Wyatt Earp was born in Montmouth, Illinois, on 19th March, 1848. His father moved the family, to San Bernardino, California and joined his older brother, Virgil Earp, as a freighter-teamster between Wilmington to Prescott, Arizona (1866-68).
In 1870 Earp was elected constable of Lamar, Missouri. Later that year he married Urilla Sutherland but she died soon afterwards of typhoid. His job as constable came to an end when Earp was arrested for horse theft. He managed to escape and became a buffalo hunter in Kansas. Earp then moved to Wichita where he married a local prostitute. He also joined the Wichita police force. However, he was discharged in April 1876 after a fight with a fellow officer.
A few months later Earp joined the police force in Dodge City . In 1878 he was appointed assistant city marshal under Charles Bassett. While in the city he became friends with the former dentist and now a professional gambler, Doc Holliday.
Earp's record as a marshal was unimpressive and in September 1879 he left Dodge City and three months later reached Tombstone where he became a farmer. Earp's brothers, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and James Earp also lived in Tombstone. Earp's best friend, Doc Holliday, was also based in this fast-growing town.
Virgil Earp eventually became city marshal of Tombstone. Soon afterwards he recruited Wyatt Earp and Morgan Earp as "special deputy policemen". In 1880 the Earp family came into conflict with two families, the Clantons and the McLaurys. Ike Clanton, Phineas Clanton, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury sold livestock to Tombstone. Virgil Earp brothers believed that some of these animals had been stolen from farmers in Mexico. Wyatt Earp was also convinced that the Clanton brothers had stolen one of his horses.
Wyatt Earp also came into conflict with John Behan, the sheriff of Cochise County. At first this started as a quarrel over a woman, Josephine Sarah Marcus. She had lived with Behan before becoming Earp's third wife. Earp also wanted Behan's job and planned to run against him in the next election. The two men also clashed over the decision by Behan to arrest Doc Holliday on suspicion of killing a stage driver during an attempted hold-up outside of town. Holliday protested his innocence and he was eventually released. In September 1881, Virgil Earp retaliated by arresting one of Behan's deputies, Frank Stilwell, for holding up a stagecoach.
On 25th October, Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury arrived in Tombstone. Later that day Doc Holliday got into a fight with Ike Clanton in the Alhambra Saloon. Holliday wanted a gunfight with Clanton, but he declined the offer and walked off.
The following day Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury were arrested by Virgil Earp and charged with carrying firearms within the city limits. After they were disarmed and released, the two men joined Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury, who had just arrived in town. The men gathered at a place called the OK Corral in Fremont Street.
Virgil Earp now decided to disarm Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury and recruited Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, James Earp and Doc Holliday to help him in this dangerous task. Sheriff John Behan was in town and when he heard what was happening he raced to Fremont Street and urged Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury to hand over their guns to him. They replied: "Not unless you first disarm the Earps".
Behan now headed towards the advancing group of men. He pleaded for Virgil Earp not to get involved in a shoot-out but he was brushed aside as the four men carried on walking towards the OK Corral. Virgil Earp said: "I want your guns". Billy Clanton responded by firing at Wyatt Earp. He missed and Morgan Earp successfully fired two bullets at Billy Clanton and he fell back against a wall. Meanwhile Wyatt Earp fired at Frank McLaury. The bullet hit him in the stomach and he fell to the ground.
Ike Clanton and Tom McLaury were both unarmed and tried to run away. Clanton was successful but Doc Holliday shot McLaury in the back. Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury, although seriously wounded, continued to fire their guns and in the next couple of seconds Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were all wounded. Wyatt Earp was unscathed and he managed to finish off Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury.
Sheriff John Behan arrested Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday for murder of Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury. However, after a 30 day trial Judge Wells Spicer, who was related to the Earps, decided that the defendants had been justified in their actions.
Over the next few months the Earp brothers struggled to retain hold control over Tombstone. Virgil Earp was seriously wounded by an attempted assassination and Morgan Earp was killed when he was playing billiards with Wyatt Earp on 18th March, 1882. Eyewitnesses claimed that Frank Stilwell was seen running from the scene of the crime. Three days later Stilwell's was found dead. A Mexican who was also implicated in the crime was also found murdered in a lumber camp. It is believed that Wyatt Earp was responsible for killing both men.
Earp was now forced to flee from Tombstone and eventually reached Colorado. Later he moved to Arkansas where he was jailed for theft in 1883.
In February, 1883, Luke Short moved to Dodge City and purchased the Long Branch Saloon with W. H. Harris. A power struggle now took place between Short and Nicholas B. Klaine, the editor of the Dodge City Times. In the election for mayor of the city later that year Klaine supported Larry Deger against Short's partner, W. H. Harris. Deger defeated Harris 214 to 143.
Soon after gaining power Deger published Ordinance No 70, an attempt to ban prostitution in Dodge City. Two days later the local police arrested female singers being employed in Short's Long Branch Saloon and accused of being prostitutes. That night Short and L.C. Hartman, the city clerk, exchanged gunfire in the street. Short was now arrested and forced to leave town.
Short had some powerful friends and in June 1883 he returned to Dodge City with Earp, Bat Masterson, Charlie Bassett, Doc Holliday and other well-known gunfighters such as, M. F. McLain, Neil Brown and W. F. Petillion. However, Deger and Klaine refused to be intimidated and when they refused to back down, Short and his friends had to accept defeat. In November 1883, Short and Harris sold the Long Branch Saloon and moved to Fort Worth.
In 1885 Earp was once again imprisoned for theft. After his release he opened a saloon in San Diego. He also attempted to breed racehorses in San Francisco.
In 1896 Earp agreed to referee the Bob Fitzsimmons-Tom Sharkey heavyweight fight in Oakland, California. Earp insisted that he should be allowed to carry a gun. This was needed when he controversially declared Tom Sharkey the winner, after he had taken a terrible beating and appeared on the verge of being knocked out. Earp also owned a saloon in Tonopah and Goldfield in Nevada before settling in Los Angeles in 1906.
In old age Earp was befriended by Stuart N. Lake who agreed to become his biographer. Wyatt Earp died on 13th January, 1929 and the book, Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall, was published two years later. The book was quickly denounced by people who knew Earp as being a very inaccurate account of his life. Allie Earp, the widow of Virgil Earp, described it as "a pack of lies".