40 Gross Hygiene Practices From The American Old West That Prove Just How Wild It Really Was

Ever wondered what it was really like to be alive in the Old West? Well, you can forget clean water and soap. Say goodbye to trustworthy medical care, too. And if you’re grossed out by the idea of a communal toothbrush, tough luck. Yes, life for the folk of the American Frontier seems pretty horrendous in comparison to modern times. But if you think you know just how grim things got back in the Wild West, think again.

40. Bathroom terrors

Indoor plumbing is a relatively modern boon. So for those living in the Wild West, facilities were primitive at best – and they tended to be outdoors, too. Most had to make do with outbuildings, which were little more than huts erected over pits in the ground. For the sake of convenience, these weren’t too far from the homes. And while there were ways to try and hide the foul stench, hordes of flies would buzz around. Black widow spiders also lurked, ready to bite the unsuspecting.

39. Share and share alike

Hygiene at the dinner table was practically non-existent back in the Wild West frontier days. Everyone who sat down for a meal shared the same cups, crockery and cutlery. And it seems they didn’t bother washing the utensils between users, either – a habit that likely helped to spread disease. Yuck.

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38. Brush your teeth, anyone?

As you may well have guessed, dental health wasn’t a top priority for pioneers and rootin’ tootin’ cowboys out west. But for those who wanted to freshen up their mouths, there apparently were facilities available. Get ready to grimace: in some public spaces, you could get your hands on a communal toothbrush to use. We’ll say no more.

37. Bugs with your beer

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Folks in the Wild West enjoyed nothing more than a foaming glass of ale in their local saloon. And what tends to happen after you’ve taken a refreshing swig? Foam mustache, of course! Don’t worry: the Old West had a clever but somewhat disgusting solution. At the bar, you’d find a towel on which everyone could dry their chops. Gross, right?

36. Barber, blacksmith or dentist?

In 2017 True West magazine quoted Professor Joanna Bourke as saying, “Agonizing toothache, horrifying extractions and barbaric tools have cast a large shadow over our dental past.” And the methods that were used in the Old West certainly didn’t help this bad reputation. In fact, if you were in need of dental treatment at the time, you probably would have visited the barber or even the blacksmith. Unfortunately, though, some of these guys were so clumsy that you may have ended up with a dislocated jaw.

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35. Seam squirrels

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For those living in the Wild West, mattresses were a breeding ground for lice and fleas. The insects were drawn to bedding made out of straw or hay – which, of course, a lot of folks back then slept on. And the problem was so common that the lice even earned themselves a nickname: “seam squirrels.”

34. Bothersome bugs

Insects were a perpetual problem for frontiersmen and women. Flies buzzed around anything edible – often after they’d disgustingly been frolicking in open sewers, too. That meant the risk of lethal disease was unsurprisingly high. Mosquitoes were also extremely bothersome, and the absence of screens on doors and windows gave the pests every opportunity to invade homes.

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33. A dangerous drug

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Wild West doctors seemed to make a habit of prescribing lethal concoctions to their patients. One such drug was called calomel, which contained dangerous levels of mercury. Since it triggered an excessive flow of saliva, the “medicine” was used as a purgative. Unfortunately, though, it also had a tendency to cause people’s teeth to drop out.

32. Careful with that water

Humans need clean water to thrive. But in the rough and ready frontier lands of the Old West, this basic necessity wasn’t always readily available. The water that could be found would often become polluted by noxious liquids from leaking outhouses or by stagnant H20 that harbored flies. Even the rainwater that gathered in barrels was vulnerable to contamination.

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31. Precious water

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For many in the Wild West, squandering water on doing the laundry or the dishes just wasn’t an option. Of course, not cleaning clothes regularly enough can lead to health problems such as skin irritations – not to mention lice and flea infestations. Failing to rinse crockery between uses could also leave you with a poorly stomach. If only they knew all of these risks back then!

30. A rare bath

A soak in the tub is something that most take for granted, but for the folks of the Wild West, it was a rare luxury. With water often in short supply and requiring an open fire and lots of effort to heat it up, it wasn’t unheard of to go weeks without a bath in the frontier lands. So, next time showering feels like a chore, just remember how easy we have it.

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29. Soap’s high price

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When the people of the Wild West got a chance to hop in the bath, they didn’t have Dr Teal’s or Dove to get them smelling fresh. At best, soap on the frontier was a coarse slab that was mainly made up of animal fat. It was so crude, in fact, that it could actually cause painful skin irritation. Sounds like a high price to pay for keeping clean, if you ask us.

28. Acceptable B.O.

Weirdly, people living on the western frontier thought that washing could actually be bad for your health. They believed, you see, that cleaning too often could cause the pores to dilate, thus giving disease an easy passage into the body. This was absolute nonsense, of course. And the result was that everyone was surprisingly tolerant of body odor.

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27. Habitual spitting

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The spittoon was a common sight in the Old West. Many cowboys chewed tobacco, only to then fire showers of brown phlegm at the spittoon. This habitual spitting was an ideal vector for the spread of unpleasant illnesses such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.

26. Sleeping in the sawdust

Perhaps in part because so many people chewed and spat out tobacco, the saloon floors were covered in a layer of sawdust. And as if it wouldn’t have been gross enough just to walk on the stuff, travelers staying at these taverns would have had to bed down on top of the gunk, too. Ew.

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25. Whiskey shampoo

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Whiskey was the favored tipple of many in the Wild West. But the notorious firewater – which came with such colorful names as “Tarantula Juice” and “Coffin Varnish” – was more than a mere aperitif. Combined with lavender and castor oil, it was also used as a shampoo. How fragrant you’d be after that hair-wash is debatable.

24. Too cold to bathe

Anything we would recognize as a modern bathing facility was rarer than hen’s teeth on the frontier. Soldiers, pioneers and cowboys roaming the range may have gone weeks or even months without a proper hot bath – only taking the plunge in creeks that looked reasonably clean. That tended to rule out winter soaks altogether, though.

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23. Eau de horse

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When asked to think of a cowboy, it’s likely that Clint Eastwood will gallop into view in your imagination. In reality, though, you’d probably smell a pioneer coming before you’d see them. Why? Well, many spent so much time riding that carrying around a constant odor of horse was somewhat normal.

22. Mind that bed

If you were on the road and needed a bed for the night, you’d probably end up in a flophouse or saloon. But just how hygienic those lodgings were was open to question. You may wonder who’d slept in a bed before you and what illnesses they could have had. Then you could question the freshness of the linen. Lice and fleas were certainly no rarity, that’s for sure.

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21. Face foliage perils

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Many men roaming around back in the Wild West days had rather extravagant beards. But one unfortunate side effect of untamed facial foliage could have been a dramatic decline in hygiene levels – especially if there weren’t many opportunities to wash properly. After all, even some people today claim that beards can harbor an absolute zoo of bacteria.

20. Valley Fever

Unpleasant fungal infections were a common danger for the hardy folks of the Wild West. A tough day’s riding on the range or dragging a wagon through the wilderness would be enough to make anyone a little hot and sweaty. And that’s just the environment in which these various fungal infections love to thrive. A particularly violent irritant was the Coccidioides fungus, which was prevalent in the western territories. It resulted in a nasty affliction known as Valley Fever.

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19. Don’t drink sulfur

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Many in the Wild West thought that they knew a thing or two about self-medication. The general belief was that the more unpleasant the remedy, the more effective it was likely to be. If it tasted revolting and smelled worse, it had to be good for you. That’s how some ended up drinking sulfur, with its horribly potent bouquet. Modern medicine, of course, does not support this practice as it’s potentially really harmful.

18. Doctor or quack?

If you were sick in the frontier days and visited someone who styled themselves as a doctor, there was absolutely no guarantee that they had any medical qualifications at all. There were properly trained medical practitioners in the Old West, but they were few and far between. That meant you had a good chance of being treated by someone who could only really be described as a quack.

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17. Beware the doctor

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If you were lucky enough to come across a doctor who had received actual medical training in the Wild West, that wasn’t necessarily the end of your worries. Yes, even qualified practitioners had some very strange ideas about what qualified as appropriate treatments. Bizarre interventions included bleeding, removing chunks of skin and swathing the patient with cotton before setting them alight. Yikes.

16. A powerful purgative

An apparent favorite treatment for frontier doctors was the liberal prescribing of powerful purgatives. So liberal, in fact, that it verged on dangerous and could bring with it predictably unpleasant results. One such drug known as ipecac syrup would result in copious vomiting. The idea was, you see, that purging the body would combat an illness. But as you would imagine, modern doctors certainly wouldn’t recommend doing this today.

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15. Malarial misery

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There seems to have been no end to the eccentricities of the frontier doctors – whether they were actually medically trained or not. Take one of their malaria treatments, for instance, which involved the patient being stripped naked and left in the open air to get thoroughly chilled. This process was accelerated with buckets of cold water, too, and was intended to induce shivering. If the shakes got too extreme, though, opium was administered.

14. Dubious gadgets

As well as quack treatments, frontier medics deployed equipment of decidedly dubious worth. One example was a gadget called the pulsometer – a glass vessel containing colored water that had bulbs at either end. The patient would grasp the pulsometer as his pulse was taken, and bubbles would rise through the liquid. But what did this device measure? Well, nowadays we can say, quite frankly, that it did absolutely nothing.

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13. Bad hair day

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In our modern world, there’s no limit to the number of hair care products on the market. But women in the Wild West were far from spoiled for choice. In fact, all they had was coarse soap, which is not particularly known for giving that alluring luster to your locks. As a result, many women only washed their tresses once a month. Every day was a bad hair day.

12. Drink to kill the leeches

Getting sick on the western frontier lands was no picnic. Even if you could find a doctor, there was no guarantee that the treatment would be effective. Often, bleeding would be all that was offered – sometimes through the use of leeches. And if the patient inadvertently swallowed one of the leeches, the remedy was then to drink a glass of wine every 15 minutes in the hope that the alcohol would kill the critter. That doesn’t sound so bad, though, right?

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11. Dickens’ verdict

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Charles Dickens toured the U.S., writing about the experience in his 1842 volume American Notes. And when he visited the Illinois city of Cairo, he was clearly unimpressed. It was, the author wrote, “a breeding-place of fever, ague and death.” Dickens also claimed that the people of Cairo were “more wan and wretched than any we had encountered.”

10. Teeth required

In light of the state of American dental health, the U.S. Army took a keen interest in the mouths of its men during the mid-19th century. In his 2008 book Frontier Medicine, David Dary wrote, “Recruits were turned away if they did not have six opposing upper and lower front teeth with which to bite off the end of the powder cartridges used with muzzle-loaded weapons.”

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9. Dead dog treatment

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Dary also explained an 1815 remedy for gout and rheumatism in Frontier Medicine. The treatment involved slaughtering a “young fat dog” then skinning and gutting it. The guts were then combined with hens’ eggs, nettles, “red fishing worms,” turpentine, brimstone, tobacco and more. After that, the unholy mixture was returned to the dead dog’s innards, and the whole lot would be roasted as the patient sat by the open fire. Extraordinary.

8. Perils of childbirth

Pregnancy and childbirth was a big risk for women in the Old West. And for those unlucky enough to require a cesarean, there would be just a 25 percent chance of survival. According to a 1963 American Heritage article, Dr. John Richmond was likely the first medical professional to carry out a successful C-section in the western frontier lands.

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7. Suck a lemon

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Scurvy is a disease most strongly associated with mariners on lengthy sea journeys. But it’s easily avoided with the consumption of enough vitamin C – hence the advice to suck a lemon. Anyway, some of those who arrived by sea to the goldfields of California had been without sources of vitamin C for prolonged periods of time. Rather unsurprisingly, then, they ultimately fell prey to unpleasant bouts of debilitating scurvy.

6. Criminal doctors

Some people who called themselves doctors in the Old West actually had no formal medical qualifications whatsoever. Even worse, a handful of these so-called professionals were, in fact, criminals. Writing in American Heritage, George Groh claimed that one well-known medical man had actually been a convict on the run, while another was infamously known as a horse robber.

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5. Wiping painfully

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Today, we have bathroom tissue – and it seems this is something we should be thankful for. In the Old West, no such convenience existed. After a visit to the outhouse in that era, folks resorted to using anything from corncobs to grass to clean up. We can only conclude that they were made of sterner stuff back in those days.

4. Spectators at surgery

Surgery in the Old West must have been scary enough without a crowd of onlookers – but it seems that some people were just too curious to stay at home. American Heritage describes one such instance when an unfortunate woman in Colorado was due to have a tumor excised from her head by Dr. Charles Gardiner. To Gardiner’s – and presumably his patient’s – dismay, one man pushed his way into the operating room and gave a running commentary to the expectant crowd that had come together outside.

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3. Wash your hands – but not like this

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Hand-washing, we know, is a hygiene practice that can be highly effective against the spread of infection. But only when done properly, of course. People in the Old West often used the same bowl of water, which is obviously a vector for disease.

2. Versatile whiskey

Whiskey had an obvious application in a recreational setting, quaffed as it was by people in saloons across the Wild West. But the fiery spirit turned out to be incredibly versatile. One useful role it played was that of disinfectant, you see. Yes, if nothing else was at hand, surgeons would sterilize their instruments with neat whiskey. For all of the gross habits we now know about, it sounds like the Old West had its own version of alcohol gel.

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1. The high price of love

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Sex in the Old West sometimes involved a commercial transaction, often finalized in a saloon or at least in the rooms upstairs. Unhappily, this resulted in an explosion of sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, an estimate cited by True West magazine indicates that at one point, some 90 percent of prostitutes in the Old West had STDs.

To keep your romantic view of the Wild West intact, though, it’s probably best not to think about how they kept clean – or didn’t, for that matter. Yes, next time you think of Wyatt Earp, don’t try to imagine how he smelled. There are, after all, plenty of other interesting details to learn about the iconic figure. And these 40 facts about him help to cast the fascinating period of history in a whole new light.

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40. Lots of little Earps

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Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp came into the world in Monmouth, Illinois, on March 19, 1848. He was in fact the fourth arrival in a family who went on to have eight children in total. His father was Nicholas Porter Earp, and his mother was Virginia Ann Cooksey. Earp also had an older half-brother, who was the product of his father’s first marriage.

39. Named after a military man

The infant Wyatt was named after a man whom his father must have admired: Captain Wyatt Berry Stapp. Captain Stapp was in command of the 2nd Company Illinois Mounted Volunteers – a unit that fought in the Mexican-American War. And during that time, Earp’s father served as a sergeant in Stapp’s regiment.

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38. Running away

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Three of Wyatt’s brothers joined the Union Army in November 1861 during the Civil War. Earp senior, on the other hand, busied himself with recruiting and training duties. And so Wyatt and two other brothers were left to look after the family farm. But the 13-year-old Wyatt seemed to like the idea of being a military man more than he did farming. In fact, Earp ran away multiple times in the hope of signing up. His dad, however, caught up with him every time and marched him back to the farm.

37. In the ring

Wyatt Earp was a keen aficionado of boxing. So much so, in fact, that he became a referee when he was working as a teamster on the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming Territory. Records show he officiated an 1869 fight between Professor Mike Donovan and John Shanssey – a bout that attracted 3,000 fans.

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36. First job as a lawman

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Earp’s family had a habit of moving around the country, and in 1868 they headed east to Lamar, Missouri. There, Earp’s father took a position as a constable. He resigned from the job in 1869 to become a justice of the peace. Earp, meanwhile, joined his family in Lamar and took over the reins as town constable – his first sortie into law enforcement.

35. A tragic marriage

Wyatt Earp met his first wife, Urilla Sutherland, towards the end of 1869. Her parents were the proprietors of Lamar’s Exchange Hotel. In January 1870 the couple tied the knot, with Earp’s justice of the peace father conducting the ceremony. Tragically, when Urilla was pregnant with their first child, she was stricken with typhoid and died.

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34. Wrong end of a lawsuit

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After Urilla’s untimely passing, Earp seems to have gone through a rough patch. The grieving widower now found himself on the wrong end of two lawsuits – one brought by Barton County and another by James Cromwell in 1871. Earp stood accused by both parties of misappropriating funds.

33. Horse theft

Earp’s legal troubles continued with an accusation of horse theft. And that wasn’t a good look for somebody who held the position of Lamar’s constable. Along with two others, Earp was charged for the theft of two horses from one William Keys in March 1871. The animals were said to be worth $100 apiece.

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32. Jail break

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Earp was duly arrested for the horse theft by Deputy United States Marshal J. G. Owens. But while one of Earp’s fellow-defendants was set free, the lawman and the other alleged miscreant were set to face trial. However, Earp elected to forgo the pleasure of his court appearance, breaking out of jail and hightailing it to Peoria, Illinois.

31. Fired in disgrace

In 1874 Earp, so often on the move, turned up in Wichita, Kansas, with his lady of the time, Sally Heckell. And the following year he was appointed as a deputy marshal. But in 1876 an ex-marshal accused Earp of abusing his post to give jobs to his brothers. The two ended up engaged in fisticuffs, with Earp emerging as the winner. Nonetheless, he was fined $30 and lost his position.

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30. Making money

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It seems that Earp was always on the lookout for ways to make some cash. And things were no different when he arrived in the Dakota Territory city of Deadwood with his brother Morgan in September 1876. The pair had been attracted by a gold rush, but all of the land was already accounted for. So instead, Earp bought a load of timber and sold it for firewood, turning a handsome profit of around $5,000.

29. Doc Holliday

Earp moved on again, and he was in Dodge City when Doc Holliday rode into town with his girl, Big Nose Kate. Not long after, a bunch of rambunctious cowboys, led by one Ed Morrison, also arrived. The hooligans fired off their guns on the main street and invaded a saloon. Hearing the racket, Earp went into the bar to be faced down by a bevy of drawn shooters. Sitting at the back, though, was Holliday, who grabbed Morrison and put his pistol to the man’s head. Morrison’s accomplices subsequently stood down, and Earp was off the hook. As a result, Earp and Holliday later became close buddies.

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28. Another “wife”

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Earp made another new friend in Dodge, Mattie Blaylock. In fact, she was rather more than a friend – since she became Earp’s common-law wife. Blaylock was said to have been a prostitute, and Earp’s relationship with her ended in 1881.

27. Deputy Sheriff Earp cashes in

In July 1880 County Sheriff Charles A. Shibell saw fit to make Earp deputy sheriff of a section of Pima County. Significantly, this district included the town of Tombstone – the location of the subsequent O.K. Corral shootout. Earp seems to have performed the duties of his new role with distinction too. And not only was this a respected position, but it was also an excellent money-making opportunity. Indeed, Earp was liable to make as much as $40,000 a year – not far off $1 million in today’s money.

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26. The lawman halts a lynching

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During Earp’s time in Pima County, a man named Michael O’Rourke killed Henry Schneider, the Tombstone Mining and Milling Company’s chief engineer. Schneider was by all accounts a popular man, and a group of people decided that O’Rourke should pay the ultimate price for the slaying. A lynch mob gathered as a result, but Earp played a central part in dissuading them from killing O’Rourke. After his intervention, Earp’s reputation as an effective lawman soared.

25. O.K. Corral or Fremont Street?

The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone actually happened around the corner on Fremont Street. The showdown saw Earp, his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and Doc Holliday face off against various members of the Cochise County Cowboys gang. In the ensuing shootout, three of the Cochise gunmen were killed, while Morgan, Virgil and Holliday were all slightly wounded. Earp, however, remained untouched.

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24. Murder charge

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The O.K. Corral shootout was not without its consequences for the three Earp brothers and Holliday. Indeed, Ike Clanton, brother of one of the dead men, brought murder charges against all four. Clanton’s supporters alleged that the three dead men had been unarmed and surrendering. Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, insisted that he and his men had acted in self-defense. And a judge later ruled that there was insufficient evidence for an indictment. The Earps and Holliday were in the clear, then, but they’d made plenty of enemies as a result of the fight.

23. A dozen (or more) men dead

Wyatt Earp was never shy about his derring-do days as a lawman. And in 1888 he gave an interview to a historian called Hubert Howe Bancroft. According to the West Adams Heritage Association website, Earp told Bancroft that he had gunned down “over a dozen stage robbers, murderers and cattle thieves” during the years that he’d worked as a lawman.

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22. The gold brick scam

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Earp also had an eye for an easy dollar, but he surely overstepped the mark with one particular boondoggle. In 1882 Earp was in Gunnison, Colorado, with his brother Warren and a couple of other buddies. And here, the gang apparently tried to sell some gold bullion to a German called Ritchie. The catch, however, was that these seemingly valuable items were actually just stones painted gold.

21. Ending a “war” without firing a shot

Back in Kansas, the “Dodge City War” broke out when the city mayor tried to shut down Long Branch Saloon. The establishment was owned by Earp’s buddy Luke Short, who appealed to the lawman for help. As a result, Earp took a small posse along to see what could be done about the situation. The gang included Texas Jack Vermillion and Shotgun John Collins. And although the mayor tried to negotiate, Earp wouldn’t hear of it. The upshot was that Short was allowed to keep his bar open; the war had been settled without bloodshed.

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20. Never wounded

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For all his gunslinging, almost incredibly Earp never caught a bullet. However, he did have one extremely lucky escape. In a shootout with members of the Cochise County Cowboys – his previous adversaries at the O.K. Corral – he killed two and wounded a third. And after the dust had settled, Earp realized that a bullet had passed through his coat. Meanwhile, another slug had hit his saddle horn, and a third had left a hole in his boot heel. Yet Earp himself was unscathed.

19. An infamous referee

Nowadays, we might think of Earp’s fame as being all about the O.K. Corral and other exploits as a lawman. But during his own lifetime, he was probably best known for his controversial refereeing of a major boxing match. It was a world heavyweight championship fight between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. Allegations were made that Earp had given the fight to Sharkey in a fixed outcome. The story became a press sensation and brought Earp to national attention.

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18. Shopkeeper Earp

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Mention Wyatt Earp to just about anyone today, and they’ll think of a gunslinging lawman from the days of the Wild West. Not many would say, “Yes, the famous shopkeeper.” But Earp did spend some time engaged in that decidedly unexciting pursuit. His brief flirtation with retail came in 1898 when he traveled to Alaska on the trail of the Klondike gold rush. And while in “The Last Frontier,” Earp managed a store selling booze and smokes for the Alaska Commercial Company.

17. The Dexter Saloon in Alaska

Still in Alaska, Earp gave up shopkeeping and moved to Nome. There, he partnered with one Charles E. Hoxie and built the first two-floor building in the town, the Dexter Saloon. In the context of Nome and Alaska during the Klondike gold rush, this establishment was actually the most luxurious in the region. And for the convenience of its patrons, the successful saloon’s upper floor housed a lavishly furnished brothel.

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16. Early Earps in America

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By the time Wyatt was born in 1848, there had been Earps in America for the best part of two centuries. Thomas Earp Junior, an indentured Irish servant, had first set foot in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County on July 6, 1674. So the Earps had a long history in the country before Wyatt came along and achieved notoriety.

15. Earp’s father

Wyatt wasn’t the only one of the Earps who could lay claim to having had a colorful life, either. His own father, Nicholas, turned his hand to being everything from a lawman to a bootlegger. He also found time to be a farmer, a teacher and a wagon-master. And on top of all that, in 1864 he led a wagon train to California.

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14. An honest streak

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Earp was supposedly involved in a variety of shady propositions, but he also had a healthy dose of honesty. When he was a deputy marshal in Wichita in 1875, he reportedly arrested a drunk with $500 in his pocket. Earp could easily have taken the cash, but he didn’t. As the Wichita Beacon put it, “[There] are but a few other places where that $500 bankroll would have been heard from.”

13. Revenge

Wyatt Earp was by no means above taking the law into his own hands. When his brother Morgan was killed after the O.K. Corral episode, Earp had no faith in lawmen to track down the perpetrators. And so, leading a posse, he set off in pursuit of the Cochise County Cowboys whom he believed were responsible. Eventually, moreover, the gang killed four of the Cowboys, with Earp directly responsible for at least two of the deaths.

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12. The tragedy of Mattie Blaylock

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Celia Ann “Mattie” Blaylock was Earp’s common-law wife in Tombstone from 1878 to 1881. Why the couple parted in 1881 remains unclear. But in any case, Blaylock’s life took a turn for the worse, and she became addicted to opium. Indeed, her 1888 death certificate, issued in Pinal, Arizona, bluntly states, “Suicide by opium poisoning.”

11. Earp’s time as a teamster

Earp got his first taste of life as a teamster working with his older brother Virgil. A stagecoach service in Imperial Valley, California, employed Virgil, and he took on his 16-year-old sibling as an assistant. Then later, Earp spent a couple of years as a fully-fledged teamster, running a line from Wilmington, California, to Salt Lake City in Utah.

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10. A penchant for brothels

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Over the years, Earp seems to have spent a lot of his time in brothels and consorting with prostitutes. In fact, two of his common-law wives, Sally Heckell and Mattie Blaylock, were supposedly prostitutes. Earp was also arrested in a brothel in Peoria in 1872 and again later that year in a floating brothel – the Beardstown Gunboat. And on top of all that, Earp ran a brothel in Nome, Alaska, during the Klondike gold rush.

9. A man of property

In the later years of his life, Earp turned his attention to making money. He moved to San Diego in 1887 with another common-law wife, Josephine Marcus, who was to be his partner until he died. And over the next nine years he bought four saloons, at a time when the local real estate market was thriving. Indeed, it’s apparent that Earp became a substantial man of property.

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8. A late return to the law

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Just when everyone thought that Earp’s days as a lawman were long behind him, he decided to rejoin the forces of law and order at the age of 62. Yes, in 1910 he took a job with the Los Angeles Police Department on $10 a day. His duties were seemingly rather unorthodox and included traveling to Mexico to capture and return criminals to L.A.

7. The last gunfight

It was Earp’s revived career as a lawman with the LAPD that led to a final bout of gunfighting. Earp was ordered to form a posse to police a complicated mining claim dispute. At one point during this operation, Earp fired his Winchester rifle into the ground in front of a government official. And for this, Earp and his posse were all arrested. What’s more, his mission to end the dispute was unsuccessful.

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6. Hollywood consultant

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When Earp was living in Los Angeles, the silent movie industry was just beginning to boom. And as Earp had firsthand knowledge of the Wild West, various moviemakers rushed to consult him. Subsequently, two of the best-known Hollywood cowboys of the day, Tom Mix and William Hart, became Earp’s friends. The former lawman was also a regular visitor to director John Ford’s movie sets.

5. John Wayne

Another famous silver screen cowboy that Earp consorted with was none other than John Wayne – although when Earp met him, the movie star was going by his birth name of Marion Morrison. Wayne was actually working for director John Ford as an extra when he met Earp. And later, Wayne was to say that he even imitated Earp’s way of walking and talking in his portrayal of Wild West cowboys.

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4. Pestered by the press

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One thing that really got Earp’s dander up was the way he was treated by the press of his day. In a letter to a friend in 1925 he wrote, “Notoriety [has] been the bane of my life. I detest it, and I never have put forth any effort to check the tales that have been published in which my brothers and I are supposed to have been the principal participants. Not one of them is correct.”

3. A peaceful death

Despite all of the violence that he’d participated in throughout his life, Earp actually died peacefully in his bed in Los Angeles. Death came in 1929 at the age of 80. Of the men who’d shot it out in 1881 at the O.K. Corral, Earp was the last to die. He’d suffered from liver disease for some time, and chronic cystitis finished him off. Earp died childless.

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2. A secret burial

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It was left to his longtime common-law wife, Josephine Marcus, to attend to Earp’s funeral arrangements. After his cremation, Marcus buried Earp’s remains in the Jewish section of the Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Colma, California. She did this secretly, and after her 1944 death she was buried next to him.

1. Stolen gravestones

After Josephine’s death, the modest tombstone that she’d ordered was stolen. Then in 1957 ghoulish grave-robbers tried to dig up Earp’s remains. Unable to find them, though, the thieves stole the granite gravestone that had replaced the first marker. The missing memorial subsequently turned up in a flea market and was later repositioned – only to be stolen again. And eventually, Josephine’s descendants put in place the gravestone that stands today.

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