Longform

How the West Was Spun

Page 8 of 11

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.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega