On May 24, 1876 it was reported that Wyatt Earp had been put on the police force at Dodge City. In 1876 and 1877 Wyatt was listed as a deputy marshal in Dodge City, but by April, 1877 he was no longer listed as serving that police agency. There appears to be some thought that Wyatt went to South Dakota at that time, but in July of 1877 he was re-appointed to the Dodge City police force and newspaper reports reflect that he was both respected and effective at that time.
In January 1878 it was reported that Wyatt was in Ft. Clark, Texas, but then again in May 1878 he was back in Dodge City on the police force. One can only wonder what would have him traveling like that and then going back again. In today's world we all know that no police agency would hire, release, hire, release and then rehire a police officer again in such spurts.
In July 1878 Wyatt Earp was credited with killing his first man: a cowboy named George Hoy who had come into town and was shooting his revolver. Wyatt Earp responded with Officer Jim Masterson and they chased Hoy out of town. As he was on his way out Earp and Masterson fired at him and one of them hit him. He died a bit later from complications related to the gunshot wound. Whether it was Earp's or Masterson's bullet that hit him is unknown, but Earp is generally "credited" with the kill.
During the time Wyatt was with Dodge City, Bat Masterson was the Sheriff in Ford County. They sometimes worked together on posses and in solving crimes or tracking down criminals. Wyatt Earp worked as the Assistant Marshal in Dodge City until September of 1879. Records indicate that Earp was in Las Vegas, Nevada in October that year, but by November he was in Arizona.
July of 1880 found him being appointed as a deputy sheriff in Pima County, Arizona. Not far from the the famous Tombstone which is in Cochise County, Arizona, this is where Wyatt Earp began to truly build a name for himself; a name which included arguing with judges whom he thought weren't doing the right and/or legal thing.
October, 1880 showed the beginnings of the tale that led to the famous OK Corral shoot out. Just after midnight on October 28, 1880, William "Curly Bill" Brocius shot Sheriff Fred White and was promptly arrested by Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp. Curly Bill was part of the "Texas Cowboys" and his friends weren't at all too pleased with Wyatt's arrest of their friend. What does this have to do with the OK Corral? Apparently, the Clantons and McLaurys at least had a casual friendship with the Texas Cowboys and so weren't feeling very charitable toward Wyatt Earp either.
On October 26, 1881 the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurred. On the "law" side were Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp accompanied by Doc Holliday. On the "bad guy" side were Ike and Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and Frank and Tom McLaury. Allegedly unarmed, Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne escaped the fight uninjured. Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury were killed.
After his adventures in Tombstone, Wyatt Earp made his way to Colorado, then California and eventually Alaska. After a few years there he headed back to California - specifically to Los Angeles. While he was there he met a young extra and prop man who would eventually become well known as John Wayne. John Wayne once commented that he based much of his portrayal of western lawmen on his conversations with Wyatt Earp. Wyatt Earp died on January 13, 1929, was cremated and buried in Colma, California.
So far, have you read anything that would justify him being such a well known and highly revered lawman? He obviously spent quite a bit of time doing the work and was involved in some incidents that most of us would be happy not to walk into. However, what really propelled Wyatt Earp to Legendary Lawman status was what happened after he died.
From 1934 to 1994 there were twelve movies made about Wyatt Earp. Twenty-one other movies or television series refer to Wyatt Earp and comment on, or use as a basis for some action, his legendary lawman status.