Today In Western History: Indicted For Horse Stealing

May 8, 1871


America has always represented a chance for the common man to remake his future.  No matter how low he started, he always had a chance to make himself over into someone more and build his fortune.  Some men did this, overcame their lowly start to rise to prominence.  Some men started out low, committing crimes of all types and they just sank lower.  It depended upon how motivated they were to rise above their flaws and how serious their crimes were.

Horse stealing was a big deal at this time.  Stealing a man’s horse was, in some places, a hanging offense.  There was many a man who found himself hanging around a local cottonwood tree over such a behavior.  Proof of theft was, for many, just being in possession of the recognized stolen animal.  Many a man had a promising career cut short because they were caught with a horse with the wrong brand and no bill of sale to account for it.  One such man jumped his bail and lit out for new territory after being indicted for horse stealing.  He had been charged with it in Arkansas, and knowing he was guilty, he made good his escape to Kansas and tried to start over.  As was typical of many men making their way west at that time in our history, this man often found himself working both sides of the law, but generally he stayed on the right side.  Of course, he never lost sight of the proverbial brass ring, and he always tried to find his fortune throughout his life, although it always seemed to be just out of the reach of his fingertips.   His hunt for his fortune didn’t come cheap, and unfortunately it cost him one brother and another one suffering a life-long injury.   But he is today remembered as a stalwart defender of the law, and a dangerous man to cross.  At least, that is how history remembers him. 

Thanks to the efforts of a name named Stuart Lake and the man’s widow, history remembers him because of his efforts to uphold the law after his false start.  He is also remembered for a brief 30 second gunfight in a vacant lot in a silver mine fueled boomtown in southwest Arizona that became national news and is still remembered and celebrated every October.  The celebration is called “Helldorado” and the man is named Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp.  From horse thief to legendary lawman.  That is certainly a successful reinvention.

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, ganbler, gunfighter and legend.
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp, frontier marshal, gambler, gunfighter and legend.