Longform

How the West Was Spun

Page 7 of 11

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."

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega