Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter

Wyatt's Legacy

"I still have a clear vision of that dignified figure walking down Allen Street."

John P. Clum, Tombstone Epitaph editor

With the blaze of his Buntline Special, Wyatt Earp literally shot his way into the lore of Western Americana. He is as familiar to the nations people, young and old, as the song, "Red River Valley," or the Colt .45. From Ellsworth, Kansas to Tombstone, Arizona, he broomed the streets of desperadoes in one cattle town after another. His walk was slow, but his marshaling techniques were rapid fire. He shot coolly, he shot straight, and he shot deadly but only in self defense. He preferred not to shoot at all. Often, his very presence on a scene of raucousness would tame the behavior.

But, like any other person whose reputation leaned on firepower, there were those who wanted to "test the advantage," to see if their draw was a mili-second quicker or if they could find a weak spot behind his cold blue eyes that withered many a gun-toting hombre.

Some have claimed his methods were brutal and disclaimed his heroism; others said his .45 caliber reputation was, simply, oversized. Some taunted him, some goaded him, even to the point of pushing him into what they thought would be a discrediting act of revenge. But Wyatt Earp always survived intact. And with that survival came a legend so large that, even if slightly buffed, cannot reduce under scrutiny.

Earp was a mortal; he had faults, he erred. Victorians felt the obligation to tenderize his romances with innocence and sanitize some of the rough-and-tumble violence that came with his actions. But, when the saga of the western lawmen is placed in view, Earps name leads the parade of Hickok, Masterson, Garrett, Tilghman and all the rest.

Cinema director John Ford, who is known for his western film classics such as My Darling Clementine or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, said that when the fact and legend become interweaved, print the legend. With Wyatt Earp, Ford admitted that the legend equals the man.



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