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  • Writer's pictureDavid Grassé

Wyatt Earp, ad nauseum

I read recently that John Boessenecker has written a new book about Wyatt Earp.

Be still my trembling heart.

Just what we need - another book about Wyatt Earp.

Don't misunderstand me. I enjoy Mr. Boessenecker's books. He is a solid researcher, and his writing is engaging. There is a copy of his book When Law Was in the Holster: The Frontier Life of Bob Paul in my collection, and his book Bandido! The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez is on my "to read list." I do not doubt his hew book is the equal of his previous ones I would say, unequivocally, Boessenecker is one of the best western authors currently writing outside of academia, on par with Robert DeArment.

What I am questioning his his choice of subject, Do we really need another book about Wyatt Earp? In the past, Boessnecker has chosen subjects who tend to be overlooked by other historians - Bob Paul, Tiburcio Vasquez, Bill Miner, Harry Morse. etc. Like De Arment, Boessnecker reminded us there are hundreds if not thousands of fascinating stories out there from the so-called "Old West" era just waiting to be told. Why then do we keep re-hashing the life and legend of Wyatt Earp?

Readers have asked me several times why I don't write a book about Wyatt Earp, as I do know a bit about the subject, and I have some very strong opinions about the man (I think the Earp brothers were criminals, who hid their more nefarious activities behind badges, and the only reason we remember Earp is he had a good publicist in Stuart Lake, and he outlived everyone who could have contradicted his version of the story). My answer is usually a variation on "Too much has been written about him already." In fact, I lost interest in the story of Wyatt Earp when I was about ten-years-old, and my parents bought me a copy of A Pictorial History of the Wild West by James D. Horan and Paul San. Inside that book were so many great stories (though some were far from historically accurate) about lesser-known lawmen and outlaws, such as Oliver Curtis Perry, Tom McCarty, Dave Lant, and William Ellsworth "Elzy" Lay, to name but a few. Later, when I was choosing subjects to write about, I purposely chose the unsung and unacknowledged. The reason I wrote A Killer is What They Needed is because I felt Commodore Perry Owens had been unfairly neglected by contemporary historians and authors. Same with the story of the Bisbee Massacre. Same with the story of Augustine Chacón. All you writers out there can keep on debating who killed Johnny Ringo (spoiler: it was Johnny Ringo) and arguing about the size of Wyatt Earp's gun. Have fun with that. Personally, I am going to keep mining the rest of the valley in search of rare gems and nuggets you have missed with your myopia


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