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Wyatt Earp

This article is about the lawman; Wyatt Earp is also the name of a card game. There is also a movie about the lawman, Wyatt Earp and a television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp .

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848 - January 13, 1929), was an officer of the law, gambler and saloon keeper in the Wild West. He is most known for his participation in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral along with Doc Holliday, Virgil Earp, and Morgan Earp.


Family Background

Wyatt was born in Monmouth, Illinois, USA to Nicholas Porter Earp (September 6, 1813 - November 12, 1907) and his second wife Virginia Ann Cooksey (February 2, 1821 - January 14, 1893).

His paternal grandparents were school teacher and Methodist Episcopal preacher Walter Earp (1787 - January 30, 1853) from Montgomery County, Maryland and traditional housewife Martha Ann Early (August 28, 1790 - September 24, 1881) from Avery County, North Carolina. They had their first son Nicholas Porter Earp in Lincoln County, North Carolina. Other five sons were born in various parts of Kentucky.

His maternal grandparents were James Cooksey and Elizabeth Smith. They had settled in Ohio County, Kentucky but little else is known of their life.

Nicholas Earp was a cooper and farmer. Having recently served as a sergeant in the Mexican-American War, Nicholas named his son in honor of his commanding officer Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp of the Illinois Mounted Volunteers.


On December 19, 1836, Nicholas Porter Earp married Abigail Storm (September 21, 1813 - October 8, 1839) in Hartford, Kentucky. The short-lived marriage produced two older half-siblings of Wyatt:

On July 30, 1840, Nicholas wed Virginia Ann Cooksey in Hartford, Kentucky. This second marriage produced a total of eight children:

Early Life

Wyatt was born during the California Gold Rush. In March, 1849, Nicholas Earp and his family left Monmouth for California. But they never reached there, settling instead in Iowa. Their new farm consisted of 160 acres (0.6 km²), seven miles (10 km) northeast of Pella, Iowa.

However on March 4, 1856, Nicholas sold his farm to Aquillin Waters Noe (c. 1800 - May 4, 1880). On the same day Noe resold it to Hiram Zenas Webster (March 1, 1829 - after 1915).

The family returned to Monmouth, but Nicholas found that nobody wanted his services as cooper or farmer. Faced with unemployment, Nicholas chose to become a municipal constable. He served for about three years. He reportedly had a second source of income from the selling of alcoholic beverages.

Nicholas became a target of the local Temperance movement and in 1859 he was tried for bootleging, convicted and publicly humiliated. Nicholas was unable to pay his fines and on November 11, 1859, Nicholas's property was sold at an auction. Two days later the Earps left for Pella, Iowa.

Nicholas apparently made frequent travels to Monmouth throughout 1860 to confirm and conclude the sale of his properties, to face several lawsuits for debt and accusations of tax evasion.

Civil War Experiences

In February, 1860, Virgil Earp eloped with Dutch immigrant Magdalena C. "Ellen" Rysdam (November 25, 1842 - May 3, 1910). They remained together for a year in spite of her parents' (Gerrit Rysdam and Magdalena Catrina Van Velzen from Utrecht) disapproval of her choice. On September 21, 1861, Virgil enlisted in the Union Army for the American Civil War.

His enlistment was to become the last time Virgil and Ellen met each other as husband and wife. The marriage resulted in the birth of the only known child of Virgil and the first known niece of Wyatt: Nellie Jane Earp (January 7, 1862 - June 17, 1930).

In the Summer of 1863, Ellen was told wrongly that Virgil had died. She left Pella with her parents and daughter. She had remarried by the time she next met Virgil. He would not learn of the existence of his daughter until 1888.

Wyatt reportedly sought to follow his elder brothers in joining the Union Army. But since Wyatt was only then reaching his adolescence, the elder Earps refused permission. The decision was probably for the better. Two years later Wyatt would see his elder brother James return home early after receiving a serious wound in Fredericktown, Missouri.

By that time Nicholas Earp decided to leave Pella again. On May 12th, 1864, Nicholas led his remaining family in joining a wagon train heading to California. They had an encounter with Indians near Fort Laramie. Wyatt reportedly took the opportunity of their stop at Fort Bridger to go hunting American Bison with Jim Bridger.

On June 26, 1865 Virgil Earp received his own military discharge from 83rd Illinois Infantry. There was no reason to return to Pella. He headed for California instead.

Reaching Adulthood

By late Summer, 1865, both Wyatt and Virgil had found a common occupation as stagecoach drivers for Phineas Banning's Banning Stage Line in Southern California. This is presumed to be the time Wyatt had his first taste of whiskey. He reportedly felt sick enough to abstain from it for the following two decades.

In Spring, 1866, Wyatt became a teamster, transporting cargo for Chris Taylor. His assigned trail for 1866 - 1868 was from Wilmington, Los Angeles, California to Prescott, Arizona. In Spring, 1868, Wyatt was hired by Charles Chrisman to transport supplies for the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. This is presumed to be the time of his introduction to gambling and boxing.

By 1869, Nicholas Earp had left California to settle in Lamar, Missouri. He became the local constable. By November 17, 1869, Nicholas resigned to become Justice of the Peace. Wyatt was immediately appointed constable in place of his father. On November 26 and in return for his appointment, Wyatt filed a bond of 1000 dollars. 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, Wyatt married his first wife, Urilla Sutherland (1849 - 1870/1871). She was daughter to William and Permelia Sutherland from New York City. The marriage was short-lived. Urilla is believed to have died either a few months or about a year later. There are two reported versions of her cause of death. One version claims that she died of typhus, the other that she died in childbirth.

Constable of Lamar

On May 28, 1870 the local newspaper of Lamar commended Wyatt for managing to arrest a group of drunk men without assistance. The lack of casualties in the confrontation has been argued as an early sign of Wyatt being a skilled lawman.

In August, 1870, Wyatt bought a house and the share it occupied for $50. In November, Wyatt resold the house for $75. The later event has been used to estimate the death of Urilla, based on the perception that a widower has less need of permanent residence than a married man expecting to have children.

On March 14, 1871, Barton County, Missouri filed a lawsuit against Wyatt and his sureties. Wyatt had been in charge of collecting license fees for Lamar. The collected money were to be used as funding for the local schools. Wyatt was accused of never having delivered the collected money.

On March 31, James Cromwell filed his own lawsuit against Wyatt. Wyatt was reportedly in charge of collecting the money Cromwell owed to the local court following a recent judgment. Cromwell claimed that he had given Constable Earp money sufficient to repay the full amount of his debt. However the court found the delivered money lacking and had Constable Earp seize a mowing machine from Cromwell. The machine had been sold for $38 in order to pay the remaining debt. Cromwell claimed that Wyatt had falsified his reports to court on the amount of money that had been collected for his debt. He held Wyatt and his sureties accountable for paying him the worth of the machine, estimating its worth at $75.

On April 1, Wyatt was one of three men facing accusations for horse theft, alongside Edward Kennedy and John Shown. On March 28, the accused had reportedly stolen two horses, "each of the value of one hundred dollars", from William Keys while in the Indian Country. On April 6, Wyatt was arrested by Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens for the later charges. The arraignment of the charges against him was read to him by Commissioner James Churchill on April 14. Bail was set at $500. On May 15, the indictment against Wyatt, Kennedy and Shown was issued.

Anna Shown, wife of John, claimed that Earp and Kennedy got her husband drunk and then threatened his life in order to earn his assistance. However on June 5, Edward Kennedy was acquitted while the case against Wyatt and John Shown remained. Faced with two lawsuits and a trial, Wyatt apparently chose to flee the State of Missouri. An arrest warrant was issued. By November 21, set date for their trial, the local officials were unable to locate either Wyatt Earp or John Shown. Nicholas Earp had also left Lamar.

Both lawsuits and the horse theft case were eventually dropped because of the disappearance of Wyatt. Researchers of his life do not have enough evidence to conclude whether he was guilty of the charges. They tend to note however that this would be the first but not the last controversial incident of his life


For years, researchers had no reliable account of Wyatt's activities or whereabouts between the remainder of 1871 and October 28, 1874 when Wyatt makes his reappearance in Wichita, Kansas. He has been suggested to have spent these years hunting American Bison and wandering from place to place. 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 Wyatt Earp in Peoria, Illinois, and the surrounding area during 1872, have caused researchers to question these claims. Wyatt is listed in the city directory for Peoria during 1872 as living in the house of Jane Haspel, who operated a bagnio (brothel) from that location. In February 1872, Peoria police raided the Haspel bagnio, arresting four women and three men. The three men included 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 and cost for the criminal infraction. Two additional arrests for Wyatt Earp for the same crime during 1872 in Peoria have also been found. Some researchers haved concluded that the Peoria information indicates that Wyatt was intimately involved in the prostitution trade in the Peoria area throughout 1872. This new information has caused some researchers to question Wyatt's accounts of Buffalo hunting in Kansas.

The 1931 book Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake claimed that while in Kansas, Wyatt met such notable figures as Wild Bill Hickok. Lake also identified Wyatt as the man who arrested gunman Benjamin Thompson (November 2, 1843 - March 11, 1888) in 1873. However Lake failed to identify his sources for these allegations. Consequently later researchers have expressed their doubt about them. In particular, the activities of Benjamin Thompson during the year of his arrest were covered in detail by the local press without ever mentioning Wyatt. Benjamin Thompson published his own accounts for the events in 1884. He too failed to report Wyatt as the man responsible for his arrest.

Wyatt joined the Wichita, Kansas police force, but he was discharged in April 1876, following an altercation involving him and another officer. Earp joined the police force in Dodge City and, in 1878, he was appointed assistant city marshal under Charles Bassett.

In September 1879, he left Dodge City and three months later reached Tombstone, Arizona, where he became a farmer. After Wyatt's brother, Virgil Earp became city marshal of Tombstone, he recruited Wyatt Earp and Morgan Earp as "special deputy policemen."

Phineas Clanton , Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury sold livestock to Tombstone. Wyatt Earp was convinced that the Clanton and McLaury brothers had been selling stolen livestock, and had stolen one of his horses. Earp also came into conflict with sheriff John Behan because of a fight involving a woman.

During the O.K. Corral gunfight, Wyatt Earp shot Frank McLaury in the stomach.

When Wyatt died in 1929 at age 81, Josie (Josephine Sarah) Earp (his wife) buried Wyatt's ashes in the Marcus family plot at the Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery (Josie was Jewish) in Colma, California. When she died in 1944, Josie's remains were buried next to Wyatt's.

Wyatt Earp in fiction

In the long narrative poem Wyatt Earp in Dallas, 1963 (ISBN 0969963904) by Steve McCabe, Earp received a prophecy from a prisoner who foretold the invention of television and the death of President Kennedy. Earp, motivated by this prophecy, time-traveled to Dallas to prevent JFK's assassination.


Primary sources concerning Wyatt Earp

External links

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04