1866–1868 was from Wilmington, California, to Prescott, Arizona Territory. He worked on the route from San Bernardino through 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. This is believed to be the time of his introduction to gambling and boxing; he refereed a fight between John Shanssey and Mike Donovan.

He was also an active businessman in addition to a gambler and was engaged in a variety of real estate ventures, capitalizing on the land boom in the mid 1880's. Earp leased four saloons and gambling halls in San Diego, the most famous was the Oyster Bar located in the Louis Bank of Commerce on Fifth Avenue. He was listed as a capitalist (gambler) in the San Diego City Directory in 1887. Among his winnings was a race horse.

In the spring of 1868, the Earps settled in Lamar, Missouri, where Wyatt's father Nicholas became the local constable. When Nicholas resigned to become justice of the peace on November 17, 1869, Wyatt was appointed constable in his place. On November 26 and 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 (April 28, 1824–October 20, 1900); and James Maupin.

On January 10, 1870, in Lamar, Earp married his first wife, Urilla Sutherland (1849–c.1870), the daughter of William and Permelia Sutherland, formerly of New York City. The marriage ended prematurely with Urilla's death in about 1870. Her death date is based on Earp's November 1870 sale for $75 of a house and land that he had bought in August 1870 for $50; presumably, her death eliminated his need for the property.
That November, Earp ran for and won his constable's post, beating his elder half-brother, Newton, by 137 votes to 108.

On March 14, 1871, Barton County, Missouri, filed a lawsuit against Earp and his sureties. He was in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar, with the collected money intended as funding for local schools; Earp was accused of failing to deliver the collected money. On March 31, James Cromwell filed a lawsuit against Wyatt, alleging that he 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 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 April 1, Earp was one of three men (along with Edward Kennedy and John Shown) facing accusations for horse theft. On March 28, the accused reportedly stole two horses, "each of the value of one hundred dollars", from William Keys while in the Indian Country. On April 6, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens arrested Earp for the charges. Commissioner James Churchill arraigned Earp on April 14. Bail was set at $500.

On May 15, the 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 in order to get his help. However, on June 5, Edward Kennedy was acquitted, while the case against Earp and John Shown remained. However it was not pursued by prosecutors. Earp was released.

Both lawsuits and the horse-theft case eventually were dropped, partly because of Earp's disappearance. Modern researchers lack enough evidence to conclude whether he was guilty of the criminal charges; however, the acquittal of one of his co-defendants may have been enough to cause the authorities to lose interest.

Peoria, Illinois
For years, researchers had no reliable account of Earp's activities or whereabouts between the remainder of 1871 and October 28, 1874, when Earp made his reappearance in Wichita, Kansas. It has been suggested that he spent these years hunting buffalo in Kansas and wandering throughout the Great Plains.

He is generally considered to have first met his close friend Bat Masterson around this period, on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River. Nevertheless, the discovery of contemporary accounts that place Earp in Peoria, Illinois, and the surrounding area during 1872 has caused researchers to question these claims. Earp is listed in the city directory for Peoria during 1872 as living 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. Two additional arrests for Wyatt Earp for the same crime during 1872 in Peoria have also been found. Some researchers have concluded that the Peoria information indicates that Earp was intimately involved in the prostitution trade in the Peoria area throughout 1872.

Wichita, Kansas
Like Ellsworth, Wichita was a train terminal which was a destination for cattle drives originating in Texas. Such cattle boomtowns on the frontier were raucous places filled with drunken, armed cowboys celebrating at the end of long drives. Earp officially joined the Wichita marshal's office on April 21, 1875, after the election of Mike Meagher as city marshal (the term causes confusion, since "city marshal" was then a synonym for police chief, a term also in use). One newspaper report exists referring to Earp as "Officer Erp" (sic) prior to his official hiring, making his exact role as an officer during 1874 unclear. He likely served in an unofficial paid role.

Earp received several public acclamations while in Wichita. He recognized and arrested a wanted horse thief (having to fire his weapon in warning but not hurting the man) and later a group of wagon thieves. He had a bit of public embarrassment in early 1876 when a loaded single action revolver dropped out of his holster while he was leaning back on a chair and discharged when the hammer hit the floor. The bullet went through his coat and out through the ceiling.

Earp also had his nerves tested in Wichita in a situation which was not reported by the newspapers but which was substantiated in the memoirs of his deputy Jimmy Cairns. Wyatt angered drovers by acting to repossess an unpaid-for piano in a brothel and forcing the drovers to collect the money to keep the instrument in place. Later, a group of nearly fifty armed drovers gathered in Delano, preparing to "hoorah" Wichita across the river. ("Hoorah" was the Old West term meaning to hold an out-of-control drunken party.) Police and citizens in Wichita assembled to oppose the cowboys. Earp stood in the center of the line of defenders on the bridge from Delano to Wichita and held off the mob of armed men, speaking for the town. Eventually, the cowboys turned and withdrew, peace having been kept without a shot fired or a man killed.

Years later Cairns wrote of Earp: "Wyatt Earp was a wonderful officer. He was game to the last ditch and apparently afraid of nothing. The cowmen all respected him and seemed to recognize his superiority and authority at such times as he had to use it."

In late 1875, the local paper (Wichita Beacon) carried this item:

On last Wednesday (December 8), policeman Earp found a stranger lying near the bridge in a drunken stupor. He took him to the 'cooler' and on searching him found in the neighborhood of $500 on his person. He was taken next morning, before his honor, the police judge, paid his fine for his fun like a little man and went on his way rejoicing. He may congratulate himself that his lines, while he was drunk, were cast in such a pleasant place as Wichita as there are but a few other places where that $500 bank roll would have been heard from. The integrity of our police force has never been seriously questioned.

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, the end of a tour of duty which the papers called otherwise "unexceptionable." When Meagher won the election, the city council was split evenly on re-hiring Earp. With the cattle trade diminishing in Wichita, however, Earp moved on to the next booming cow-town, Dodge City, Kansas.

Dodge City, Kansas
After 1875, Dodge City, Kansas, became a major terminal for cattle driven from Texas along the Chisholm Trail. Earp was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City, under Marshal Larry Deger, in 1876. There is some indication that Earp traveled to Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, during the winter of 1876–77. He was not on the police force in Dodge City in the later part of 1877, although he is listed as being on the force in the spring. His presence in Dodge as a private citizen is substantiated by a July notice in the newspaper that he was fined $1.00 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 $20.00, while Earp's fine was the legal minimum.

In October 1877, Earp left Dodge City for a short while to gamble throughout Texas. He stopped at Fort Griffin, Texas before returning to Dodge City in 1878 to become the assistant city marshal under Charlie Bassett. While Wyatt was city marshal of Dodge City, Doc Holliday assisted him, saving his life when Wyatt "was surrounded by desperadoes." They became friends as a result.

George Hoyt Shooting
In the summer of 1878, a small group of Texas cowboys fired random shots into the rear of the Comique theater as they left town early on the morning of July 26, 1878. Fortunately, no one was injured. Assistant Marshal Earp and Policeman James Masterson responded and "together with several citizens, turned their pistols loose in the direction of the flying horsemen."

As the riders crossed the Arkansas river bridge south of town, George Hoyt "fell from his horse from weakness caused by a wound in the arm which he had received during the fracas. Hoyt died a month later of the wound. While Earp claimed to have fired the fatal shot, Hoyt could easily have been shot by Masterson or one of the citizens in the crowd.

Celia Anne "Mattie" Blaylock, a former prostitute, had arrived in Dodge City with Earp. She became Earp's companion until 1882. Earp resigned from the Dodge City police force on September 9, 1878 and headed to Las Vegas, New Mexico, with Blaylock.

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