Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

The Earp Family fondly remembered

Nickolas Earp

It appears that Nicholas Earp had a disdain for certain laws he considered to be a nuisance. This attitude began in Monmouth Illinois. In 1858, he began to have trouble with the local churches, lawyers,
Community leaders, etc. over the use of alcohol. A Methodist, he was by that designation, a teetotaler, but such was not the case. He loved both alcohol and the selling of such. When Monmouth issued a prohibition order, he considered only the opportunity to make and sell more bootleg. Yes, this is while a constable. It was this background that the Earp boys grew up in, and the example of the law being above the law, that set the pattern they grew up in. It was also noted that money could be made while enforcing eviction for tax non payment. Property could be obtained cheaply and sold for tidy profits. Nicholas Earp's sale of one particular piece of land was complicated by the seizing it for failure to pay taxes because he failed to pay the fines against him for selling illegal liquor that followed his convictions for selling liquor illegally. Things becoming a little warm the family went to Iowa and then, in 1868, settled in Lamar, Missouri and opened a restaurant where Wyatt served tables. He became an unpaid deputy constable, getting his foot into law enforcement there. Nicholas became the local constable. By November 17, 1869, Nicholas resigned to become Justice of the Peace. Son Wyatt, who had been studying the law with his grandfather, Walter, was immediately appointed constable in place of his father. Then he became justice of the peace. On November 17, 1869 Nicholas tendered his resignation from the post of Constable and was appointed Justice of the Peace. On the same day, Wyatt Earp - just 21 years old at the time - was appointed as Lamar's Constable; (by J.O.P.) his first law enforcement job and following in his father's footsteps. (Ah yes, nepotism also ran in the family.) This now put two Earps in the running of Lamar. The following year brought a minor court action involving $20 that Wyatt either stole or borrowed and failed to pay back (the court records aren't clear). The case was eventually dismissed. Good ol’ Nick began to follow his old ways again. Stolen and homemade shine was obtainable thru the elder Earp at reasonable cost. Tax sale properties were being “purchased” and sold. These sales were considered to be technically lawful. Easily done when you are J.O.P. kin. The background of legal shenanigans was a horrible example for his sons, who seemed to follow in his footsteps. Stolen horses in the Lamar area were blamed on Wyatt. Warrants were issue for the both of the Earps on various charges that went unanswered. On March 14, 1871, Barton County filed suit against Wyatt for $200, alleging that he had collected fees for the town of Lamar and kept the money. On March 31, another suit was filed alleging that Wyatt had falsified records in seizure of equipment. Another summons was issued on April 5 that was returned unserved. Wyatt had left town. He would go West and start again.

Nick Earp resigned as constable of Lamar so that he could put Wyatt into a good job. As Wyatt watched his dad and all that he did, he picked up all the tips on how to avoid just working for a living. In the future, we would all wonder who the crooks were and who the lawmen were. Some were one and the same.

Wyatt Earp's Life In Lamar, Missouri

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, Illinois on March 19, 1848. He was the third son of Nicholas Earp and Victoria Ann Cooksey. Sometime after he was born his family moved to Pella, Iowa. They stayed in Iowa for awhile before returning to Illinois. By 1858, the family again moved back to Pella. In 1864, the family moved to California. From his birth in 1848 to 1869 very little is really known about Wyatt Earp. Most of the information that we now have is based on Stuart Lake's Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal (1931). However, Lake's book contains many unsupported claims about Wyatt's life which were probably exaggerated. It is not until 1869 that factual information about Wyatt's early life has been found.

Wyatt Earp's First Known Law Position (1869)

Wyatt Earp and his family moved to Lamar, Missouri around 1869. Nicholas Earp at some point became the Constable for Lamar. However, on November 17, 1869, Nicholas offered his resignation as Lamar's Constable. His resignation was accepted and he was immediately appointed to the position of Justice of the Peace. On the same day Wyatt Earp, who was only twenty-one years-old, was appointed as Lamar's new town Constable. This appears to have been his first known law position. The following is the oath that Wyatt Earp swore to when he accepted the position of Lamar's Constable:

"I, Wyatt S. Earp do solemnly swear that I will to the best of my ability, diligently and faithfully without partiality or prejudice discharge the duties of Constable, within and for Lamar Township Barton County Missouri. [signed] Wyatt S. Earp"

Wyatt Earp gave a $1,000 bond for this position which was filed on November 26, 1869. He signed the note and his sureties were his father Nicholas Earp, his uncle J.D. Earp, and James Maupin. Wyatt remained the town Constable when the town incorporated on March 3, 1870. Very little information is known about his activites as Lamar's Constable. Court records indicate that he did the usual activites that a constable for a small town generally performed.

Wyatt Earp's First Marriage (1870)

On January 10, 1870, Wyatt Earp married Urilla Southerland. She was the daughter of William and Permelia Southerland. Wyatt's new in-laws were very respected in Lamar and they owned the Lamar Hotel. It is believed that following his marriage to Urilla that the couple lived at the Lamar Hotel for a short period. Wyatt Earp purchased a lot with a home on it for $50 in August 1870. Wyatt and Urilla probably moved the home at that time. Urilla died sometime in 1870. Claims have been made that she died during child birth. While other accounts suggest that she died of Typhus. The exact date she died is not known. However, it was probably shortly before November 1870, as Wyatt sold for $75 the he had purchased in August during this month.


Throughout Wyatt Earp's life controversy followed his every movement. The first known controversial events about Wyatt's life occurred in Lamar.


On March 14, 1871, Barton County filed a suit against Wyatt Earp and his sureties for $200. The lawsuit was based on the allegation that Wyatt Earp, while Constable for Lamar, had collected fees for licenses for the town. The proceeds of these fees were supposed to be used to support the school fund. However, the county alleged that Wyatt had never turned over the money that he had collected.

The action against Wyatt Earp was eventually vacated. This was probably based on the fact that Wyatt and his father had left the State. Constable Charles Morgan, in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, commented: ". . . he has good reason to believe + does believe that Wyatt S. Earp deft. is not a resident of this state, that Wyatt S. Earp has absconded or absented himself from his usual place of abode in this state so that the ordinary process of law cannot be served against him . . . ."


On March 31, 1871, a second lawsuit was filed aginst Wyatt Earp by a man named James Cromwell. This suit alleged that Wyatt had falsified court documents that refered to the amount of money that he had collected from Cromwell to satisfy a judgement. Cromwell later had a mowing machine siezed by the Lamar Constable to satisfy the amount the court felt was still outstanding in the judgment. The machine was sold for $38. Cromwell in his suit claimed that the machine had a value of $75, and that Wyatt Earp and his sureities owed him this amount because Earp had falsified the court documents about the amount he had paid to satisfy the judgment against him.

A summons was issued for Wyatt Earp to appear before the court on April 5, 1871. It was returned unserved. Wyatt could not be located in the county. On April 21, 1871 the case went forward. Justice S. J. Bowman found for the defendants and ordered Cromwell to pay the to attending men $3.25 for costs. Cromwell appealed and apparently won at least partially. The court issued an "Execution For Costs." It ordered the Barton County Sheriff to seize the "Goods, Chattels and Real Estate" of Wyatt S. Earp and James Maupin.

It is impossible to now know if the allegations against Wyatt Earp were true or not. However, he chose to leave the state rather that face the allegations against him.


During April 1871, Wyatt Earp was accused of horse theft in the Indian Territory. The Federal Government started legal action against Earp and his alleged accomplices. A Bill of Information was filed on April 1, 1871:

"April 1, 1871, Bill Of Information. U. S. vs Wyatt S. Earp, Ed Kennedy, John Shown, white men and not Indians or members of any tribe of Indians by birth or marriage or adoption on the 28th day of March A. D. 1871 in the Indian Country in said District did feloniously willfully steal, take away, carry away two horses each of the value of one hundred dollars, the property goods and chattels of one William Keys and prey a writ [signed] J. G. Owens."

On April 6, 1871, Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens took Wyatt Earp into custody on a charge of horse theft. Commissioner James Churchill arraigned Earp on April 14, 1871, and bond was set at $500. On May 15, 1871, Wyatt Earp was indicted on the charge. He failed to appear in court in May and a warrant was issued for his arrest. It was returned unserved on November 21, 1871.

Wyatt was never tried on the matter. His alleged co-defendent Edward Kennedy was later acquitted of the charge. Anna Shown, wife of John Shown, in a sworn statement accused Wyatt Earp and Ed Kennedy of forcing her husband to help steal the animals. she also claimed that Earp and Kennedy had threatened to kill her husband if he turned State's evidence against them.

Whether Wyatt Earp had really stolen the horses was never determined. Also, it is not known if Anna Shown's claims against Earp were true. However, this incident and the other lawsuits aginst Earp in Lamar, now place a cloud of controversy over the actions he made during his early life. Controversy would continue to follow him throughout his life on the frontier.

Ref: Earp family Tree Warren county Library
Earp Family, Illonois State Historical Library
Earp Family Geneaology, 1990 printing
Warren county tax records, Western Illinois University archives
Barton county Missouri records division

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