Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends

Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends

by Allen Barra

This revelatory volume tells for the first time Earps entire astonishing story.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Biography
  • Rating: 3.63
  • Pages: 426
  • Publish Date: January 28th 2009 by Castle Books
  • Isbn10: 0785814949
  • Isbn13: 9780785814948

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His purpose in the book is to explore the process by which Wyatt Earp became a legend. When Frank McLaury, just before the Gunfight near the O.K. Corral, told Behan that he would not surrender his arms unless the Earps did, Barra points out that McLaury is a civilian (for whom it is illegal to be carrying weapons in the streets of Tombstone in the first place) demanding that the city marshal and his deputies be disarmed. His knowledge of sports shows to good advantage in his discussion of the fight, both because he can talk knowledgeably about the difference between London Prize Ring rules and the new (in 1896) Queensbury rules and because he has the background knowledge to point out that Wyatt Earp is far from the only referee in boxing history to be vilified for making an unpopular call. This is a dreadfully sloppily copy-edited book, to the extent of misidentifying Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterton in the Dodge City Peace Commission photograph, and having errors like misprinting "McLaury" for "Leonard." (I don't, to be fair, know how much of that comes from errors that crept into the Castle Books reprint.) This is unfortunately of a piece with the careless writing; Barra forgets to tell pieces of the story--for example, Luther King's escape: When the posse returned to Tombstone they could at least console themselves that they had the link to the stage robberies in Luther King, or so they thought. To make matters worse, Barra's endnote to this passage is itself a further example of careless writing: "In his 1928 book, Helldorado, Billy Breckenridge invents a bogus Nugget story about King's escape that finishes with the line "He King was an important witness against Holliday" (Barra 176 n.3) In fact, as Gary Roberts (Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend) explains, Breakenridge "tampered with a Nugget article concerning the escape of Luther King from jail after the Benson stage robbery to include the statement 'He was an important witness against Holliday,' which was not in the original (Roberts 386). There are other examples--Barra claims that the infamous poker game the night before the gunfight included not only John Behan, Virgil Earp, Ike Clanton, and Tom McLaury (who are the gentlemen Tefertiller puts there, along with an "unknown player" (Tefertiller 115)), but also Wyatt and Morgan and Doc Holliday. In general--and this is ironic for someone whose purpose is to trace the legends and misinformation about Wyatt Earp--Barra doesn't cite his sources. This does not increase his credibility for me, especially when he says things like "The logistics of travel from Colorado, which is where Wyatt was when Ringo was shot, are tough, but researchers have determined that it could have been possible" (Barra 277). I am not saying this because I think the Clantons and the McLaurys were "good guys," or because I think Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and Doc Holliday, were "bad guys." I'm saying it because I think Barra's view is reductive and dismissive and ultimately not helpful. Earpian research is a particularly fraught area in this regard due to the habit of writers such as Lake ( Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal), Waters (The Earp Brothers of Tombstone: The Story of Mrs. Virgil Earp), and Boyer (I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp) of just making shit up when the facts weren't interesting enough for them. Having read the passage in question, I find it deeply implausible, and am tempted to apply to Barra his catty remark about Paula Mitchell Marks and The Earp Brothers of Tombstone: "Ms. Marks, it can be said, wants the book to be true" (283). Barra isn't a historian; he's a professional journalist with a thing about Wyatt Earp. And many of the things I like about this book spring from Barra being exactly what he is.

Of course the Tombstone period is well covered, but the time between that and Earp's death in 1929 is more detailed here than in any other work I have read.

I really wanted to love this book. I wanted to know all about the friendship he had with Doc. How he was around his brothers, little tales like that. If you're a historian who loves debunking, this book is for you.

As pointed out in this book, Lake, like a couple of Earp biographers before, could not get Wyatt to talk about himself or the incidents in Tombstone.

The sentence only makes sense if the author meant for the second date to be the early 1900's.

This book is the most poorly written and edited piece of history I have ever read.

Wyatt was pretty handy with a gun, didn't like shooting at people. They are partly true, we just don't see the sad realism of the people's lives.