When legendary sheriff Wyatt Earp advised westerns in Hollywood and inspired John Wayne

The relatively short history of the United States and the disseminating power of its media have given rise to some figures who may have starred in minor episodes but who are now a popular part of almost legendary annals, the kind that countries often use to forge their identity.

In this sense, there is no doubt that the conquest of the west It constitutes an epic episode and its protagonists are studied with the same interest as in Europe Achilles, Alexander, El Cid or any other hero.

One of them was -despite his many chiaroscuros- Wyatt Earpthe mythical sheriff who starred in the famous OK Corral duel and whose last stage of his life passed peacefully as a newborn hollywoodadvising the actors who embodied cowboys; of them, it seems that an outstanding student was a young star of the soccer college everyone called Duke but who was known to the public as John Wayne.

Wyatt Earp was born in Mommouth, Illinois, in 1848, the fourth of seven children born to a remarried military veteran. He married early, at the age of twenty-one and after a stage as hunter and cowboy began working in the defense of public order in 1869, replacing his father as commissar from the town of Lamar, Missouri, when he left to become a justice of the peace.

Wyatt Earp’s youthful portrait, circa 1860-70/Photo: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

The following year he became a widower and Earp fell into a depression that led him into a dangerous downward spiral. run-ins with the law: debts, falsification of documents, horse theft… For this last accusation he was arrested but fled before the trial, although he would be behind bars a couple of times for running a floating brothel.

He then worked as a watchman for another in Wichita, accompanied by his brother James. It was the mid-1970s and Wyatt Earp was a name marked in red as habitual offender.

Ironically, it was in that city that he switched to the front trench and again hung a badge on his chest. Wichita had a railroad station where the cattle brought by the cowboyswho when finishing their work and collecting their salary used to get drunk and set up serious street disturbancesso agents were needed to guarantee calm.

Earp signed up to the orders of the Marshall Mike Meagher. But on April 2, 1876, during the elections to Marshall, was fired after beating a candidate who accused him of nepotism for hiring his brothers; he then he left the place to go to Dodge Citywhere James had opened another brothel.

Interior of the Long Branch Saloon, where Earp starred in one of his most memorable actions with the help of Doc Holliday / Photo: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

The Marshall local, Larry Deger, hired him, spending two years as police officer (although it seems that they were not continuous and there were periods of temporary absence to work as a hunter). In May 1878 he became Deger’s assistant and as such he starred in the first of his exploits when facing a group of cowboys who were making trouble and shooting.

The incident took place on Long Branch Saloonwhere he received the help of another mythical character whom he had met on one of his recent trips: Doc holiday, doctor turned professional gamer who became a good friend. However, that summer there was a new armed confrontation with drunken cowboys, making clear the dangerousness of life in that city.

In September 1879 Earp decided to move to Tombstone, Arizona, at the behest of his brother Virgil, who was a sheriff in neighboring Prescott. He just got hooked up with a hooker named Celia Anne Mattie Blaylock and, logically, he took it with him; They were accompanied by his brother James, Doc Holiday and his wife.

The Earps tried to live from mining but failed and Wyatt went to work for the company Wells & Fargo as a stage escort. However, the hunt for a bandit led Virgil, who was already the highest police authority in the region, to hire his brothers to pursue him.

OK Corral in 1882/Photo: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

In this way, Wyatt was linked again with police tasks and in 1880 he became sheriff, starring in some actions that gave him a reputation for coldness and fearlessness in the face of danger, as well as implacable harshness in his interventions; This earned him deep enmities and the most prominent ones bore the surnames of two local clans: the clanton and the McLaury.

Moviegoers will remember the famous duel between these clans and the Earps in 1881 when they went to arrest them for horse theft. Duel of the Titans, Passion of the Strong, Duel to the Death in OK Corral… The seventh art has immortalized many times those events that made Wyatt famous, although many do not know that the incident lasted when the courts exonerated the Earps of responsibility and the others took revenge by killing Morgan, the youngest of the saga. , and crippling Virgil, leading Wyatt to finish them all.

Curiously, an argument had led him to break off his friendship with Holliday because he belittled his new love, a dancer named Josephine Sarah Marcus, because of his Jewish origin (he had abandoned Celia Anne for being an alcoholic); however, Holliday was by her side at the OK Corral.

Cabin used by Wyatt and Jamie Earp in Alaska/Photo: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile and for the next few years, Earp continued to work in the police world but expanding activities to other fields: he took part in the so-called Dodge City War bringing order, he got involved in the world of boxing as a referee and in horse racing buying a block, he made real estate investments, he tried mining in Yukon under cover of the Fever of the gold (and became friends with Jack London, who was also in it), opened a gambling hall, etc.

Some things went well and others not so well, but in general he managed to raise more than considerable capital and enter the 20th century as a well-to-do man. Despite everything, in 1910 he settled in Los Angeles in the service of the Police Department as bounty hunter; His name was a guarantee and he himself used to brandish it out loud to dissuade criminals from any attempt to resist.

A decade later, already old and sick, he began a new professional adventure: if he had always been open to advances and was one of the first to invest in oil, now he knew how to see the potential of the incipient film industry and accepted the offer to be western film consultantmeeting Charles Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, as well as making friends with Raoul Walsh (future director of They died with their boots on, The gentleman of the seas, The world in their hands Y distant drumsamong other great films), although he had a special relationship with the two actors from westerns most important at the time: William S. Hart Y Tom Mix.

Wyatt and Josephine Earp in 1906/Image: Public Domain on Wikimedia Commons

Regarding the latter, it should be remembered that he was played by Bruce Willis in the film Murder in Beverly Hills (SunsetBlake Edwards, 1988), where James Garner assumes the role of Wyatt Earp who advises him during the filming of a film about his life.

In fact, from 1923 films began to be made about him (there are more than thirty) and other great stars such as Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Burt Lancaster or Kevin Costner, would be in charge of embodying him.

Interestingly, the quintessential movie cowboy, John Wayneconfessed on one occasion to have imitated in his performances – like Hart before him – Earp’s gestures and speech since he met him very young, when he was still taking his first steps in the cinema and leaving uncredited, during visits than the old sheriff did in the twenties to the filming sets of john ford (which at the time had Harry Carey as its leading actor, before discovering Wayne’s charisma).

Earp, the last remaining member of his family, passed away on January 13, 1929.


True West Magazine/Brief history of the wild west. gunslingers and outlaws (Gregorio Doval Huecas)/The rescue of history (Ed Rayner and Ron Stapley)/Wyatt Earp History Page/Wikipedia / Wyatt Earp: Sheriff Of The American West (Magdalena Alagna).