November 25, 2021

#08-157: The Legend of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Note: One of America's most famous "lawmen" often crossed over to the other side...

Get Ready: How is it possible for someone who is sworn to uphold the law to also break the law regularly? Is this surprising, or does it seem natural to you?

When I was a kid, one of the most popular TV shows amongst us boys was called The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Centered on a supposed "hero" of that name, the show--and much of what we think about Wyatt--was more "legend" than "life" or solid biography.

Ask most people familiar with the name, and they'll tell you something like this: He was a "lawman" and the hero of the famous Shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona (which has made that virtual ghost town one of the most famous pilgrimage sites for fans of Westerns). The event was built up through the publication of "dime novels," cheap pamphlets read by daydreaming boys, followed later by films and TV shows. Later in life, Earp actively participated in the forging of his "legend."

The truth is a little seamier. Aside from his occasional work as a "lawman"--usually as an assistant to someone else--Earp derived much of his income from gambling and the operation of "bordellos"--houses of prostitution. He moved from one boomtown to another seeking jobs without much concern for which side of the law he was on.

Even the details of his most famous battle are shrouded in misunderstanding.

Wyatt was not the leader of the forces of "law and order" that day. Rather, the Clanton gang had caught the attention of City Marshal Virgil Earp, Wyatt's brother. They were a group of outlaw "Cowboys" who rustled Mexican cattle--Tombstone is only 30 miles (48 kilometers) from the border.

At 3 p.m. on October 26, 1881, after months of tension, three of the Earps (Wyatt and brother Morgan had been deputized) along with Wyatt's friend, a gambler and dentist named John Henry "Doc" Holiday, faced five (or six) members of the gang. (There are conflicting reports of what happened during and after the fight.) After 30 seconds of shooting near (but not at) the famed Corral, three of the Cowboys were dead, and Morgan and Virgil were wounded. Doc Holliday was grazed by a bullet, but Wyatt was unharmed.

This set off a vendetta in which, two months later, Virgil was ambushed, shot and crippled by unknown assailants. Nearly three months after that, in March of 1882, Morgan was fatally shot through the glass door of a saloon.

Wyatt was now a newly-minted deputy marshal, and set out to even the score. In the end, all the Clanton members were dead--and Wyatt was fleeing from a warrant on charges of murder. Leaving Tombstone for good, he continued his wandering life until settling down in Los Angeles, California, where he died at home at the age of 80 in January of 1929.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. crippled
  2. deputized
  3. forging
  4. grazed
  5. newly-minted
  6. prostitution
  7. rustled
  8. seamier
  9. shrouded in
  10. vendetta

  1. hidden in; covered by
  2. sex trade
  3. stole (cows, horses, etc.)
  4. appointed as a kind of assistant
  5. recently created
  6. creation
  7. campaign of revenge
  8. more sordid; of lower morals
  9. incapacitated; disabled
  10. scraped lightly

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 25, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. d; 3. f; 4. j; 5. e; 6. b; 7. c; 8. h; 9. a; 10. g