How the West Was Spun

Once upon a time, Glenn Boyer made history with his books on Wyatt Earp. Now, critics say he twisted the truth.

Glenn G. Boyer--scholar, novelist, rancher, entrepreneur, horseman, humorist and icon--hefts Wyatt Earp's rifle to pose with it for a photograph.

This morning, he says, he's accepted an offer of $200,000 for the rifle from a collector.

"You better not put that in the paper or the guys who I owe gambling debts to will come after me for it," he says and lets out a laugh.

Boyer won't say who the buyer is. He also won't say how he knows the rifle is Earp's, but later lets on that Earp's niece gave it to him.

The rifle is just one of many things Earp relatives have given the man who considers himself a "living link" to the famous Western lawman. Boyer's stature as the preeminent Wyatt Earp authority is so great, an admirer visiting his Web site recently dubbed him an icon.

Boyer thought it was funny, and has adopted it as a Web moniker. He's "The Icon" now to his many cyberspace fans.

Boyer's popularity comes from the Western history he's unearthed in decades of research and presented in numerous books. But one book more than the others has gained Boyer his fame.

Published in 1976, 32 years after the death of Wyatt Earp's third wife, Josephine, I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp has enjoyed a stellar reputation, both as one of the best-selling books ever published by the University of Arizona Press, and as the masterpiece of its editor, Glenn Boyer.

Boyer's indefatigable search for surviving Earp relatives, photographs and memorabilia made him a legend among Western historians, professional and amateur.

Boyer found and published a supposedly lost Wyatt Earp manuscript; he described for the first time in any detail the life of Earp's second wife, Mattie, who committed suicide after he abandoned her; he tracked down the letters of Wyatt Earp's sister-in-law, Louisa Earp, which are considered a major contribution to the field. It was also Boyer who unearthed the identity of Doc Holliday's companion, the prostitute Big Nose Kate. But of all of Boyer's achievements, none has brought him as much fame as Josephine's memoirs, which Boyer said he edited from Josephine's own manuscripts.

For years, Boyer has been at the top of a substantial heap. An Earp expert estimates that about 3,000 history buffs avidly study Earp-related subjects, and about 200 of them can be considered hard-core "researchers." I Married Wyatt Earp, meanwhile, has sold more copies than any other Wyatt Earp book except for Stuart Lake's 1931 Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal.

His popularity is no doubt bolstered by Boyer himself. Charismatic, foul-mouthed, cantankerous, quick to tell a salacious tale, Boyer encourages select fans to visit him on his bucolic, peaceful southeast Arizona ranch near the Chiricahua Mountains.

Some of his readers, however, won't give him a minute of rest.
In recent years, the world's most preeminent authority on Wyatt Earp has endured accusations that for decades he's been taking his many fans for a ride.

A new generation of Wyatt Earp researchers says books once revered as definitive Western history are filled with dubious material based on nonexistent sources.

Chief among Boyer's detractors is Casey Tefertiller, a Bay Area journalist and Wyatt Earp biographer, who charges that Boyer faked much of I Married Wyatt Earp and fooled a scholarly press in the bargain. Western history associations have been reeling from the charges against Boyer, and have printed broadsides between Boyer critics and supporters. Tefertiller says that Boyer has refused to answer many of the charges against him.

"No one's dealt with the specifics of the issue. No one has ever confronted Glenn Boyer and said, 'Here's your chance, prove you're right. Show the disputed sources,'" Tefertiller says.

New Times asked Boyer about the controversy over his work, and the affable writer gladly extended an invitation to visit his ranch. He promised to open his vast Earp collection for inspection.

Boyer offered New Times a copy of the manuscript of his next book, "The Earp Curse," which, Boyer said, would explain what motivates his critics to make scurrilous charges against him. He also handed over valuable photographs of Tombstone's storied residents. And he didn't hesitate to pose for photographs.

New Times also interviewed other Earp researchers and academic historians, and reviewed decades of Boyer's work, including his many books and pamphlets, articles he had written about his research and letters he wrote other researchers.

Boyer's responses to key questions as well as a review of the material show that Boyer has employed misleading methods to produce his books, including his masterwork, I Married Wyatt Earp. Fiction appears to infuse much of his historical writings, which has led not only to confusion among scholars but to the popular imagination as well.

When Boyer began to gain his reputation as an Earp researcher in the 1960s, he announced that he would wipe away the mythmaking of previous writers to bring the world the unvarnished truth of Wyatt Earp's life.

He said he would uncover what really happened the afternoon of October 26, 1881, when Earp, his brothers Morgan and Virgil and their friend Doc Holliday faced off against four members of the Clanton rustler gang on the streets of Tombstone, Arizona.

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