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Wyatt Earp Would Face Off With Facebook? Yep.

If he were alive today, Wyatt Earp probably wouldn't face down the Clantons and McLaurys at the O.K. Corral -- or as you'll see, somewhere else.

Instead, according to Jeff Guinn, he would prefer to square off against someone like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Jeff is the author of The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral -- And How It Changed the American West. (Regular readers know I rarely mention books, but in this case I can't resist; it's great.)

While a history, The Last Gunfight is also an interesting business book. Jeff connects the Earp brothers, and in a broader sense the "wild west" (it was less wild than you might think) to the current economic and entrepreneurial climate.

"Towns like Tombstone were the Silicon Valley of the 1980s," Jeff says. "Along with the established businessmen were the dreamers, the get-rich quick-guys, and the hustlers who flocked to mining towns. Each of them wanted to make something of themselves... and just enough of them actually hit it big to convince the other 99% that they could be next."

One was Ed Shieffelin, a miner who had prospected with almost no success for nearly twenty years before discovering silver in the hills near what became the town of Tombstone. (He named the claim "Tombstone" because soldiers at a nearby fort said, "The only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone.")

As a result, thousands of would-be entrepreneurs, including the Earps, thought, "If Ed can do it, I can certainly do it."

"People all came to get rich quick, whether through mining or from associated businesses," Jeff says. "Miners weren't that different from today's Internet entrepreneurs. Today many people think, 'The Internet's there... and available to everyone... so all I need is a computer and a brilliant idea I can make millions.' Since it only cost about a dollar in those days to buy a pan and a pick, entrepreneurs could go mining with very little investment -- and if things fell right could reap huge financial rewards."

Earp spent his life hoping to strike it rich, but things never panned out the way he hoped. Working as a lawman was nothing more than a part-time job; he tried a number of investments, partnered in gambling concessions, and bought mining claims in hopes of flipping them. (The hope was to buy claims cheap to sell at a profit to investors with the capital to set up mining operations.) Later he opened saloons, owned racehorses, was a boxing referee, and even worked on the fringes of Hollywood.

"What most people know about Wyatt Earp is simply the result of effective branding," Jeff says. "For example, the celebrated gunfight actually took place at a different location. But since the words 'Shootout at the Empty Lot off Fremont Street' don't exactly stir the soul, later writers took creative license and 'moved' the fight down the block. 'The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' is a lot catchier, and helped build the legend of Wyatt Earp."

In fact, Wyatt had never been in a shootout before. (Handguns were notoriously unreliable and one-on-one, high noon, Main Street showdowns were the exception and not the rule. Most shootings were the result of drunken brawls or ambushes.) During the gunfight the eight men stood less than ten feet apart, fired approximately thirty rounds in thirty seconds... and yet only three were killed. Wyatt walked away unscathed.

"The fact is, Wyatt was a hard and capable man," Jeff says, "but he was also a man of his time. In his day Americans looked to the west for entrepreneurial opportunities, and so did he.

"Wyatt never thought small - he just achieved small. Technology may change but human nature doesn't. If Wyatt was alive today, he would probably have a grandiose scheme for a new app that would revolutionize the world - and make him rich."

Photo of Wyatt Earp courtesy Wikipedia Commons

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