Wyatt Earp is perhaps one of the most famous American cowboys of all time. His life and legendary service as a lawman have been depicted in a variety of films and books. He is most known for participating in the shootout at O.K. Corral and for serving in law enforcement across the West. However, what is less publicized is how Earp got his start in law enforcement in Lamar, Missouri.
At the age of 21, Wyatt Earp left his position working for the Union Pacific Railroad and moved to Lamar, Missouri. His father and younger siblings had relocated to Lamar a couple of years prior, operating a small farm. Once in the small, southwestern Missouri town, Earp started his long career in law enforcement. His first position was as town constable of Lamar, which began the foundation for his long run with maintaining peace in the midst of the West.
It was while Earp lived in Lamar that he also met and married his first wife, Urilla Sutherland. In January 1870, the happy couple were wed. As town constable, the two would have enjoyed a comfortable enough life for a young family.Sadly, the newlyweds were not able to spend their lives together. Only nine months later, Urilla tragically passed away. Her cause of death is disputed, with reports of typhoid and childbirth as potential reasons. It was confirmed she was pregnant at the time of her death and that the child died too. She and their child are both buried in nearby Howell Cemetery.
Perhaps it was the traumatic experience of losing his beloved wife and child all so suddenly, but Earp quickly left Lamar. He moved to Kansas, eventually rising in the ranks of the police force of Dodge City before he moved to Tombstone, Arizona. The latter is where he and his group of loyal friends, including Doc Holliday, and some of his brothers took part in a massive gunfight against the rival Clanton gang at the O.K. Corral.
The town of Lamar has always taken pleasure in acknowledging Wyatt Earp’s humble beginnings within its city limits. Most recently, the Barton County Chamber of Commerce approved plans to build a park dedicated in Earp’s honor. As of May 2023, the park is currently in phase two of its construction, located in the downtown square across from the courthouse and nearby where Wyatt and Urilla were married. The public space will feature a statue of the couple in a setting of serene greenery.