The Amazing Life of Wyatt Earp – Biography, O.K. Corral Gunfight & Death

The Amazing Life of Wyatt Earp – Biography, O.K. Corral Gunfight & Death

The legend and life of the man known
as Wyatt Earp is as rich and colorful as the saloons and Wild West in which he
made his name.

Whilst much of what we know about him
is arguably fictional, it doesn’t take away from how inspirational his approach
to life was and how he’s been a much-loved figure, to this day.

Renowned for his top skills in tense
gunfights and switching up between his roles as buffalo hunter, Deputy
Marshall, miner, gambler, and top card dealer to name just a few, it’s no
wonder the silver screen has played out his life many a time.

The list of leading actors who’ve stepped up to fill his boots is long and includes the impressive Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Kurt Russell, and Kevin Costner.

It seems the world simply can’t get enough of this fascinating man. So, what’s so great about him?

Who Was Wyatt Earp?

Wyatt Berry Stap EarpImage: history.com

Born in March 1848, Wyatt Berry Stap
Earp grew up with his brothers and sisters on a farm in Iowa before they moved
to California in 1864.

It was during this move that he got
acquainted with his first gun and with daily practice, became the ace marksman
for which he’s now remembered.

Once in California he tried his hand
at buffalo hunting and stagecoach driving and this took him all over the place.
In 1870 he married Urilla Sutherland, who very tragically died of typhoid less
than a year later.

After her death he moved to Oklahoma
where he eventually became the deputy town Marshall of Dodge City.

Despite a rocky start, clashing with the law, he established himself as a solid man, helping out the police on a thieving case, and worked as a card dealer at the Long Branch Saloon.

It was during this time that he met lifelong pals Doc Halliday and Bat Masterson.

By the time 1879 rolled around he and
his lover, Mattie Blaylock, had headed to Tombstone, Arizona for the boom in
silver, along with his brothers and their wives.

Earp took up a gambling job at the
Oriental Saloon.

He and his brothers all worked in the
police force and struck up an agreement with local farmer and gang member, Ike
Clanton in March 1881.

Ike ClantonIke Clanton [Image: Wikipedia]

But things turned sour between them
when Clanton did the dirty.

Before all this all broke down into
the infamous O.K. Corral fight, Wyatt had started to fall for travelling
actress, Josie Sarah Marcus, and he ended up spending the rest of his life with
her.

In the wake of the Wild West’s
biggest gunfight, the couple fled out West where they lived out their days
chasing the gold rushes, earning money through gambling, horse breeding and
keeping saloons.

The Infamous O.K. Corral Gunfight

Ever since the arrival of the Wyatts
in Tombstone, tensions had begun to mount between them and the Clanton-McLaury
ranching families.

The agreement they’d reached came about in March 1881 when Wyatt was helping his brother Virgil, the town marshal, pursue some cowboys.

Ike Clanton had ties with the cowboys and Wyatt struck a deal with him.

By October of that year, however, tensions were simmering up again as Clanton began making threats. It all erupted on 26 October, 1881, at the O.K. Corral.

O.K. CorralImage: historythings.com

It was a massive shootout between the
two groups.

On Wyatt’s side were his two
brothers, Virgil and Morgan, and best friend, Doc Holliday. On Ike’s side he
had his brother, Billy, along with the McLaury brothers, Tom and Frank.

Ike Clanton had been getting drunk
all day the day before, spouting off to anyone who’d lend him an ear that he
was going to kill Holliday and the Earps. When Holliday heard this, he
confronted him.

The Earps threatened Clanton with
arrest and they parted ways on bad terms, preparing for the worst the next
morning.

In the fight the following day,
Clanton’s side suffered most with Ike being the only one walking away with his
life and hungry for vengeance.

On the Earp side, Wyatt escaped
completely unscathed where his brothers and Holliday suffered some injuries.

Ike Clanton filed murder against them,
but a judge cleared their names in late November.

It didn’t end there, though.

Blood had been shed and payback was
on the cards.

In December, Virgil was ambushed and
killed by a group of mystery men and in March of the following year, Wyatt and
Morgan were attacked.

Morgan died on the spot in a saloon
and Wyatt took it upon himself to avenge his brothers’ premature deaths,
killing several people before fleeing town with Josie.

How Wyatt Earp Died 

Earp lived for another 40 years,
traveling across the west, and tried to write a memoir of his life but it
wasn’t well received at the time.

With his extensive experience of Wild
West adventures he became a source of knowledge for Hollywood Westerns, sharing
his stories with much verve and gusto.

He contracted cancer of the prostate
and died 13 January, 1929, aged 80 years old.

Earp was cremated and had his ashes
buried in Josie’s family’s plot, south of San Francisco. When she died in 1944,
she was buried in the same place. They didn’t have any children.

Wyatt & Josephine Earp graveImage: Wikimedia Commons

An American Legend

After such a colorful and dramatic life,
it’s no wonder Wyatt Earp still lives on in the hearts of so many Americans
today.

Whilst his attempt at writing a memoir wasn’t a hit, Stuart N Lake’s biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, published in 1931, became a bestseller.

Although a lot of the biography is
actually fictional, the character of Wyatt Earp provided so much hope and inspiration
to Americans through the Great Depression, and his legend lives on.

A hero, fiercely loyal and tenacious in all that he did, it’s no wonder he will always have a special place in our hearts.

Lead image: YouTube

Author: Glen Ferguson