06 September 2011

Wyatt Earp: Hero or bad guy?

By: Lorelie Brown
I love the movie Tombstone. Love it so hard. It’s one of those movies that I’m incapable of flipping past when I come across it on TV. And we all know who the hero of the movie is--Wyatt Earp, of course. And why wouldn’t he be? He was a real life hero. Right?

Well. Sure. You know what makes a hero? Living the longest.
It doesn’t hurt to have a cuddly, officially sanctioned biography written about you that then goes on to sell nicely.

Because here’s the thing--we all know what happened in Tombstone, right? Wyatt Earp went toe-to-toe with some outlaws with his brothers Virgil and Morgan, plus Doc Holiday in tow. Except Virgil actually had more history with law enforcement. In a good way.

Wyatt had plenty of involvement with the law. On the wrong side of it.

What most people don’t know: Wyatt seems to have gotten a little lost after his first wife, Urilla, died of typhoid fever. He was a constable for a while, but a problem developed when he was accused of pocketing the money collected from licensing fees. He was sued a couple times. In 1871, he was arrested for stealing a horse along with a couple friends. He was never convicted--because he broke out of prison and ran. So very heroic, yeah?

Then he moved on to Peoria, Illinois. In February, 1872, Earp was arrested three times. All three times were for “Keeping and being found in a house of ill repute.” A brothel. And he’s even listed as living there in the city directory. What a dirty, dirty boy. It’s unlikely he was the owner--more likely he was the bouncer or enforcer, the guy who kicked out the mean customers.

Once Earp moved on to Wichita, he seemed to clean up his act. He joined the US Marshals, wasn’t arrested any more. He moved a lot, gambled a lot and apparently drank plenty. But he kept his nose clean too, so it was all good. He moved on to Tombstone eventually and became the lawman we know (and mostly love).

I don’t know about you, but I like a bad boy now and then. Dean, the hero of my latest book CATCH ME, isn’t so much a bad boy, but he’s not exactly good, either. He’s mean. Cold. He’s wavering on the line and he doesn’t want to fall. (Was that the most ham-handed product shilling ever? I’m sorry. It’s late on Labor Day and I’m stuffed so very full of hand-rubbed ribs. Nom! Makes my brain a little sluggish.)