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Wyatt Earp

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The western lawman, Wyatt Earp, was born in Monmouth, Illinois, just south of here, on March 19th, 1848, and went on to fame for his participation in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. While that gunfight was over in minutes, the shootout over his birthplace is still going on.

The Monmouth trouble began in 1956 when a television series made Earp's exploits popular, but it really heated up in 1986 when Robert and Melba Matson bought a house at 406 South Third Street, long identified in stories as Wyatt Earp's birthplace, and set about making it into a tourist attraction: the Wyatt Earp Birthplace Museum. They organized a Wyatt Earp birthday celebration which became a popular yearly event, and got their house listed in the Illinois Historic Landmarks Survey as the official birthplace.

Detractors claimed that the Matsons were wrong about the house; it was just a typical mid-19th century farmhouse. Another house in Monmouth also claimed the honor of being Wyatt's birthplace, though this was problematic as well. Wyatt's father, Nicholas Earp, had lived in neither one, though it is possible that when his wife was expecting Wyatt, she may have moved to a sister's home to have the baby.

The competing house had been traced by a reporter for the local newspaper. The reporter identified the birthplace as a house which had stood at 213 South Third Street before being moved after 1852 to the southeast corner of 6th Street and First Avenue, and then to its present location at 913 South Sixth Street, though this has no more factual claim than the first house. Court records and real estate deeds are vague when it comes to putting any of the many Earps in any single house back in 1848, or even whether Wyatt's father was actually in Monmouth for the birth. Legend places him at the Mexican War.

Meanwhile, until some piece of clear evidence shows up to put Wyatt Earp in the right house, and then, of course, in the correct room, tourists are warned to refrain from taking sides in the shootout in Monmouth. Neither group's aim is very good.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.