Gunslinger Biography Wyatt Earp

About the famous gunslinger Wyatt Earp, history and biography, description and famous fight at the O.K. Corral, favorite weapons, and how he died.


Name: WYATT BERRY STAPP EARP, born in Monmouth, Ill., on Mar. 19, 1848, and died Jan. 13, 1929, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Description: 6 ft. tall, a wiry 155 lb. Squarely chiseled jaw, blue eyes, a long, dark, droopy mustache. Cool demeanor. Usually wore black stetson, black high-heeled boots, long-skirted, square-cut black frock coat, white shirt, and black string tie.

Resume: Like many western heroes and antiheroes, Wyatt Earp belonged to a clan of brothers, named James, Virgil, Morgan, and Warren. Young Wyatt farmed with his father in several states, drove a stage in California, worked as a bartender, and eventually became a gambler. In 1871 he was indicted for horse stealing, but he raised $500 bail and skipped town.

As a policeman in Wichita, Kans., in 1874, Earp was caught pocketing the fines he collected. He made no important arrests and soon was dismissed from the force for fighting with a politician.

In Dodge City, Kans., Earp was a policeman and a deputy marshal from 1876 to 1879. Although he killed his first man in Dodge, a drunken cowboy named George Hoyt, he was a run-of-the-mill peace officer seldom mentioned in local newspapers.

Earp arrived in Tombstone, Ariz., in 1879 and quickly became involved in "Tombstone after dark." (The county register listed him as "saloonkeeper.") When his brother Virgil was appointed town marshal, Wyatt became his deputy. Their zealous enforcement of the law (due more to protecting their own casino interests than dedication) led to the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which blasted three cowboys into eternity and Wyatt Earp into the history books.

Later, friends of the men killed at the O.K. Corral crippled Virgil with a shotgun blast and killed Morgan with a sniper shot. In revenge, Earp gunned down Frank Stilwell and Indian Charlie. With a posse on his trail, he left Tombstone.

Plying his trade as saloonkeeper, Earp ventured to Nome, Alaska, during the Klondike gold rush, and eventually drifted to San Francisco in search of Josephine Sarah Marcus, a vaudevillian known in Tombstone as Sadie. They settled in Los Angeles, where Earp was charged with vagrancy and conducting a bunco operation. The last two years of his life he devoted to enhancing his reputation in conversation with Stuart Lake, author of Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal, from which much of the legend of Wyatt Earp has been taken.

Favorite Weapon: The Buntline Special, made by Colt at the behest of Ned Buntline the famous dime novelist had five of the outsized pistols made for the peace officers he most admired: Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett, Neal Brown, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp. Earp found the 12-in. barrel perfect for "buffaloing" (his habit of subduing badmen with a whack across the forehead).

Speed on the Draw: No record, but considered quick and deadly accurate. Earp drew his gun from a leather-lined coat pocket heavily waxed for a fast draw.

Victims: George Hoyt; Frank McLaury, and/or Tom McLaury, and/or Billy Clanton; Frank Stilwell; Indian Charlie; and, according to Earp's account, Curly Bill Brocious and Johnny Ringo, although historians maintain Brocious was alive a decade later and Ringo committed suicide.

Leading Fight: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The Earps and Doc Holliday attempted to disarm cowboys Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claiborne. Some accounts insist Ike and Tom were not armed. The shootout lasted 30 seconds, each side firing 17 shots. The McLaurys and Billy Clanton were killed. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne fled. Virgil was wounded in the calf, Morgan in the shoulder, and Holliday in the back. Wyatt, according to the Tombstone Epitaph, "stood up and fired in rapid succession, as cool as a cucumber, and was not hit."

Earnings: $250 a month as deputy marshal of Dodge, and $1,000 a month to keep order in Tombstone's Oriental Saloon.

How Died: Quietly in his sleep at his Los Angeles home.

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