Tombstone Tumbleweed March 16, 2000
Special to the Tombstone Tumbleweed
The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated June 11, 1999
Author's Methods Lead to Showdown Over Much-Admired Book on Old West
Debate centers on authenticity of the U. of Arizona Press's 'I Married
By JEFF SHARLET
It has been 118 years since Wyatt Earp set his six-shooters a-blazing at the O.K. Corral, but the gun smoke is still thick in the air. Ever since the deputy U.S. marshal, his brothers, and Doc Holliday shot it out with the Clanton gang in the most infamous gunfight of the American West, scholars, amateur historians, and movie makers have been quarreling about who shot first and just what justice meant in the town of Tombstone, in the Arizona Territory.
The hottest dispute these days, however, is not so much who was quickest on the draw, but whether the book that many consider the definitive account of the event is legitimate scholarship or historical fool's gold.
In 1976, the University of Arizona Press published I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, collected and edited by Glenn G. Boyer. According to one Earpologist, the book was a revelation: "the Dead Sea Scrolls of the West."
For Mr. Boyer, it was a turning point. I Married Wyatt Earp established him as the pre-eminent authority on Earp. Many Earp enthusiasts -- Earpomaniacs, he calls them -- refer to him even today, with respect, as "the Icon."
For the publisher, meanwhile, the book was a cash cow: It quickly became one of Arizona's best sellers, trumped only by the somewhat less wild and woolly English Words From Latin and Greek Elements, by Donald M. Ayers. Since its publication, I Married Wyatt Earp has sold more than 36,000 copies.
Now, however, several researchers contend that the book is a fraud - made all the more misleading by its scholarly imprimatur.
"One of the reasons the book has been given such great credence is because it comes from a university press," says Casey Tefertiller, a journalist and author of Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend (John Wiley & Sons, 1997). The press's misdeed was not in publishing the book, he says, but in standing by it as nonfiction for the past 23 years. "Rather than furthering the cause of knowledge, the University of Arizona Press has impeded the cause of knowledge."
As evidence of Mr. Boyer's perfidy, Gary L. Roberts, writing in a 1997 issue of The Western Outlaw and Lawmen Association Journal, cites a letter the editor wrote in which he said he had spent nine years "amplifying and qualifying" the book before publishing it. Mr. Roberts, a professor of history at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, points to significant historical inaccuracies and anachronisms throughout Mr. Boyer's work. "Even
if his interpretation is credible, he has discredited it by boogering with the historical record," Mr. Roberts writes.
Christine Szuter, interim director of the press since last October, denies that Mr. Boyer has boogered or in any other way misbehaved with the facts. "What Glenn has done," she says, "is taken a wide variety of materials and put it in a first-person narrative."
She points to the book's epilogue as evidence of Mr. Boyer's integrity. After spending several pages debunking earlier accounts of Earp's life as "myth-making," Mr. Boyer writes that his book is actually two memoir manuscripts merged, and augmented by his own research. He calls the book "Josephine's story."
Earp experts agree that Josephine Earp -- who, though commonly considered the deputy marshal's third and last wife, never actually married him - did verifiably compose, with help, at least one of the manuscripts upon which Mr. Boyer says the book is based.
The problem, say Mr. Boyer's critics, is that he composed the other one.
Known as the Clum manuscript - after John Clum, the Tombstone journalist who, Mr. Boyer argues, helped Josie Earp write it - that document has remained a mystery for 23 years. Neither the press nor other researchers have seen it.
Mr. Boyer, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is now a publisher in rural Arizona, says he no longer has the manuscript and does not know where it is. He did not explain to a reporter where it went, but has at other times offered different responses to other investigators.
This is not the first time Mr. Boyer's sources have proved questionable. He proudly admits that his first book, An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday (The Reminder Press, 1966), was a hoax. And after repeated questioning by several historians, he acknowledged that a more recent volume, Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta (Talei, 1993), which was allegedly based on the account of a Tombstone journalist whom Mr. Boyer dubbed Theodore Ten Eyck, is in fact a blend of "scores of accounts." He now contends that it should never have been confused as anything but.
Mr. Boyer also argues that whatever he has done or not done in his other books should have no bearing on the reputation of I Married Wyatt Earp, which, he says, he compiled in fulfillment of an oath to an Earp relative he had come to consider a "second mother."
"I recorded history solely because committed to do it," he says. "I have never seriously claimed to be a historian."
He did, however, in his initial correspondence with the University of Arizona Press during the early 1970s, write of his concern with "sound scholarship" and his "desire [that] Mrs. Earp ... be heard at last as the most authoritative voice to speak about her now famous husband and his time and place."
As a novelist, Mr. Boyer might be excused for using diverse source material to create a consistent first-person voice for Josie Earp, as he acknowledges doing in his epilogue. Harder to understand is the press's encouragement of the practice in a book they intended to offer as a memoir. "We think it is imperative that you move a little bit into the foreground by effecting a logical bit of tightening up," wrote the editor at the time, Marshall Townsend, in a 1973 letter to Mr. Boyer. "You can project yourself into Mrs. Earp's shoes in the matter of expression -- but can make it effective because you know how to write on your own."
A year later, Arizona proposed that Mr. Boyer cut out large portions of the book, drastically revise the order of the story in favor of a chronological progression, and modify Josie Earp's "colorful judgments" of her contemporaries to avoid the possibility of libel suits by their descendants. In a 1975 letter to Mr. Boyer, Mr. Townsend no longer referred to I Married Wyatt Earp as a memoir at all, but as Mr. Boyer's "book about
Karen Thure, another editor who worked on the book, says she always harbored doubts about Mr. Boyer's sources. "I think it's a shame that anyone took I Married Wyatt Earp literally," she told the weekly Phoenix New Times. "It's somewhere between history and historical fiction."
But Gioia Stevens, a senior editor at Oxford University Press, says historians who have cited Mr. Boyer - such as Richard Maxwell Brown, author of No Duty to Retreat: Violence and Values in American History and Society (Oxford, 1992), and Paula Mitchell Marks, author of And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight (University of Oklahoma Press, 1996) -- can hardly be blamed for taking seriously a volume that is billed as "recollections" but is insufficiently forthcoming about alterations made to the original text. University presses, Ms. Stevens explains, "don't do much to historical documents. If you cut it, you really have to say what you've done and explain what the context was."
Another university-press editor, who prefers to remain anonymous, calls the idea of Mr. Boyer's "projecting" himself into Josie Earp's shoes "problematic," noting that such a practice would fail his own test for situational ethics: "I always ask myself, 'Is this something I'd like to see reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education or Lingua Franca?'" He adds that most scholarly presses would have insisted that outside readers review both manuscripts from which Mr. Boyer says he drew his text.
In a letter to the president of the University of Arizona this past February, Ms. Szuter, the interim director, wrote that the press, "as a scholarly publisher, does not examine primary sources for the books we publish." She also characterized the controversy over the book as one between Mr. Boyer and his critics.
But last week, Ms. Szuter told The Chronicle that she is now "looking into a wide variety of background and materials" and "evaluating the whole manuscript."
The University of Arizona Press will stand by the book as a work of nonfiction for the time being, she says, but "we're looking at ways of changing the copy on the cover to actually reflect what is in the book itself."
Mr. Boyer insists that the press was always aware of his methods. He laments its "current 'narrow' institutional definition of 'editing' that is not broad enough to include what I had to do to make the book publishable."
Mr. Boyer's Wyatt Earp might have understood. Neither the saint that early histories celebrated, nor the outlaw that revisionists condemned, Mr. Boyer's Earp was a good but faulty man who dealt with the world as it came to him. Mr. Boyer says that even if he himself was "a little less than legalistically perfect," he should be allowed to "beg off without being unduly criticized."
Aside from allegations of fraud, he recently wrote to this reporter, he has more-pressing problems these days: "We haven't had rain for months, the pastures have blown away, and I am attempting to put in a small irrigated one to keep our horses from eating mesquite beans when the beans come in season, from which they might founder and die. I suppose this sort of thing is alien to academics for the most part, and city people in general, but these are facts of ranch life -- also, my acquaintance with them is why I am qualified to write of the Old West. It is much the same today."
Life on the range is a slow business compared with the hurly-burly of academe. Twenty-three years after I Married Wyatt Earp appeared, it may be due for an overhaul. For now, though, the press is keeping its cards face down. "I can't say yet what the new cover copy would be," Ms. Szuter avers. "That would just be making something up."
Until then, Glenn G. Boyer and his opponents remain ready to draw.
Section: Research & Publishing
Copyright © 1999 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Chronicle of Higher Education The Chronicle of Higher Education Lingua Franca Magazine, July, 1999
On October 26, 1881, Wyatt Earp became a gunfighting legend
when he and his companions killed three cattle rustlers behind the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. The magnitude of the event wasn't lost on Josephine Marcus, a Jewish stage performer who had come to Tombstone for a production of H.M.S. Pinafore, and who ended up becoming Wyatt's common-law wife. "Without stopping for a bonnet, I rushed outside and toward the sound of the firing before it died down," she later recalled. "It seemed to me in my panic that there must have been a hundred shots. Breathlessly I reached Fremont Street a block away and looked toward downtown.... A man in a wagon, whom I'd never seen before, yelled, 'Hop in, lady, I'll run you up to the excitement.'"
At least that's how Josephine puts it in her memoir, I Married Wyatt Earp. Published three decades after her death, the book relates Josephine's rise from boomtown actress in Arizona to prospector's wife in Alaska and California. The book, published by the University of Arizona Press in 1976, was an unexpected commercial success. Now in its twelfth printing, with thirty-five thousand copies sold, it is one of the press's all-time best-sellers. It's also been cited in subsequent Earp books like Paula Mitchell Marks's And Die in the West (Morrow, 1989) and in Richard Maxwell Brown's social history of frontier law, No Duty to Retreat (Oxford, 1991).
There's just one problem: Josephine never wrote most of the words in the memoir. Or so a number of historians now believe. They say that Glenn Boyer, the rancher and former military man who edited the book, took liberties with the manuscripts he claimed were his sources, and then filled gaps in the chronology with his own speculations. Boyer's critics don't mince words: "It's one big fake," says Allen Barra, a Wall Street Journal columnist and author of Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends (Carroll & Graf, 1998). And Casey Tefertiller, the author of Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend (Wiley, 1997), concurs: "This may be the most remarkable literary hoax in American history. It has been believed and accepted as the words of Josephine Earp for twenty-three years now."
Is Josephine Earp's memoir of her legendary husband a hoax?
Why did a scholarly press put its imprimatur on a work that might generously be called historical fiction? Though he has been portrayed in dozens of movies, a television series, and scores of books and magazine articles, Wyatt Earp has never generated much excitement among professors. When the O.K. Corral does emerge in academic literature, it's typically to illustrate the nature of federal law enforcement in frontier towns or the role of violence in Western culture. The question that obsesses most Earp buffs, who fired the first shot in the Tombstone gunfight, barely registers with professional historians.
In the early 1970s, Boyer gave Arizona a chance to bridge the gap between the amateurs and the scholars: an Earp book with a larger documentary value. While undertaking a book-length analysis of the Earp legend in the late 1960s, Boyer interviewed and eventually befriended several of the Earps' living relatives. They surprised him by sending him a thick manuscript Josephine had put together with the help of two distant relatives, Mabel Earp Cason and Vinolia Earp Ackerman, before her death in 1944.
Unfortunately, the Cason manuscript, as it came to be called, did not pick up Josephine's story until after the Earps left Tombstone, omitting the family's most sensational anecdote. Arizona told him they would not publish without a Tombstone chapter, Boyer says. Accordingly, he produced a second manuscript, which he said Josephine had prepared between 1929 and 1932 with the help of John Clum, a former editor of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper. Then, as Boyer explains in an epilogue to I Married Wyatt Earp, he "merg[ed] the two manuscripts, which contained vastly different materials presented in widely different styles." To do so, he relied on interviews with Earp relatives and acquaintances to establish a "conversational standard for the combined first-person narrative." The result was published by Arizona with the subtitle Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp.
But Boyer's critics say the second manuscript, sometimes referred to as the Clum manuscript, probably wasn't much of a manuscript at all. Rather, it was Boyer's shorthand for a whole collection of sources, notes, newspaper accounts, memorabilia, and the recollections of relatives, that he used to put together the Tombstone chapters. Then, they say, he wrote his own version of the history as if it were coming directly from Josephine, making several errors in the process.
For example, Boyer's Josephine cites an article from the Tombstone Weekly Nugget of March 19, 1881?an article that smeared Earp's friend Doc Holliday by implicating him in a botched stagecoach robbery. "Doc's implication in this robbery through the propaganda of...the Nugget," she writes, "led straight to the Earps' shootout with the rustlers some six months later." But when a skeptical Tefertiller scrutinized the Nugget microfiche, he found that no reference to Holliday existed. Further investigation suggested that Boyer had made a gaffe common to Earp researchers, lifting a fabulated version of the Nugget article from Billy Breakenridge's 1928 Helldorado.
Complicating matters, a curious scholar cannot simply check the original source for verification. Boyer has said he lost the Clum manuscript years ago, possibly during a divorce. As for the Cason manuscript, it is part of Boyer's large, and private, collection of Earp memorabilia, and he allows researchers virtually no access to those materials. (He does this, he says, to preserve the value of the material for future collectors and to keep other historians from stealing his research.)
How did a book with such shaky sourcing make it through Arizona's review process? Possibly because Arizona's press director at the time wanted it to. According to correspondence unearthed by Tony Ortega, a reporter for the Phoenix New Times, an alternative weekly, editors at Arizona were concerned all along about the book's veracity. But Marshall Townsend, then the press director, discouraged editors from challenging authors, and encouraged Boyer to put "more of yourself" into the work.
For his part, Boyer denies his book is a hoax and says he has been misunderstood. "My work is beginning to be recognized by all but a few fanatics and their puppets as a classic example of the newly recognized genre 'creative non-fiction,'" he says. "That sort of thing may get history back into the door of respectability." To be sure, he's not the first person to employ a nontraditional literary device when writing about frontier lawmen or outlaws: The genre is rife with tall tales and self-conscious mythmaking, and plenty of those efforts show far less attention to real historical detail than I Married Wyatt Earp. Then again, such literature doesn't typically win the imprimatur of an academic press.
Arizona's interim press director, Christine Szuter, agrees that the provenance of the book "could be more clearly labeled." But she says that the press will wait until the next edition before slapping on any warning signs. And though she says that Arizona now takes its scholarly review process more seriously than it did in the 1970s, she finds no reason to revisit old judgments or to apologize to scholars who were misled.
That attitude infuriates Casey Tefertiller. "At the same time they're selling it as a history book by Josephine Earp," he says, "they're saying that this is not a history book. It's just beyond belief."