Wyatt Earp: Great American Moustaches

The toughest and deadliest gunslinger in the West also kept the barbers in business.

No, this man is not snorting a furry banana. It must be – now, close your mouth – must be the water in Dodge City, Kansas, a city once policed by Mr Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (1848 – 1929). A testament to his merit is that he also policed, as deputy U.S. marshal, the aptly-named city of Tombstone, Arizona – alongside his three brothers Virgil, Morgan, and Warren. But it is the fulsomely coiffed Wyatt who was reputed to have been the toughest and deadliest man of his day with a six-shooter.

Tombstone was a silver mining town. It was also the scene of a legendary face-off between cowboy and lawman, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It happened at 3pm on the 26th October, 1881. It involved five outlaw cowboys (Billy and Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and the McLaury brothers), three of the Earp brothers, and temporary deputy Doc Holliday. It lasted thirty seconds. The names alone are impressive.

Thirty shots were fired. Three men were wounded; three were killed; two fled.

Read about it and other wonders of the Wild West in these picks, from the Memorial Library’s collection:

Murder in Tombstone: the forgotten trial of Wyatt Earp (Yale UP, 2004), by Steven Lubet
Is the title not enticement enough? This book, written by a law professor, examines the legal fallout of the lead picnic at Tombstone. It’s considered the very best study and telling of the O.K. Corral’s aftermath.

Wanton West: madams, money, murder, and the wild women of Montana’s frontier (Chicago Review, 2011), by Lael Morgan
Have you ever wondered about a certain “professional class” of women in the Wild West? Look no further than Lael Morgan’s study, where feminine charm meets hard-edged capitalism. She chronicles the highs and lows of these adventurous women: people like Chicago Joe, with her addiction to finance and handsome men; the enterprising black prostitute Lizzie Hall; and Carmen, just as likely to stick a stiletto in a man as have a drink with him. Moralists wrote them off as “soiled doves;” reformers warned that these women faced an inescapable hell of disease, violence, and alcohol and drug addiction. Yet a surprising number prospered, flaunting their freedom and banking ten times more than their “respectable” sisters.

Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters (University of Oklahoma, 1979), by Bill O’Neal
I opened this book at random to a grainy, black and white photograph of ‘the bodies of the Dalton gang after the Coffeyville raid, propped up against the wall of a livery stable owned by John J. Kloehr, who fired shots into all three of the Dalton brothers during the shootout.’ This has to be the go-to source for anyone who freely makes a rubberband shooter of his right hand.

Into the West: the story of its people (Knopf, 1999), by Walter Nugent
A good history of the American West by a retired university professor. Whether expressed as history or literature, the story of the American West has revolved around recurrent themes of land and people. This title looks into the processes through which individuals and groups – defeated, dispirited, or merely bored in the places they are – gamble everything and reinvent themselves as westerners.

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