Wyatt Earp’s legend, a man synonymous with the lawless era of the Wild West, continues to fascinate and divide opinion. Revered by some as a heroic marshal who brought order to chaos, Earp remains a figure of controversy, caught between the myths and realities of a time where the line between lawmen and outlaws was often blurred. This essay delves into the portrayal of Wyatt Earp in the films “Tombstone” and “Wyatt Earp,” examining how cinema has contributed to the mythologizing of one of the Frontier’s most enigmatic figures.

American cinematograph often depicted real and fictional stories of his life. Tombstone, which was the site of an 1881 gunfight at the O. K. Corral, was also the place that made Wyatt Earp one of the most famous gunfighters in American history. The gunfight at the O. K. Corral was the main theme of numerous movies. One of the latest movies was Tombstone filmed in 1993. This movie mainly repeats the previous ones in portraying Wyatt Earp. The legendary sheriff appears to be calm, cold-blooded, and valorous. He smiles only once during the whole movie and does numerous heroic deeds. Even the first scene of Tombstone shows how he protects his horse from a violent man henchman and tries to show his nobility. The most controversial scene in the movie is Wyatt Earp’s frank confession that he killed only one man before the O. K. Corral gunfight. Wyatt Earp seems to be ambitious, willing to find a better life in Tombstone and earn some money as well. Earp moved there with his brothers Virgil and Morgan and their wives. At the same time, in Tombstone, they hoped to take a break from their active careers and their dangerous lives as lawmen, but the events developed not the way they predicted.

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Wyatt Earp’s first noble deed in Tombstone is when he throws out a gambler from a saloon. However, it is not as chivalrous as it seems at first because Earp immediately demands 25 percent of profit for his protection. Undoubtedly, it is not a wicked deed, but it does not match the whole image of a disinterested hero. Throughout the movie, Wyatt Earp is often compared with his best friend Doc Holliday, who never hides his interest in money. Their worldviews are also contrasted, and moviemakers tried to show that Wyatt wanted to settle and live a quiet life, while Doc Holliday strived for action and new adventures. All in all, they let themselves in a trouble after the clash with the Cowboys band. It results in a fight also known as the O. K. Corral gunfight, where Earp Brothers murdered three cowboys, and all participants except for Wyatt Earp were injured.

Finally, it leads to the bloody murder of Morgan and the heavy injury of Virgil. As a result, Wyatt starts thinking about revenge and kills everybody in the Cowboys gang. The movie describes his revenge as a heroic deed, although real historic events of a gunfight at the O. K. Corral were somehow different from those depicted in Tombstone. Additionally, it missed several important events, such as involvement of Doc Holliday in coach robbery and stealing mules by the Clantons and McLaury, which lead to a bloody gunfight.

The movie review Wyatt Earp narrates about the life of a legendary lawman. It is more historical than Tombstone and covers more events in the life of Wyatt Earp. The film shows his life starting from his childhood and to the venerable age. Thus, the audience may observe the changes in Earp’s character and worldview. Before the death of his wife, he was a man’s and infantile lawman, but then, Wyatt Earp grows into a dissolute alcoholic and a violent horse thief. After having been condemned for another crime and freed by his father, Earp leaves Arkansas for Great Plains, where he hunts buffalos. In Wichita, Wyatt starts his new life, gives up drinking, and becomes a deputy sheriff having a successful career. His next stop is Dodge City, where he becomes a sheriff. According to the movie, Wyatt Earp gains the reputation of a stern and effective lawman in Dodge City. The best description of his personality was made by Doc Holiday in the movie Wyatt Earp, who called him a sheriff and a criminal simultaneously. In contrast to Tombstone, Wyatt Earp reveals that the Earp brothers were not so innocent and provoked the conflict as well as the Clanton and McLaury brothers.

Both movies failed to include the youngest brother, Warren Earp, who also lived in Tombstone as it was stated in Tombstone Epitaph. Furthermore, the director of the movie Tombstone left out James Earp completely. However, the aspect, which always provokes a lot of disputes among historians concerning Earp was a famous shooting near O. K. Corral. Both movies do not depict the real trigger of the O. K. Corral gunfight. The main reason for a clash between the Earp brothers and the Cowboys was a theft of mules that were the property of the US Army (Earp 1881). On the trial he stated that “the difficulty which resulted in the death of William Clanton and Frank McLaury originated last spring I followed Tom and Frank McLaury and two other parties who had stolen six government mules from Camp Rucker”. The provocations of cowboys were considered the main reason for their rivalry with the Earp brothers.

During the trial, he stated that Clanton and McLaury’s brothers had horses and luggage before the gunfight at the O. K. Corral (Earp 1881). Actually, it means that they were possibly going to leave Tombstone and had no intention to fight with the Earp brothers. Ike Clanton also was a witness at the court after the gunfight at the O. K. Corral as he was one of the two Cowboys who survived after it. He claimed that he had no arms as well as Billy Claiborne, and his brother William was going to leave the town (Clanton 1881). Moreover, Sheriff Behan tried to prevent the bloody massacre, attempting to disarm the Cowboys. However, the Earp brothers were determined to kill Clantons and McLaury. However, all of them, except Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne, were killed by Earps and Doc Holliday. In this case, both movies accurately depict the scene of O. K. Corral’s gunfight. Both movies depict Earps as heroes. However, in reality, more and more people started to hate them, not only the Cowboys (Rose 2012). In the movies, the Cowboys are depicted as inveterate thugs, although then it is not clear why so many people supported them.

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However, in contrast to Wyatt Earp, Tombstone did not depict how Wyatt Earp was arrested and judged in court for the murder. In fact, according to Rosa (1979), Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp were arrested on warrants made out by John Behan and Ike Clanton (139). After the gunfight at the O. K. Corral, the Cowboys started to take revenge. The scene of Morgans’ slaughter, when at the time the shot was fired he was playing a game with Bob Hatch, was based on a real-life story as it was reported in Tombstone Epitaph.

Additionally, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp depicted how Earps lived together after the shooting for greater security. However, Rose (2012) claims that “On February 13, Wyatt mortgaged his home to James G. Howard for $365.00”. Finally, Wyatt Earp lost it and had to live in the hotel. However, it was not because of a possible threat of the Cowboys, but because he did not have any place to live. Earp Vendetta Ride was also depicted in both movies spectacularly. However, Tombstone exaggerated a number of killed Cowboys, where Wyatt Earp shot at least half a hundred thugs, while Wyatt Earp movie ignored the role of John Ringo, who was one of the leaders of the Cowboys gang.

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One may notice that all heroes of the Frontier are not as noble as they are often depicted in westerns and the media. Many tales about their heroic deeds were spread by themselves, and Wyatt Earp was not an exception. Rosa assumes that the present-day reputation of Wyatt Earp is a case in point. His legend was created by Stuart Lake and spread by television (115). As time has, Earp’s fame as a fearless gunfighter from the Frontier went away and he wanted to get it back. Earps exceeding pride and willingness to go down in history prevailed over the historical truth. People like romantic stories about cowboys from the Wild West who take revenge on their offenders. Wyatt Earps legend meets the requirement that explains a big number of movies filmed about the O. K. Corral gunfight and Earp’s vendetta.

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