Who Would You Most Like To Have Met?
Despite all of the many stories where he is portrayed as the rough tough hard lawman, the person I would most like to have met is Wyatt Earp. What was he really like? What made him tick? Was he just a killer with a badge, or was there more to him than that?
I remember seeing a brief grainy movie clip of him years ago; shot in the eighteen nineties where he was refereeing a boxing match between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey, hardly the image Hollywood likes to present.
Born on March 19th 1848, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was an inveterate gambler and investor, who became famous, or infamous, as a law enforcement officer. During his life he had taken jobs as various as a farmer, teamster, miner, saloon-keeper and bouncer. Earp often found himself on both sides of the law.
We have all heard the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881, but that was just one extremely brief moment in Earp’s long life.
As a child of thirteen, young Wyatt tried on numerous occasions to join his older brothers, Newton, James and Virgil when they took up arms in the Union Army during the American Civil War. But each time, his father found him and brought him back home.
After the war ended, young Wyatt worked, firstly alongside his brother Virgil on a stage coach, before becoming a teamster transporting supplies for the Union Pacific Railroad.
Earp was a product of the times he lived through. America was still evolving through its gradual taming of the continent from the Eastern Seaboard, west to the Pacific coast, where Earp eventually settled in San Francisco in 1882.
In 1885 he moved once again to San Diego where he speculated in a real estate boom and invested in race horses, in between judging prize fights.
With his wife Josephine, he returned to San Francisco in the 1890’s. He took part in the Alaska Gold Rush in the autumn of 1897, where he met the authors Jack London and Rex Beach, along with Jack Dempsey’s future promoter Tex Rickard.
In 1910, aged 62, Earp once again worked for law enforcement by taking a job offer from the Los Angeles police department, retrieving criminals from Mexico.
In the days of silent movies Earp became an unpaid consultant for several cowboy movies. On the set of one particular movie Earp was served coffee by a young Marion Morrison, later to take the name John Wayne. Wayne once said that he based most of his western characters from his discussions with Earp. The multi award winning film director John Ford worked as an assistant on the sets where Earp went to meet with friends.
The movie image we all have of him firmly fixes him in the nineteenth century, when in fact he lived until the late nineteen twenties.
On January 13th 1929, Wyatt eventually died aged 80.
Give me the man over the Hollywood myth any day.
- What Is Film’s Best Wyatt Earp Performance? (moviefone.com)
- Giddyup! Sam Raimi to take on the legend of Wyatt Earp. (popwatch.ew.com)
- Harrison Ford to Play Wyatt Earp in ‘Black Hats’ (slashfilm.com)