|What makes a legend... [page 5]
Wyatt Earp - the "deadly" US Marshal
Wyatt Earp's upbringing was on the prosperous wheat fields cultivated by his father, in Monmouth, near Illinois where he was born on March 19, 1848. Fourth amongst six children in the Earp household Wyatt was just two years old when the family moved to Iowa, where they had an 80-acre farm growing corn. When civil war broke out in 1861, his three older brothers joined the cavalry and Wyatt dreamt of the day he would get his chance to fight.
A year after the family moved to San Bernadino in 1864, Wyatt joined the San Bernadino-Los Angeles Stage Lines as stage driver and for three months he rode the stagecoach much to his enjoyment because he liked the wild outdoors than the dreary life on a farm. In 1869, Wyatt entered into wedlock with Urilla Sutherland but that happiness wasn't to last very long. Urilla succumbed to typhoid and a sad Wyatt Earp, left his home wandering away into the wilderness, hoping to seek and find a place where he could settle down. By now, he had trained himself into a "straight and steady" marksman and it stood him in good stead when he took up hunting buffalo in Kansas, alongside the Arkansas River. For two years Wyatt and his hunting partner, "Bat" Masterson, earned good profits by trading the skins. At the age of 25 and with sufficient money to support, Wyatt packed off and in 1873 he came to Ellsworth - a town wild and unruly, with drunken brawls, gunfights, indiscriminate killing and total disorder. But the rudest shock was when the notorious Thompson brothers shot the Sheriff at point blank range that stunned Wyatt. As others looked on helplessly, Wyatt confronted one of the brothers and though a showdown was avoided, the brave effort stood out. In 1874, Wyatt moved to Wichita another town as wild as Ellsworth and became a deputy marshal with the intention of cleaning up the town with a firm hand. Within a year, he had succeeded in bringing sanity to the town.
By now, his reputation as a no-nonsense lawmaker had spread across the land and his services was much sought after. He moved to Dodge City where lawlessness was at its peak. He came across his old hunting friend, Bat Masterson, who became one of his deputies, as did Wyatt's brother, Morgan Earp. Soon enough, Dodge City was a transformed town much to the delight of its citizens. Wyatt became a hero in the community but despised by troublemakers, with whom Wyatt dealt with severely. In 1877 while in pursuit of an outlaw, Wyatt met Doc Holliday, a dentist by profession but also a very skillful gambler and quick with the gun too. The Doc-Wyatt friendship continued to remain till Wyatt's death in1929.
Meanwhile, Wyatt's older brother Virgil Earp became Deputy US Marshal in Tombstone County near Arizona. The town offered work and business opportunities and when Wyatt received a letter from Virgil, he moved to Tombstone in 1879. As did Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday. The ruffians of the town, the Clanton brothers disliked it all. They feared intervention in their cattle stealing business when Wyatt got the job of Deputy Sheriff of Tombstone and later on when Virgil Earp became town Marshall.
Clearly, the Clantons were heading for a confrontation with Wyatt Earp and the law. In fact, it happened. On 26th October 1881 the famous "Gunfight at the OK Corral" took place between the Earps, Doc Holliday included and the Clantons, piercing the silence of Tombstone County. It lasted for just 30 seconds and three of the Clantons lay dead, with Virgil and Morgan Earp wounded. County Sheriff Behan, clearly a Clanton supporter, charged Wyatt and Doc Holliday for murder and sent to trial. Two months later, Judge Spicer in announcing his judgment is reported to have stated that Wyatt and his men were fully justified in doing what they did and termed it as an act discharged in the line of duty.
The people of Tombstone were satisfied with the verdict, but there were others seeking revenge. Virgil Earp was shot in an ambush and though he survived, he remained crippled for life. Morgan Earp was shot in the back while playing a game of pool and was declared dead. Wyatt knew this to be the work of the Clanton gang and he wasted no time in going after them hunting them down one by one.
Wyatt Earp's reputation of a tough lawman was far and wide. He wasn't the wild and reckless kind of gunfighter and used the gun only when it was absolutely necessary, only for the sake of justice. Neither was he into a life of crime of any sorts. With both his brothers' dead, he eventually settled down in Denver and married Josephine, whom he met while at Tombstone. When he died on 13th January 1929 it was the end of a great saga. But the legend of Wyatt Earp lives on forever.
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