wyatt earp's three rules -- 3/11/19

Today's selection -- from Dodge City by Tom Clavin. When Wyatt Earp was hired as a lawman in the rough cowboy town of Dodge City, he took a level-headed approach to enforcing the law:

"Wyatt was often described as a dour man who did not talk much and also was pretty sensible. He demonstrated the latter quality when he told the deputies that bounty money would be pooled but paid out only when prisoners were brought to the jail alive. This would not be 'wanted, dead or alive': dead prisoners were worth nothing. Each of­ficer carried two six-shooters, and Wyatt placed loaded shotguns at locations only he and the deputies knew about, but shooting at a man would be a last resort. The mayor had told Wyatt of [his predecessor] Brooks's failed strategy [of aggressively confronting and often shooting rowdy visiting cowboys], and he wasn't about to repeat it. According to Wyatt, 'Hoover had hired me to cut down the killings in Dodge, not to increase them.'

"The assistant marshal could count as well as the next man, and if there was a fight involving gunplay, there were a lot more cowboys than there were lawmen. As Wyatt pointed out, 'Any one of the depu­ties could give the average cowboy the best of a break, then kill him in a gunfight,' but the odds would eventually catch up with him. Equally undesirable would be ranch owners and trail bosses looking for other cow towns in which to sell their cattle if, ironically, the law made Dodge City too dangerous for their employees.

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 10, 1883; (L to R) standing: William H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, William F. Petillon; seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Michael Francis "Frank" McLean, and Cornelius "Neil" Brown

"Wyatt imparted to his outgunned team three guidelines: One was to try to politely reason with a man, because he was not as dangerous when in the middle of a conversation. The second was if a deputy had to shoot, do it deliberately and accurately, because often the quickest man was off the mark. Third, don't shoot to kill, because wounding a man usu­ally disabled him enough and he would be worth more money that way.

"This policy was fine with [his deputies] Bat and Jim Masterson. They hadn't signed on for a license to kill but to keep the peace and earn decent wages while doing it."

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Tom Clavin


Dodge City


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2017 by Tom Clavin


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