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THE GOOD THE BAD ... AND THE DUDLEY; HOW THE WILD WEST HAD ITS ROOTS IN OUR VERY OWN BLACK COUNTRY Some of the Wild West's most famous heroes and villains had roots here, MIKE LOCKLEY discovers.


AFTER the final Colt 45 had discharged its deadly cargo, a silence fell on the dusty, ochrecoloured streets of Tombstone, punctured only by the distant rustle of tumbleweed.

Ruthless lawman Wyatt Earp, spurs singing in the midday heat, strode towards his prone victim, life oozing from the man's body and darkening the dust.

Earp blew blue smoke from the barrel of his gun, glowered at his foe and smirked: "Bostin!" "Yam a dirty low-down rattlesnake," he snapped at the bullet-riddled corpse.

"Yam not wrong, our kid," smirked brother Virgil.

Poetic licence, perhaps, but the famed 1881 Gunfight at the OK Corral was very much a Black Country set-to.

Because the Earps had Walsall blood coursing through their veins.

It was fitting for a town famous for saddle making.

And, on the 150th anniversary of the first recorded Wild West gunfight - the July 21 shootout between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt - Black Country poet and historian Dave Reeves has revealed the links between his beloved patch and America's cowboy heritage. And those links are as strong as the chains produced in this region's blister-hot forges.

Believe it or not, the west was won on a diet of faggots and grey pays.

That's because some of the most notorious figures to ride the prairie had their roots firmly in the Black Country.

The list of lawless gunmen include: ? WYATT EARP, whose dad came from a long line of Walsall saddle-makers.

? JOHN WESLEY HARDIN, dubbed "The Fastest Gun In The West" and believed to have filled 42 souls full of holes. His grandad, Benjamin, came from Lye.

? BAD ROY HILL, a feared stagecoach bandit who shot a man dead for kicking his dog, spawning a killing spree that claimed 13 lives. He was a Lye lad, too.

? BUFFALO BILL CODY, more showman than six-gun slayer, brought his famed Wild West show to Dudley in 1903. He didn't come from Dudley, but he won't forget the place. Bill was robbed in the town. And he thought the Indians were rough!

Dave, resident poet at the Black Country Living Museum, stressed that our John Wayne image of fledgling America is far from reality. "Like many other people, my perception of the West came from watching cowboy movies," he said.

"In reality, individuals got on a boat speaking a certain way and spoke the same way when they got off the boat.

"In the West, you would come across people speaking broad Black Country.

"The same goes for culinary skills. They would eat the same things over there that they did over here."

That would mean ranch-hands chomping on pigs' trotters.

Dave added: "They left for America in search of a better standard of living.

"Here, you knew you would be a slave to a machine for your entire life. Over there was adventure and the promise of land and wealth.

"Like any early settlers, they found it dif-ficult to communicate with other people. They stuck together."

It is Wyatt Earp, lawman, gambler and prime mover in the Wild West's most famous gunfight, who remains the greatest West Midlands western hero.

Nicholas Porter Earp, father of the Earp boys, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan, was from a long line of Walsall saddlemakers who prospered in the States. All three shot to fame, quite literally, in the Gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, where Virgil was marshal and his brothers were deputies. They killed three members of a gang known as The Cowboys.

History has been kind to Wyatt, courtesy of a flattering, largely fictional biography published in 1931.

In reality, he was a drifter whose CV included stints as a pimp and brothel owner.

There is evidence that one branch of the Earp clan returned to England and settled in Tipton and Wednesbury, where the surname is common.

A direct descendant of Wyatt died in 2008 in Limoges, central France. Barbara Nash, originally from Walsall, was aged 87. She was the daughter of Sarah Lucy Nash, whose grandfather was the brother of Nicholas Porter Earp.

TOP 10 BLACK COUNTRY WESTERNS 1. Lye Noon 2. Blazing Saddlers 3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Our Kid 4. Dancing With Wolves 5. No Country for Oldbury Men 6. Bad Day At Blackheath 7. A Fist Full Of Scratchings 8. Once Upon A Time in the West Midlands 9. Hang Em High Bullen 10. High Arcal Plains Drifter


Black Country historian Dave Reeves |
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jul 26, 2015
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