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
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.