By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
For as long as they have existed, Americans have been fascinated by the lives of cowboys and the Wild West. It’s easy to understand why - in land just settled, anything could (and often did) happen. Seniors at the Walpole Council on Aging have been treated to a lecture series taught by Daniel Seligman. The series, titled “Western Gunslingers: The Truth Behind the Westerns,” will spend ten weeks exploring the life and times of some of the greatest and worst people who helped form what we know today as the Wild West. On Monday, February 10, Seligman focused the lecture on the legendary Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp’s life began in Illinois, far from where he would become a notorious figure. His father was a businessman who fixed up and sold farms. As a result, Earp and his family moved several times before he started working on his own. Rather than go off on their own, the family did stay together, with Wyatt’s enlisted brothers returning home after serving in the Union Army. His brothers became fixtures, as well as partners in crime-fighting, alongside Wyatt.
In 1878, Earp met Doc Holliday, who would become a life-long friend. Holliday, a dentist, had moved to Texas, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Despite Holliday’s numerous run-ins with the law, he was a major figure in Wyatt’s story.
Earp built his life as a lawman, making every effort to capture bad guys who terrorized the West. He earned a reputation for never killing anyone, no matter their crime. However, like any hero, there were incidents that tested his character. The Earp brothers and Doc Holliday found themselves trying to stop Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury, Ike Clanton, and Billy Clanton from stealing cattle in Tombstone, Arizona. For months, Holliday and the Earps defended ranches, resulting in the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral, where they killed three cowboys.
The retaliation was catastrophic though; in the months following, Virgil Earp was attacked and Morgan Earp was killed by criminals. Wyatt was altered because of his brother’s death. “He never got over it,” noted Seligman. Wyatt and his allies continued trying to find the men responsible, leading to more gunfights. The incidents gave Wyatt, who emerged as the only one unharmed from these attacks, a legendary edge.
For attendees at the Walpole Co-Operative Bank South Street Center, the lecture provided the perfect opportunity to get to know some of their favorite historical figures.
“It's hard to imagine them as real people and not just characters,” said one lecture attendee. “This gives them a dimension.”