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

And Die in the West

My mini-series on books about the Old West continues.

And more gunfighters this time in a book about the most famous gunfight in the history of the West. It was largely forgotten, as Wyatt Earp was, until Stuart Lake’s hagiography of him in 1931.

I left it out of my review, but Marks addresses the contention that the Earps and Doc Holiday may have been part-time stagecoach robbers.

As for the inevitable movie question — which cinema version of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral hews closest to history? — I have hardly seen them all, but Tombstone, in its depiction of the gunfight and the surrounding history, is fairly accurate. It even shows Wyatt Earp’s favorite tactic of “buffaloing” and pistol whipping troublemakers.

Raw Feed (1991): And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight, Paula Mitchell Marks, 1989.And Die in the West

This book is so interesting because it scrapes off myth and fading memories and wishful thinking about the legendary event and goes straight to the primary source documents: court statements and newspaper accounts. As far as I know, Marks’ work is still considered the definitive history.

It’s hard to tell what happened October 26, 1881 in the vacant lot between Fly’s Boarding House and Harwood’s house.

There are many different versions. Continue reading