The Kalamazoo Poem That Caused Wyatt Earp To Kill His First Man
Was an 1800s poem about Kalamazoo so bad – or so sentimental – or so syrupy – that it led to a series of events causing famed western lawman Wyatt Earp to possibly shoot & kill a guy? Read the story and come to your own conclusion.
George Hoyt was a working cowboy who had recently been paid and was looking for a good time in Dodge City, Kansas. It was 1878 and Dodge City had 16 saloons (including the famous Long Branch), dance halls, and brothels that happily welcomed just-paid cowboys, ranch hands, and cattle drivers.
According to The Public I, It was in July that the “Lady Gray Comique” theater was hosting a vaudeville show featuring soon-to-be-famous Eddie Foy and his partner Jimmie Thompson. One of Eddie's segments was to read a poem titled “Kalamazoo In Michigan”. It was around 3AM on Friday, July 26 when George Hoyt and some of his cowboy buddies were in the Comique, drinkin' and havin' a good time...at least they were - up to the point where Foy started reciting “Kalamazoo In Michigan”. Hoyt and his pals got up and left. They saddled their horses, buckled their gun belts, and took off riding down Bridge Street past the Comique. Hoyt turned around and went back to the Comique and shot his Colt 45 three times into the side of the theater, in the direction of the stage where Foy was reciting. Pieces of the wall flew and Foy freaked out, believing the cowboy was trying to kill him.
Hoyt did not realize that lawman Bat Masterson and gambler Doc Holliday were members of that audience. Not only that, but as rode away, he didn't notice lawman Wyatt Earp who was in front of a shoe shop with Bat Masterson's brother, Jim, a deputy. Hearing the shots, Wyatt assumed Hoyt was trying to kill him, so he pulled his pistol, and shot twice at Hoyt as he fled. The second shot got him and Hoyt fell dead off his horse.
Years later Bat Masterson said Hoyt fell dead off his horse.....but Masterson couldn't know, because he himself was flat on the floor of the theater after hearing the shots.
Others said Hoyt fell off the horse after being shot and broke his arm and Wyatt took him to the local doctor's office. He survived, but wasn't treated well and gangrene set in. Hoyt died a slow death 26 days after Wyatt shot him...August 21, 1878. This was the first man Wyatt Earp was said to have killed.
Three years later, in 1881, Wyatt Earp was in Tombstone, Arizona and went down in history as a member of the 'Gunfight at the OK Corral'.
The poem “Kalamazoo In Michigan” doesn't seem to have gotten a good rap over the years, being called “beautifully pathetic” (legendsofamerica) and a “plaintive homesick poem” (thepublici). But was it the poem that got George Hoyt so riled up? Did it remind him of a lost lover? Did he simply hate the lyrics? Or Eddie Foy? Did one of the dance hall girls turn him down? Did he lose all his money gambling?
It would help figure this out if we could only find the lyrics to that poem. I've searched and came up blank. So if anyone can find the words, let me know and I'll add them in!
As for Eddie Foy, he went on to be one of vaudeville's top stars and passed away in 1927 at age 71.
Wyatt Earp Kills Man Over Kalamazoo Poem
HERE ARE MORE HISTORIC FIGURES WITH MICHIGAN TIES BELOW!