Wyatt Earp still stirs controversy
By way of introduction, my book John Ringo, The Gunfighter Who Never Was,
was published by the University of Arizona Press in 1987. In it, I analyzed the myth
that has developed around John Ringo and brought out the reality of a mythical figure. I
recently retired as a professor of American history at San Jose City College.
I bear no personal rancor toward Glenn G. Boyer and found him helpful and
insightful, but I have found much of Wyatt Earp: Legendary American (True West,
August 1993 -- October 1994) questionable and unsubstantiated. He has published three
different memoirs telling how Wyatt Earp killed Ringo, all giving different stories. In
Wyatt Earp by Wyatt Earp, he tells of killing Ringo on the way out of Arizona. But in a
story in the Tombstone Epitaph, he gives a far different version, supposedly out of
Josephine Earp’s memoirs. In your magazine and in his book, Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone
Vendetta, he tells another version, which he say came from the hidden memoirs of
Theodore Ten Eyck. That none of these versions is plausible is only part of the problem.
The version in Josephine Earp’s memoir is completely different from her
husband’s. Why would she have more information than he did? Most troubling about this
is that Mr. Boyer has never allowed other historians to study either the Josephine Earp or
Ten Eyck manuscripts or -- to my knowledge -- even to substantiate their existence. Do
they really exist? If so, has Boyer interpreted them correctly? These are troubling
questions for serious students of frontier history.
In your Legendary American series, Boyer attributed much of his material to the
mysterious Ten Eyck. Yet as far as we know, we have only Boyer’s word that such a
document exists. It is time for True West to do a true service and present this as the
subject of debate. Your magazine has served as Boyer’s primary forum for dispensing his
information, and your magazine should address the question of his historical accuracy.
He has presented far too many items as fact with absolutely no substantiation. Now is the
time for him to document and prove his sources, if he can.
--Jack Burrows, San Jose, California.
Editor’s Note: Like everything else about Wyatt Earp, Glenn G. Boyer’s Wyatt
Earp: Legendary American, has raised quite a ruckus. In general, the response, whether
pro or con, has been extreme, with little or no middle ground. Even as I write this,
however, Mr. Boyer is hard at work preparing a revised and expanded publication in
book form. That fully documented version will address the issues raised by Mr. Burrows
and others in these pages and elsewhere. In the meantime, I cast my vote with Pappy
Two votes for Boyer
I am writing in response to Jack Burrows’ letter attacking Glenn G. Boyer’s Wyatt
Earp: Legendary American series (True West, August 1993 -- September 1994) and, in
fact, Mr. Boyer’s life work.
I do not use the word attack lightly, for while claiming no personal rancor and
mentioning his finding Mr. Boyer both helpful and insightful, Mr. Burrows goes on to
challenge the very existence of the memoirs edited by Mr. Boyer. "Do they really exist?
If so, has Mr. Boyer interpreted them correctly?" In other words Mr. Boyer is at best
incapable of interpreting a manuscript, and at worst is a forger, fraud, and liar.
Burrows is troubled by the fact that the three memoirs edited by Mr. Boyer have
different versions of the Earp killing of John Ringo. Why? Since the memoirs were
written by three different people, or more correctly were written by authors of differing
levels of ability from information supplied by three different Tombstone pioneers, it
would be surprising if they did agree. It would be a sign of the fraud Burrows so fears if
the versions were to agree closely in particulars. Similarities, not differences, are
evidence of a common authorship. Anyone reading all three accounts could not fail to
notice the different writing styles of each. This is what you would expect if different
people wrote the memoirs.
Burrows questions Josephine Earp’s account on the grounds that it is more
detailed than Wyatt’s. "Why would she have more information than her husband?" She
didn’t. Josephine did not get her account from Wyatt as she stated in her account. After
Wyatt’s death she and her coauthors did research among other Tombstone old-timers and
even went on a fact-finding trip back to Tombstone.
John Flood wrote down what Wyatt Earp told him some forty-five years after the
events. Wyatt obviously spoke from memory only, and was apparently a man of few
words. The memoir is written in the style of a movie script. John Flood, while a very
good friend, was a very poor writer. The maps of the gunfight are the best part of the
Mabel Earp Cason and John P. Clum, authors of Josephine’s two separate
memoirs, were much better writers, and Clum had also been a witness and participant to
much of what went on in Tombstone.
As for the existence and accuracy of Mr. Boyer’s printed accounts of the memoirs,
this past July at the Western Outlaw Lawman History Association meeting in
Deadwood, Mr. Boyer presented the membership with documentation and affidavits,
sworn and signed by the family members who supplied him with the original copies of
the memoirs. These affidavits attested to the existence of the originals, the fidelity of Mr.
Boyer’s printed work to these originals, and their personal knowledge of the history of
The families entrusted the manuscripts to Mr. Boyer, trusting in his integrity and
skill to bring the story of their relatives to the public. The families asked only that the
truth as they knew it be told. They did not feel their trust was misplaced. Neither do I.
Glenn G. Boyer has spent decades researching, collecting, and sharing generously
his knowledge of the Earps and Tombstone with anyone who expressed an interest.
In addition to the three memoirs under discussion, there is his wonderful
Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp. This is the best analysis of myth building I have ever
read. I highly recommend it to anyone who can find a copy. In addition there are his
twenty some periodical articles. Without Mr. Boyer’s work our knowledge of the Earp
brothers would be poorer indeed.
Any of us interested in the Earp brothers owes Mr. Boyer a debt of gratitude for
his work. I too cast my vote with Pappy Cason, and with
--Gail K. Allen, Flushing, New York.
Editor’s note: Me, too. A vote for Pappy is a vote for Glenn.
Aiming at the Top Gun
I dislike becoming involved in these pitiful little conspiracies among Earp history
buffs. They are usually prompted by persons who have done
little or nothing and have little standing anywhere.
However, in this case, I am inclined to defend Glenn G. Boyer because I know
that the facts are not true in Jack Burrows’ letter to the editor.
Boyer is a much different man than most try to picture him. I have known him for
twenty-six years. We do not totally agree on everything -- but we have remained friends.
He has never refused me any information or any photograph that I have requested.
Some years ago, when he discussed photos of Morgan and Louisa Earp, he
allowed me to publish them for the first time. Later, he made sure that I met Louisa’s
family members who had the photos.
Many times I have looked through Glenn’s files, and he has given me portions of
them to take home with me. Why does he allow me his access? Because he knows that I
am trustworthy and he has learned the hard way that many are not. I have used a great
deal of his information, but I also clearly identify it and credit him for it.
Burrows’ statement that Boyer has allowed no one to see his Earp manuscripts is
clearly without basis. I saw the Wyatt Earp manuscript long before it was ever published.
In fact, I went through it in detail before it ever went to the printer.
The Josephine Earp manuscript is lying on my desk as I write. Glenn gave it to
me a few months ago, saying, "Ben, you’d better take all this and go through it so you’ll
know the story."
I spent many hours going through the notes and journals relating to Boyer’s
nonfiction novel, Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta, before he even wrote his rough
He does have a massive amount of information and items relating to the Earps,
and I have gone through much of it. I have also witnessed at least two other historians
doing the same.
Glenn G. Boyer is the top gun in the territory and the others are trying to knock
him off to gain a bit of notoriety of their own. If they would concentrate on their own
pursuits, they would perhaps achieve much more than they do by berating Boyer. If
anyone could prove that Boyer’s work is wrong, I’m sure he would graciously
acknowledge his mistake. But it ain’t going to happen. I have seen documents, letters,
diaries, notes, notarized statements, and other items that would make the "wannabes" sick
--Ben T. Traywick, Tombstone, Arizona.
True Inwardness of the Situation
Regarding such as Jack Burrows’ letter in True West, and other windy blasts, I’ve
been asked, "How can you remain unruffled by such attacks?"
Wal, podner, I set out to make those guys froth at the mouth. Why? How does just
for the hell of it grab you? They’ve been rustling my research for years and venting the
brand. I finally wrote a completely unannotated book -- Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone
Vendetta -- that contradicted the stuff they’d stolen, as well as a lot of my own past work.
It’s known as updating, or maybe bull-baiting, depending on the bull. So why get ruffled
At Deadwood, South Dakota, last July, I talked to the WOLA convention and
blew several of my detractors out of the water. My video coverage of the WOLA affair,
where I blasted everything but motherhood and dogs, will be available to the public if I
can get the sound -- which is poor -- enhanced. In addition, I’ll have a book on the same
subject out within a year; it will be titled The Earp Curse. Both tell where sticks and
stones were flung with names, dates and motivation, etc. Sticks and stones don’t bother me for figs. I’ve been conditioned too well.
--Glenn G. Boyer, Rodeo, New Mexico.
Counting the Votes
I am writing this letter for my father. He is a western history fan because he was
born in the nineteenth century and actually lived history. He uses his age as an excuse to
get me to write his letters for him, so here is what he wants to tell you. You sub-titled
"Truly Western" in your May issue "Two Votes for Boyer," referring to Glenn Boyer’s
series, "Wyatt Earp: Legendary American" (True West, August 1993-September 1994).
You then proceeded to print two letters to the editor in favor of the series and an editor’s
note that says, "Me, too." Dad says in the one-room country school where he studied that
makes three votes.
But leaving arithmetic aside, what he really wants to talk about is the Burrows-
Boyer feud discussed in those letters. Having read True West longer than he will admit,
he assumes that any fair-minded editor will follow the pro-Boyer May "Truly Western"
with one that is pro-Burrows. When you do, please include his vote for Burrows. Dad
rates Jack Burrows as the keenest intellect and best western history scholar alive today.
Dad lives in Oklahoma City and his name is James Orrin Tallman, but he doesn’t care
whether you include it; he just wants his vote to be registered as a pro-Burrows man. --
--Ruth Morgan, Sunnyvale, California.
Dried Cow Pies
I have been following this matter of the Jack Burrows and Glenn Boyer
controversy with great interest. Thank you for bringing it to us. Since I once had a history
class in California from Professor Burrows, I naturally took his side. When I read your
May 1995 issue with letters voting for Glenn Boyer, I decided I should give the matter
more serious thought. After due consideration, I retained my original opinion that
Burrows was correct in questioning Boyer.
I will not go into all of my reasons, but the language of Boyer’s letter in the May
"Truly Western" seemed so insincere that it caused me grave doubts about the sincerity
of his research. He did not have to use hokey language to convince readers that he
knows western history. Good research is sufficient for that.
I certainly do not wish to belittle Mr. Boyer’s contribution to western history. On
the contrary, I feel obligated to acknowledge it. But for the past twenty years I have
earned my living as a freelance journalist and naturally have come to judge people by the
words they write. Mr. Boyer’s letter seems to ooze with phoniness intended to appeal to
those interested in the Old West. To me, this phoniness of language is an insult, making it
appear that one has to use poor grammar to love the history of the Old West.
We don’t have to have dried cow pies on our cowboy boots to appreciate True West.
-- Hal Sylvie, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Editor’s Note: My arithmetic might not be so good, but I do recognize irony when I see
it. And I wear the dried cow pies on my boots with pride, as do many of the finest folks I
Western Hospitality Personified
I first met Glenn Boyer in 1985, when I was researching the Arizona Rangers.
Glenn gave up an evening to invite a stranger to his home, where I was astounded at the
enormity of his files. Glenn shared numerous documents and photos with me,
then graciously offered to spend the next day taking me to the site of the Ringo killing, not
because it had anything to do with my project, but simply because he knew I was
A year later, while serving as program chairman for the Tucson rendezvous of the
National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History, I prevailed upon Glenn to deliver
a presentation on the Earp-Clanton-McLaury troubles. For nearly two hours he regaled a
large audience by sharing his expertise in colorful and dramatic fashion.
Unable to live in the Old West, like many of us Glenn has immersed himself in
researching and writing about frontier people and events. Had he lived a century ago, we
probably would be writing about him; he is opinionated, unafraid of trouble, and an
expert marksman. Other frontier traits include conviviality, a wild sense of humor, a
bullwhacker’s tongue, and an open-hearted generosity that is the embodiment of western
hospitality. Glenn Boyer is a Westerner whose accomplishments and personality
command respect and admiration, and his detractors are fortunate to challenge him late in
the twentieth century rather than a century ago.
-- Bill O’Neal, Carthage, Texas.
Editor’s Note: To paraphrase Sherman, if I were a UN peacekeeping force and owned
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Tombstone, I’d live in Bosnia-Herzegovina and rent out