Friday, March 12, 2010
Where Wyatt Earp was born—or not
One of Illinois’ most famous native sons is a man not usually associated with the Land of Lincoln. Legendary western lawman Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, Ill. on March 19, 1848, the fourth of six children of Nicholas Porter Earp and Virginia Ann Earp.
The place Earp is believed to have been born is a two-story, pioneer Greek-Revival style house at 406 3rd Street (however, a local Monmouth College history professor has argued he was born in a different house).
Regardless of whether he was actually born in that house, which is officially known as the Wyatt Earp Birthplace and Museum, he certainly didn’t initially spend a whole lot of time there or in any other home in Monmouth. Less than two years after his birth, his father announced plans to move to California but made it as far as Pella, Iowa (about 150 miles west of Monmouth).
By 1856, the Earp clan was back in Monmouth, this time residing in a house at either 409 or 411 South B Street (historians aren’t sure about this, either), before returning to Pella in 1859.
The peripatetic Earps apparently finally headed out to California by wagon train in 1864. About five years later, Earp cropped up in Lamar, Missouri, where he took a position as the town constable, his first stint as a lawman (ironically, about two years later he fled amidst charges he had stolen money from the community and was a horse thief).
Earp’s ties to Illinois, however, weren’t completely severed. By 1872, he was living in the Peoria area, apparently operating a brothel with his brother, Morgan.
Both brothers were arrested in February 1872 and charged with “keeping and being found in a house of ill-fame.” The two Earps were picked up again a few months later at the same house of ill repute and then shifted their business to a floating whorehouse on the Illinois River.
In August 1872, authorities also broke up this operation and it is believe that the Earp brothers soon left the area for good.
Of course, after that Earp went on to become one of the West’s most renowned lawmen.
His later exploits as a deputy marshal in the lawless town of Dodge City, Kansas, and his role in the infamous shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 made him famous. He died in Los Angeles in 1929 at the age of 80.
As for the Earp Birthplace and Museum, in 2007 its owners, Robert and Melba Matson, who have fought long and hard to persuade the world that their house is the real deal, put the popular attraction up for sale (they’ve retired in Arizona).
So far no one has met the minimum asking price of $100,000 but the owners remain optimistic. In the meantime, the museum is open daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Additionally, the museum hosts an annual Wyatt Earp Day in late July.