Wyatt Earp in Monmouth, Illinois. Articles by William Urban, Lee L. Morgan Professor of History and International Studies at Monmouth College, Monmouth IL 61462 E-mail To: Urban@monm.edu

Contents: EARP, Wyatt Berry Stapp (1848-1929)Wyatt’s birth and boyhood in Monmouth, Illinois, with an emphasis on his father’s first unhappy experience as a lawman. Articles on the controversy over Wyatt Earp's birthplace. What state and federal preservation agency say.

National Register's position.

"Wyatt Earp was born here: Monmouth and the Earps, 1845-1859." Western Illinois Regional Studies, 3(Fall, 1980), 154-67.

This article was a failed effort to resolve the dispute over which house was Wyatt Earp's birthplace. It also provoked considerable protest at the time from some Earp descendants, who insisted that Nicholas Earp had to be in Mexico when Wyatt was born because their family’s oral history remembered it so. However, a note at the bottom of a story in the Atlas of February 11, 1848, reported that he had arrived home. Wyatt was born a month later.

Nicholas's service in the Mexican War was honorable, though the principal danger was disease. (The muster rolls often quoted to prove he was in Mexico in March of 1848 also say that he died there. He did return home very ill.) He had been unable to perform any deed of valor that would lead him toward a political career, and veterans were not rewarded with grants of land in the west as he seemed to have expected. (Monmouth lay in the "military tract", quarter-sections of which had been given to veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. As a result, by the time Nicholas had come from Kentucky, all the available land in Warren County had been settled and he had been unable to raise enough money to buy a farm until he moved to Iowa in 1849. Even there the records are more confusing than clarifying, but there is no record of his ever receiving a grant in Iowa for his war service.)

Strangely, nobody in the family remembered that Wyatt had lived in Monmouth from 1856-1859. People tended to "remember" what had appeared in books, movies and television programs--especially Lake's factually-troubled 1932 biography. The house in which he lived 1856-9 is still standing, but nobody pays it any attention. Nor is there a marker at the SE corner of 1st and Archer, where Wyatt's parents lived for the first year of his life.

Bottom line: oral history sometimes conflicts with written records.

"Wyatt Earp's Father," True West, 36/5(May 1989), 30-32, 37-39. A truly fascinating individual.

"Wyatt Earp's Birthplace," Western Illinois Regional Studies, 12/1(Spring 1989), 20-43.

Sanborn insurance map of 1886 showing location of Nicholas Earp's home.

For excerpts of this second failed effort to resolve the dispute.

From December 1931 to April 1932 the Daily Review Atlas ran a contest to name the most significant local sites. Over 150 entries were sent to editor, Hugh Moffet. As best I can tell, not one mentioned Wyatt Earp or his birthplace. Interest in the birthplace seems to have first appeared in 1956. See "Grounds for Caution" below.

"The Temperance Movement in Monmouth, Illinois, 1857-9," Western Illinois Regional Studies, 13/3(fall 1990), 32-45.

How national programs to eradicate the consumption of alcoholic beverages came to Monmouth and led to Nicholas Earp appearing before the bar of justice.

Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: the Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Athenaeum, 1992) in [Monmouth, IL] Review Atlas (3 Feb 1994), 2.

"The People Versus Nicholas P. Earp," Illinois Historical Journal, 90 (Autumn, 1997), 173-190. How Monmouth College and the men associated with the foundation of two early national sororities (Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma) ran Nicholas Earp out of town. Selected for the Harry E. Pratt Memorial Prize for the best article on Illinois History in 1997. The Illinois Historical Society, Dec. 4, 1998.

Inventing Wyatt Earp. Favorable review of Allen Barra's book, in the Monmouth College Courier, Feb. 4, 2000.

Grounds for Caution, Old West Chronicle, #3 (April, May, June issue, 2002). This article investigates a key letter in the dispute over Wyatt Earp's birthplace. The agreement was that this article and an article by the Birthplace Association's representative, Carol Mitchell, would appear simultaneously, with neither knowing what the other had written; and that personal attacks would be avoided. Carol Mitchell withdrew her article when the Old West Chronicle changed its format for financial and personnel reasons.

This article suggests that a critical letter in the Wyatt Earp Birthplace controversy was a hoax. There was another hoax the next year--the appearance of a fake tombstone.

The Prime Beef Festival and Wyatt Earp A publicity stunt associated with the 1956 festival began the birthplace controversy.

Nicholas Earp's Iowa Lands This study of Nicholas Earp's 1856 sale of his Iowa property and his purchase of lots in Monmouth is a spin-off of the research from "Grounds for Caution." The time spent in the recorder's office at the Warren County courthouse seemed to be almost wasted until suddenly there was one of those moments: "I've seen that name before!" Hiram Webster had appeared in the Iowa records, in the document following Nicholas Earp's sale to Aquillin Noe. A web search for Hiram Webster then led to the new information about Nicholas Earp's horse raising days.

Errors continue to multiply. There is a brief biography of Wyatt Earp in Warren County, Illinois. History and Families (Monmouth: Warren County Genealogical Association, 2003), 136. In this is an account of his father's activities in Monmouth: "...they bought a home at 409 South B Street, owned lots for farming at 300 South A Street, and owned the westside of North 5th Street where they lived.". The facts are these: In March of 1856 Nicholas Earp purchased Lot 3 on Block 35 and Lots 3 and 6 on Block 33, not far from the city square. The two lots he sold in February and the other lot in December 1859. In March of 1859 he bought the east half-block of block 15 on East Broadway and Fifth. He sold this in December of 1859 and left town. Nicholas Earp's properties in Monmouth were too small to qualify as farms.

It also states that the family lived in Wyatt's birthplace home.

For a 2005 example, look here: Urban Legends

1907 Sanborn insurance map of 403 S. 3rd.


Note this book for middle-school children! It places the Earp family in the context of the settlement of the American West. The subtitle, "the law of the American West", reflects this effort to place the OK Corral in a much larger context.

Wyatt Earp is a figure surrounded by controversy. This was true in his own lifetime. It is even more true today, because he has come to represent aspects of the American experience relevant not just to the past, but to our present social and political dialogue. Look for each author’s qualifications and bias: Cuilibet in arte sua perito est credendum. In short, caveat lector (let the reader beware!)

In Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall Stuart Lake reported that Wyatt Earp had returned to Monmouth about 1868 to study law with his grandfather and there married a local girl. This information, though still quoted by some would-be specialists, is wrong. The grandfather died in 1853.

Although Nicholas Earp visited Monmouth in 1868 for a family reunion, Wyatt did not accompany him, having stopped on the Great Plains to work on the Union Pacific railroad and earn some money. Wyatt may have come later in the year, or he may have gone straight to Lamar, Missouri. Quite by accident a genealogist, David Langenberg, ran across two Peoria newspaper articles (Feb and Sept 1872) reporting that Wyatt and Morgan were arrested for frequenting a bordello. Court documents discovered by Ted Meyers demonstrate that the brothers did more than frequent the bordello--they were "keeping and being found at a house of ill-repute". Then Roger Jay discovered in local newspapers that Wyatt and Morgan were arrested in May and convicted of being brothel keepers. Each were sentenced to thirty days in the Peoria jail. Upon release Morgan left town and Wyatt took employment on the "Beardstown Gunboat" (actually a floating brothel), for which he was arrested in September .

Did Wyatt visit Monmouth in 1868-1869, or perhaps 1871-1872? Harry Giles reported to the Daily Review Atlas (July 24, 1956) that his father Isaac Giles had said that he had hauled goods to the Slabtown mill with Wyatt Earp in 1868. Stabtown was a lumber mill just north of the Monmouth Park; presumably the name came from the 'slabs' (the discarded outer cut of the logs that were used as siding on the cabins). On February 10, 2003, I made thorough search of Warren County newspapers and judicial records for 1868-1869 and 1871-1872; if Wyatt visited Monmouth in this period, he escaped public notice. But it was not wasted time: Monmouth and Wyatt Earp in 1872

Frustratingly, some male Earps who remembered well differing versions of Wyatt's birth (an event that occurred before they were born) did not remember the 1868 visit of the exotic relatives from California, which occurred when they were teen-agers. Clearly, these were not ordinary boys.

Wyatt's 150th Birthday Celebration (March 19, 1848-March 25, 1998)

Virginia Earp signatures  These are Xerox copies and photos from deed books from 1849 to 1859.

A highly recommended review of two new Wyatt Earp books is by Larry McMurty, "Back to the O.K. Corral" in The New York Review of Books (March 24, 2005), 31-33. He concludes, "After visiting Tombstone I realized that the reason the O.K. Corral is so persistent in our culture is really quite simple: it's one of those lucky places where history is instantly converted into money. Much of the history may be ersatz, but all the money is real."

Other western writings:

Karl May, the Zane Grey of Germany. This writer had a significant influence on the ways we see the West. Why was this so?

Buffalo Bill in Florence. An article from Illinois Quarterly (1978).

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