What most people do not know about the great law man Wyatt Earp is that he was a cold blooded murder who chose to take the law into his own hands. Glorifying stories and false imagery have given Earp the image of a super-hero of the American West, but very few know the true story of the man they call Wyatt Earp.
He was born in Monmouth, Illinois, on March 19, 1848. One year later, Earp and his family set their eyes on moving west to the state of California, but ended up settling in Iowa and built a farm. The farm life lasted for about seven years before the family returned home so that his father could settle legal issues. Many years later, Earp began his law enforcement career in Kansas and became the Assistant City Marshall. Earp also gained a position that his father once held, the local constable, as his father moved on to Justice of the Peace. Earp would later find himself moving to Tombstone, Arizona, after the passing of his wife Urilla and their child who died from typhoid fever. He became sheriff as was elected in the county of Pima. He later came to be a U.S. Marshall and made a name for himself as one of the greatest law men. This is where Wyatt Earp began his famed career.
Earp was most famous for his moment in the O.K Corral. The story and his involvement in it has continued to be celebrated, and there are many movies on the subject. One of the movies, “Tombstone,” was about Wyatt Earp being a lawman trying to settle down in Tombstone, Arizona but encountering outlaws and being forced back into action. His original plan was to go there to meet up with his brother and Doc Holiday to finally settle down, but the brothers and Holiday encountered the gang that called themselves “The Cowboys.” They were guilty of conducting acts of violence in the small community. As they continued to butt heads with Wyatt and his crew, a progression occurred right up to the shoot out of the O.K. Corral. This movie also shows the imagery of Wyatt Earp being a fearless man as he takes on Ike and his gang, due to their threats and violent acts. However, during the movie many gun fights and violent acts occur, not from just the outlaws, but also by the character of Wyatt Earp. Whether it was a shootout in the middle of town or riding a horse through a bar chasing one of the outlaws to shoot them in the back, Wyatt Earp caused the same chaos as any among them.
The other movie, “Wyatt Earp,” started off when he was a teenager, living on the farm. He also had two Brothers, Virgil and James, who were in the Civil War fighting for the Union. Even though Wyatt wanted to join his brothers, his father stopped him and shortly after the war came to an end. After returning home, Earp married a women by the name of Urilla Sutherland, but she died shortly after from the typhoid fever. Earp ended up spiraling out of control and got in trouble with the law and started to head west to escape. He found himself in Dodge City where he became a marshal, but earned another reputation. Once again, the reputation was negative, as he was kicked out of marshal duties for performing his duties with excess violence. Doc Holiday came in when Wyatt Earp met him while chasing an outlaw even though he was no longer a marshal, but he returned to Dodge City after word of Ed dying. Later on in the movie, they found Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, encountering the “Cowboy” gang alongside his brother vigil the marshal, and arresting some of the gang members. This was one of the many encounters leading up to the Gunfight.
These movies were very different with “Tombstone” starting much later in Wyatt Earp’s life and jumping straight to the days in Tombstone. It was about all the action, violence, the common theme of outlaws vs the law incarnate, a hero who stands alone, and a good fashion gunfight.
“Wyatt Earp” was much slower pace movie, giving more details from start to finish. It began with his childhood and showed his father explaining how family is more important than anything. Then it jumped to him getting in trouble after burning his home down and losing his love to a fever. It then jumps to his days as a marshal. It portrayed a little bit of action and violence, but was more about his life and the impacts it had on him rather than giving the image of his heroism or his taking on the gang by himself during the days in Tombstone, Arizona.
With many more movies made about Wyatt Earp than these two, it has given the image that Wyatt Earp was one of the greatest lawmen in the American West and possibly to this day. I asked a teammate of mine if he knew who Wyatt Earp was. He replied,“Yeah, I love Wyatt Earp. He was a bad ass. Haven’t you seen his movies?” From that statement and during my research in primary and secondary sources and other sources, I found that good amount of people stated or said that Wyatt Earp was “The greatest lawman of the west”, “He could not be killed”, and “He stood by the law,” but after that I turned to my teammate and said, “Did you know that he was hunted by the law? He had murdered three people when he was no longer a lawman and decided to take the law into his own hands. He later was arrested after his testimony of the gunfight at O.K. Corral.”
The myth of Wyatt Earp being the greatest lawman in my opinion is a bust for him because he was stripped of his duties as a marshal in Dodge City, later burned his house down and committed other unlawful acts in the process. This caused the law to come after him so he set out West to get away from the law. The final decision came down to Judge Wells Spicer, as he decided that both Wyatt Earp and John Holliday, the defendants in the case were to be arrested upon a warrant that was issued on the accounts of murder. Even though the trial lasted four weeks he and doc holiday were found not guilty. But what people do not know is that he was on trial for murder, and also he was for horse theft. Wyatt and two others were accused of stealing two horses and later jailed, but instead of waiting for his trial date Wyatt had broken out of the jail through the roof. Wyatt Earp was also known for slapping prostitutes and being a pimp and was arrested three different times for being in the houses were the prostitution had taken place. People still portray him to be a quote on quote “badass” because he is still portrayed in movies as a hero and good guy even though they leave that information out about his criminal history. With the lack of information and the portrayed movies he is identified as a hero. With all the crimes and actions under his belt he was promoted as a true American West symbol. The American West was a wild and a place full of criminals that needed hero to stand up and bring peace even if it was not by the books this is why I believe that people see Wyatt Earp as An American West hero as he did is actions for the greater good at the end of the day.