A timeline of the life of Wyatt Earp from the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary.

Wyatt Earp with his mother, Virginia Ann
Courtesy John Rose

Wyatt Earp with his mother, Virginia Ann
March 19, 1848: Early Life

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp is born in Monmouth, Illinois. He is the fourth child of Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp, after James, Virgil, and Martha. From Nicholas’ first marriage, Wyatt has an older half-brother, Newton.

Wyatt will spend his early life in Illinois and Iowa. Wyatt’s younger brothers Morgan and Warren and sisters Virginia Ann and Adelia will be born between 1851 and 1861, although both Martha and Virginia Ann will die in childhood.


1861-62

Wyatt’s three older brothers join the Civil War on the side of the Union. According to legend, a thirteen year-old Wyatt makes several attempts to run away and join the army, but Nicholas finds him each time and brings him home where he puts Wyatt in charge of harvesting their crop.


Summer 1865

After the end of the Civil War, Newton, James, and Virgil reunite with the family, who are now living in California. Although too young to work himself, Wyatt helps his older brother Virgil in his work as a stagecoach driver.


Spring 1866: Searching for a Role

Wyatt explores the West while hauling freight. He travels between California and Arizona Territory, making stops in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.


Spring 1868

Wyatt is hired to grade track for the building of the Union Pacific Railroad. He learns boxing and gambling during time he spends at the railhead in Wyoming.


November 24, 1869

Wyatt rejoins his family, who are now settled in Lamar, Missouri. Nicholas resigns as the Constable of the Township, and Wyatt is appointed in his place.


Portrait of Wyatt Earp taken sometime between 1869 and 1871
Craig A. Fouts Collection

Portrait of Wyatt Earp taken sometime between 1869 and 1871
January 10, 1870

Wyatt Earp marries Urilla Sutherland, who dies within the year. Urilla’s cause of death is speculative, but most likely caused by typhus or from complications during childbirth. In November, Wyatt sells the house he had bought only two months earlier.


March 28, 1871

Wyatt is accused of stealing a horse in Van Buren, Arkansas. He evades punishment by fleeing.

Wyatt allegedly spends the next several years in saloons, gambling houses, and brothels of the frontier. He has multiple relationships with prostitutes, as well as several arrests for his involvement with them.


October 1874: Becoming a Lawman

Wyatt helps a police officer in Wichita, Kansas track down a thief who has stolen a wagon. He gains public acclaim for his involvement in catching the horse thief, the same crime he had been accused of years earlier. Wyatt subsequently becomes a policeman in Wichita, helping to keep the Cowboys in line.


May 19, 1876

Wyatt becomes deputy town marshal of Dodge City, Kansas. He travels there with Mattie Blaylock, a former prostitute. The two will be together until 1882.


Summer 1877

After a brief time doing outdoor work in Dakota Territory, Wyatt returns to Dodge City and is made City Marshal.


Tombstone in 1870
Arizona Historical Society

Tombstone in 1870
December 1879

Wyatt and Mattie travel to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, after receiving news from Virgil about a huge silver strike there.

They are joined by Wyatt’s closest friend Doc Holliday and his companion Mary Katherine Cummings, better known as Big Nose Kate.

The group is too late to profit from the silver rush, and Wyatt reassumes the role of lawman in Tombstone.


Many cowboys were loosely organized criminals connected to a few main families, like the Clantons and the McLaurys
Lynne Clark Collection

Many cowboys were loosely organized criminals connected to a few main families, like the Clantons and the McLaurys
March 1881: Wyatt's Feud With the Cowboys Begins

Wyatt joins a posse after some Cowboys (local outlaws) rob a Tombstone stagecoach and kill its driver.

Wyatt and his men catch and jail Luther King, but are unsuccessful in their search for Bill Leonard, Harry Head, and Jim Crane.


Tombstone Cowboy Ike Clanton
Robert G. McCubbin Collection

Tombstone Cowboy Ike Clanton
June 2, 1881

Wyatt seeks help in this search from Ike Clanton, a rancher with ties to the Cowboys. Wyatt, hoping that catching these men will get him elected sheriff, offers Ike a reward of $6,000 for his help. Ike sets a plan in motion, but gets increasingly paranoid that Wyatt will inform the Cowboys of his betrayal.


October 25, 1881

Ike Clanton spends the night in Tombstone, drinking heavily and making threats against the Earp clan.


Doc Holliday, Earp's legendary best friend
Craig A. Fouts Collection

Doc Holliday, Earp's legendary best friend
October 26, 1881: The Gunfight at the OK Corral

Tensions between the Earps and the Cowboys explode in the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. The fight pits Wyatt, his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and Doc Holliday against Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury.

Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton are killed; Morgan and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday are wounded but survive. Ike Clanton runs away, and Wyatt emerges from the fight unharmed.


October 29, 1881

Ike Clanton files murder charges against Wyatt, Wyatt’s brothers, and Doc Holliday. Wyatt and Doc Holliday are arrested and held in prison for 16 days.


November 29, 1881

Judge Wells Spicer clears the Earps and Doc Holliday of the murder charges.


Virgil Earp never regained use of his left arm
James H. Earle

Virgil Earp never regained use of his left arm
December 28, 1881: The Feud Continues

Wyatt’s brother Virgil is shot while walking home from a saloon to his hotel, where he is staying to protect himself from assassins, crippling his arm for life.

The identities of his attackers remains a mystery.


December 29, 1881

Wyatt becomes Deputy United States Marshal.


March 18, 1882

The aftermath of the Gunfight at OK Corral is not over, as unknown assailants attack Wyatt and Morgan Earp in a saloon. Wyatt again escapes unharmed, but Morgan is killed.


March 20, 1882

Wyatt and his posse kill Frank Stilwell, believing him responsible for Morgan’s death. Over the next few weeks, they search the area for other suspects in Morgan’s murder, killing Florentino “Indian Charlie” Cruz and Curley Bill Brocius, and maybe more.


Late April 1882: Leaving Tombstone

Wyatt and his posse scour the area, but have no further encounters with the local cowboys. They decide to leave the territory, and they camp briefly outside of Trinidad, Colorado.


Portrait of Josephine Marcus, Wyatt's wife of over forty years
Robert G. McCubbin Collection

Portrait of Josephine Marcus, Wyatt's wife of over forty years
Fall 1882

Wyatt joins his brother, Virgil, in San Francisco.

He becomes romantically involved with an old acquaintance, Josephine Marcus. They will be together until Wyatt’s death in 1929.


1884

Beginning in January, Wyatt and Josie travel throughout the West, searching for gold and running horse races. Wyatt occasionally acts as a representative of law enforcement, but does not hold any one position for very long.


June 1, 1887

Ike Clanton is killed by detective Jonas V. Brighton.


1888

Wyatt and Josie spend time in San Diego. Wyatt gets involved in horse racing, gambling, and refereeing boxing matches.


1893

Wyatt and Josie return to San Francisco. During this time, Wyatt’s occupation is listed as “capitalist.”


Fall 1897

Wyatt and Josie join others in a gold rush to Nome, Alaska. They run a saloon and various gambling ventures during their time there.


Wyatt and Josie Earp finally settled in California after years of roaming the West
Arizona Historical Society

Wyatt and Josie Earp finally settled in California after years of roaming the West
1901: Wyatt Builds a Legacy

Wyatt and Josie return to California. Wyatt stakes claims in gold and copper mines near the Whipple Mountains. Over the next few years he supports himself by mining, police work, gambling, and real estate deals.

Wyatt spends several summers in Los Angeles, where he meets Hollywood actors and becomes an adviser on the set of silent Western films. Wyatt supposedly meets John Wayne when he is working as an extra and prop man — Wayne later says he based his depictions of Western lawmen on Wyatt Earp.


The 1920s

Wyatt is given the honorary title of Deputy Sheriff of San Bernardino County, California.


1923

Wyatt begins writing his memoirs with the help of personal secretary John H. Flood. His autobiography is coldly received during his lifetime — one publisher called the writing “stilted, florid and diffuse.”


January 13, 1929

Wyatt Earp dies in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 80.


January 19, 1934

“Frontier Marshal” — a film adaptation of Stuart N. Lake’s biography of Wyatt Earp — premieres, starring George O’Brien as the renamed “Michael Wyatt.” Wyatt Earp and his legend will become the inspiration for dozens of subsequent films and television series.


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The legend of the Wild West has been played out in American Popular culture since the start of westward expansion. The real-life people who helped tame the west would shape the western heroes celebrated in film and television for decades.