A timeline of the life of Wyatt Earp from the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary.
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.
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.
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.
Wyatt explores the West while hauling freight. He travels between California and Arizona Territory, making stops in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a brief time doing outdoor work in Dakota Territory, Wyatt returns to Dodge City and is made City Marshal.
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.
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.
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.
Ike Clanton spends the night in Tombstone, drinking heavily and making threats against the Earp clan.
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.
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.
Judge Wells Spicer clears the Earps and Doc Holliday of the murder charges.
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.
Wyatt becomes Deputy United States Marshal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ike Clanton is killed by detective Jonas V. Brighton.
Wyatt and Josie spend time in San Diego. Wyatt gets involved in horse racing, gambling, and refereeing boxing matches.
Wyatt and Josie return to San Francisco. During this time, Wyatt’s occupation is listed as “capitalist.”
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 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.
Wyatt is given the honorary title of Deputy Sheriff of San Bernardino County, California.
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.”
Wyatt Earp dies in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 80.
“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.
My American Experience
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.