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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Timepiece: Second Chances

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Arkansas River Valley Business Directory

By Dr. Curtis Varnell

The most popular movies and TV programs of the ’50s and ’60’s involved stories of the Old West.  The storyline usually involved the crooks in the black hats facing off against legendary good guys like Wild Bill Hickok, Bass Reeves, or the Earp brothers.  Sometimes the lines between good and bad were not so clear as we think. 

Wyatt Earp was born in 1848 near Joplin, Missouri.  At an early age, Wyatt’s young wife Urilla died and obviously, it had a devastating effect on his life.  Four months after her death, he had migrated into Indian Territory and was running with the wrong kind.  On April 1, 1871, Jacob Owens, a deputy U.S. marshal issued the following warrant: Wyatt S. Earp, Ed. Kennedy and John Shown did feloniously and willfully steal two horses, each of a value of one hundred dollars, the property and chattels of one William Keys!  Owens organized a posse and, six days later, took Earp and his accomplices as prisoners.  Wyatt Earp a horse thief?  The court record clearly shows the was brought back to the Western District which was then centered in Van Buren.  Unable to make the $500 bail, Earp was thrown into jail and was facing up to five years in the federal penitentiary in Little Rock. 

Earp and ten other men were confined on the upper floor of the dilapidated Van Buren jailhouse.  Of the cellmates, at least two were convicted murderers awaiting the hangman’s noose.  The jail, about to be transferred over to Van Buren, was dark, dirty, and in disrepair.  Earp and his cellmates pried the rafters off one corner of the cell, entered the attic, and escaped by crawling through a vent and letting themselves to the ground using their bed blankets as ropes.  On May 8, 1871, a writ was issued ordering them to appear in court and a week later they were convicted in absentia for horse theft.  That warrant was never terminated because Wyatt left the country and took up with a group of buffalo hunters, one of whom was Bat Masterson. Within a few months, Wyatt joined the police force in Wichita, Kansas, and then as deputy sheriff of Dodge City.  His gambler apparel, long-barreled pistol, and willingness to use whatever means necessary to enforce peace soon made him legendary. 

Masterson, Doc Holliday, and Earp brothers followed him to the wild frontier town of Tombstone, Arizona. Installed as town marshal, he began instilling peace in a community that catered to people of every vice known. 

Recently, walking down the dusty streets of Tombstone, I visited the site of the best-known gunfight of the old west; the shootout at the ok corral.  Earp, Masterson, and his brothers faced off against an equal gang of outlaws; a fight ending in the death of three of the bad guys.  Earp became the man of legend!  The very picture of the ideal lawman who risked life and limb to protect the innocent and ensure peace in our community. 

Little did we realize that the most-noted lawman of the old west still has a warrant for his arrest in Van Buren.  How would his life have been different if he had gone to trial?  We will never know but we do know that he made the most of his second chance.

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Tammy Teague
Tammy Teague
Tammy is the heart behind the brand. Her tenacity to curate authentic journalism, supported by a genuine heart is one her many wholesome qualities.
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