On March 19, 1848 Wyatt Earp was born at his grandmother’s home in Monmouth, Illinois, at 406 S. 3rd Street. The convoluted, and often contentious world of Wyatt Earp researchers, writers, and fanatics agree on this single salient point, that is anyone who hasn’t read the ‘scholarly’ writings of William Urban, Lee L. Morgan Professor of History and International Studies at Monmouth College. Dr. Urban has written extensively about the Crusades. He specializes in the Crusades and the Medieval Baltic States, which is actually rather fascinating, to me. He is also a bully and a stalker when it comes to debunking the proven fact that Wyatt Earp was born where he was born. (This is not the first time I’ve written about his antics).
Our story begins in the sleepy little Midwestern town of Monmouth, Illinois, famous for two “native sons.” Ronald Wilson Reagan lived in Monmouth for several years ago as a boy, consequently he is claimed as “native.” Ironically, in the film Law and Order, Reagan once played the most famous person to be born in Monmouth, Wyatt Earp. Earp is one of the Wild West’s most famous lawmen, being a participant in the Gunfight at the OK Corral and the subject of numerous books and movies, the most famous recent film being Tombstone.
During the War with Mexico Nicholas Porter Earp was off fighting in the war, and insisted his fifth child, if it was a boy, be named after his commanding officer, Wyatt Barry Stapp. Virginia Cooksey Earp, pregnant, and at home by herself with three other little boys, Newton, James and Virgil, and daughter, Martha, did not want to give birth by herself. Family stories state that Virginia wasn’t well, so she went to stay with Elizabeth “Betsy” Earp Ezell who was renting the little house at 406 South 3rd Street. The house, listed on the National Register of Historic Sites as the Pike-Sheldon home, was built in 1841 by Samuel Pike. This is where Wyatt Earp was born on March 19, 1848.
Or was he?
Dr. William Urban, professor emeritus of history from Monmouth College has for years debated the actual location of Wyatt Earp’s birth, ignoring family history, tradition, and documentary evidence. Urban bases his thesis on the recollections of Weldon Earp, making special emphasis on the last name “Earp.” While Weldon Earp is indeed an Earp relative, he is a descendant of Wyatt’s grandparents, Walther and Martha, not Nicholas Porter Earp. The only “Earp” named descendants of Nicholas are through his first born, Newton. Of the other Earp sons, James, Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan, and Warren, only Virgil had a child to survive, a daughter. Weldon, an “Earp by blood” changed his last name to “Earp” at his grandfather’s request. In recent years, Weldon has been surprisingly quiet about the information he gave to Dr. Urban.
Over the years, like a Pac-man running a maze, Urban, like clock-work, appears when necessary to debunk anything that might disprove his theories about the birth place of Wyatt Earp and in a small part anything written about the Earps in the Monmouth region. It is all rather petty. His research is poorly documented, and has a tendency to become a bit personal. Part of Urban’s complain is the fact that critical legal documents HE must see in order to authenticate the 406 South 3rd Street address are missing.
Urban is familiar with the world of Wyatt Earp (he claims to be an expert) and the Wild West (he also claims to be an expert) in general to know that the bane of any researcher and historian is the document thief. Any legal item that has the name of Wyatt Earp or any other famous figure of the Wild West is worth a considerable amount of money on either the legal, or illegal document market. An authenticated Wyatt Earp signature can bring upward of $25,000 – $30,000. Historians and researchers, accepting this challenge, have learned how to work around the problem and have little sympathy for “scholars” like Urban.
Current owner, Melba Matson, has documented the authenticity of the house. She has papers, deeds, notes, and the like going back to 1929. She also has authenticated family papers, letters, statements indicating that Wyatt, indeed was born at this location. The first acknowledgment that the Pike-Sheldon house was indeed the birthplace of the Wild West’s most famous lawman was in 1965 when it was listed in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.
The Warren County Historical Society featured it on postcards in 1972. In 1974 it was listed in the State of Illinois Inventory of Historic Landmarks in Warren County, Interim Report, and received a Certificate of Historical Significance from the Monmouth Preservationists in 1986. In 1999 the little house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, “Wyatt Earp was an internationally famous lawman who was born at the Pike-Sheldon House …” And most recently, in 2005, it received the Illinois governor’s Home Town Award.
This should be enough to satisfy even the most persnickety of college professors and their local editorial associates, but evidently not in the case of the Wyatt Earp Birthplace Museum. Dr. Urban is one of the leading experts in the field of the Medieval Teutonic Knights, medieval battles, and the Germanic medieval wars. He writes murder mysteries. He is a charming, well educated, erudite scholar who is truly fascinated with the life of Wyatt Earp. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of listening to a poorly informed source.
Melba Matson made the mistake of not only correcting Professor Urban, but also the editor of a local paper, the Galesburg Register-Mail, who is familiar with the well-intentioned professor, and accepts that Urban’s scholastic credentials in medieval warfare make him an expert on the life of Wyatt Earp.
Small-town politics are a funny thing. There are two kinds of editors: those who will do anything to promote local civic organizations, the arts, and functions, and then the other kind. These are the editors who must be “fair and balanced” and basically do anything to debunk local history, no matter how well documented.
And so, when the privately owned property that is the Wyatt Earp Birthplace Museum was put on the market the other day, the editor wrote, “…But at least one local historian questions the home’s authenticity. When the Matsons approached the Monmouth City Council in 1998 to request a portion of South Third Street be named after Earp, Monmouth College professor William Urban addressed the council. While Urban, a local expert on Wyatt Earp, did not directly address the Matsons’ request, he did say, “I don’t think Wyatt Earp’s mother would recognize that house (the house the Matsons claim to be Earp’s birthplace) that is standing there now, if indeed Wyatt Earp was born there.”
When confronted by Melba Matson, Tom Martin, editor, commented, “My editors did add the Urban quotes for balance. And here’s why: The fact is the home’s provenance is in question by knowledgeable historians. County records that could prove conclusively that it is the home are missing. It is only fair to make that clear in the story.”
Unfortunately for Martin, the only Earp “expert” and knowledgeable historian who questions the authenticity of the landmark is Professor Urban. Every other Earp expert and Earp family genealogist, and historian have declared 406 South 3rd Street as the actual, authentic location where Wyatt Earp was born. Every time anyone at the little museum tries to do something locally, Professor Urban and associates like Mr. Martin surface in an attempt to sabotage anything positive.
When questioned as to why William Urban has continued down this path for over two decades, well respected historian, genealogist, and researcher Jane Matson Lee, daughter of Melba Matson has a theory. Years ago when Professor Urban was giving a lecture about the life of Wyatt Earp he mangled more than a few facts, something which continued in book he wrote about Earp. Melba Matson, highly protective of the Earp story and the accurate dissemination of facts made the mistake of facts corrected the noted historian.
Not long after that incident the attacks on the authenticity of the place where Wyatt Earp was born began. According to Lee, it reached the point where the stress of the constant, never-ending attacks was beginning to take a toll on the health of her senior citizen parents. Urban never ceases his attacks on the little house, nor Melba Matson. It constantly amazes how a person who is such a well-recognized scholar when it comes to the Crusades, could be so pig-headed when it comes to one little house.
I’ve been doing a little research, reading reviews of Urban’s books. Evidently the same comment Melba Matson has made over the years, shows up, time and again when it comes to Urban. There are times when he is not all that careful with his research and his facts.
I’ve been following this tawdry tale for something like 20 years. You would expect, after that amount of time, Urban would give up and behave himself. But, he just can’t let it go. He bullies and stalks. When Melba asked me to write something, the other day, I wasn’t sure what to do. Then, I once again, ran afoul of this jerk on Twitter who, for the past six months, has attacked me every time I mention something about being a Christian. On Thursday night, I finally had enough and blocked him. I realized this is what Urban is doing to Melba Matson. For at least 20 years he has been a total jerk, bully and stalking anything she has tried to do. Unfortunately, you can’t block people like this in real life. Too bad you can’t. She deserves better than this.