Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (March 19, 1848 - January 13, 1929) was an American Old West lawman and gambler in Pima County, Arizona Territory, and a deputy marshal in Tombstone. He worked in a wide variety of trades throughout his life and took part in the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during which lawmen killed three outlaw Cochise County Cowboys. He is often erroneously regarded as the central figure in the shootout, although his brother Virgil was Tombstone city marshal and deputy U.S. marshal that day and had far more experience as a sheriff, constable, marshal, and soldier in combat.
Earp was also a professional gambler, teamster, and buffalo hunter, and he owned several saloons, maintained a brothel, mined for silver and gold, and refereed boxing matches. He spent his early life in Pella, Iowa. In 1870, he married Urilla Sutherland who contracted typhoid fever and died shortly before their first child was to be born. During the next two years, Earp was arrested for stealing a horse, escaped from jail, and was sued twice. He was arrested and fined three times in 1872 for "keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame". His third arrest was described at length in the Daily Transcript, which referred to him as an "old offender" and nicknamed him the "Peoria Bummer", another name for loafer or vagrant.
By 1874, he arrived in the boomtown of Wichita, Kansas where his reputed wife opened a brothel. On April 21, 1875, he was appointed to the Wichita police force and developed a solid reputation as a lawman, but he was fined and dismissed from the force after getting into a fistfight with a political opponent of his boss. Earp immediately left Wichita, following his brother James to Dodge City, Kansas where he became an assistant city marshal. In the winter of 1878, he went to Texas to track down an outlaw, and he met John "Doc" Holliday whom Earp credited with saving his life.
Earp moved constantly throughout his life from one boomtown to another. He left Dodge City in 1879 and moved with brothers James and Virgil to Tombstone, where a silver boom was underway. The Earps clashed with an informal community of outlaws known as the Cowboys. Wyatt, Virgil, and their younger brother Morgan held various law-enforcement positions which put them in conflict with Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury, Ike Clanton, and Billy Clanton who threatened to kill the Earps on several occasions. The conflict escalated over the next year, culminating in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881 in which the Earps and Doc Holliday killed three of the Cowboys. In the next five months, Virgil was ambushed and maimed, and Morgan was assassinated. Wyatt, Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, and others formed a federal posse which killed three of the Cowboys whom they thought responsible. Wyatt was never wounded in any of the gunfights, unlike his brothers Virgil and Morgan or his friend Doc Holliday, which only added to his mystique after his death.
Earp was a lifelong gambler and was always looking for a quick way to make money. After leaving Tombstone, he went to San Francisco where he reunited with Josephine Earp and she became his common-law wife. They joined a gold rush to Eagle City, Idaho where they owned mining interests and a saloon. They left there to race horses and open a saloon during a real estate boom in San Diego, California. Back in San Francisco, Wyatt raced horses again, but his reputation suffered irreparably when he refereed the Fitzsimmons vs. Sharkey boxing match and called a foul which led many to believe that he fixed the fight. They moved briefly to Yuma, Arizona before joining the Nome Gold Rush in 1899. He and Charlie Hoxie paid $1,500 (about $51,000 in 2018) for a liquor license to open a two-story saloon called the Dexter and made an estimated $80,000 (about $2 million in 2017 dollars). The couple then left Alaska and opened another saloon in Tonopah, Nevada, the site of a new gold find. Around 1911, Earp began working several mining claims in Vidal, California, retiring in the hot summers with Josephine to Los Angeles. He made friends among early Western actors in Hollywood and tried to get his story told, but he was only portrayed very briefly in one film produced during his lifetime: Wild Bill Hickok (1923).
Earp died on January 13, 1929. He was known as a Western lawman, gunfighter, and boxing referee. He had a notorious reputation for both his handling of the Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight and his role in the O.K. Corral gunfight. This only began to change after his death when the extremely flattering biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal was published in 1931. It became a bestseller and created his reputation as a fearless lawman. Since then, Earp has been the subject of numerous films, television shows, biographies, and works of fiction which have increased both his fame and his notoriety. Long after his death, he has many devoted detractors and admirers. His modern-day reputation is that of the Old West's toughest and deadliest gunman of his day.