Wandering through the vast displays of beautiful tulips, we found ourselves immersed in the Dutch heritage of Pella, Iowa. Little would we imagine that this humble Midwestern city has a connection with the rowdy, wild west. Yet, as we made our way through the Pella Historical Village, we happened upon a house that at one time was called home by the legendary gunslinger Wyatt Earp. There was no way we were going to pass up checking out the Wyatt Earp Experience, which had just recently opened.
We want to thank Visit Pella and the Pella Historical Village for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
The 1855 row house that once housed the Earp family has been transformed. Upon entry to the museum, visitors are provided an electronic listening device. At various stops throughout the building, we found portals that can be used to queue up chapters of the Earp family history. As you move forward in time, the story focuses on Wyatt specifically. While this legendary gunslinger was born in Monmouth, Illinois, he would be two years old by the time his family relocated to Pella.
The Early Years
Of the eight Earp children, Wyatt landed in the middle. His family had migrated from Europe for religious freedom. The family patriarch, Nicholas, took a job as the Pella city marshal. During Civil War time, he also served as the local recruiter for Union troops. The oldest Earp child, James, served in the war, which may have inspired Wyatt to attempt to join, as well. Although he ran off and tried to enlist on multiple occasions, he was always sent home by his father. In 1864, Wyatt was allowed to showcase his shooting skills when he was asked to supply food for a wagon train headed to California.
A Rolling Stone
Returning to the Midwest in 1869, he married Urilla Sutherland. She passed away during childbirth, which created a void in Wyatt’s life. For the next few years, he bounced around the Midwest. A series of bad choices landed him in legal troubles, but none were serious. In 1875, he headed to southern Kansas where he would serve as a police officer in Wichita and Dodge City. It was in this area that he befriended Doc Holiday and Bat Masterson. One of the rooms in the museum shows just how much Wyatt bounced around during his lifetime. It made it clear that this legendary gunslinger was not to be tied down.
The Legendary Gunslinger
Wyatt Earp’s most notable life event took place in the early 1880s. By then, he had joined some of his family in Tombstone, Arizona. His brother Virgil was serving as town marshal and Wyatt was working as a guard at a local saloon. It was an ongoing feud with a local outlaw gang that led to the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The event would propel Wyatt to heralded fame as a legendary gunslinger, even though it didn’t end the feud. After his family was ambushed, Wyatt sought revenge, which led to his flight as a fugitive from justice. Heading west to avoid prosecution, he would finally land in California.
In the early 1900s, Wyatt worked with a biographer to pen his escapades. Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal was released in 1931 and it propelled him to mythical status. His daring escapades have been recorded in multiple movies, as well as lots of periodicals. His status as a legendary gunslinger has grown to near mythical proportions over the years. Interestingly enough, during my research, I discovered commentary from his friend Bat Masterson. He described Wyatt as a “quiet, unassuming man…a loyal friend and an equally dangerous enemy.” It seems that the air of mystery still remains.