How the West Was Spun
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.
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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.
Instead, what Boyer delivered was obfuscation at the OK Corral.
He is fiercely unapologetic for whatever turmoil he might have caused in the annals of Western history.
"What the hell business of yours is it why I said anything?" Boyer wants to know. "I'm telling you that I did what I did and have no apologies to make. . . .
"This is an artistic effort. I don't have to adhere to the kind of jacket that these people are putting on me. I am not a historian. I'm a storyteller.
"I don't give a shit about young historians; did you ever stop to think about that? I do not have to give a shit about young historians, middle-aged historians, old historians, dead historians or historians who are not yet born. This is my fucking prerogative. I happen to be a literary artist performing."
Do you think Casey Tefertiller is a homosexual?" asks Boyer's wife, Western novelist Jane Candia Coleman.
Coleman and Boyer have been discussing the despicable group of people responsible for all of the recent trouble. They sit in the family room of their sprawling, mazelike house built out from a double-wide they purchased eight years ago. Boyer and Coleman share their spread with four horses, five dogs and six cats on 200 acres of ranchland in the San Simon Valley.
To the west lie the Chiricahua Mountains, to the east the Peloncillos. Down the middle of the valley runs the New Mexico-Arizona border. Boyer's place is just on the Arizona side, but his mail is delivered to a postal box in the wide spot in the road called Rodeo, New Mexico. Down the same road a ways, a monument marks the spot where Geronimo surrendered to the 4th U.S. Cavalry. The West happened here, and it's easy to imagine that it's never died.
On the wall above Boyer's head is a finely drawn illustration showing Wyatt Earp in old age. Beneath the lawman there's a younger Glenn Boyer. Between the two is a Colt .45. The caption: "Three Straight-Shootin' Western Legends."
The house is filled with books, many of them written by Boyer and Coleman. The two writers--he's 74, she's 59--say they've created the perfect place for their animals and books and research into the West.
But an annoying outside world keeps butting in.
Boyer, who has come to believe that the various cowboys aligned against the Earps in Tombstone were likely homosexuals, thinks it's an interesting parallel that he, as a living link to the Earps, should be fending off attacks from a bunch of people he imagines to be switch-hitters, homos and pedophiles.
"If you don't agree with him, you're either gay or a pedophile," complains collector Lee Simmons, who has been the subject of numerous Boyer salvos.
Boyer saves his most venomous attacks for the journalist Tefertiller, a former San Francisco Examiner baseball writer who last year published a weighty biography, Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, without listing a single Boyer book in its bibliography, or giving credit to Boyer in footnotes.
In the Boyer mind, this is equivalent to refusing to give one's mother credit for one's birth.
But even more distasteful to Boyer and Coleman was Tefertiller's performance at a Phoenix hotel on January 3. After months of sniping, Western history buffs convinced Tefertiller and Boyer to appear onstage in a debate. At the last minute, a gravely ill Boyer bowed out. Tefertiller gave his presentation, which Coleman eagerly played back on videotape for a visitor.
Coleman asks if Tefertiller's mannerisms visible in the videotape--the way he moves, his hand gestures, the sound of his voice--suggest a swishy personality.
"People see that videotape and they think he seems, you know," Coleman trails off.
Boyer complains that some people miss the tongue-in-cheek nature of the needling he gives his critics. Doesn't his guest understand the humor of his attacks?
Then why call his detractors homosexuals? he's asked.
"Because they are," he says.
"Hey, are you a homosexual?" Coleman interjects. "I just wanted to know."
"We certainly wouldn't treat you any different if you were," Boyer says.
(Tefertiller, by the way, says he's not gay. In fact, he encouraged New Times to print Boyer's comments because he wants people to know Boyer makes these kinds of wild accusations against his critics. "Apparently, Boyer considers it highly demeaning to call people homosexuals. I think that is wrong on moral grounds and it is certainly wrong in this instance," he says.)
Tefertiller and others suggest that about half of I Married Wyatt Earp is based on a manuscript that never existed. Called the Clum manuscript, Boyer says now that it was lost years ago. But in its review, New Times found no evidence that the Clum was real, and Boyer's accounts of what had happened to the document were so conflicting they weren't credible.
New York Times contributor Allen Barra--like Tefertiller a journalist with a lifelong interest in the Earps--recently wrote that I Married Wyatt Earp "is now recognized by Earp researchers as a hoax."
Barra and Tefertiller both have new Wyatt Earp biographies of their own on bookstore shelves, and Boyer supporters complain the authors hope to increase sales by attacking Boyer.
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.
Boyer says he soon became the son Bill and Estelle never had, and he reveled in Estelle's tales about the Earp family.
The next year he published his first book, a thin pamphlet titled Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday, which, the cover promised, contained "Sensational Photo Discoveries From Doc's Past by G.G. Boyer."
The newly retired colonel would, years later, reveal that not all of the sensational photos were entirely honest. But for his readers in 1966, there was nothing outwardly evident in the book to suggest that it was anything but the ardent effort of a Western history buff.
Slangy, amateurish, overeager. That the book takes some liberties with the facts seems obvious even to the uninitiated. No reader would mistake certain conversations in the book as anything but pure speculation. On the other hand, Boyer's book lays claim to special, previously unpublished material about Holliday based on material from one of Holliday's friends, identified only as "Peanut," who was said to have recorded his conversations and saved his letters from the famous gambler.
In any case, the pamphlet had little impact on the Earp world; Coleman says very few were sold.
The next year, Boyer published a much more important work with a strange title.
In Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp, Boyer set out to resurrect the real Earp, whom he said had been "murdered" by the mythmaking of Lake, the Earp author he had once so admired. Backed with solid research and written in a serious, scholarly style, Suppressed Murder revealed the tale of Wyatt's second wife, Celia Ann "Mattie" Blaylock. Never formally married to Earp, she committed suicide in 1888, several years after Earp had left her for another woman. (To this day, Boyer says, readers think it's Blaylock's death that the title refers to. But Boyer meant that the real Wyatt Earp had been maligned when his legend grew. He acknowledges that it's an unfortunate name for a book.)
By 1967, the year Suppressed Murder came out, Wyatt Earp's image had been battered and bruised. After Lake lionized Earp in 1931, revisionist biographies, notably Frank Waters' 1960 book The Earp Brothers of Tombstone, began to portray the Earps as more outlaws than lawmen.
Boyer claimed to be taking a new tack--using solid historical methods to debunk both earlier portrayals. Earp was neither the plaster saint Lake made him out to be nor the outlaw Waters had constructed, Boyer insisted.
Even Boyer's harshest critics say that Suppressed Murder is a solid piece of historical research and a milestone in Earp literature. And it was sufficient to secure Boyer his next research triumph. Impressed by Suppressed Murder, another set of Earp relatives turned over a treasure to the writer--the so-called Cason manuscript.
In the years following Wyatt Earp's death in 1929, his widow and third wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, began writing her memoirs with the help of two distant Earp cousins, Mabel Earp Cason and Vinnolia Earp Ackerman. Ackerman was assigned to record Josephine's early memories up to events in Tombstone, including the famous gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881. Cason focused on later years, up to Wyatt's death in 1929.
Josephine, however, proved elusive about matters in Tombstone. It was obvious to Cason and Ackerman that she wasn't being frank, and it frustrated them. Finally, Josephine changed her mind about the entire project and asked the women to burn their papers. They did, but Cason held back a copy of her work, now known as the Cason manuscript.
Josephine died in 1944 and Cason passed away 20 years later. In 1967, on the strength of Boyer's work in Suppressed Murder, Cason's daughter Jeanne Cason Laing gave him her mother's manuscript.
For the next nine years, Boyer worked to turn the manuscript into the memoirs of Josephine Earp. He says he also drew from another manuscript--the controversial missing Clum--which Boyer says Josephine had prepared with other writers and that covered her Tombstone period, including the famous gunfight.
While he was preparing the book for publication, however, Boyer was forced to make what would be the first of many confessions about his literary style and ethics--he'd turned what should have been historical fact into fiction.
In 1974, an astute reader wrote to Boyer, taking him to task for material in the 1966 pamphlet Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday.
"I confess to slightly misleading some people with tongue in cheek," Boyer wrote back to the reader, Susan McKey Thomas. She passed on his letter to historian Gary Roberts.
Boyer conceded in the letter that some of his book was "dandy fiction." For example, he acknowledged that he'd faked a picture that was supposed to be Doc Holliday's sweetheart, Mattie. He didn't come entirely clean, however; he pretended that he didn't know who it was in the picture, although later he admitted it was his own aunt.
Boyer told Thomas that he'd intended Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday to be a spoof that would catch sloppy researchers who all seemed to be stealing from each other. He'd meant to go public with his duplicity, and announce who had been caught by his prank, in 1976, 10 years after publication.
"My secret is now in your hands. I hope you see fit to give my game its 10 years," he wrote Thomas. And he made an interesting prediction: "My chances of having much serious history accepted from my hands after I confess my sins is probably pretty limited--people being what they are."
Today, Boyer says that it should have been obvious to everyone that his pamphlet was bogus. The "dead giveaway," he says, is that the book doesn't discuss Holliday's companion, Big Nose Kate. How could a book about Holliday ignore her?
Readers, however, apparently weren't getting the joke. In 1976, 10 years after its first publication, Boyer advertised Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday in the national edition of the Tombstone Epitaph, saying that the book had "seldom [been] recognized as an outrageous satire."
By 1976, the year I Married Wyatt Earp was published, Boyer had good reason to come clean publicly. Suppressed Murder had won him respect in the Earp field, but I Married Wyatt Earp catapulted him to the top of it.
Boyer's Doc Holliday spoof would not become an issue again for 13 more years.
In the meantime, I Married Wyatt Earp flourished.
Paul Hutton, a Western historian at the University of New Mexico, says he's changed his mind about the books of Glenn Boyer.
"I used to use [I Married Wyatt Earp] in my Western history class, because I thought it was a great account by a woman, and not only a woman but a woman connected with a very famous event and a very famous man. . . . As the years passed, I became more familiar with Boyer as the kind of frustrated novelist that he is," Hutton says. "His methods are suspect. And Boyer's response to the questions that have been raised are such that it, you know, it's kind of Clintonesque, I guess we would say these days. He's not very forthcoming, which just makes you more suspicious. So, it's a problem."
Hutton, who's also been ridiculed by Boyer on his Web site, says he's mystified by Boyer's claims that his pamphlet Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday was intended to trip up other historians. "And it just got more bizarre. So I guess you can see how I feel about the guy. I just think, wow, what a fruitcake."
Hutton's colleague at the University of New Mexico, Richard Etulain, says that what academics think, however, usually has little effect on the public. "For all of the monographs we write, many more people watch John Wayne and read Louis L'Amour and fall in love with them. Our job is not to get in fistfights with these people," he says.
"Right now, I would say the fight over Wyatt Earp is as hot as any fight between those Old West figures," says Etulain, who is president of the Western History Association. All too often, he adds, partisan fights erupt in Western studies because people take their own roles too seriously: "People become mythic sidekicks of these figures."
Journalist Allen Barra says that when he began researching his new book, Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends, he was surprised at how little attention academics have paid Earp.
"It's amazing to me the Earp story has existed as long as it has," he says, noting that Earp researchers lack the kinds of primary material that exist in other fields. Barra suggests Boyer has been "hogging" documents and information on Earp and is unwilling to share it with other academics.
It wasn't until 1989 that an academic researcher took on the story of Tombstone and its famous gunfight. Paula Mitchell Marks' popular book And Die in the West relies on Boyer's work in several areas.
Marks even quoted from one of Doc Holliday's letters to "Peanut," which she gleaned from Boyer's Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday.
And that's about the time in Earp research when, in the words of Wyatt Earp, "the fight then became general."
Iwas suspicious of some of his stuff," says Paula Mitchell Marks, who teaches at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. "Questions did occur to me, but he was considered the authority in the field, academic or not. All roads led to Glenn Boyer."
Marks decided to include information from a letter, purportedly written by Holliday, in Boyer's 1966 pamphlet, which claimed that Holliday and Wyatt Earp had killed two men in Colorado in 1887 and buried them under a rock pile.
Soon after her book came out, Boyer responded with a reprint of Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday that included a new introduction announcing that the book had trapped its "latest victim." The Peanut letters, he said, were fakes, the murder a "wild story" he had invented.
Boyer's reaction shocked many people in the Earp field, who by now had forgotten about Boyer's "satire"--if they had ever known about it in the first place.
Marks had "haplessly appropriated the same planted story mentioned above of Wyatt and Doc killing Doc's deadly enemy in the Colorado Rockies," Boyer wrote in the new introduction.
Gary Roberts, an academic historian, didn't see the humor in Boyer's prank. "What possible reason would [Marks] have to suspect a 'clever hoax' from one who had been denouncing fakers for a decade?" Roberts wrote in a history association newsletter earlier this year. "She trusted Boyer. For her loyalty, Boyer ridiculed Marks as a fool."
Boyer tells New Times fooling Marks was "sinning on the side of the angels." He calls his Doc Holliday book a "pious fraud."
"It had no other purpose but to set afoot an experiment that would expose these people conclusively for the type of hypocritical goddamn history-faking they were doing. And it worked," he says. He bristles at the suggestion that springing a hoax on the Earp field in 1966 was an inauspicious beginning for someone determined to forge a reputation as a serious researcher.
"I don't want to be taken seriously. You see, your premise isn't worth a shit. I'm not going to be forced into any mold. And my reputation as a writer simply doesn't make a good goddamn to me. How does that grab you?"
Boyer's 1989 announcement shocked the Earp fold, but it was the publication of his 1993 book Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta that threw the field into chaos.
Boyer had begun work on Vendetta soon after the 1976 publication of I Married Wyatt Earp. In 1977, he gave two very different descriptions of Vendetta's genesis.
That's the year Boyer met Bob Palmquist, an attorney and avid Earp researcher who worked with Boyer for the next several years.
"I saw Vendetta first in 1977, or a portion of it," Palmquist tells New Times. "And at that time he was saying it was a novel in the style of The Flashman Papers."
British novelist George McDonald Fraser had written The Flashman Papers, actually a series of historical novels in the style of a memoir, chronicling the adventures of a Victorian mercenary soldier. Fraser wrote them so convincingly some American reviewers didn't realize they were fiction. "Fraser had to set people straight," Palmquist says.
Boyer's version would be told from the point of view of a fictional Tombstone newspaperman, whom Boyer had named Theodore Ten Eyck.
But in a 1977 letter to Earp researcher Robert Mullin, Boyer told a very different story about Ten Eyck. Boyer wrote that he had received a new manuscript from Earp family members, "allegedly by one Teodore [sic] Ten Eyck, a name I can find nowhere else in Earpiana." Boyer claimed that the manuscript was "clearly authentic" and that it contained "fascinating revelations (if they are true) and would make an ace movie." Boyer worried, however, that without more authentication he'd have a tough time finding a publisher.
Boyer did find a publisher for Vendetta, Talei Publishing in Hawaii, which touted the 1993 book in strong terms. For 50 years, the book's jacket reads, Boyer had been muzzled by Earp family members who didn't want certain truths made public. Now, however, in Vendetta, Boyer could finally reveal the whole truth about Tombstone. To bolster those claims, Boyer front-loaded the book with photographs of Earp descendants--some with Boyer in the frame as well--to back up Talei's claim that "This epic volume [is] by the only man with the real credentials to write about it. . . . Now, we get the facts. And some of them are shocking."
Those shocking truths would come from Theodore Ten Eyck, a New York Herald writer who had gone west and worked at the Tombstone Nugget during the town's heyday. Written in the form of a "non-fiction novel," according to the book's foreword, Boyer invented the false name Ten Eyck to protect the newsman's family, who asked that he not be identified. Whatever his real name might be, Ten Eyck claimed to have had amazing access to the principals in the famous gunfight. No one, Ten Eyck said, had known Wyatt Earp better than he had.
Some readers smelled a rat.
Jeanne Cason Laing, the woman who, years earlier, had given Boyer the Cason manuscript, was troubled by assertions that Ten Eyck was with Josephine when she died. She says Boyer tried to convince her that Ten Eyck was real and that Laing had known him. "Vendetta is full of lies. It's not like [Josephine] at all," she says.
In 1994, Jeff Morey, a researcher and writer who served as the historical consultant on the movie Tombstone, published an article exposing Ten Eyck as a fraud. In "The Curious Vendetta of Glenn G. Boyer," Morey wrote that subtle mistakes in Ten Eyck's version of events showed that he couldn't have been a contemporary observer. If he was on the scene at the time and knew Wyatt Earp so well, why did Ten Eyck sound like a sloppy, latter-day investigator?
Morey's article generated a storm of protest from Boyer backers.
"I never dreamed that there was any part [of Vendetta] that wasn't authentic history," says Jim Dullenty, who at the time edited a Western history association's newsletter. "When people started to criticize Glenn, I was on the side of those defending him because I thought they were being unfair."
Gradually, Dullenty began to have doubts. As more questions about Ten Eyck arose, Boyer gave conflicting accounts about the newsman. At one point, Boyer said he made up Ten Eyck to protect his real source, a man named Albert Behan who was the son of Tombstone's sheriff. When that was questioned--Behan would only have been about 10 years old at the time of the famous gunfight--Boyer reminded people that Vendetta was written as a "non-fiction novel," suggesting that the characters were invented.
But critics point out that Boyer had also used the ubiquitous Ten Eyck--who always seemed to be in the best place to record the most amazing facts about Tombstone--in a series of magazine articles that purported to be a factual biography of Wyatt Earp.
Finally, in July 1997, during a Wyatt Earp panel discussion at the convention of the Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association in Dodge City, Boyer changed the story again. Asked who Ten Eyck was, Boyer responded: "I am."
Dullenty realized that Jeff Morey had been right. "That was when I looked for someone, an Earp expert, who would do a fair, detailed analysis of Boyer's writings. Then I found that Gary Roberts had done just that."
Roberts is a professor of history at Abraham Baldwin College, a small teaching institution in Tifton, Georgia. Earlier this year, Dullenty's journal printed Roberts' "Trailing an American Mythmaker," a detailed, dispassionate examination of Boyer's conflicting statements. Roberts carefully dissected Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta, both of which rely on fictional characters who claim to have witnessed history. Then Roberts asked a bold question.
"If [Boyer] created the 'Peanut letters' in Illustrated Life and Ten Eyck for Vendetta, can I Married Wyatt Earp withstand scrutiny? If not," he wrote, "then the whole superstructure of his work collapses as history."
Could the Josephine in I Married Wyatt Earp be as ephemeral as Peanut and Ten Eyck? Had a scholarly press at a major university published a memoir based on fiction?
A skeptical crowd of former admirers turned its attention to Boyer's crowning achievement.
In her memoirs, Wyatt Earp's third wife, Josephine, commits a curious error. She relates a conversation that could not have happened.
Like many other writers before and since, Josephine tackles the complex events in Tombstone that led up to the most famous 30 seconds in the history of the West, the gunfight at the OK Corral--which, students of Western history know, didn't actually happen at the OK Corral. (See accompanying story.)
Josephine writes that the fight took place because Wyatt Earp wanted to vindicate his friend Doc Holliday, recounting that the Tombstone Nugget had implicated Holliday in a stagecoach robbery that had taken place months earlier.
Josephine includes in her memoirs a detailed conversation with a man named Harry Jones who told her how the Nugget's editor had dreamed up the idea to falsely implicate Holliday.
So it came as some surprise four years ago when a researcher found that the Nugget's smear of Holliday never actually happened.
The line implicating Holliday had been attributed to the Nugget story when Billy Breakenridge cited it in his 1928 book Helldorado. For the past 70 years, writers have repeated the newspaper article without bothering to look up the original story.
Earp aficionados realized that Josephine, for some reason, describes a man in 1881 explaining the genesis of a news line that wouldn't be created for another 47 years.
By 1994, when this error and several others were discovered, Josephine's editor, Glenn Boyer, was under full attack.
Already, his other books had been called into question. Now, it seemed natural to ask--what sources did Boyer use to have Josephine remember in fine detail a conversation that could not have occurred?
I know what you're talking about here," Boyer says after being told of the Harry Jones problem.
Did Josephine Earp's manuscripts contain the conversation that couldn't have happened?
"You're talking to a guy who talked to people who talked to Josephine," Boyer says. "It's a well-known fact that there was a conspiracy to hang Doc Holliday's ass. Whether I happened to pick that up somewhere and stick it in there as a matter of convenience, everyone makes mistakes."
Annoyed by questions he considers nit-picking, he occasionally flashes into anger. Why must he answer so many questions about inconsequential things?
"I sat in conversation after conversation after conversation with a family that knew Josephine intimately. My question is one, do you want the public to have the benefit of what I heard, regardless of what form I had to put it in? And two, if I picked that up somewhere to give this verisimilitude, which I might have, is that going to invalidate everything I ever did?
"Did you ever try to write a book?" he asks. "I took nine fucking years to try to figure out how to put this together so that I could provide it to the public. Mouthy bastards like you along with these other people make me regret that I ever wrote anything about the Earps."
According to an afterword in I Married Wyatt Earp, Boyer based Josephine's Tombstone recollections on a document that today he calls the "Clum manuscript." Supposedly, one of the people who helped Josephine write it was John Clum, the mayor of Tombstone in Wyatt Earp's day.
Boyer says the Clum manuscript has been lost. That's raised serious concerns about the popular book and Boyer's credibility. About half of I Married Wyatt Earp is supposed to be based on the missing Clum manuscript.
Casey Tefertiller, Allen Barra and the others doubt that the Clum manuscript ever existed. They suspect that Boyer, in possession of real material that didn't cover the most interesting parts of Josephine's life in Tombstone, merely invented her account of those years to make his book salable.
Boyer admits that he couldn't have sold the book based solely on her account of her later years.
"I wanted to do only what was in the [later] manuscript with the University of Arizona. That I knew the provenance of conclusively," Boyer says today. "They wouldn't publish it. Therefore, in effect, they forced me to go back to something a little more nebulous in order to get published."
That "nebulous" material was supposedly based on the Clum manuscript. But questioned about the Jones conversation and several other problems in I Married Wyatt Earp, Boyer repeatedly makes reference to conversations he overheard at Estelle Miller's house rather than an actual written work by Josephine Earp.
"I am absolutely certain that what this says right here [the Harry Jones conversation] is close to what was said by the person that said it."
And that was based on something the Millers told Boyer?
"It was based on something somebody said," he says with a shrug. "I'm not saying that goddamn thing was sitting in Josephine Earp's manuscript in that form."
It's Boyer, then, who explains the bogus newspaper story, not Josephine Earp?
"Of course!" Boyer shouts, and he sneers when it's suggested that passing off one's words as the memoirs of another seems like questionable work for a historian.
"I have never promoted myself as a historian," he replies.
Is I Married Wyatt Earp the first-person account of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp?
"Hell no. I already made it apparent that I had to stabilize the system of language in the whole thing," he answers, referring to the book's explanation that Boyer was forced to make Josephine's manuscripts consistent with each other.
Doesn't the University of Arizona Press think the book is a first-person account?
"Not necessarily," he answers.
New Times asked the University of Arizona Press to comment on I Married Wyatt Earp, but acting director Christine Szuter didn't respond.
Boyer has changed his story about how and when he lost the missing manuscript, which appears to lend credence to the charge that he never had it to begin with.
In a 1985 letter to researcher Truman Fisher, Boyer said that he'd lost the manuscript by 1972, when he moved from Hawaii to Arizona, four years before the publication of I Married Wyatt Earp.
"Fortunately, I had a first draft done," Boyer wrote.
Boyer says now that he lied in his 1985 letter to Fisher and that he lost the manuscript in 1972 but regained it before the publication of I Married Wyatt Earp, only to lose the manuscript again.
In 1995, to the utter astonishment of Earp researchers, Boyer wrote a letter to a history association saying that his copy of the missing manuscript was "alive and well."
Asked about his 1995 claim, Boyer points at his scalp.
"It is alive and well," he says. "In my head."
Repeatedly, Boyer has announced on the Internet that he can prove to any visitor to his ranch that his documents collection backs up all of his writings.
Boyer offered to show New Times his collection. After setting up a video camera to record the event, Boyer brings out a pile of folders filled with yellowing documents and aging photographs. With a flourish, he presents the materials as proof that his critics are lying about him.
The largest pile of documents is the Cason manuscript, a stack of manila envelopes with brittle sheets of paper inside that are the basis for Josephine's post-Tombstone years. Another pile contains Boyer's research of Big Nose Kate, the prostitute who was Doc Holliday's steady companion.
When asked why people should believe the controversial Clum manuscript ever existed, Boyer shows the same two letters he's relied on in the past to satsify his fans. One is a letter from a man who claimed to have seen "all the evidence" supporting I Married Wyatt Earp. That witness, Al Turner, died in 1987 and never mentions the Clum manuscript specifically in his letter.
The other is an affidavit, signed by Jeanne Cason Laing, which states that Laing heard her mother and aunt talking about the now-missing Clum manuscript. Boyer discouraged New Times from calling her, saying she was ill.
But the 78-year-old Laing, reached at her home in northern California where she's recovering from a series of mild strokes, says her affidavit is misleading. She says her mother and aunt told her they never saw any material resembling the Clum manuscript and suspected that Josephine had lied to them about earlier attempts at a book.
Boyer emphasizes that what's really important is the Cason manuscript. He can plop it down on a table any time, proud of the historical significance of what he calls "enough material to keep two or three Ph.D.'s busy for a few weeks."
He's reminded that no one doubts either the validity of the Cason or his ownership of it. It's the Clum that's in question.
"I told you, it has been stolen or otherwise eroded in many, many cases. You don't seem very sympathetic to what's happened to me. I have been fucked over and over and fucking over, and you're trying to hold me responsible for a minor detail that I can't deal with because I don't have the resources anymore," he says.
He gets even angrier when he's told his critics won't be satisfied by that response.
"So I put words in [Josephine's] mouth! So what? [Stuart] Lake did it," he barks.
That's a remarkable admission, says Tefertiller. Boyer, he points out, had made his reputation with such books as Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp precisely because he had claimed to be telling the unvarnished truth, debunking such mythmakers as Stuart Lake.
"Boyer is now complaining about being held to the standards he established," Tefertiller says. "It's unbelievable."
Gail Allan, a Boyer supporter who came to his defense in a history association newsletter, doesn't understand why he's become such a target.
"It just drives me crazy. The man--okay, he's a bit of a curmudgeon--but then again, that's his charm, and it comes from the period of time he comes from and where he comes from.
"But I never met anybody who would give the shirt off his back to you as much as Glenn would. He is just so forthcoming with the most amazing data that he has collected. And if you take a look at the original things that are there, how anybody can say he made it up is beyond me."
For other Boyer fans as well, the back room of his house, piled high with books, file cabinets, old newspapers and memorabilia, is proof enough that Boyer can support what he's written.
"I've been a friend of Glenn's for 30 years, and I still say he's the number one historian in the country because he's got all the information," says Ben Traywick, official historian for the town of Tombstone. "He's got file cabinets full of it. Now, I don't know whether he's going to show it to anyone else or whether he wants to. I can't speak for him. But he has it, I know that, because I've seen lots and lots of stuff that people haven't seen."
Michael Hickey, publisher of Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta, also cites Boyer's storied collections. "I haven't seen Glenn's collection, but I've talked to people who have. Glenn's got a lot of stuff in there he hasn't shared. . . . The man has got filing cabinets full of things, and documents and photographs."
But Boyer's file cabinets don't sway Jeff Morey, Casey Tefertiller, Allen Barra and the rest. With no evidence that the missing Clum manuscript ever existed, they say, the first half of I Married Wyatt Earp can only be judged a historical novel; the second half, meanwhile, is based on existing material, but differences between Josephine's work and Boyer's editing of it are startling in places. (See accompanying story.)
"Josephine did not talk about the stuff he wanted her to talk about: Tombstone. She didn't say anything of that stuff, so Glenn Boyer created a Josephine who did. Now he's going crazy coming up with sources to justify it. Presented as it is, the book is a fraud," says Barra.
"Why did Glenn do any of this?" Morey asks. "He had the Cason manuscript. He had the sources. All he had to do was play by the rules and we'd all have to revere him forever. But it's like he has this gremlin inside of him that prevents that."
Morey has been the target of broadsides by Boyer and his supporters. Boyer says Morey was motivated to expose Ten Eyck because Boyer got him fired as historical consultant to the movie Tombstone. Boyer wrote a letter to the movie's producer complaining that he hadn't been consulted in the making of the movie, and Morey's name subsequently didn't show up in credits.
Morey's work on the movie, however, was finished before filming began; Morey himself asked that he not be listed in credits as a protest when the film's director was replaced, according to a letter that the film's producer, Jim Jacks, wrote to the journal that published Morey's article on Ten Eyck.
That hasn't stopped Boyer from claiming that a vast conspiracy of jealous researchers is out to get him.
"This is not a bunch of evil, spiteful folks trying to rob Glenn Boyer of his livelihood. These are decent people who feel a responsibility to preserving history. We want to know the truth, and we think history counts," Tefertiller says.
Barra in particular seems willing to pick a fight with Boyer. Barra threatened to sue Boyer's printer if the new book, "Earp Curse," included the November 5 letter that Barra wrote, in which he warned he would go after Boyer's documents.
"All of this name-calling and fulmination is an effort to get away from answering questions about his historical methodology," says researcher Bob Palmquist. "I haven't read 'Earp Curse' and I don't intend to, but I dare say if you go through it, you won't find straight answers to any of the issues."
Boyer gave a copy of "Earp Curse" to New Times. The manuscript ignores questions about his work and lays out instead the motivations of all of his attackers. None of them, by Boyer's account, is motivated by an honest search for historical truth.
"They're a little bunch of chickenshit pricks. Somebody took a swing at me. That's why I'm writing broadsides back at them," he says.
After an exhausting afternoon of picture-taking and answering annoying questions, Boyer good-naturedly accompanies his visitors to their car.
A brisk wind is blowing through the San Simon Valley, and long shadows are playing across the Chiricahuas.
Glenn Boyer waits for his visitors to get into their car, and then he reaches into his vest and pulls out a gun. With a grin, he points it at the car's front tire, then holds his pose long enough to have his picture taken.
Boyer is an original to the end.
"What am I?" he had been asked that afternoon, and he seemed thrown off by such a simple question. Then he grinned. "A great big old Western practical joker. A guy who really enjoys life, with a flair for storytelling, who just happened to get mixed up in a family of some people and felt it incumbent on me to retail to the public what I could remember.
"In an interesting fashion, mind you."
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