Roadtrip Sidebar #4; or, A How-To Wyatt Earp Makeover

Wyatt Earp brought himself from pragmatic businessman/lawman/gambler/loyal brother

to epic gunfighter of the high plains.

A straight-talking, straight-shooting saint to pray to when life needs dividing into black and white.

How’d he DO that? How can we do that too, before our ending credits?

1. Accept your averageness but highlight one positive attribute. While Earp wasn’t really a saint, he wasn’t a villain either. He and his brothers weren’t much different than most other folks moving into the silver-mining town of Tombstone. They wanted security for themselves and family, a little fun (for Wyatt, a good gambling hall), and to be left alone. That being-left-alone thing didn’t work out for Wyatt and his brothers, but along with being a typical entrepreneur-minded fellow, he also was a proven straight-shot of Dodge City fame and had a streak of stubborn loyalty in him that would keep him in a fight long after most would turn tail and run.

2. In your quest to be heroic, be prepared to leave something of your old life behind. It might hurt, too, sorry. You can’t pick and choose between your job, your friends, your spouse, your self-respect, and that set of dishes you never liked anyway. You remember those fairy tales about the person who gets what he wishes for and discovers that it didn’t exACTly turn out as planned?

Here’s what happened to Wyatt Earp: Sure he’s cast in a heroic light now, his name invoked as the alpha-and-omega patriotic warrior who shoots first and asks questions later. But after super-showdowning the Cowboys at the OK Corral and mopping up their blood in the months after, he left Tombstone under the cloud of a murder indictment. Although he was cleared he never regained his popularity and trust of the fellow citizens. (Who wants to hang with a guy who shoots first and asks questions later?)

4. Tell your story. A lot. Add dramatic flourishes, or gets someone who can. As the years went on and the Wild West settled down, Wyatt Earp joined the ranks of other aging lawmen who hung up their guns and began to look for book and movie deals.

Wyatt Earp, age 79, 1923. Still a badass.

Hollywood greats Tom Mix and William Hart were fans of his, as was a young John Ford.

This is how they pictured him.This is how they pictured him. (Not that he minded, I’m sure. Who would?) He was the real deal. He’d lived through shootouts and fights and rivalries. He’d outlasted girlfriends and enemies. The problem was that he was a pretty inarticulate guy (the unrecognized downside to being a straight talker and a straight shooter–it’s hard to sustain a conversation that way). But once his biographer Stuart Lake got hold of his monosyllables, Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal, took over.

5. Sit back and allow the myth to take hold. Do not lie–but don’t get in the way of the more epic version of your life, either. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get someone like mythmaker John Ford tell your newer, more epically awesome story to the masses.

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