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Ford County Historical Society
Dodge City, Kansas

Wyatt Earp

(from Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, by Stuart N. Lake,
© 1931, Houghton Mifflin Company)

[This Foreword by Stuart N. Lake is printed without corrections. With his book's publication in 1931, Lake's true belief in the Wyatt Earp he knew started an Old West revival that created decades of Western books, movies and television. His history is sometimes wrong, but his connection with Wyatt Earp was never off. No other writer that knew Earp succeeded more. The text is from a copy given by Lake to Dodge City pioneer Joe Hulpieu--he was secretary for the SW Kansas Pioneer Picnics starting in 1929. It is signed "...with much gratitude" and dated October 20, 1931. Stuart Lake was in Dodge City in 1929 and covered the first pioneer reunion--the "Last Round Up"--for the Saturday Evening Post magazine.]

Wyatt Earp was a man of action. He was born, reared, and lived in an environment which held words and theories of small account, in which sheer survival often, and eminence invariably, might be achieved through deeds alone. Withal, Wyatt Earp was a thinking man, whose mental processes were as quick, as direct, as unflustered by circumstance and as effective as the actions they inspired.

     The man won from contemporaries who were his most competent judges--from intimates, from acquaintances, and from enemies, alike--frontier-wide recognition as the most proficient peace officer, the greatest gunfighting marshal that the Old West knew. He attained this eminence through the only method his time and place might comprehend. Wherefore, this narrative of Wyatt Earp's career, this account of his rise to forty-five-caliber dominance over cow town and mining camp in the Red Decade of the Southwest, is set forth largely in terms of what Wyatt Earp did.

     The lover of swift and decisive action, Wyatt Earp's achievements surely must be of interest in themselves. His taming of Mannen Clements and fifty cowboy killers in the streets of Wichita; his play against Clay Allison of the Washita in the Plaza at Dodge City; his protection of insignificant Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce against a Tombstone mob; the sanguinary battle of the O. K. Corral, his sawed-off shotgun duel with Curly Bill--tales of these exploits could not fail, even were they meaningless, to stir a reader's blood. Through them Wyatt Earp moves steadily, surely, sagaciously, implacable on, guided by a philosophy fitted to his surroundings, to which he gave fullest expression in admonishment of Ike Clanton, braggart outlaw, cow thief and murderer.

      "Go on home, Ike," Wyatt suggested in the face of Clanton's threats to gun the marshal, "you talk too much for a fighting man."

     In themselves these things that Wyatt Earp did made him a myth of his own era, a legend while he lived, in the mouth-to-mouth sagas of the West. But the judgment of the years has awarded a higher honor to the man. He no longer stands simply an unbelievably courageous figure distinguished by fabulous feats of arms and an extraordinary domination over men. In true perspective he is recognized as something more, as an epitomizing symbol of a powerful factor--an economic factor, if you will--all-important in the history of the Western United States of America. the Old West cannot be understood unless Wyatt Earp also is understood. More than any other man of record in his time, possibly, he represents the exact combination of breeding and human experience which laid the foundation of Western empire. His genius is less an accident than an inevitable expression; Wyatt Earp is less an effect than a cause.

     Since Wyatt Earp has so long been a myth to lovers of the Old West, it is no more than fair to state definitely that this biography is in no part a mythic tale. It would be less than fair to subject and to reader if any least resource of effort had been spared in seeking the utmost accuracy of fact. Scores of eyewitnesses to the scenes portrayed have been interviewed to verify circumstantial details; thousand of miles have been traveled to unearth substantiating material; hundreds of time-worn documents and files of frontier newspapers have been examined for pertinent content; literally thousands of letters have been exchanged with competent old-timers in developing this work.

     The book had inception in an observation by Bat Masterson, more than twenty year ago.

      "The real story of the Old West can never be told," Bat said, "unless Wyatt Earp will tell what he knows, and Wyatt will not talk."

     Happily, time and circumstance combined to bring Masterson's foreboding to naught, and Wyatt Earp was persuaded to devote the closing months of his long life to the narration of his full story, to a firsthand and a factual account of his career. It is upon this account that the succeeding pages are entirely based.

     I make these statements, not in a spirit of pride, but in memory of that retiring, world-weary old gentleman with whom so many hours devoted to the work of compilation were spent. In view of the responsibility to him and to the reader which our association involves--a responsibility, I should add, which never was absent from his mind--my own feeling in offering the life-story of Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal, is one of notable inadequacy in the present of the material of which this book is made.

Wyatt Earp Family History
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