Wyatt Earp, history – closer than you think!

Wyatt Earp

When I think of Wyatt Earp, I think of the movie Tombstone with actor Kurt Russel portraying the famous lawman. I think of sites out west. Wyatt Earp was many things over his life. He had three “wives” although I think it only proven that he married the first that died in childbirth. He was a miner, saloonkeeper, gambler, lawman, gunslinger, deputy, sheriff and so much more. Wyatt Earp is famous for the gunfight at the OK Corral and the mystique around his life continues!

What is interesting to me though, a central Illinois farm girl, is that there is a lot of history connected to Wyatt Earp right here in the Midwest!

Birthplace of Wyatt Earp

The Wyatt Earp birthplace location of the former museum.

While there is some dispute, it is thought that Wyatt Strapp Earp was born in a four-room house in Monmouth, Illinois on March 19, 1848. Located on 406 South Third Street, the home was once a museum, but sadly today is just a residence. There is a sign on the fence that has Wyatt Earp Birthplace on it. There is also a Historic Landmark plaque on the house. Wyatt Earp was the fourth of  eight children: James, Virgil, Martha, Wyatt, Morgan, Warren, Virginia Ann, and Adelia. (Martha and Virginia Ann died as young children.)  

According to history from the Wyatt Earp experience in Pella, Iowa this information exists about his father. “Nicholas’s first wife had died earlier, leaving him with his son Newton, Wyatt’s half-brother. Two years after Wyatt’s birth, in 1849, Nicholas moved the family to Pella, Iowa. They owned farmland about 7 miles northeast of Pella but lived in Pella most of the time.  In 1856 the family returned to Monmouth until 1859 when they came back to Pella.

Per a phone conversation with Alana Newman of the Warren County Museum in Monmouth she confirmed that the family returned in 1856. “In 1856 the family returned and Wyatt Earp attended the first free public school. The family lived at 409 S. B Street,” Alana Newman said.

While the museum is no longer open, its cool though to be able to drive by the birthplace in Warren County

Peoria Illinois Connection

Research showed that Wyatt Earp was arrested in Peoria, it wasn’t his best story. He was arrested as a pimp. A reference in The Peoria Daily National Democrat reported in September of 1872, “Some of the women are said to be good looking, but all appear to be terribly depraved. John Walton, the skipper of the boat and Wyatt Earp, the Peoria Bummer, were each fined $43.15. Sarah Earp, alias Sally Heckell, calls herself the wife of Wyatt Earp.

The story goes that Earp had been arrested as a pimp aboard a floating brothel. The article said that the boat he was supposed to own was the Beardstown Gunboat. It was a prostitution barge. He was found with Sally Heckell, who called herself his wife. She traveled on with him when they left town.

He had been on the lamb in Peoria running from other charges. Earlier though tragedy had hit when his wife Rilla Sutherland died in childbirth. Perhaps this and being accused of taking funds, and stealing a horse or two led to the unsavory behavior in the fair city of Peoria. While according to the Peoria Historical Society search I did show no placards for Earp in Peoria, perhaps it is for the best. There are a few other lawbreaking encounters listed.

Thankfully he went on to become so much more over time. However when driving through Peoria, know that the famous law man was once on the other side of the law there at one time!

Wyatt Earp in Pella, Iowa

In Pella, Iowa is the beautiful  Vermeer Windmill and Historic Village. Before touring the windmill, our first stop was the historic village. The Historic Village is a wonderful mix of historic buildings with the Wyatt Earp Experience, at his home a centerpiece!

The boyhood home in the historical village.

The house that is part of the Wyatt Earp Experience is the apartment in the Van Spanckeren Row House. The Pella Historical Society states, “The boyhood home of Wyatt Earp was built in 1855 by the brothers B.H. and J.H.H. Van Spanckeren, who used the building as a home and merchant-tailor store. The architecture is rare in the Midwest; its 18th century Dutch style is normally only seen in the Netherlands or eastern United States. The Earp family lived in the Van Spanckeren Row House in the bottom floor apartment during the Civil War.”

Earp’s father served as city marshal and a recruiter for Union troops during the time they lived in this house. Then, in 1864 he moved with his parents to Colton, California near San Bernardino, where he was employed as a teamster and railroad worker.

Not much was recorded about Wyatt’s life in Pella. Wyatt ran off several times trying to enlist, in the Civil War, but he was too young. They say his family was a hard man, and it was his mother that was the peace maker. The Experience is a fun look into the life of this interesting man!

Other Wyatt Earp Stops!

While I didn’t find other Earp stops in the Midwest, there was a listing for a museum in San Diego California that was both a museum and book store. There was also a reference to one in Dodge City and a large one in Tombstone! It is fun delving into the life of Wyatt Earp. Now you know that you can find a bit of that history right here in the Midwest!