Much has been written about old west lawman, Wyatt Earp in the last 100-years or so, some true, but most false. Wyatt has been portrayed as everything from a saint to a low-down scondrel. But what is true is that Wyatt was a man trying to survive in a very dangerous time and place in this country's history. To fully know Wyatt Earp is to know the times in which he lived.
As far as historical writers, one has to understand, they have their opinions about the people they write about. No writer actually writes a non-biased story. I guess if they did, it would be boring. But if a writer writes about someone he or she dislikes, then they are not going to add the good side of the person. And this is true on the other side of the coin as well.
In reality, Wyatt Earp was a man who, at least in the beginning, was a law-abiding citizen who really wanted to bring law and order to the towns of the old west. The citizens of Dodge City, Kansas loved him and he did clean that town up. But yes, he had a few shady deals here and there. Just about every place that Wyatt lived, he ran gambling houses and saloons. But in the west, that is where the real money was at. And Wyatt ran clean places. He took a very dim view of cheating.
Wyatt was a quite man who very seldom laughed. Actually, many of his friends had never even seen him smile. He was not a drinker. He liked coffee and later in life tea. But no one in recorded history ever claimed to see him drunk. He had a drink every so often but it was not something he did. Personally, I believe that Wyatt was worried that if he got too tipsy, he would let his guard down.
Three things that Wyatt adored...his wife, Josie, children and animals. Wyatt loved horses and would water his horse before he ate or drank water himself. He never spoke to anyone about the fact that he and Josie never had children but when he visited his family in California on trips there, the children loved to see uncle Wyatt. He played with them often and it was then that he laughed the most.
In the few years that he was in Tombstone, Arizona, Wyatt proved to be a good businessman. He owned several mines and other properties and had bought into the local saloons. He befriended several people that were not looked upon too highly by the general public, one being Doc Holiday. Doc is another story. He was a killer, but only killed a few people, nowhere near the number that Hollywood would like us to believe. But Doc was loyal. If he was your friend, he would walk through fire for you and be your friend for life. He and Wyatt were good friends.
The only time when Wyatt went outside the law to an extreme was after the death of brother Morgan and the crippling of his other brother, Virgil. Wyatt hunted down the men responsible and killed them dead! There were other times in his long life that he stepped outside the law, but these were little things that we all do from time to time.
So, in reality, Wyatt Earp was simply a product of his times. Wyatt was a good man and an honest man, for the most part. But he was not above doing little shady deals to make money or to advance himself. Wow! That sounds like a lot of people that are around today. It would have been easy for Wyatt to take advantage of people in business. But that is not the way he was. That's probably why he died broke. In his later years, he had many writers wanting to write his life story. But after a short time, it would turn out that they simply wanted to write good "shoot-'em-up" dime novel type of trash and Wyatt would have no part of it. He wanted his story to be factual. The best book I have found on Wyatt Earp is...
"I married Wyatt Earp".
Written by his wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp.
Collected and Edited by Glenn G. Boyer.
Published by the University of Arizona Press.
1976 / 1981.
Keep in mind, Josie wanted to keep Wyatt's memory clean as well. There are footnotes throughout this book where the author clears up some of Josie's "memory" about her life with Wyatt.
It is easy today for us to judge these people by today's standards. However, times were very different in the old west. Think of the rustlers and outlaws in the same view as today's street gangs. But in an even worse setting. They could shoot you dead and, in many cases, never be arrested for it.
Wyatt and his brothers had their work cut out for them. Keeping the peace was no little effort in those days. And Tombstone, Arizona was wide open with roudies, killers and holdup men. Even when he was alone, Wyatt never backed down from any man. He stood his ground and fought. There is no recorded event where Wyatt harmed any innocent citizen. He only fought the outlaws. Again, I am not saying the Wyatt was a saint. But at the time, and the places that he lived, I believe many townsfolk may have thought he was.
Wyatt at the time of the OK Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona. 1881
Wyatt at age 21 in 1869
Wyatt in old age
Wyatt and his car. 1928
Earp, Wyatt looking across Colorado River, 1925
Wyatt at home. Age 79. 1928
Wyatt 2-weeks before his death on 1-13-1929, 80-years old
Wyatt's parents, Nick & Virginia Earp
The Earp family
Wyatt with his mother
Josephine Earp, Wyatt's 3rd wife
Josephine at the time she met Wyatt
Josephine Earp circa 1929
Josie and Wyatt at their campsite, 1920s
Wyatt's brother, Morgan Earp
Warren Baxter Earp. Wyatt's brother
Brother, Virgil Earp
Brother, James Earp
Bat Masterson in the 1880s
Bat Masterson in middle age. Circa 1915
Dodge City, Kansas Peace Commissioners. Bat Masterson is standing, far right wearing the derby hat. Wyatt Earp is sitting, second from left
Bat Masterson in New York City only a few weeks before his death in 1921
John "Doc" Holiday. The man with the eyes that looked right through you
Doc Holliday signed photo - 1879
Doc Holiday - Prescott Arizona. (Same picture as above. In better condition)
Doc Holiday's Dental School Graduation Photo 1872
Doc as a young man
Ed Englestadt, Wyatt Earp, and John P. Clum on the beach
Multimillionaire Elias Jackson 'Lucky' Baldwin, daughter, Clara, granddaughter Rosebudd & great grandson Joseph.
Frank McLaury. 1879
Tom McLaury. 1879
John H. Behan, Tombstone sheriff
Newman 'Old Man' Clanton. Actually, Newman had been killed before the Clanton's met the Earps. But he was the ring leader to the rustlers and would have surely been an enemy of the Earps.
Dexter Saloon. Nome, Alaska. July 4, 1901. The Dexter is at center-left.
Wyatt's saloon, "The Northern", at Tonapah, Nevada, 1902
Pallbearers for Wyatt Earp’s memorial service in January 1929. (L-R)
W. J. Hunsaker (Earp’s attorney in Tombstone and noted L.A. attorney),
George Parsons (member of Tombstone’s “Committee of Vigilance”),
John Clum (former Tombstone mayor and editor of the TOMBSTONE EPITAPH),
William S. Hart, (Wyatt's friend. Silent film western actor),
Wilson Mizner, (friend of Wyatt's during the Klondike Gold Rush),
Tom Mix, (Wyatt's friend. Silent film western actor).
At the end of Wyatt's life, in 1929, he and Josie had a pet cat that stayed on Wyatt's bed untill he died and would not leave his side. Wyatt loved that cat. Wyatt had named the cat when they first got it. What name do you think a man like Wyatt Earp would name his cat? Killer! Gun Powder! Tombstone! No, actually, Wyatt named the cat "Fluffy".