George Washington and Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Is it true that people regarded Wyatt Earp as almost invincible much as contemporaries of George Washington felt he must have been blessed as well to have survived so many battles right on the line not like English generals who observed battles from afar? Earp was special.

This calls for some speculation. George Washington is known as “The Father of His Country.“ He was a general who led his army of patriots to victory over mighty England, leading to the Birth of a Nation. And he was America’s first president. Wyatt Earp’s fame as a gunfighter and “sporting man,” pales in comparison.

I’m sure Wyatt’s brothers and friends must have thought he was especially lucky, maybe even impervious to bullets, especially after the famous gunfight, the near-miss at Hatch’s Saloon and the one at Cottonwood Spring. Washington’s were on a battlefield during a war a hundred years earlier and I would say very few people connected the two. Just a hunch but I imagine Washington’s contemporaries believed it was heaven ordained while Wyatt’s believed he was damned lucky.

I asked two authors who’ve written excellent books on Earp for their thoughts on the subject.

John Boessenecker writes, “Wyatt Earp really did not become an iconic figure until the 1930s when books and films about him came out. During his lifetime he was really no more noteworthy than many pioneers who were still alive. So I doubt during his lifetime anyone thought he was invincible.”

Casey Tefertiller adds, “This is a very good question; a question I have spent much time contemplating; and a hard question to answer.

“By the 20s and 30s, there were comments that gave something of a sense of awe about Earp because he had never been wounded. Did that happen because of Burns and Lake? Or did that start before?

“I cannot say definitively, but I think it happened after Tombstone. There is not a distinct article that proves this, just comments that lead to that conclusion. Perhaps the most telling is the accusation that he wore a “steel jacket” to protect himself from bullets. Earp denied this vociferously, and it would seem virtually impossible that he had any access to any such thing.

“If people were accusing Earp of wearing a steel jacket, there must have been some sense that his avoiding bullets was a pretty amazing feat.

“You point out the near-miss at Hatch’s. That is a much bigger deal than most realize. Apparently, the bullet was just over his head. Recall, too, that Ike Clanton was very close to assassinating him when Virgil came and conked Ike over the head. A minute later, and there likely would have been a dead Wyatt Earp and a sprinting Ike Clanton getting out of town quickly.

“My take, for what it is worth, is that there was some sense of wonderment about Earp by his opponents. When the steel-jacket accusation came out, it provided an explanation that folks wanted to believe.

“I have contemplated this question and tried to pin it down, but I simply do not have enough evidence to present a solid argument. Perhaps we will learn more someday.”

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