Small-Town Politics Fuel Controversy over Earp Birthplace
MONMOUTH, Ill. (AP) _ Wyatt Earp is causing a ruckus in his hometown six decades after his death, as politicians and descendants of the legendary lawman quarrel over where he was born.
Small-town politics is fueling the dispute, with both sides lining up support from elderly cousins of Earp, a survivor of the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
″This is a political vendetta against me,″ said Robert Matson, a former city council member whose successor has contested the pedigree of a house Matson and his wife, Melba, own and operate as the Wyatt Earp birthplace and museum in this town of 10,700.
Shortly after George Morris, 45, took over Matson’s council seat earlier this year, he spearheaded a move to change the site’s billing.
The sign that proclaimed the house Earp’s birthplace was ordered changed to simply say, ″Wyatt Earp Museum.″
″I think it’s a super idea to promote a Wyatt Earp museum,″ Morris said. ″But I don’t want to see history passed down that’s wrong. I consider myself a historian and I’ve researched it along with some other people and we can shoot too many holes in the Matsons’ theory.″
Matson, a 61-year-old school teacher, contends the move to discredit the building’s history was prompted by less-than-pure motives.
″George Morris is a former sixth-grade student of mine. He’s got a house on the National Historic Register and maybe he doesn’t want us to get ours on it. Why he’s led such an active opposition to us is mysterious to me.″
Morris dismisses the accusation, saying he has ″no reason to have any grudges against the Matsons.″
Neither side has positive proof.
There are no county records, photos or deeds to pinpoint the spot where Virginia Earp gave birth to her fourth child, Wyatt, on March 19, 1848.
The Matsons have lined up several Earp cousins to defend their claim that Earp was born in the small, two-story frame house they bought for $4,000 in 1986 in this wind-blown prairie town, 16 miles east of the Mississippi River and about 190 miles north of St. Louis.
Morris has countered with Earps of his own, as well as a Monmouth College professor and a local newspaperman. His side contends the Matsons’ house didn’t exist at the time of Earp’s birth, and that he was born either in the family homestead nearly a mile away or in a different house a couple blocks away.
Effie Earp Cramer, 81, one of the Matsons’ supporters, blames the controversy on a reporter who was preparing a story on the Matson house as the Earp birthplace in 1956. When he got scooped by a rival, she says, he wrote a story saying the birthplace was two blocks away.
But Weldon Earp, 76, said he’s ″seen research that shows the house where Wyatt was born was moved from its original location two or three times.″
Earp was a peace officer in the Wild West. In 1879, he went to the booming silver camp in Tombstone, Ariz., and became a deputy sheriff of Pima County. Later, he served as a deputy U.S. marshal and rode stagecoaches to guard express shipments.
In 1881, he and two of his brothers took part in the famous battle of the O.K. Corral against the Clanton gang.