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.

Both say they simply want to cleanse the historical record of inaccuracies, something they say will be difficult to do because so many writers have been relying on Boyer for so long.

Western history professor Gary Roberts says future Earp researchers will be burdened with rooting out Boyer fact from Boyer myth. "By passing off his opinions and interpretations as primary sources, he has poisoned the record in a way that may take decades to clear," Roberts wrote in a recent article.

But Boyer says his critics are part of a years-long conspiracy by jealous inferiors to bring him down. He contends that they libel him regularly in the hopes that he will sue them. It's a transparent ploy, he asserts, to give them the excuse to subpoena the valuable documents in Boyer's vast collection of Earp research.

He offers a letter that he believes bolsters his point. On November 5, a few days after writing in the New York Times that Boyer's I Married Wyatt Earp is a hoax, Allen Barra wrote Boyer to say that he'd heard Boyer was thinking about a libel suit. Go ahead, Barra challenged: "Sooner or later you're going to screw up on your Web site and libel me--you've come close once--and I'm going to haul your butt into court and subpoena every document you own. And we both know that will put a quick end to your yarn spinning, to say nothing of your literary career, such as it is."

Boyer says he isn't stupid enough to let Barra or anyone else subpoena his valuable collection.

"Failing to get it, they took the next expedient and said I don't have those documents," Boyer says in his baritone, which carries an air of haughtiness and penetrates to the far corners of his cozy ranch family room. "And just in case I do have them, they say they're insignificant anyway. You can hardly play it any safer than that!" he exhorts with a great belly laugh.

Not satisfied with hammering his critics in a constant barrage on his Web site (www.histres.com), Boyer is preparing a full frontal attack to expose the conspiracy against him. He hands over a copy of the 120-page manuscript of his next book, titled "The Earp Curse," an unrelenting attack against his enemies, who persist in questioning Boyer's methods and motivations.

"I am sorry that I ever wrote a fucking word about Wyatt Earp. I will never do such a goddamn act of generosity for the public again. They killed the fucking goose that laid the golden egg. And if you don't think I know a lot here that I've never told," he says, pointing to his head, "guess again. But the fucking public today will never hear about it. And that's the reason."

"You got it, baby," says Coleman.

In 1955, Glenn Boyer's burgeoning interest in Wyatt Earp led him to write a letter to the man who at that time was the world's preeminent Earp biographer.

Stuart Lake had helped transform the territorial lawman into a legend with his 1931 book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, and Boyer hoped Lake might help him in his search for Earp material.

"For several years I have held a great interest in the life of Wyatt Earp," Boyer wrote. "My first acquaintance with his career came from reading your book, Frontier Marshal when I was a high school boy about 1939 or 1940. Since then whenever opportunity arose I have added small bits of information, but not in a methodical fashion."

When Boyer wrote the letter, his Air Force career had taken the 31-year-old to a post in Yuma. The proximity to such Earp sites as Tombstone made the young Captain Boyer itch to uncover new information in the Earp saga, particularly regarding Wyatt's later years, which writers had hardly touched.

"I am hoping to locate living relatives of Wyatt and his brothers and trace the wider family influence," Boyer wrote. "You must have clues and contacts which can save me many hours of fumbling for the information I seek. I feel from the integrity and reverence for accuracy which characterized your book, Frontier Marshal, that you must be sympathetic to this point of view."

Later, Boyer would promote a very different assessment of Lake's integrity and reverence for accuracy. But in 1955, Boyer still admired the novelist, who didn't bother to respond.

Over the next 10 years, Boyer would pick up Earp information wherever he could; his Air Force career took him many different places and didn't allow much full-time Earp sleuthing. In 1965, he retired in San Bernardino, California, and began studying the Earps in earnest. Luckily for Boyer, there was a large collection of Earp material at the library in the nearby town of Colton, where Wyatt Earp's parents had settled during the Civil War. Boyer was excited to learn from the curator of the collection that two Earp descendants lived nearby.

"The trail started in earnest for me in 1965 when I met Wyatt's niece, Mrs. Estelle Miller. . . . Estelle and her husband Bill eventually provided access to a great deal of the important material for my subsequent Earp writings," Boyer wrote later.

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