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Wyatt Earp traces roots to Monmouth

MONMOUTH -- Perhaps Wyatt Earp's popularity has grown from the folklore of the legendary Oct. 26, 1881, shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz.

Or maybe actor Hugh O'Brien's fictionalized depiction of the deputy U.S. marshal in the popular 1950s television series ``The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp'' bolstered public interest in the enigmatic lawman.

Dispatch/Argus file photo

A legend was born in this unassuming Monmouth home, some claim. Wyatt Earp, most famous as a frontier lawman, was born in 1848 here at the Earp family home, 406 S. 3rd St. Some family members say his mother gave birth at her brother-in-law's house, also in Monmouth.

For whatever reason, the Wyatt Earp museum, 406 S. 3rd St., Monmouth is Warren County's most popular tourist attraction. The house, the frontier lawman's boyhood home, holds artifacts and an array of memorabilia collected by two retired school teachers, who have spent 14 years as curators of the museum featuring the life and times of the city's most famous son.

Mr. Earp was born in Monmouth on March 19, 1848, a son of Nicholas and Virginia Ann Earp, who, along with many other Earp family members, migrated to Warren County from Kentucky in 1845. Numerous Earp family descendants still live in Warren County.

Like many other aspects of Earp's life, his exact birthplace is in dispute. Robert and Melba Matson, owners and curators of the museum, say Earp was born in the house.

Several Earp family members agree, but others are equally sure he was born in a house that once stood at North 1st Street and East Archer Avenue. That house has been moved to 913 E. 6th Ave.

According to some family historians, Mrs. Earp went to her husband's brother's home before giving birth because Nicholas, her husband, was serving in the U.S. Army during the Mexican War.

All the family members agree Nicholas Earp and his family left Monmouth in December, 1849, but returned a few years later and lived in Monmouth until Wyatt was 11 years old, when they moved to Pella, Iowa.

Probably the disagreement about Wyatt Earp's brithplace is appropriate since so many facts about his life are enigmas. At various stages of his life, his biographers depict him as a lawman and a gambler, a gun-slinger and a peace-maker, and finally as a prize-fight promoter and a real estate developer, the occupations he pursued before his death near San Francisco in 1929.

All of his exploits, both good and bad, are traced in the exhibits that fill the two-story museum, which is open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Tours by groups or individuals are available all year by appointment.

Also open to the public are four annual re-enactments of the famous gun fight in a replica of the O.K. Corral in a vacant lot south of the museum. These events are on the third Saturday in March, the first Saturday in August, the Saturday before Labor Day and the third Saturday in October.

-- By Charles Hallam (January 26, 1998)

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