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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Wyatt Earp

Airs Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Wyatt Earp in mid-1870s, wearing a business suit.

Zimmerman's, a hardware store in Dodge City, Kansas, circa 1870s. Wyatt Earp's record as a lawman was long; he first became a constable in Lamar, Missouri, in 1869 before moving on to Wichita and later Dodge City, Kansas. But most remember Earp's stint in Tombstone, Arizona, for the famous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" in 1881, an event that would haunt Earp for the remainder of his life. This program delves into the life of the often-misunderstood legend.
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Above: Zimmerman's, a hardware store in Dodge City, Kansas, circa 1870s. Wyatt Earp's record as a lawman was long; he first became a constable in Lamar, Missouri, in 1869 before moving on to Wichita and later Dodge City, Kansas. But most remember Earp's stint in Tombstone, Arizona, for the famous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" in 1881, an event that would haunt Earp for the remainder of his life. This program delves into the life of the often-misunderstood legend.

He has been portrayed in countless movies and television shows by some of Hollywood's greatest actors, including Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and more recently, Kevin Costner, but these popular fictions belie the complexities and flaws of a man whose life is a lens on politics, justice and economic opportunity in the American frontier.

As a young man, Wyatt Earp was a caricature of the Western lawman, spending his days drinking in saloons, gambling, visiting brothels and gaining notoriety as the legendary gunman in the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona.

But shortly after his death in 1929, distressed Americans down on their luck transformed Wyatt Earp into a folk hero: a central figure in the American narrative of how the west was won as a man who took control of his own destiny.

View a photo gallery and a timeline of Earp's life online.

Video

American Experience: Wyatt Earp

Above: Celebrated as a man who took control of his own destiny, Wyatt Earp came to epitomize the town-taming marshal responsible for bringing the forces of law, order and civilization to the Wild West.