Longform

How the West Was Spun

Page 5 of 11

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.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega