Dodge City

Authors, you really can sell some books on C-SPAN. (For the non-Americans, that non-profit company puts out three tv channels worth of “public affairs programming” and, on weekends, Book TV.) That’s where I saw Mr. Clavin talk about his book.

His talk was entertaining; I’d never read a full biography of either Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson before, so I picked this one up for the annual Old West reading during one of my trips to South Dakota.

I definitely got my money’s worth.

Review: Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterton, and the Wickedest Town in the American West, Tom Clavin, 2017.Dodge City

If you were an ornery “cow boy” in the Dodge City of 1876 who got too rowdy in a saloon or hassled a prostitute or took your guns past the Dead Line, you could expect to encounter the law. And the lawmen you met might have been Marshal Wyatt Earp or his deputy Bat Masterson.

Wyatt probably wouldn’t shoot you. The town had had quite enough of that with its first marshal, Bill “Bully” Brooks. He shot 12 men in his first month on the job.

If you didn’t comply with Wyatt’s orders, he’d keep you talking though he was a laconic man himself. Reasonable conversation usually kept the gunfire down. If he or his deputies slapped leather, it was with an eye towards accuracy and not speed. And they wouldn’t be shooting to kill but just to wound.

Those were Earp’s guidelines for his men. I am somewhat skeptical how often the third rule was followed. It’s hard enough to shoot a man with a handgun while under stress much less do fancy aiming. However, the city wasn’t paying a bounty for dead men, just prisoners in the jail. And Earp’s encounters were no doubt at a very close range. Continue reading