Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ronald Reagan Trail: Wyatt Earp

Earp birthplace and museum
As I wrote in first post in this series, Ronald Reagan is the most famous person to have lived in Monmouth, Illinois, a college town of 10,000, but Wyatt Earp was born there. Pictured on the left is his birthplace, 406 S. 3rd Street, where the lawman was born in 1848. Or was he born in another Monmouth home? A Monmouth College history professor, William Urban, has doubts. On the other hand, the operators of the Wyatt Earp Birthplace Museum declare that the 3rd Street home is authentic.

The Earps were a restless lot. When Wyatt was one, the family moved to Pella, Iowa, which I wrote about extensively last year. They moved back to Monmouth in 1856. Earp's father was elected constable and served until 1859, when the family returned to Pella.

Since I covered Earp's life in great detail in my Pella post, I'm going to tie this entry into Reagan's time in Monmouth. "Dutch" was a second-grader in Monmouth but Earp's fame and legend--and exaggerations--didn't become internationally known until the publication of Stuart Lake's Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal hagiography in 1931. When Earp died in 1929, a week earlier an AP writer researching Illinois towns noted only two prominent former Monmouth residents, a magician and a billiards player. But not Earp.

The 1881 Gunfight at O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona was the exclamation point in his life, but Earp also served as a lawman in other Wild West towns, including Dodge City and Wichita. But his older brother Virgil, a deputy US Marshall, outranked Wyatt the day of the Tombstone shootout.

But as the newspaper man in John Fords' The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance said, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

The Wyatt Earp Birthplace and Museum is open by appointment only.

Related posts:
Earlier post:

Ronald Reagan Trail: Monmouth

1 comment:

Wyatt Earp said...

That's awesome. Recently, Lake's account of Earp's life has come under fire because it was deemed too biased against Earp. Go figure.