Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter


"Wyatt Earp was the handsomest, best-mannered young man in Wichita."

wife of Charles Hutton, U.S. Commissioner

The story of the Ellsworth episode spread fast, from cow town to cow town. Some lanky, nervy buffalo hunter named Wyatt Earp had faced down the infamous Ben Thompson and made him shrink. It had reached Wichita by the time Wyatt appeared there in May of 1874 to visit his brother James. As luck would have it and unbeknownst to Wyatt Thompson now resided there, too, along with a motley and murderous group of crones. At first, threats reached his ears through second parties. His own brother Jim had overheard a certain George Peshaur saying what he planned to do to Wyatt the first chance he found him alone.

If Wyatt initially scoffed at the rumors, it was Thompson himself who underscored the reality of danger. Oddly enough, a penitent Thompson sought out Wyatt on the street one evening to warn him. "I want you to know I hold no grudge," he said. "I admire your guts. But, step carefully I cant control Peshaur and the boys." Wyatt, astounded, thanked him for the tip.

Nevertheless, Wyatt had no intention to run; he still sought his glory; maybe hed find it here. That glory presented itself when Town Mayor Jim Hope offered him the position of deputy marshal of Wichita. It was Hopes recommendation that, if Wyatt planned to stay there, he accept the job. Wyatt agreed that, yes, it might discourage the rousters and if it didnt, then hed be able to take on the rousters legally. Later pondering his decision to accept the job as a peace officer, Wyatt wrote, "I think I was out to prove something to myself."

And since Wichita was, in many ways, as untamed as Ellsworth had been, he found many opportunities to make his mark felt. Working under Chief Marshal Bill Smith, Wyatt threw himself into his duties with zeal. His superiors found the new hire to be delightfully more than they expected, for he immediately administrated new regulations to discourage after-hours drinking, gun-toting and other calamitous goings-on at the likes of the Occidental Saloon, the Keno House or on Horse-Thief Corner, a hang-out for bored Texans looking for questionable fun. Whats more, the wild element in town seemed to listen to him, something Smith had been unable to accomplish in many months. Wyatts talk was firm, and if someone ignored the talk they found their augmentive mien literally flattened with the butt end of his revolver. It became obvious: Wyatt meant business.

Like it or not, he realized that he had acquired a reputation in Ellsworth that demanded maintaining if he hoped to survive. George Peshaur and his hardcores were out to push him, to test their advantage against this new lawman. Wyatt knew that test was coming and he armed himself both psychologically and with a brace of new "Peacemakers" from the Colt gunmaker. Many times, in fact, the bold Peshaur delayed him outside the Keno House to taunt, but Wyatt merely laughed in his face. "Go home, Peshaur, youre drunk again," he would say.

On a blistering midsummer afternoon, as Wyatt worked his rounds along the shanties of Douglas Avenue, he found his path suddenly blocked by more than a dozen scowling faces; among them were Peshaur and two sidekicks, Ed Morrison and Shanghai Pierce. All were heavily armed. Without ado, Wyatt veered down an alley to lead the gang on a chase through several yards until he bolted into a general store where he grabbed a shotgun and loaded it for bear. There, he turned the advantage the outlaws thought they had had by meeting them head-on out front, the barrel of his shotgun tapping Ed Morrisons nostrils.

"Funs over, boys!" he shouted. A relieved Morrison watched as his pals dropped their guns as one into the dirt. Marshall Smith came running from his office to help Wyatt gather the weapons, and it wasnt until Smith led them off under his barrels that Wyatt realized he had put the drop on 21 men!

From the balcony of Rupps Hotel across the street, a jubilant Ben Thompson saluted Wyatt. Grinning at the captives, he added, "I told ya Wyatt Earp was poison!"

But, Peshaur still needed to learn one last lesson. And Wyatt was prepared teach it. It wasnt long after the previous display when Wyatt found himself enduring Peshaurs insults again, outside Cogswells Cigar Store. Even though Peshaur was a much taller and meatier man, Wyatt challenged him to a "peaceable" fist fight. The pair removed to Cogswells back room where, from beyond closed doors, citizens heard what sounded like hell busting through the floorboards. A few minutes later, a grinning Wyatt emerged. Inside the room Cogswell found, what he called, "a spectacle...I dont think there was a square inch of (Peshaurs) face that wasnt as raw as beefsteak."

Wyatt preferred to keep his enforcement bloodless; he didnt want to be known as another "Wild Bill" Hickok who kept the peace by resorting to the killers own method: killing. For instance, witness the King incident. King was a loudmouth cavalry sergeant who came to Wichita to gun down Wyatt. Spotting him on the street one evening, King stepped up before him, drew two pistols and shoved them into Wyatts stomach. Before King could pull the triggers, the lawman reflexed, grabbing both gun barrels and swatting King cold with his own guns.

His reputation from these and other events earned Wyatt the respect of the town government. Attorney Charles Hutton penned, "I met Wyatt the day he joined the marshals office...(he) went up against some of the most desperate gunmen in the West...and in action he bore out my highest expectations."

After the 1875 cattle drive to Wichita, the town settled down and its most violent days seemed to have passed. The cattle trade had shifted from the Chisholm Trail to other trails further west, the Great Western and the Jones-Plummer. In spring of 76, Wyatt received a telegraph from the mayor of Dodge City pleading for his assistance. Dodge expected a wild and woolly summer and would be willing to pay Wyatt the unheard-of salary of $250 per month.



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