Wyatt Earp named for a Vandalia man

Most of us have heard of Wyatt Earp and the shootout at the O.K. Corral, but did you know that Marshal Wyatt Earp was named for a Vandalia man?

Yes, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was named for his father’s commander during the Mexican War, Capt. Wyatt Berry Stapp, whose family came from Kaskaskia to Vandalia with the capital.

One of eight children of Nicholas Porter Earp and Virginia Ann Cooksey, Wyatt Earp was born on March 19, 1848, in Monmouth, in Warren County, at the home of his aunt, Elizabeth Earp.

Nicholas Earp was a farmer and cooper (barrel maker) in the county, and when volunteers were needed for the Mexican War, he stepped forward to join the Illinois Mounted Volunteers. Assigned to Capt. Wyatt Stapp’s unit, Earp held his commander in high regard.

When Wyatt saw the first light of day, his father, Nicholas, was serving with Capt. Stapp in the Southwest, so Virginia Earp was staying with her sister-in-law with their children, awaiting his return.

Nicholas Earp and Virginia Cooksey were married in Hartford, Ky., and were parents of eight children, three daughters and five sons.

When Nicholas Earp returned from the Mexican War, he planned to move with his family to the California gold fields. They got no further than Pella, Iowa, where Nicholas bought a 160-acre farm. In 1856, he sold the farm and returned to Monmouth.

During the Civil War, the family was living in Pella, Iowa, again, and Wyatt’s three older brothers enlisted in the Union Army. Wyatt was too young to enlist, and in 1864, the Earp family headed west, joining a California-bound wagon train.

Capt. Wyatt Berry Stapp was born about 1792 in Mason County, Ky., the son of James and Sally Burbridge Stapp. He married Lucinda Berry on Feb. 3, 1812, in Mason County, Ky., and they came with their families, first to Kaskaskia and then to Vandalia, when this site was chosen to be the state capital.

Lucinda Berry was the sister of Elijah Conway Berry, Illinois’ first auditor of pubic accounts, and Wyatt Stapp was brother to Elijah’s wife, Mildred Stapp. These two families, Stapp and Berry, contributed much to state and local government.

His namesake, Wyatt Earp, lived in many different places and had a varied career as farmer, teamster, surveyor, railroad construction hand, gambler, saloonkeeper, miner and lawman. In 1869, he went to Springfield, Mo., and joined a government surveying party as buffalo hunter on the Kansas plains. He was also a boxing referee, and officiated at the famous Fitzsimmons-Sharkey match in San Francisco.

Wyatt Earp married three times. His first wife, Urilla Sutherland, died in childbirth. He was separated from his second wife, Celia Ann Blaylock, to whom he was not legally married, because she was addicted to laudanum. His third wife was Josephine Sarah Marcus, to whom he was married 40 years.

Wyatt and his brothers moved to the silver mining town of Tombstone, Ariz., about 1879, and Virgil was appointed deputy U.S. marshal. In the meantime, Wyatt found work with Wells Fargo, riding shotgun on stagecoaches. The brothers also staked mining claims in the area.

There had been bad blood between the Earp brothers and the Clanton boys, Ike and Billy, because the Earps, among others, suspected the Clantons of being horse thieves. The showdown took place Oct. 26, 1881, when both sides met each other at close range and immediately began firing.

When the smoke cleared, "Doc" Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded, Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury were dead, while Wyatt escaped unharmed.

Ike Clanton later brought murder charges against the Earps and "Doc" Holliday, but they were cleared.

Sometime later, Wyatt and Morgan Earp were in a billiard parlor when shots rang out. Morgan lay dead, while the second shot narrowly missed Wyatt. Wyatt then killed two men he blamed for his brother’s murder, and fled the Arizona Territory for California ahead of the posse.

Wyatt Earp, internationally known as a deputy U.S. marshal, died on Jan. 13, 1928, in Los Angeles, at the age of 80 years, and was buried in Colma, Calif. Among his pallbearers were William S. Hart, Tom Mix and John Clum, editor of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper.

During his career, he was a lawman in Missouri, Kansas, Arizona, Idaho and Alaska.

The home where Wyatt Earp was born, at 406 S. Third St. in Monmouth, is on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to years of research by retired teachers Bob and Melba Matson. The couple purchased the house 1986.

The home is open for tours by appointment only, which can be arranged by contacting the Monmouth Chamber of Commerce at (309) 734-3181. For more information on this historical site, the Web site address is wyattearpbirthplace.com.

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