Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Wyatt Earp house" for sale in Monmouth

(Gratuitous postcard included)

My former sixth-grade teacher and spouse are looking to sell a house here in town they claim was the birthplace of U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp.

If you've ever wanted to own a part of western folklore, here's your chance. The Wyatt Earp birthplace is for sale. One of Monmouth's most famous sons spent his early childhood there. And now the home's longtime owners are retiring to Arizona.

Located at 406 South 3rd Street in Monmouth, retired teachers Bob and Melba Matson plan to sell it on Ebay with a $20,000 opening bid.

It's a real humdinger, even if they can't prove this is the actual site of Earp's birth -- our local college history prof has done considerable digging, and states that the famed lawman was probably not born there, because (a) tax records say a house that size wasn't actually standing on the lot in the year Earp was born, and (b) the Mother Earp was, in later missives, reported to have been living about a mile and a half away from there, at the time... in a house which no longer exists. She'd have had a jolly miserable walk or ride -- in labor, in a winter storm -- to deliver little Wyatt over close to the railroad tracks (it's only a few blocks from where I live, and just a block or so from the railroad tracks -- closer to them than Alice's Restaurant was).

Nevertheless, it's a rather nice house, and, by all accounts, they've done a pretty good job of bringing back the feel of mid-1800s western Illinois -- no central heat, no indoor plumbing in the "museum" portion of the building, and some fairly accurate decorative stylings.*

After restoring the nineteenth century home back in 1986, they've hosted more than 10,000 visitors from all over the world. All of them are fascinated with the legendary lawman.

"They feel that Wyatt Earp is here," said Melba Matson. "They really enjoy it and like to look at everything we have."

There will be a sentimental journey on August 4th. That's when the Matsons will host a final recreation of the shootout at the O.K. Corral. From 1-4 p.m., writers, historians, tourists and fans will enjoy the action and share the memories.

So, if you're in the neighborhood for the gunfight, and you just can't seem to get the old house out of your mind, just remember -- that moderately-well-restored Wyatt elephant is for sale.

*By no means am I trying to discourage anybody from buying the property. It really is a nice place. I simply believe that the buyer should be aware that there is still debate as to the historical merits of this site as anything other than an homage museum.

Update: the aforementioned professor of history has, for some time, made his research available online here. I especially recommend reviewing this link, which is near the top of his page.

It's easy to believe in one or the other. I'm an avowed agnostic, leaning toward skepticism.

And I repeat my little footnote: The buyer should be aware that there is still a debate as to the historical merits of the site.


Western Historian with as many credentials as the Prof. said...

So, basically you all are ignoring the FACTS that prove this is the place, even though the house has been certified by the National Register of Historic Places, and the State of Illinois, and awarded the IL Governor's Home Town award???

Have you viewed the available documents that prove this is the location?

Or are you just going on the word of a local renowned Medeival expert, (non-Earp expert)? Because he seems to be the ONE and ONLY person out of scads of Western and Earp historians and experts that has an opinion to the contrary...

Hmmmm... How about some "fair and balananced" blogging for a change...

Western historian again said...

You know, I wasn't even going to honor your silly "she could not have been there" comment, but it irks me that you haven't done your homework, so let me set the scene:

1848-Mexican War is on. Your husband is away fighting.
You live in a small town that does not have modern-day luxuries of telephone, hospital, internet blogging, and maybe even a doctor available who can get there in time.

What do you do?

Being a pioneer woman who has made it here all the way from Virginia and through Kentucky to Monmouth, IL, I think Virgnia Cooksey Earp has the wherewithal to get in her horse and cart and go to a friend's house for help, or maybe even a just visit when the little "surprise" decides to arrive.

Not so very farfetched at all.

leucanthemum b said...

Interesting that I seem to have typed some heresy, here. Citing a non-specialist in Wyatt Earpory is apparently, at the very least, a venal sin. Even if the source nonetheless is a respected historian who has access to all the same documents all the rest have (and a few others, I hear) and has enjoyed following up on his independent research, if his specialty is not precisely O.K. (Corral or otherwise) by you, he has no credibility in your circles, and therefore I have been talking to the devil.

Oh, horrors.

And. Um. I"m not FOX news. I don't pretend to be a "fair and balanced" blogger. I calls 'em as I sees 'em. And if ya can't stands debate, mebbe ya shouldn't go fishin' fer it.

Western Historian said...

Well I don't recall mentioning any devils, horrors, or even sin, however, I do have a bone of contention or perhaps worthy of debate about Tax Records...

Here's an 1880's example of how tax records do not tell the whole story about a building's ownership or who lived or worked there:

For years in Tombstone a lovely local gal has been giving tours and stating per the tax records that one Archie McBride owned the famous Grand Hotel.

Archie also happens to be buried in the Boot Hill graveyard. Archie just wrote the check.

Well, the REAL owner of the Grand Hotel was my Great Great Uncle Comstock. Old Archie was just one of several "proprieters" or managers hired to run it over its short life span.

If you read contemporary newspaper articles from the Tombstone papers, you will see that shortly after building the hotel, there is a mention that Mr. Comstock would surely take care of a pile of dirt obstructing the road in front of the hotel.

And then after the 1882 fire, Mr. Comstock was quoted in the papers
as saying if the other hotel men in town would plan to rebuild their hotels, he would just build a house, but if the others decided not to rebuild their hotels, he would erect a new one.

So the local woman has had to change her tour spiel and was glad for the information.

I guess the moral of the story is tax records all depend on how they are recorded locally at the time.

More than just a few records are needed to make a case and you have to take all of the available records and go with the preponderance of evidence.

And everyone should share information and not argue but make a compromise, something we all learned in kindergarten.

leucanthemum b said...

I have no objections to compromise, so long as one is not compromising fact and truth for the sake of a sale.

A good historian doesn't tell a story as truth, unless all the available facts support it. Anything less, and one has simple theory.

And a good historical museum should always be able to fully support its narrative with solid documentation from beginning to end, or it becomes a purveyor of folklore instead.

There is nothing wrong with selling the lore, as long as it is sold as lore with some documentation to support the possibility... But without absolute, solid, undeniable, incontrovertible documentation, lore is all it can ever be.

Or, do you believe history should not be treated to the same scientific inquiry methods as other studies?

W H said...

In reply to:

"A good historian doesn't tell a story as truth, unless all the available facts support it. Anything less, and one has simple theory. Or, do you believe history should not be treated to the same scientific inquiry methods as other studies?"...

I would have to point out that if all documents and facts were available and all people recorded every moment and event in case they could predict that someday it might be historically significant, we would then be living in Utopia.

We know for a fact in the Earp case that documents all over the country have "mysteriously disappeared" and/or ended up in private hands never to be seen
by the general public or historians.

All scientific studies I have ever read seem to use the preponderance of evidence test.

After all, repeated laboratory tests do produce some skewed results, (I would guess some the result of human error) and an average is usually used to make the final conclusion, noting the statistical margin of error.

Unfortunately, history cannot be tested in a controlled laboratory.

21 years of debate on this particular issue has produced only one loudly dissenting opinion, so what are the statistcal results we can glean from that?

I have enjoyed our discussion on this issue, but my only aim from the beginning was to make sure both sides were fairly presented.

Therefore, I leave you to blog away, I have other historical research to pursue. Since the records from the above-mentioned hotel burned in the fire, and other records from my subject may have gone under water for a reservoir in his home town, I have quite a challenge trying to locate information via newspaper and court records in other places he lived.

leucanthemum b said...

It seems to me, from what I've read on this issue, the "lone dissenter" has presented a very good case for questioning the preponderance Matsons' claims. I've seen most of the material from both your plagued houses, and I have to admit, I can't quite figure out what it is which keeps everybody so enamored of this particular piece of real estate... I like the marshall as much as the next kid who dreamed of cowpokes, but let's stop and take a cold hard look at the place and the material:

The tax records are only the tip of the iceberg, as they saying goes.

For starters, the earliest actual oral claims that this house was the one came after Earp had died, did they not? Or, at least, well after he'd published his self-aggrandizing autobiography. How does that become "solid proof?"

A postcard printed in the 1970s is proof of something which happened more than a century before? Puh-lease! If that's the case, I've got a thirty-five-year-old old autographed photograph of Jesus which will break wide open the case for Christianity!

When one cites the National Historic Register, one should actually cite the reason for its having been listed: it's an old building. They do not list it for any ties to Earp.

Wyatt's Daddy was home, by the time of the birth. Mama didn't need to walk a mile across town, to the nearest friend's house, to give birth. Papa could have easily run to fetch the doctor, if necessary.

There's lots more where that came from.

Now I have a serious question for you: Is the "lone dissenter" being dismissed as a crackpot based on actual documentation, or merely because he dissents?

Consensus is not always correct. Especially when there is emotion or money in the mix.

leucanthemum b said...

"preponderance of"


w h said...

You only pick and choose your arguments, above is a link for anyone interested for the the truth of the accepted documentation.

Spelling correction: Marshal with one "l".

If you must know, Papa Earp was kicked in the groin by a mule in Mexico, and was in no shape to go after the doc, besides that birthing was a woman thing back then, no men allowed except the Doc if he was around.

Once again and finally, I simply could not bear your initial blog sitting out there uncontested, since it seemed to be a part of the annual campaign by Prof Urban and friends to subvert any event the Matsons want to offer to the public.

The Matsons were never in this for the money.

I find your resorting to name-calling and insinuations of this nature quite beneath my needs for being fair to the issue.

leucanthemum b said...

1 Okay, regarding the claim about the National Register giving cred: it doesn't.

Here's what they say to an inquiry: The listing of the Pike-Sheldon House in the National Register in no way substantiates any claim as to the history of who lived there.

It is on the National Register strictly for its architectural significance, and neither supports nor refutes either side's claims as to the Earp connection.

2 If Nicholas was in no shape to fetch a midwife or a bonesaw, how the heck did he travel all the way back from Mexico? On a floating featherbed? To heck with that -- I'm thinking it's just a bit unprofessional to argue over which of these two expectant parents is likely to be out running across town for a doctor. The question must stand as to whether or not anybody can honestly prove she was in that house, at that property -- which was not theirs at the time -- when she delivered that particular son to this earth.

3 As to the rest, Dr. Urban seems to have been willing and able to provide links, here to support a stand of not rushing into any claim of historic ties to this particular site.

4 I have not accused the Matsons, or anybody else, for that matter, of being in this for the money. Fanaticism -- or any deeply emotional drive, for that matter -- can be just as damaging to rational discourse as is greed.

And, thanks for pointing out my other typo.

As I acronym'd, Preview Is My Friend.

leucanthemum b said...

Oh, and the motivation behind my initial post was not part of any campaign by Urban or any other to ruin the chances the Matsons have of throwing a swell -- if, historically, grossly inaccurate -- shootout party more than a thousand miles from where the actual famed shootout occurred. I have nothing against a little fun.

I just have a thing about honesty. If a person wants to sell a property (which is what this post was originally discussing), that person needs to make sure that all the warts and scabs are mentioned in the initial transactions.

Merits of either side notwithstanding, the buyer has a right to know he's buying a place over which there is some reasonable question as to its purported history.

If the Matsons and their supporters can't be candid about this intellectual exchange, especially as it applies to the sale of their property, it can very well lead to more serious questions of whether or not they can be candid about any other aspect of this transaction. I would not like to see that happen.

W H said...

The best way to settle it would be to actually GO to the museum and ask to view the paperwork, which at least some objecting people may not have done.

Welcome on the spelling, and I like cats too, mine's from the shelter, for what it's worth.

leucanthemum b said...

Shelter's a good place to get a cat. I once worked at a shelter, & they need all the support they can get. Nowadays, I don't get cats from anywhere -- they get me. heh.

Question -- has anybody considered posting clean, clear copies of the original Earp/Pike-Sheldon documents online, so they're easily available for those who can't physically make the visit? These days, the internet is the best place to store documents, anyway, and by creating a solid research database attached to the museum, they'd have another way to promote the events, the museum, and the life story of the man.

The birthplace website is pretty, and all, but it really doesn't have much to offer along those lines. Even though the site is 19th century, the museum needs to join the 21st, the way other historical museums have learned to do (I know my link selection here seems a bit over the top as a comparison, but these guys set the standard).

W H said...

This poster wishes to clarify for any public readers that Professor Urban is NOT a participant in this exchange, nor does he wish any harm to the coming event, as previously thought by this contributor.

Further, neither this respondent nor any other "Earpie" disrespects Professor Urban's professional work in the history field.

All colorful adjectives have come from the blog initiator.

leucanthemum b said...

This blog initiator confirms and supports WH's most recent comment. The flippancy was (and almost always is) mine, there is no participation from Dr. Urban, and, honestly, nobody wants to spoil the fun in this town.

Some of us may be a little nuts (I do speak for myself, here), but we all love the community and especially its rich history.