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Wyatt Earp Didn't Start This Cold-Blooded Murder Thing
Yes, it’s true that Wyatt Earp avenged the murder of his younger brother Morgan and the maiming of his older brother Virgil by tracking down and killing those he believed responsible. It was rumored that Indian Charlie (Florentino Cruz), Hank Swilling, Curley Bill Brocius, John Ringo, and Frank Stilwell were the cowboys who shot Morgan through the glass door of a poolroom on March 18, 1882 (Tefertiller 234). Wyatt took the rumors he heard as fact as he set out to murder these men. But history has been hard on Wyatt, singling him out for such acts during a time when unpunished vendettas were actually quite commonplace, even for officers of the law.

A man with a reputation as untarnished as Wild Bill Hickok’s had shady things dotting his colorful past. For example, the way history says he handled David Colbert McCanles on July 12, 1861 leaves many questions unanswered. Standing behind a curtain when another man enters a room sounds kind of sneaky, doesn’t it ("McCanles Gang” 1–2)? Yes, McCanles knew Wild Bill was there, but there still had to have been some element of surprise after Hickok finally came into view and bested McCanles with much less effort.

Also, consider the way veteran lawman William Barclay "Bat” Masterson shot first and asked questions later when he thought that his brother Jim was in danger. As Masterson stepped off the train in Dodge City on April 16, 1881, he literally opened fire on A. J. Peacock and Al Updegraff, wounding Updegraff before finding out that Jim wasn’t in any danger at all (Flanagan 344). The only disciplinary action Masterson suffered for this behavior was to be fined for "discharging a pistol upon the streets” (Patterson 70). Clearly, the eye-for-an-eye mentality was big back then.

Sheriff Pat Garrett sat in Pete Maxwell’s darkened bedroom and waited for Billy the Kid to show up. Soon after the Kid walked into the room, Garrett ambushed him. The day was July 14, 1881 (Flanagan 347).

On October 26, 1881, while deputized by Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp in Tombstone, Arizona, John Henry "Doc” Holliday took it upon himself to unload a shotgun at an unarmed Tom McLaury during the O. K. Corral shootout. Was Tom really reaching for a rifle in the scabbard of his brother Frank’s saddle, or was he just trying to duck behind the horse for cover (Tefertiller 122)? And then nine months later, did Johnny Ringo really commit suicide, or was he helped along by Doc, who just happened to be relatively close by at the time ("Johnny Ringo” 3)?

And how about the way Constable John Henry Selman dispatched John Wesley Hardin on August 19, 1895? Selman simply walked up behind Hardin as he played dice in the Acme Saloon and not only shot him in the head, but also pumped three more bullets into his dead body as it lay there on the floor ("John Wesley Hardin” 6). Now I know that Hardin wasn’t a saint, but the man had already been tried and convicted for his crimes, and had served a seventeen-year jail sentence. Selman used that valiant standby of self-defense at his trial, which helped to produce a hung jury.

"Range Detective” and ex-Pinkerton Agent Tom Horn was nothing more than a hired killer who made a habit of firing on men with his .30-30 Winchester from far, far away. Fate caught up with "the exterminator,” however, when he shot and killed a 14-year-old boy who just happened to be wearing his father’s hat and coat on July 18, 1901 (Patterson 204–205).

I could go on and on. But I think it’s only fitting that I end where I started, and that’s with the murder of Morgan Earp. Cochise County Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Stilwell shot Morgan through a glass door while he played pool. Perhaps it’s only right that Stilwell had been the first man to drop during Wyatt Earp’s vendetta ride. George Hand described what was left of the body this way: "Frank Stilwell was shot all over, the worst shot-up man I ever saw” (Tefertiller 227). That says it all, doesn’t it?

I know the fact that others at the time were responsible for misdeeds as bad as what Wyatt  Earp did doesn’t make his actions right, but I do feel that the many lies written and spoken about him by his contemporaries are the reasons why he got picked on so much. Most of those fellows were cold-blooded killers, too, but they were inclined to sneak around to do their killing, just like Frank Stilwell did. Maybe Wyatt’s willingness to own up to his actions is the reason why he’s singled out today.

Works Cited

Flanagan, Mike. The Old West: Day By Day. New York: Facts On File, 1995. Print.

"John Wesley Hardin.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last modified 27 October 2013. n.p. Web. 28 October 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wesley_Hardin>.

"Johnny Ringo.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last modified 24 October 2013. n.p. Web. 26 October 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Ringo>.

"McCanles Gang.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Last modified 19 October 2013. n.p. Web. 26 October 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_McCanles>.

Patterson, Richard. Historical Atlas of the Outlaw West. Colorado: Johnson Publishing, 1988. Print.

Tefertiller, Casey. Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. New York: Wiley, 1997. Print.
Category: My articles | Added by: Barb (2014-01-12)
Views: 142 | Comments: 1 | Tags: Doc Holliday, John Wesley Hardon, John Henry Selman, Wild Bill Hickok, Pat Garrett, Tombstone Arizona, O. K. Corral, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp
Total comments: 1
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Thank you so much, Lisa. I will definitely check out the website that you've suggested.

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