Tombstone History Archives
Chronicles of Tombstone's TurbulEnt Years
Trailing an American Mythmaker:
History and Glenn G. Boyer’s Tombstone Vendetta
By Gary L. Roberts
Wyatt Earp remains an enigma not so much because he was an enigmatic man as because he has been surrounded by controversy since a cold October day in 1881 when he unwittingly became a part of what Frank Waters called “The Great American Myth.(1) Of course, he was not the only character in that grand melodrama. Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and Wild Bill Hickok were all victims–or beneficiaries–of the legend making process, but more than a century after they made their marks on the history of the West, only Earp lingers in the shadows, the rather simple man that he was still obscured from view by the systematic distortion of the record.
James, Hickok, and the Kid remain the subject of debate, to be sure, and the legends still have the power to distort their stories, but there is for each of them, a body of historical records that has integrity. That documentary measure does not exist for Wyatt Earp. No other figure in the Western past has been so obscured by the deliberate distortion of the record, or so trivialized by mean- spirited dialogue. The Wyatt Earp syndrome of prevarication and corruption of the record epitomizes the worst impulses and practices in lawman-outlaw history.(2)
The Earp story is complex even when using the record which is verifiably genuine, and the tragic consequence of what has happened to this subject is that researchers must squander their scholarship separating genuine primary materials from those which have been made up, changed, or adulterated. This is tragic not just because it promotes the very kind of abuses that have kept gunfighter history in a twilight zone–not quite history, not quite legend, not quite fiction–but because Wyatt Earp’s life has the potential to teach something important not only about the frontier experience, but also about the age in which the gunfighter legend was spawned. His story could easily transcend the tedious debate about details which presently so entraps researchers that every effort to get beyond it has been tainted or impeded by the deliberate fictionalization of the record.(3)
Like it or not, the study of Western outlaws and gunmen is still more the property of folklore than of history, and most mainline historians still view the field with a mixture of contempt and disgust.(4) Despite a growing body of historically sound studies, the field is still a field in transition, and those who love it and believe it can make a real contribution toward understanding the most violent era in the American past must demand the highest standards of research and historical method of themselves and others. Anyone who doesn’t meet those criteria ought not to be taken seriously.
There is a place for a study of the legend-making process, of course, and efforts to unravel the fabric of the Earp controversy are important in order to explain why Earp has been more susceptible to this curious phenomenon of deliberate distortion than other frontier characters. But whether the subject is the myth or the man, at the most fundamental level, the record from which researchers work must have integrity. Before any interpretation can claim historical merit and credibility, the evidence upon which is based must be genuine beyond all doubt. At present that minimum standard does not exist. Instead, we operate in an atmosphere which makes us all look absurdly petty and wholly ahistorical.
The latest chapter in this embarrassing travesty is the controversy surrounding the work of Glenn G. Boyer, considered by many the leading Earp authority. Like Lake and Waters before him, the heart of his work is the memoir of a principle figure in the Earp story, and, like them, he is charged with embellishing and changing documents to the point of compromising their integrity as primary sources. In matters of such importance, equivocation is rarely a virtue, and the time has come to lance a boil which has festered far too long. This controversy poisons the debate about Wyatt Earp, and until Boyer’s sources can be authenticated, the interpretations based on them cannot even be addressed.
When this controversy began in 1994, Jeff Morey and Jack Burrows merely articulated what many researchers had suspected for years.(5) At the very least these charges deserve a response on their merits. Instead, Boyer has launched an offensive designed to obscure the real issues by attacking the character, integrity, and motives of his critics. Boyer has accused them of theft and dishonesty, belittled their skill, envisioned deep- seated conspiracies to “get” him, alluded to their weight and appearance, called them thieves, idiots, perverts, and drunks, and questioned their sexual orientation. The critics obviously struck a nerve because Boyer’s reaction has taken on a life of its own in responses in the NOLA Quarterly, the WOLA Newsletter; True West, several panel “discussions,” a flood of hastily-conceived pamphlets, and enough vitriol on the Internet to disgust the most jaded student of the subject. To review ad nauseum the whole history of this “exchange” would serve no real purpose. Still, the process has been revealing.
Boyer has made no substantive defense. He has eschewed debate and embraced diatribe as his method of response. Invective, intimidation, and innuendo are his tactics. It is a baffling as well as reprehensible smoke-screen because it is convincing evidence that he has something to hide. His venal attacks on others are wholly irrelevant to the questions raised. The issue is not the character or the integrity or even the motives of his critics. The issue is not even one of differing interpretations. The issue is the integrity of the historical process itself. The allegation that Boyer has altered documents and even created them out of whole cloth is the reason–the only reason–that this ludicrous debate is important. And until he answers the questions raised on the merits, doubts remain.
I first read Glenn Boyer’s Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp in 1967.(6) It was a curious book with an unfortunate title, not so much a biography as an examination of the legend, but not really that either. There were few surprises in the book for serious students of the subject, but it was still a compelling work because it had a balance that seemed wholly missing from most of the writing about Wyatt Earp at the time. In addition to a perspective that resonated with my own, Boyer seemed to have a healthy respect for other researchers. He wrote in his introduction, “This numerous, special audience deserves access to my primary sources. Secondarily, we have been bombarded with enough alleged history, supposedly annotated, which, when the notes are consulted leave the reader dissatisfied. It’s not enough to simply say in a note, ‘National Archives,’ or, ‘Letter from Mr. Jones to the author;’ especially when challenging or, hopefully revising a previous widely held view.”(7)
I wrote Boyer to express my appreciation for his fairness in assessing the man and my agreement with the premises of his work. We corresponded off and on after that. I was young and impatient to find the “truth,” and I confess that I pressed him–as I did others–rather hard for answers to the questions I had. So, let me make it perfectly clear that I respect Glenn Boyer’s ability as a researcher. I am quite willing to acknowledge his contributions to the study of the Earps. I value his perspective on certain issues and admit that he has influenced my thinking on the subject. Truthfully, Boyer is right when he says that no one can write in this field without taking his work into account. Boyer’s claim to preeminence in this field rests largely upon sources derived from private family collections, mostly reminiscences such as the Josephine Earp manuscripts, the “Theodore Ten Eyck” memoir, a collection of materials from members of the Earp family, and miscellaneous other documents of similar character including records of the Haroney family concerning Kate Elder. If they exist, these may be important sources, but reminiscences are not the most credible historical documents. More than any other form of source material, they are subject to the personal agendas and vagaries of memory of the authors. Old- timers’ accounts are often critical links and family stories and traditions offer important clues, but all such sources must be tested against other documents to determine their reliability. Burton Rascoe pointed out years ago the dangers of an uncritical acceptance of old-timers’ tales and the dangers of relying on “what my grandmother told me.”(8)
Even the most stunning revelations in contemporary documents are subject to interpretation in light of other materials. Documents rarely speak for themselves. Contemporaneity enhances–but does not guarantee–credibility. Equally important all such documents are subject to a multitude of interpretations based upon the perspectives of those who use them. Two historians can read the identical source and arrive at opposing interpretations of what it means. Moreover, original discovery does not convey an exclusive right to interpret or guarantee that the researcher who makes the find will necessarily provide the “best” explanation of its meaning.
None of this is intended to diminish the importance of Boyer’s discoveries nor to deprive him of deserved credit. The point is that documents are subject to verification. Researchers are entitled to know if the documents with which they work are in fact what they claim to be. Historians are far too skeptical and critical by nature to accept documents as an act of faith. It is perfectly legitimate to ask that published documents be authenticated, especially if doubts are raised about their authenticity. Remember what Boyer himself said in The Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp. Yet instead of responding to these concerns Boyer continues to further cloud the situation with explanations that vary with each telling, admissions of past subterfuge, and a determined effort to keep his discoveries from public view or to obscure them with straw men. As a result, doubts do exist.
The Newton Jasper Earp family is, seated from left, Nancy Jane Earp, Virgil E. Earp and Newton J. Earp; standing from left is Alice Earp, Wyatt Clyde Earp and Effie Earp. This photo caused a little storm in 1994 when it was misidentified in the San Francisco Examiner. Glenn G. Boyer claimed it was first published in 1976 in his True West article “Those Marryin’ Earp Men.” Actually, it was first published by the author in 1962 in his article on Newton Earp in the Denver Westerners Brand Book of 1962.
Courtesy of Mrs. Frank S. McKenzie, granddaughter of Newton J. Earp.
The skepticism expressed by his critics comes in part from his own admission of past “hoaxes.” In 1966, Boyer published An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday.(9) In this small paperback, he presented an abundance of “new evidence” including photographs of Mattie Holliday, Johnny Tyler, and Perry Mallen, along with direct "quotes” from Doc’s letters to a man who was identified only as “Peanut” in order to protect the descendants who wished to remain anonymous. Twenty years later, he released the remaining copies of the little paperback with an introduction tipped in which he modestly pronounced the work to be “a clever satire” in the “best tradition of Western journalistic hoaxes.” His purpose was to trip up what he described as “history fakers,” a term which carries with it a certain irony in the light of his confession. In the introduction he admitted that he (1) passed off a photograph of his father’s cousin as a photograph of Mattie Holliday, (2) used a photograph of Warren Earp as a photo of Perry Mallen, (3) labeled an unidentified photograph as Johnny Tyler, (4) “simulated many facts, all apparently heavily documented,” and (5) “planted a wild story of Doc and Wyatt Earp killing one of Doc’s mortal enemies in the Colorado Rockies” which was presented in the form of a “direct quote” from Doc’s letters to his friend Peanut.(10)
In this introduction, Boyer gloated that the book had been “reviewed as a major revelation [sic]” and had trapped all those fakers. He even bragged that the book’s “latest victim” was Paula Mitchell Marks who “haplessly appropriated the same planted story mentioned above of Wyatt and Doc killing Doc’s deadly enemy in the Colorado Rockies.”(11) Now, the Illustrated Life was Boyer’s first effort in the field, and he might be excused for his little game–might, I say, because I have trouble with anyone who calls something history when it isn’t–but he cited the Doc book in later publications, including the bibliography of I Married Wyatt Earp, with no indication that it was anything but a legitimate work. It is still always listed among the “other works” when his credentials are presented. He consciously allowed the little book to be cited as a work of history, and yet when people took it seriously on the strength of his reputation he belittled them for being so stupid.
When Marks wrote And Die in the West, Boyer was broadly considered the leading expert in the field. She acknowledged Boyer’s status in the introduction of her book and used his interpretations of events because of his reputation. What possible reason would she have to suspect a “clever hoax” from one who had been denouncing fakers for a decade? She trusted Boyer. For her loyalty, Boyer ridiculed Marks as a fool.
Boyer’s “confession” does not tell the whole story. Back in 1969, when I first read An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday, I took him very seriously too. I wrote him a lengthy letter expressing my interest in his work and asking for help with research I was doing on Doc. I was especially intrigued by the “Peanut letters” and the photographs. He responded promising to send me prints of the photos of Johnny Tyler and Perry Mallen, whom he had said was Johnny’s brother, and assuring me that he would “inquire the extent to which I may be able to reveal more regarding Doc’s correspondence.”(12)
Boyer did send me the photographs, along with instructions to forward them on to Gene Gressley at the University of Wyoming where, he assured me, the Holliday materials would be permanently deposited. At the same time, he made a special point of encouraging me to use the photographs in my own publications. After copying the photographs, I dutifully sent them on to Wyoming, only to receive them back a few days later with a puzzled letter from Gressley advising me that he did not have the “Peanut” collection and sending along an accessions list of a few photocopies and related materials, mostly correspondence with other Earp researchers, which Boyer had sent to the Western History Center.(13)
At that point I returned the negatives to Boyer who explained “Gressley’s mystification” by saying that he had intended to give “Doc’s trunk and contents (ie., the Peanut Letters),” to the university, but the storage company couldn’t find it. When the trunk was recovered, he told me, a collector showed up with “some real money” and bought the trunk along with the “sole right to capitalize on the stuff.”(14) At the time I was skeptical and disappointed, but for the moment, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, as a precaution I decided not to use the photographs until I could verify their authenticity.
By then I was chasing another rabbit. One of the persistent stories about Doc Holliday is that he was involved in a shooting incident on the Withlacoochee River in Georgia during his youth. Often cited as the reason Doc left Georgia, the incident has not been documented from contemporary sources, and family recollections include no casualties in an incident that would most likely not have been documented at all. In Illustrated Life, Boyer reported that Doc had been beaten up by a “bully boy from a Bowery Regiment” stationed in Valdosta. Doc allegedly found a shotgun and caught the soldiers in the waterhole, killed the man who had roughed him up, and scattered the rest with buckshot. He also reported that the matter had been investigated by the army and that it had been covered “fully” in the records of the Freedman’s Bureau.(15)
THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THEODORE TEN EYCK
Even more interesting is an anonymous Ms. the family gave me entitled Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Years, allegedly by one Theodore Ten Eyck… it is clearly authentic omits details and attributed to a newsman/later writer… I think its the most authentic thing in existence on Tombstone. It was with Mrs. Earp’s effects when she died and totally without other identification except what appears internally…
Boyer to Robert N. Mullin, January 18, 1977
…what follows is a very frank account at last. The core of it is the Ten Eyck papers, as I call them. Theodore Sr. demanded never to have his true name made public, one of the major restraints under which this book must be presented. Naturally the same must apply to his son, who gave me his material, or it would be simple to identify the father… The public may therefore conjecture that this approach to relating history is a literary device. Even if that were so, the fact presented here — the most intriguing of them for the first time — are incontrovertible, in that they are confirmed by other sources cited… Ted Ten Eyck is a blended voice in a few instances, since I have, where I thought it was desirable, merged what he wrote himself with what other Earp intimates contributed on the same subject.
Boyer Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta, 1993
In 1979…I obtained the Ten Eyck papers from the son of a lifelong friend of the Earps, a man intimate with both until the day of Josie’s death; in fact, he had been at Josie’s side when she died.
Boyer, True West, July, 1994
In the case of Vendetta [and the Ten Eyck papers], I have from the [Millers'] treasure chest a piece of it… The second part of this book is on tape and I got it over the telephone and it is heavily censored because this guy didn’t want his identity known.
Boyer, WOLA Conference, July, 1994
The question in my mind now is: did the man I introduced in Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta as Ted Ten Eyck provide the guiding hand in both his and Josie’s earlier Ms. since their wording is almost identical in places?
Boyer, NOLA Quarterly, March, 1995
Ted was not a newsman working for the Nugget, that was simply part of the cover I erected for him… That does not blink away the… question regarding how I know of detailed affairs in the Nugget office. My informant was Albert Behan… Like a typical bright kid, Albert never missed a thing around the Nugget office… When I referred to the Ten Eyck Ms. being among items left by Josie, that obviously was not true…
Boyer, WOLA Newsletter Spring-Summer, 1995
Any objective, sophisticated reader recognized that the Ted Ten Eyck literary device was just that, and also a convenient means to bury identities of two informants deeply — so deeply that, in fact, I turned an early Tombstone madam into a male newspaperman, not that he, also didn’t have a real prototype… From the Millers I’d got many family photos and been allowed to copy the substance of the earliest attempts of her memoirs by Mrs. Wyatt Earp… This manuscript is a unique item… It’s place in my writings is important, since it was the basis of the Tombstone years in I Married Wyatt Earp, and termed by me the Ten Eyck Papers in Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta.
Boyer, Trailing an American Myth, 1997
I felt entirely free to exercise the artistic license of developing two composite voices for ease of delivery and naming them Ted Ten Eyck and Ted Ten Eyck Jr. to provide a narrative voice that spanned a longer period than one lifetime. When asked at the recent WOLA convention in Dodge City who Ten Eyck was I didn’t even skip a beat in saying: “I am.” I confess that I chose this approach with malice aforethought in view of the developments in Earpomania in recent years.
Boyer, Curly Bill Has Been Killed at Last, 1997
I am Ten Eyck… I’m kind of a living link with the past.
Boyer, Tombstone Tumbleweed, October 16, 1997
I first wrote to the National Archives asking for information from the Freedman’s Bureau Records. I received a reply from Mabel E. Deutrich, then the Director of the Old Military Records Division, who advised me that a search of the Bureau’s records had turned up nothing. She suggested that if I could provide a date or the name of the regiment involved, she would investigate further.(16) I pressed Boyer for more information. In response he wrote, “The military hearing about which you asked was conducted by a Maj. from the 10th Cavalry and a Capt. named DeForrest. This is all I can recall. I no longer have the records or copies. Remember the Capt. because of the queer name.”(17) Armed with this information, I visited the Archives myself and spent two days searching the records. I found nothing.
Undaunted, and still hoping my suspicions were wrong, I wrote the Archives once again. This time Elmer O. Parker, Assistant Chief of the Old Military Branch, wrote back: “We have examined the indexes to the registers of letters received by the Department of the South for the period 1868-71 and the indexes to the court-martial case files among the records of the Judge Advocate General for the same period but have failed to find any information about the incident described. If the shooting occurred in 1870 the Freedman’s Bureau could not have investigated the matter for all Bureau officers were withdrawn from the States in December 1868. There were no U.S. troops garrisoned at Valdosta in the period 1868-71, nor was the 10th Cavalry stationed in Georgia. If young Holliday shot someone from a New York regiment, he must have done so before 1870, for the last regiments of New York troops were mustered out of service in 1866.”(18)
Still, I persisted. The Archives provided information useful to my research this time, pointing out that companies of the 16th U.S. Infantry, the 12th Infantry, the 3d U. S. artillery and the 1st U. S. artillery–all white units– operated out of Savannah during the period and had responsibility for the Valdosta area. I further learned that Company G of the 103d U. S. Colored Infantry was garrisoned at Valdosta from the fall of 1865 until the spring of 1866 when the unit was mustered out. But not one piece of evidence concerning the shooting on the Withlacoochee ever turned up, and no officer named DeForrest served in Georgia during the period.(19)
Morgan Earp in a photograph at left is from the Noah H. Rose Collection, presently housed at the Western History Collection of the University of Oklahoma libraries and is, by Rose’s statement, actually a drawing. On the strength of this, Glenn G. Boyer dismisses it as a legitimate picture of Morgan Earp. The photo at right is of Morgan given to Stuart N. Lake by Mrs. Wyatt Earp in 1929.
Both photos courtesy the Arizona Historical Society.
At about that time, I received a copy of a letter Boyer had written to Susan McKey Thomas, a relative of Doc Holliday and co-author of the valuable In Search of the Hollidays, in which he admitted that the Doc “biography” was a hoax “written partially as a joke or satire on the genre of fictional history although it seriously revealed some new information and gave the Tombstone vendetta, a short, revealing bonafide coverage.” It was “an experiment” to give people a lesson in mythmaking. In the letter, he insisted the Peanut Letters were real. He also insisted that the photograph of Mattie came from Doc’s trunk and that he had “assumed” it was Mattie because of Peanut’s recollections. He admitted the story about Tyler and Mallen was fiction. Then he added that all he knew about the Withiacoochee incident he gathered from other books. He wrote, “If there was ever a Freedmen’s Bureau hearing, I never heard of it. That’s part of the dandy fiction….” He added a note concerning other writers, "one in particular, who I know must be onto me, and for whose work I have the utmost respect. However, he’ll have to serve as a guinea pig in making a little history rather than writing it. He’s going to be the only hero in my confession when it comes out. Only he wasn’t taken in. Incidentally, he’s a Georgia boy–you probably know him.”(20)
Well, this “Georgia boy” was flabbergasted. I had spent considerable time, effort, and money trying to track down the leads that he had provided me. What bothered me most was not the “experiment” itself–the published book-although I was puzzled that anyone who wanted to be taken seriously would jeopardize his credibility that way. Rather, it was the fact that he knowingly misled me in his correspondence, perpetuating the fiction and encouraging me to use his sources, presumably so he could laugh when I repeated his tales in print. Moreover, at the time he wrote Mrs. Thomas admitting the hoax, he was still insisting that the photograph identified as Mattie could have been her since it came from the trunk, although he now says that the photograph was actually of his own cousin.
At the very least the experience sobered me and injected a healthy dose of skepticism in my mind toward Boyer’s work. If he would deliberately mislead one whose work he claimed to respect, how could anything he wrote be trusted? He had mentioned Josephine Earp’s memoirs to me in several letters, once sending me a copy of an introduction he had drafted for the Cason manuscript, so when the University of Arizona announced the publication of I Married Wyatt Earp, I was genuinely excited. The day my copy arrived, I sat down and read every word. Initially, the only thing that bothered me were all the direct quotes from documents, newspapers, and diaries. I doubted that she had access to them or that she would have known how to incorporate them into her memoirs.
But the most intriguing part of the book was its epilogue, “How This Book Came to Be.” It began with a credible review of the evolution of the Earp myth. Boyer was particularly critical of Stuart Lake’s “embellishments of fact” and of Lake’s passing off Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal as a first-person narrative. He also excoriated Frank Waters for taking liberties with Allie Earp’s memoirs. At last, he came to the process by which his own book evolved. Explaining that he had to combine two manuscripts, he wrote: “Merging the two manuscripts, which contained vastly different materials presented in widely varying styles was a challenging task. To establish a conversational standard for the combined first-person narrative, I interviewed and corresponded with many people who were intimately associated in life with both Wyatt and Josie…. From directions and clues picked up from such informants, I was able to arrive at a vocabulary and syntax that closely approximated the speech of the living Earps (emphasis added).”(21)
The words leaped off the page. Aside from the irrelevance of the “speech of the living Earps” to Mrs. Earp’s first-hand account, here was Boyer’s virtual admission that he had done precisely what he had accused Lake and Waters of doing. At the very least, he confessed that the integrity of Josephine’s manuscripts had been compromised. Boyer later told writer Larry Tritton that he “spent nine years verifying, amplifying and qualifying the document before publishing it.”(22) How does one “amplify” or “qualify” a primary source except by modifying it?
Boyer himself is fond of quoting Jeanne Cason Laing who said of I Married Wyatt Earp, “I don’t know how you did it, but you got inside that woman.”(23) Granted that an editor needs to “get inside” his subject in order to organize the material, he does not have the right to take liberties with the subject’s words and thoughts. If Laing was indeed praising him for “recreating her character,” to use Boyer’s words, then he has admitted that he embellished rather that edited Mrs. Earp’s manuscripts.
Handling primary sources is always tricky, but the canons of historical writing demand that the integrity of the documents be given first priority. It is one thing to edit documents and to integrate multiple sources into a more coherent narrative. It is quite another to revise “vocabulary and syntax” and to “amplify” sources. Even if the finished product is true to the spirit of the original manuscript, it can no longer be said to be a primary source if the editor has materially changed the text of the document. It may be good writing, but it is no longer simply an edited work. It no longer has the weight of a primary source. Put bluntly, it is never appropriate to put words into the mouth of a dead person no matter how well one believes he knows that person.
Nor is it surprising that Jeanne Cason Laing would say that she had “heard from Josie Earp herself a great deal of what was in the book.” No one has denied that Mrs. Earp did prepare a manuscript in concert with Mabel Earp Cason and Vinnolia Earp Ackerman or even that much of what is in the original document appears in Boyer’s book. The question is whether Boyer embellished, modified, added to, or otherwise altered Mrs. Earp’s story before it was published. Whatever the truth, the book was widely accepted as Mrs. Earp’s first hand account of her life with Wyatt Earp, and Glenn Boyer achieved widespread acclaim as the foremost authority on Wyatt Earp because of it.
For more than a decade after the publication of I Married Wyatt Earp, Boyer continued to publish articles in which he presented some of his most articulate discourses on the subject of the Earps. He performed a useful service by publishing Wyatt Earp’s Autobiography, the notably stilted effort of John H. Flood, Jr. to present Wyatt’s story.(24) Boyer wrote a particularly compelling review of some of the issues in an article for Arizona and the West and later achieved a major coup by publishing with Dr. A. W. Bork the memoir of Kate Elder in the same publication.(25) Many of his articles contained tantalizing promises of more blockbuster revelations to come, although there were hints along the way of the same kind of troubling techniques that had raised doubts about I Married Wyatt Earp. Along the way, too, there were subtle revisions in what Mrs. Earp said. At the same time, Boyer had become embroiled in a series of controversies with other researchers, including imbroglios with the Western Writers of America and the Tombstone Epitaph. In both instances, he probably had the better of the argument, but his tactics in the Epitaph controversy were mean-spirited and characterized by the kind of chicanery that caused many to be leery of him.(26)
Then, in 1993, Boyer published Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta,(27) which was expected to be the definitive and substantiated statement of Boyer’s views. Throughout his career, he had spoken through his sources, primarily Mrs. Earp, and now many expected to hear the voice of Glenn Boyer, his interpretation of the Tombstone story. Instead, Vendetta posed new problems of an old and familiar type -explanations at variance with previous ones, another anonymous source identified as “Theodore Ten Eyck,” heavily disguised to the point of compromising–admittedly–the original document with the insertion of other deliberately fictionalized material, and piecemeal revisions in Mrs. Earp’s story-again.
The heart of Vendetta is the Ten Eyck memoir. The name is a nom de plume because Boyer had encountered another pesky relative who made anonymity the price of releasing materials to Boyer. Ten Eyck, allegedly a reporter for the New York Herald, provided “insider” information on virtually every moment of the Tombstone story, gave a blockbuster account of the street fight by Wyatt in which he confessed that he fired the first two shots at Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, and released “fresh” insights into every episode from the Benson stage robbery to the death of John Ringo. It was a stunning performance. As an interpretation of what may have happened, it was even plausible.
But upon examination, it collapses. There are too many stories obviously drawn from other sources, too many explanations at variance with the documented facts. Boyer even admits incorporating other sources with the Ten Eyck memoir and calls his approach a “non-fiction novel” after the manner of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. The most telling hint may be Vendetta’s classification as “Juvenile Literature” by the Library of Congress, but in the advertising campaign there was no suggestion than that this was anything other than the ultimate work on the Tombstone war.(28) Boyer insisted that the Ten Eyck memoir was real, assuring listeners at the Deadwood WOLA meeting that he had talked at length with Ten Eyck’s son who dictated “the second part of this book” to him over the phone.(29)
In his biographical series in True West, “Wyatt Earp, Legendary American,” Boyer pushed the envelope even further, identifying Ten Eyck as “a lifelong friend of Wyatt Earp,” and including other bald, unsubstantiated statements based upon still more illusory or unidentified sources that cannot be revealed.(30) It was a tantalizing performance because while “Legendary American” had the look and feel of history without the slightest hint that Ten Eyck was a “literary device,” Boyer was free to write without having to worry about documentation. In the installment which included the Fremont Street shootout, Boyer let Doc Holliday tell the story of the fight in an “interview” by Ten Eyck which explicitly confirmed Boyer’s “new” interpretation of the fight as presented in Vendetta.(31) Based on Ten Eyck’s revelations, the series seemed to be a critical new source, but in the long run, it raised more questions than it answered.
In response to Morey’s critique of Vendetta, Boyer wrote, “I now see that the liberties I had to take [in Vendetta] would have been entirely unquestionable if I had simply said the thing was an historical novel, and as close to the truth as we’ll ever come, in my opinion.”(32) He is exactly right. But he did not choose that approach. I do not know what a “non-fiction novel” is, but I know it is not history. History demands standards of evidence not imposed upon novelists. If Boyer wishes to use that genre to present his interpretation of events then he needs to come clean about it. But he cannot write fiction–even well reasoned fiction that approaches the truth–and call it history. He cannot have it both ways and expect respect as a historian. Even if his interpretation is credible, he has discredited it by boogering the historical record.
Under the pressure of Morey’s critique and other questions raised about the apparent discrepancies in the Ten Eyck “manuscript,” including obvious quotes from sources unavailable when Ten Eyck supposedly wrote the manuscript and a general sloppiness with newspaper sources, Ten Eyck has undergone a transformation. In Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta, Boyer told us that Ten Eyck was a prominent journalist from the New York Herald. Then, in his response to Morey, Boyer said that he wasn’t a reporter at all, that his informant Ten Eyck was a “convenient cover,” perhaps even a “straw man.” Next he explained that all that inside information about what went on in the Nugget office came not from Ten Eyck but from Albert Behan, who was ten years old when he was hanging out with Curly Bill, Frank Stilwell, and his father’s other friends.(33) In just a couple of paragraphs, Boyer took us from the memoirs of a trained journalist with an inside track to the hint that Ten Eyck may not have existed at all (isn’t that the implication of the “straw man” remark?) to the “revelation” that the real source was a seventy-three year old man remembering what he heard when he was ten years old. But, Boyer assured us that none of this matters, that the “pure gold” is still there. That statement is ludicrous.
Even if we aren’t incensed by the deliberate fabrication (it is a “nonfiction novel,” after all), the plain fact is that there is a difference between the memoirs of a professional journalist, trained to be a close observer of human behavior, and the childhood memories of an aging man. Add to that, this astonishing statement: “When I referred to the Ten Eyck Ms. being among items left by Josie, that obviously was not true. . . .”(34) These admissions left the authenticity of the Ten Eyck manuscript in doubt. Boyer had admitted that he compromised its integrity by combining it with the memories of Albert Beban. If that is perfectly well-accepted editorial practice with memoirs, ”I missed a hell of a lot in my courses on historical method and historiography.”(35)
THE MYSTERIES OF THE “COLYN” MANUSCRIPT
I never had a real manuscript which could be called such.
Mrs. William Irvine (later Mrs. Charles Colyn) to Glenn Boyer,
December 9, 1965.
I have the entire mss. And notes dictated for the basis of her own story by the third Mrs. Earp. It was given to me by the heirs of Mrs. Mabel Earp Cason, to whom Mrs. Earp dictated the information.
Boyer, The Roundup (WWA), 1968
The first Josephine Earp manuscript, the one prepared with the assistance of Parsons and Clum, had been made available to me earlier by Mrs. Charles Colyn.
Boyer, I Married Wyatt Earp, 1976
From the Millers, I’d got many family photosand been allowed to cipy the memoir of Mrs. Wyatt Earp… Through Mrs. Colyn I received the address of Mrs. Mable Earp Cason., who with her sister, Vinolia [sic] Ackerman, worked for many years (1936-42) with the third and last Mrs. Wyatt Earp on the latter’s life story… Fortunately the unfinished product was still in the hands of the Casons when I contacted them.
Boyer, “Trailing an American Myth,” 1981
My mother and aunt were aware of the earlier “Clum” manuscript covering the Tombstone years and, for that reason, we were willing to burn that portion of their manuscript at Mrs. Earp’s request.
Jeanne Cason Laing, September 21, 1893, quoted in Boyer,
NOLA Quarterly, 1995
[The Millers] had a trunk we called the treasure chest, and they had a lot of things including memorabilia, including Josephine Earp’s papers… There were many pieces of this thing that were in other documents, and I didn’t know what they were or who the authors were exactly, but this was in the treasure chest.
Boyer, WOLA Address, July 1994
This manuscripts a unique item, obviously composed by several authors, including, at various times, many professional writers upon whose time Josie Earp had a call. My report elsewhere that it was done with the assistance of several old Tombstoners is true. However, they had no hand in the actual writing… Its place in my writing is important, since it was the basis for the Tombstone years in I Married Wyatt Earp and termed by me the Ten Eyck Papers in Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta.
Boyer, Trailing an American Myth, 1997
Among such writers on whom she had a call for assistance, were certainly Wilson Mizner, Rex Beach, and Walt Coburn; there were others. I cannot pin point which one(s) of them had a hand in this part of her story, unfortunately, but suffice it to say there were several, including script writers from time to time… The first among such writers is Stuart Lake, and he lasted a long while until it occurred to Josie that his principal interest was not in getting her story out, but in suppressing it… Many writers with similar selfish motives wined and dined her in an attempt to get her story, the best known of them being Dashiel [sic] Hammet [sic], who at one time apparently planned to write a mystery set in pioneer Tombstone. (Josie even had letters from Ben Heck, a fellow jew, and a connection on which she may have learned to persuade him to work with her…)
Boyer, Who Killed John Ringo, 1997
Then, early in 1997, Boyer informed us that Ten Eyck was a “literary device” to “bury the identities of two informants deeply.” While still insisting that Ten Eyck had a “male prototype,” he had actually “turned an early Tombstone madam into a male newspaperman.” And of course, he had to keep her true identity secret to protect her family.”(36) Now we know that the Ten Eyck manuscript was Boyer’s creation. He finally admitted it in his recently released Curly Bill Has been Killed at Last where he wrote that he “felt entirely free to exercise the artistic license of developing two composite voices for ease of delivery and naming them Ted Ten Eyck and Ted Ten Eyck, Jr. to provide a narrative voice that spanned a longer period than one life time.” He went on to say, “When asked at the recent WOLA Convention in Dodge City who Ten Eyck was I didn’t even skip a beat in saying: ‘I am.’”(37) And, he stated flatly to Bob Candland of the Tombstone Tumbleweed shortly thereafter, “I am Ten Eyck.”(38)
In the Candland interview, he broadened the “composite voice” to include members of the “extended family members of Wyatt Earp” and flatly stated that “a lot of what I remember is by word of mouth,” ie., dinner conversation, hearsay, family speculations. In any case, a “composite voice” does not carry the same weight as an accumulation of different sources validating the same point. To get around this simple rule of thumb, he described himself as a “living link with the past” and justified himself by saying he is a “literary artist” and “story teller” with no desire to write history while still insisting that “Vendetta is accurate, biographical fact.” The problem is that Boyer’s belated disclaimer that he is not a historian comes only after the cat is out of the bag. Moreover, while Vendetta may have been presented as a novel, Boyer also used Ten Eyck in his True West series, quoting him as authority, without the slightest hint that he was a “literary device.” Now items like the Holliday interview and all those other startling materials attributed to Ten Eyck and presented as primary sources must be discarded. When Ten Eyck is discarded, not much is left. It is absurd. Boyer’s own defense does a more effective job of raising questions about his work than any of the efforts of his critics.
Boyer’s Ten Eyck confession puts Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta in the same category as An Illustrated Life of Doe Holliday–an elaborate hoax which also undermines “Wyatt Earp: Legendary American.” Moreover, Boyer’s mystifying explanations, published piecemeal over the past two years in his “historical” pamphlets, raise questions that force a re-examination of I Married Wyatt Earp. Oddly, it almost seems that Boyer deliberately plants information designed to raise doubts. The paper trail is so fraught with inexplicable twists and turns that it is tempting to believe that Boyer is teasing his readers to see if they are paying attention.
I Married Wyatt Earp confirmed Boyer’s reputation as an Earp authority. Until Vendetta and the invention of Ten Eyck, virtually all of Boyer’s “revelations” were attributed to Josephine Earp. When he had milked that “source” for just about all it was worth, he had to find another vehicle for disclosing his more recent conclusions and interpretations. Rather than presenting them in a conventional interpretive biography, he created Ten Eyck. If he created the “Peanut letters” in Illustrated Life and Ten Eyck for Vendetta, can I Married Wyatt Earp withstand scrutiny? If not, then the whole superstructure of his work collapses as history. The major variable that sets I Married Wyatt Earp apart is the fact that Mabel Earp Cason’s manuscript does exist, and that portions of Boyer’s book reflect it almost exactly.
But under close scrutiny, especially in the critical chapters about Tombstone, Boyer seems to go far beyond the Cason manuscript and even beyond the kind of “amplification” that he admitted in his epilogue. But simply,
I Married Wyatt Earp suggests the same kind of shenanigans that marked An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta. This is a serious allegation, but Boyer’s own explanations merely intensify the doubt. Mrs. Cason said that Josie was very closemouthed about Tombstone. Boyer, in his “Helen of Troy” chapter of “Wyatt Earp: Legendary American” says that by the time he met Josie– something he oddly failed to mention when the book was published–Josie “felt secure in a belief that the memoir was a dead project, not publishable unless frank and truthful, and if that, then too embarrassing for her to stomach. She wanted a ‘nice clean story.’”(40) Her concern for her reputation is also apparent in her correspondence with Stuart Lake, William H. Hart and Houghton Mifflin.(41) Boyer’s answer, of course, is that there were two manuscripts.
From the beginning Boyer has insisted that Mrs. Earp made two attempts to write a book about her life with Wyatt Earp. The first, he alleges in an early version of his explanation of the origins of I Married Wyatt Earp, was launched in an effort to beat Stuart Lake into print with the assistance of John P. Clum, Wyatt’s friend and editor of the Tombstone Epitaph during Wyatt’s time there.(42) In the published work, Boyer added George Parsons to the list of collaborators and even has Mrs. Earp thank them. He said that the manuscript came into his possession from Mrs. Charles Colyn, an indefatigable Earp researcher and relative of Wyatt’s by marriage.(43) At the time, I was puzzled over the Colyn manuscript (which isn’t even listed in his bibliography) because Mrs. Colyn had told me she had no documents other than those she collected and published in her “Data on The Earp Family.”(44)
Then, in 1981, in his “Trailing an American Myth,” Boyer said that the manuscript came from Bill and Estelle Miller who allowed him to copy it.(45) In the revised version of this piece, published as a booklet in 1997, Boyer subtly changed what he said, noting that he copied “the substance of the earliest attempts at her memoirs” and acquired the “hard copy after the death of Estelle’s sister, Florence Bessant.”(46) Furthermore, he admitted to planting misinformation in The Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp and I Married Wyatt Earp to protect the Millers. Presumably this “deception”–Boyer’s word–extended to crediting Mrs. Colyn as the source of the critical version of Mrs. Earp’s memoirs which covered the Tombstone years.
The alleged photograph of Perry “Mallen” Tyler, from Glenn G. Boyer’s An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday. In 1989, Boyer said that the person depicted here is actually Warren Earp, although elsewhere he wrote that the bust shot used in “Those Marryin’ Earp Men,” is the only surviving photo of Warren Earp. Curiously, in his recent pamphlet, Wyatt Earp: Facts, Volume Three, which published a revised version of this article, he did not include either picture. From the Glenn G. Boyer Collection. Note: Boyer gave the author permission to use the photos accompanying this article credited to his collection. See part of handwritten note from Boyer at end of story. Copy of entire letter is in WOLA files.
Interestingly, Boyer has also changed his mind about Mrs. Earp’s collaborators. Originally, he said it was Clum and openly wondered how much of the story was “pure Clum.”(47) Then in the published version of I Married Wyatt Earp, it was Clum and George W. Parsons, another Old Tombstoner.(48) But in the 1997 revision of “Trailing an American Myth,” Boyer said that while several “old Tombstoners” had assisted her, “they had no hand in the actual writing.” Instead he declared that the manuscript was “obviously composed by several authors,” including “many professional writers upon whose time Josie Earp had a call.”(49) Most recently, in his booklet on the death of John Ringo, he lists the collaborators as Wilson Mizner, Rex Beach, Walt Coburn, Dashiell Hammett, Ben Hecht, and even Stuart Lake, quite an array of literary illuminaries.(50)
This is all very strange. Boyer complains that his critics are trying “to make it appear that I am contradictory when I correct my former publications with later ones based on additional information, or with information I have at last become at liberty to divulge.” Revision would be understandable, of course, if Boyer were presenting himself as the author of these changes. But Boyer is attributing all of these various versions to the same primary sources, not to new materials that have recently come to light. As for finally being able to divulge information because of promises to protect his informants, why was it necessary to manufacture these inconsistencies in the names of the collaborators of Mrs. Earp’s first attempt at a memoir or to misrepresent its source to protect the anonymity of the Millers? Why not just say flat out, “I am not at liberty to divulge my sources” rather than pass off false information as the truth?
More to the point, this new information about authorship, if true, would be enough to discredit the manuscript, if it exists at all, as the first hand account of Mrs. Wyatt Earp. There are too many hands in the pie–if you believe him. And there is reason to suspect that even this “explanation” doesn’t tell the real story. In his response to Jeff Morey in the NOLA Quarterly, Boyer openly speculated that the “close friend” who helped Josie might not be Clum or Parsons and posed this astonishing question: “Did the man I introduced in Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta, heavily disguised as Ted Ten Eyck, provide the guiding hand in both his and Josie’s earlier Ms., since their wording is almost identical in places?”(52) Since Boyer has admitted that he is Ted Ten Eyck, this question is very close to an admission that he was also the author of Josie’s Tombstone manuscript.
That possibility becomes even more plausible in light of other statements in Boyer’s convoluted defense. In 1977, Boyer wrote western historian Robert N. Mullin that “the family” had given him a manuscript “allegedly by one Teodore (sic) Ten Eyck,” which “was with Mrs. Earp’s effects when she died and totally without other identification except what appears internally.” He added that it was the “most authentic thing in existence on Tombstone.”(53) In “Tombstone’s Helen Of Troy,” Boyer said that he acquired the Ten Eyck papers in 1979, three years after I Married Wyatt Earp was published and two years after he wrote Mullin, which led him to conclude that Mrs. Earp’ s affair with Wyatt began later than he had previously thought.(54) Most importantly, though, he has recently stated that the material he acquired from the Millers was critical “since it was the basis of the Tombstone years in I Married Wyatt Earp, and termed by me the Ten Eyck Papers in Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta.”(55) So, Josie’s Tombstone memoir and the Ten Eyck papers are the same document! That mind-boggling admission can only be explained by Boyer’s declaration, “I am Ten Eyck.”
Another troubling piece of the puzzle is his relationship with the Millers. In 1981, he declared that he had met the Millers in 1965, following a tip given to him by the librarian at Colton, California, where an Earp collection is housed.(56) This is consistent with extant correspondence in the Lake and Mullin collections and with his bibliography in I Married Wyatt Earp where he dates his interviews with the Millers in 1965, 1966, and 1967.(57) In his revised version, he pushes the date back to 1943 when he was an aviation cadet and suggests that his father was a friend of the Millers. Then to top it all off, he claims to have actually met Mrs. Earp at the Millers’ home.(58) Boyer’s letter to Stuart Lake in 1955 expressing his hope that he would be able to “locate living relatives of Wyatt and his brothers and trace the wider family influence” does pose a problem for Boyer’s revised chronology, and his explanation that his purpose for misrepresenting the facts was “to smoke out Stuart Lake” is unconvincing.(59) Smoke out Stuart Lake about what? Something doesn’t add up.
The alleged photograph of Johnny Tyler from An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday. Boyer would later write of this photo, “lord knows who the delightful one is that I captioned Johnny Tyler.”
From the Glenn G. Boyer Collection.
What makes the suspicions even more compelling are certain passages in I Married Wyatt Earp that do not withstand scrutiny. For example, in the account of the aftermath of the attempt to rob the Benson stage in March of 1881, Boyer has Josie quoting from the Tombstone Nugget of March 19, 1881, concerning the escape of Luther King from the sheriff’s office. The article included the line, “He [King] was an important witness against Holliday.” Using this article to provide context, “Mrs. Earp” then quotes Harry Jones, Josie’s lawyer friend, who said he was present when Harry Woods and John Dunbar cooked up the scheme to implicate Doc Holliday in the escape by planting a story in the Nugget. This little plot, according to I Married Wyatt Earp, “led directly to the Earps’ shootout with the Rustlers some six months later.”(60) It is worth noting that he uses the same article and the same conclusion in his “Postscripts to Historical Fiction about Wyatt Earp in Tombstone,” published the same year as I Married Wyatt Earp.(61) Notably, in his footnote for the Nugget article, he cites not the original article but Pat Jahns’ The Frontier World of Doc Holliday. In Vendetta and “Legendary American,” he attributes the same story to Ten Eyck.(62)
The plot, then, hinged upon that line from the Nugget of March 19: “He was an important witness against Holliday.” Now the quote implicating Doc Holliday may exist somewhere but it doesn’t appear in the extant files of the Nugget or of the Tucson Star where it was allegedly reprinted, and it could not have appeared on March 19, since Luther King did not escape until March 28, 1881. The article on King’s escape from the Nugget of March 29 and reprinted in the Star of March 31, which is similar in most other respects to the “quote,” contains no reference to Holliday at all. The source of quote and the mixed-up dates is Billy Breakenridge’s Helldorado where it is cited from the Star of March 24, 1881, quoting the Nugget of March 19.(63)
It wouldn’t be fair to blame Boyer for being caught by an error that has caught virtually every writer on the subject since Breakenridge, including Stuart Lake, until Casey Tefertiller caught it by reviewing the files of the Nugget.(64) What is troubling is that two Tombstoners, Mrs. Earp and Ten Eyck, would attribute the origin of the OK Corral affair to a news item that did not appear in print until 1928! The closest thing to an implication of Holliday in the Benson robbery is an article which appeared in the Star on March 24, including the familiar passage quoted by Walter Noble Burns, Breakenridge, and others that a fourth robber “well known in Tombstone had left town armed with a Henry rifle and returned that night.”(65) The man is never identified as Holliday. Burns picked up the story and drew his conclusions on the basis of events that happened later, Breakenridge made the quote appear to have come from the same article reporting King’s escape, and the rest of us just assumed that the quote was correct. In fact, there seems to have been no public accusation that Holliday was involved in the robbery of the stage until Kate Elder made her charges months later.(66)
With knowledge of her accusations, it is easy to read back into the article of March 24, 1881, a great many things. In fact, Breakenridge flatly accused Doc of being involved in a handwritten account prepared in 1913, but all of this is after the fact. If Harry Woods did plant a story, it would have to have been the March 24, 1881, account that did not mention Holliday by name and appeared four days before King escaped. This casts serious doubt upon the authenticity of the “Harry Jones” story and the rest of “Josie’s” account as well. It seems likely that Breakenridge or his ghost writer, William McLeod Raine, confused the dates of the articles and added the Holliday quote. If that is what happened, not only was Boyer caught by the error like the rest of us, but the plot described by Harry Jones and Ten Eyck collapses.
Equally intriguing is the curious shell game Boyer plays with the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre. In I Married Wyatt Earp, Josie states that Old Man Clanton and the others were killed by Mexican “ranchers.”(67) But in Vendetta, Ten Eyck claims that the Earps killed Old Man Clanton’s party in Skeleton Canyon, a conclusion that Boyer maintains in more recent publications. Yet remember that both the Tombstone portion of Mrs. Earp’s memoirs and the Ten Eyck papers are, according to Boyer, the same document. The story that the Earps were involved seems to have originated with a statement in a letter written by Will McLaury to his brother-in-law late in 1881, although that letter is noticeably vague and mentions only Doc Holliday.(68) So far, no other contemporary evidence to support the charge has come to light.
Boyer has Doc Holliday reveal the secret to Ike Clanton the night before the October 26 shootout, but Ike, who accused the Earps of everything but the immaculate conception, never accused the Earps of killing his father, and the inscription on a photo of their father given to Billy Byers by Ike and Fin plainly states that he was killed by Mexicans in Guadalupe Canyon.(69) It is true that the Byers photo is dated September 21, 1881, well before the big fight, so the photo inscription doesn’t prove anything in and of itself. Still if this revelation was the immediate cause of Ike’s irrational behavior on October 26, wouldn’t it have been useful to the prosecution at the Spicer hearing? More importantly, first accounts, published near the scene in New Mexico Arizona, as well as the records of the Justice and State Departments confirm the view that Mexicans were responsible for the Guadalupe Canyon affair. (70)
The accusation that the Earps were responsible did not appear in print until 1940 when Jack Ganzhorn’s I’ve Killed Men was published; it was told again by Wayne Montgomery as part of the alleged diary of Honest John Montgomery, one of the owners of the OK Corral.(71) What is interesting is that both Ganzhorn and Montgomery have been discredited, Montgomery largely through the efforts of Glenn Boyer and Al Turner in a highly publicized controversy with the Tombstone Epitaph. It is worth noting that the method used by Boyer to expose Montgomery was to write letters and submit documents using the name of “Edward Munroe Benson, III,” while claiming to be the descendant of Montgomery’s partner in Tombstone. It is very suspicious then, that Boyer seems to pick up a story from a work that he exposed as a fraud.(72)
Incidentally, he apparently did the same thing in his “new” version of the street fight. “Josie” sold a host of writers on the notion that Doc and Morgan precipitated the fight, but in Vendetta and “Legendary American,” Boyer now has Wyatt fire the first two shots by the Earp party hitting both Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton. Boyer also has John Behan pick up the revolver of Tom McLaury after the fight to foster the notion that Tom was unarmed.(73) Both of these “revelations” are straight out of Wayne Montgomery.(74) To expose a faker and then co-opt his material into one’s own “blockbuster” source not only takes gall but also reveals a brazen contempt for readers on the subject. He is certain nobody will notice. Or should we revisit Wayne Montgomery’s claims in light of Boyer’s “discoveries?”
There are also some curious omissions and additions in that portion of I Married Wyatt Earp which clearly comes from the Cason manuscript. For example, in the book Mrs. Earp recounts meeting Ben Thompson in Austin, Texas in the 1880s, and Boyer comments in a footnote that Wyatt never mentioned the arrest of Ben Thompson in Ellsworth to her and adds that there were two notes in Josie’s hand to the effect that the story was Lake’s "artistic license."(75) In fact, in the Cason manuscript she not only mentions the episode at Ellsworth but gives an account of what happened.(76)
In the book, Mrs. Earp also recounts how Wyatt and Virgil tracked down and killed the man who had murdered Warren Earp in 19OO.(77) The Cason manuscript does not mention this at all, and, for good reason. At the time Warren was killed, Wyatt and Josie were in Alaska. George Parsons’ diary, other contemporary documents, and the Cason manuscript prove this conclusively.(78) It is Boyer who notes on that page of the manuscript that Josie is wrong. In the published account Boyer displaces Josie’s statement with his own contrary opinion.(79) The proper editorial procedure would have been to note any different possibilities in a footnote rather than change Mrs. Earp’s statement. If the published version did come from some other statement by Josie, the Miller materials for example, the discrepancy would also warrant a note. Since John Clum and George Parsons were both in Alaska with the Earps, they surely would not have allowed that lapse of memory on Mrs. Earp’s part.
This story was apparently extrapolated from an article written by John D. Gilchriese in which he wrote that Virgil, and Virgil alone, tracked down and killed the “man he held responsible” for Warren’s death.(80) So we have another example of someone else’s work being appropriated by Boyer without proper acknowledgment of the true source, improved upon, and passed off as the statement of an eyewitness.
Throughout those portions of the book which can be compared to the Cason manuscript, he subtly changes Mrs. Earp’s words and obscures the degree to which Mrs. Earp repeated in a less dramatic form many of the same stories told by Swan Lake in Frontier Marshal. On the one hand, he adds materials to “amplify,” and on the other he edits out material which disagrees with his own views. In both ways, he improperly tampers with Mrs. Earp’s account.
In his recently published Who Killed John Ringo Boyer repeats the statement that he had to merge two manuscripts “and a lot of notes and letters into one consistent manner of first-person expression” and adds this revealing footnote: “Yea and verily–at least two, and fragments of several others, as well as an unbelievable mass of papers, all merged into one coherent whole for which I had to develop a voice, since some was first person, some not, and other pure narrative or information in documents. I decided that first person was the most interesting way to tell the story.” In describing Josephine Earp’s reminiscences about Ringo’s death, Boyer is more direct: “Like all of her recollections, this has been filtered through her various collaborators and then re-written by me as I saw fit, based on my judgment of what would make it publishable, being careful to retain the facts in doing so. I did this for her memoirs as well.”(81) Even assuming that Boyer has everything he claims to have-and that is a large assumption–these statements constitute an open admission that I Married Wyatt Earp is not the unvarnished memoir of an eyewitness but a secondary account put together from documents and passed off as autobiography.
Facsimile of a portion of a letter from Glenn G. Boyer to Gary L. Roberts authorizing him to use the photographs of the “Tylers,” which appear in this article. The handwritten letter from Boyer is dated March 10, 1969.
Copy of entire letter is in WOLA files.
And so I Married Wyatt Earp suffers from the same historical problems as his other work. In light of this, it would be irresponsible not to raise questions. The truth is I don’t know what Boyer has. What I do know is that I Married Wyatt Earp is not the autobiography it purports to be, and the evidence is in his own descriptions of how the book was written. It is just possible that Boyer found himself in the same position Lake did –disappointed by the material at hand– and responded the same way that Lake did by filling in the blanks with his own research and passing it off as Mrs. Earp’s memoir. In fact, in his introduction to Wyatt Earp’s Autobiography, he remarked that Stuart Lake merely did “what was necessary, then, and now, to sell,” adding, “I also understand the necessities under which he worked, having trod the same unenviable path.”(82)
Boyer confessed that An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday was a hoax, discounting the “Peanut letters,” but he has Mrs. Earp referring to “Peanut” in her memoir which he admits he altered. Even in his most recent writings, he is still referring to “Harry Goober,” the mysterious Peanut.(83) He combined materials to “create” I Married Wyatt Earp but deliberately misstated the origin of the most critical chapters in the book. Now, he has confessed that Ten Eyck was a “literary device,” for Vendetta. That ploy might work if Ten Eyck had been used only in Vendetta, but he used Ten Eyck in “Legendary American” which was presented as biography. He presents one version of events from Josie and another from Ten Eyck, then tells us that both Josie’s Tombstone manuscript and the Ten Eyck papers are one and the same thing. What is fact? What isn’t? Is there anything that is what it purports to be? How can we possibly know? The answers to these questions do make a difference.
And remember that it is not just in his published works that these problems appear. He deliberately misled me regarding Doc Holliday, when I, in good faith, sought his help. He deliberately misled Susan McKey Thomas into believing the photograph published as Mattie was probably her. If we accept his explanation of his relationship to the Millers, he deliberately misled Stuart Lake about what he knew, He misled Robert Mullin in 1977 about Ten Eyck. He misled his audience in Deadwood by claiming to have talked with Ten Eyck, Jr., on the phone. Other examples could be cited, ad infinitum.
Even his photographs suffer from the same problems. He admitted faking photos of Perry Mallen, Johnny Tyler, Mattie Holliday, John Montgomery, and he has changed the identifications of others. He insists that the partially nude photo used on the cover of I Married Wyatt Earp is Josephine Earp, when there is compelling evidence that it isn’t.(84) He presents two very different women as Louisa Earp, and shows us several pictures allegedly of cowboy leaders. He may be right, of course. I hope he is, but how does one tell? He insists that a photograph found with the Louisa Earp letters, which do appear to be authentic, is Morgan Earp and that the oft-used photograph of Morgan is not Morgan but a line drawing by Noah H. Rose. More recently, he has changed the identification of a photograph he identified as Wyatt in 1976 but now says is actually Jim Earp which leads him to conclude that the Noah Rose portrait of Jim is also a drawing. The truth is that the likenesses in the Rose Collection are, on the authority of Rose himself, “made from pencil drawings,” but the images from which they were taken, which appear in Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, are sharp, clear photographs which Mrs. Earp gave Lake. She should have known what Morgan and Jim looked like.(85)
The whole question boils down to a matter of trust. Can we take seriously a researcher who admits to not one but several hoaxes over a period of years, whose revelations invariably come from sources who cannot be identified by their real names, whose documentary records cannot be examined independently by other scholars, who changes his explanations about the origin of sources with regularity, who deliberately misleads those who seek his advice, and who responds to legitimate inquiries with character assassination and the threat of lawsuits?
Now it may be asking for trouble, but it is not libelous to disagree with Glenn Boyer or to question his methods. Disagreement and disputes about methodology are inherent in the historical process. Yet while he whimpers about the ingratitude of those who dare question him and tries to bully his critics into silence with the threat of lawsuits, he threatens to destroy his collection, the one resource which presumably could answer his critics cleanly. On the one hand, Boyer tells us he has worked assiduously for decades to build a collection in a labor of love with the Earp family, while, on the other, he threatens to destroy everything because a few questions have been raised about his work. It is a baffling response, especially since he could easily answer his critics by producing the actual sources of his publications–not his reworked manuscripts or typescripts–for comparison’s sake by credible researchers with real integrity.
In all of the materials published by Boyer since this controversy began, he has never–never–in any of the published materials directly addressed the issues raised by his critics. Instead, he has relied on vitriol and sophistry to obscure rather than clarify. His tactics reveal a genuine contempt for other researchers in the field. He appears to believe that if he threatens loudly enough and plays the victim, that the great majority of people will be cowed into submission or simply say, “Well, Glenn said it, so it must be true.” The controversy is not the result of a conspiracy to “get” Glenn Boyer. It is about genuine concerns that the published versions of documents are not what they are purported to be based upon inconsistencies in his writings and upon his self-confessed “experiments” to show how stupid researchers like the rest of us really are.
The irony is that Glenn Boyer never needed to manufacture or reconstruct documents to make a contribution. His association with the Earp family alone provided him with opportunities that rarely come to researchers. He has insights which are thoughtful and compelling, and he obviously has great knowledge of the subject. Had he presented any of the conclusions he presents as the contemporary opinions of his sources as interpretations of existing evidence, or even as hypotheses about what might have happened, he would have no problem being accepted as a major interpreter of the Earp story, but if he has created documents out of whole cloth and doctored real ones to make them more readable or to fill in the gaps with his imaginings–or even his conclusions based upon research–he is guilty of a serious breach of historical ethics. It is one thing to believe that events happened in a certain way; it is quite another to make up sources to prove it.
Boyer began his career with a pamphlet that he admits he faked in order to expose the fakery and gullibility in the field, and now he confesses that he has followed a pattern of subterfuge in everything he has written. His admissions are rendered even more astonishing because he has presented himself as the ultimate authority while denouncing other writers for producing “bogus” memoirs, “fake” diaries, and fraudulent documentation. If he has falsified sources or created them from his own imagination, he has done so while clearly understanding the importance that students of history place on the integrity of historical records. If he did do what he now admits he did, he reveals an astonishing contempt for the process he claims to defend.
Despite his admissions of subterfuge, Boyer seems unable to understand that he has created the controversy himself by his methods, his penchant for secrecy, and his contempt for those who write–and read–Western history. By passing off his opinions and interpretations as primary sources, he has poisoned the record in a way that may take decades to clear.(86) His methods have left the whole superstructure of his work in doubt, and that is tragic for him as well for all of us who love history.
And what is the explanation for all this subterfuge? Boyer says that other researchers and writers are vultures waiting to exploit his discoveries without attribution as they have done in the past. Boyer and all other researchers are entitled to the fruits of their labors. They deserve credit for their discoveries and acknowledgment by others. But that doesn’t always happen. In this, Boyer is not unique; every writer who has made a contribution has been appropriated without credit in some way or other. A certain amount of that sort of thing goes with the territory. Yet the truth is that most writers and historians have been downright deferential to Boyer over the years.
Glenn Boyer has received more credit for his contributions than most historians ever receive. But that is not enough. He not only wants us all not to acknowledge what he calls “my unparalleled service to knowledge,” but also he demands a Boyeresque orthodoxy from everyone who writes about Tombstone and the Earps. He demands adoration as the oracle of ultimate truth about Wyatt Earp.
If forty years of studying history has taught me anything it is humility. Every fact is subject to interpretation, and every interpretation is open to challenge. Every person who presumes to write history, even the “leading authority,” must expect that other researchers will question his conclusions. In fact, the highest compliment that can be paid to a writer of history is to have subsequent researchers debate his conclusions. The best that any historian can expect is that after he has written, no one else in the field can write without taking him into account.
No subject is the private domain of any one person or group. Wyatt Earp as a historical figure cannot be copyrighted. Boyer flatly states in several of his publications that he has made all of the major discoveries on the subject and written the only reliable work. Even granting his contributions, this statement is absurd. Anyone familiar with the literature, will see Boyer’s debt to a whole range of authors and researchers in his works. Yet, even when he is forced to acknowledge the work of others, he assumes a patronizing air which is wholly unwarranted.(87)
Even in situations where Boyer has published documents first, his prior publication does not necessarily mean that he found them first nor does it give him any preemptory right to use them to the exclusion of other writers. To assume he does is to misunderstand the historical process. If the documents are in any public repository or in other places accessible to researchers, they are open to be freely used without attribution to Boyer. If they are quoted directly from Boyer’s work, they ought to be acknowledged.
But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Boyer has appropriated photographs without attribution and claimed credit for first publishing material actually first published by others.(88) He has used documentary quotes from the publications of others, including Douglas Martin and Al Turner, without crediting their works as sources. In fact, Boyer relies heavily upon other published works for materials and documents quoted from contemporary sources. Instead of going to the original files of the Nugget or the Epitaph he quotes from those sources as published elsewhere. It is an easy trap to fall into, and most of us have taken that short-cut at one time or another. But it is a practice that ought to be avoided, especially if the material is to be a part of an “eyewitness” account by someone who supposedly wrote before those sources were published.(89)
Most historians understand that if the purpose is to broaden knowledge, the real satisfaction comes from having made a contribution, not from an endless string of parenthetical attributions written into everv work that follows. Historical knowledge is not the exclusive property of any one person, and no researcher who hoards sources after having used them in his own work can really expect respect if he is unwilling to have his conclusions tested against the insights of others. Scholarship is about the discovery and dissemination of information. The object of the process is to learn and to share knowledge and insight. And if historians do their job well, what they do provides clues for new studies and becomes embedded in the works that follow.
No one reasonably can expect that others will accept his interpretations as an act of faith and subscribe to his conclusions without testing his sources. Furthermore, disagreement is not necessarily disrespect. Some of the most satisfying relationships I have had in forty years of research have been with individuals with whom I disagree fundamentally. In an atmosphere of mutual respect I have sharpened my own perceptions, modified my thinking, and developed new insights precisely because of the debate. That, in fact, is what historical discourse is about. It is possible to have dialogue without having to kick, gouge, bite, and watch one’s back.
Truthfully, I’m encouraged by the prospects. A surprising amount of material is being discovered by a wide range of Earp researchers which will force further revisions in what we already know. One of the contributions of Casey Tefertiller’s Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend is to remind us that there is value in mining the sources we may think have been “worked out” for pockets of treasure missed by others. This is a useful corrective because far too many of us have been lazy in our research, assuming that everything in the Nugget or the Epitaph has been found and relying on what has already been published. We have also assumed that all the public records have been used and too often have ignored the broader contemporary context. The good news is that much of the fresh material is being shared because we have learned that the dialogue which results from cooperation often leads to sharper, better informed conclusions. Glenn Boyer could still be a part of that and make the kind of contribution that he already claims for himself.
Unfortunately, I predict that Glenn Boyer will simply scoff at these standards. He’ll question my character, assume I’m part of a conspiracy, and accuse me of being a wannabe who is jealous of his accomplishments. He has already expressed his contempt for the canons of historical ethics. If he follows true to form, he will strut and posture and spew invective. Why does he do it? It is fun. He sees himself as Mark Twain rather than Frederick Jackson Turner, and his greatest pleasure comes in twisting the tail of history rather than in illuminating the past through scholarship. He likes to see how gullible we all are and delights in our uncritical acceptance of his fantasies. He apparently even believes that his way comes closer to the truth than the proven techniques of responsible methodology. It is history itself that he despises.
Ironically, Boyer is linked to the tradition of Walter Noble Bums, Stuart N. Lake, and Frank Waters–all of whom he belittles–but there is a sinister element in his work more reminiscent of Edwin V. Burkholder’s passion for making things up than of Burns’ and Lake’s storytelling or Waters’ debunkery.(90) Like Burkholder, he knowingly and deliberately distorts the record with imagined reminiscences and documents while posturing as the defender of truth. Like Burkholder, he manufactures his own fan letters. Roger Peterson recently said of him: “Novelists make up stories, often based on credible settings. Historians interpret facts to build an accurate picture of what happened and how things were. Boyer does neither. Furthermore, he confused the two.”(91)
I take no pleasure in what I have written here. I have neither time nor inclination for name calling or personal feuds. Nothing would please me more than to discover that the Peanut Letters, the Ten Eyck papers, the Parsons-Clum manuscript of Mrs. Earp’s memoirs, his materials on Kate Elder, and a variety of other sources quoted over the years do, in fact, exist and that all the photographs are of the persons they are alleged to be. I would eat crow willingly and rejoice in his vindication. After all, what really matters is the truth. What does Boyer have to lose by validating his sources if they are, in fact, legitimate? At the very least, he would silence his critics and remove the doubts that exist about his handling of sources.
What is at stake in this controversy is fundamental. Those who value history must guard jealously the integrity of the written record. It is the only road map to the truth. Organizations like WOLA and NOLA were created in the first place because their members wanted to find the reality behind the Western myth, and they have made a difference by providing valuable forums for the dissemination of new data and new interpretations. The members of these organizations know, perhaps better than most, that history is about the search for truth, not about some permanently enshrined icon passed off as truth. History is a living thing that finds it real value in the interplay of perspectives that enlarge our understanding of the past and of ourselves.
The questions raised by Boyer’s critics are fundamentally important because they touch core issues much larger than one man’s writing. And if they cannot be satisfactorily answered, then those who have admired the work of Glenn Boyer and who have taken him at his word have been betrayed. In his WOLA response to Morey, Boyer wrote of his critic: “He seems convincing only if one innocently buys his interpretations of things as he wishes one to do and accepts them as the only possible interpretations.”(92) Actually, that sentence more accurately describes Boyer’s work than Morey’s criticism – and he knows it better than anyone.
The truth is that Glenn Boyer has accomplished his purpose. In a perverse twist of irony that Boyer himself doubtlessly appreciates and secretly gloats about, those who love this field of history do owe him a debt. At long last, he has accomplished what he set out to do when he wrote An Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday thirty-two years ago. He has, as he intended, “tripped up history fakers and/or bad research.”(93) He has proven how easily the unwary researcher can be fooled, and he has driven home the lesson that every source must be critically analyzed to ensure accuracy. His experiment worked–to the undying embarrassment of researchers everywhere. Unfortunately, in the process, he has fouled his own nest and proven that he is the biggest faker of all.
Boyer claims that he promised Estelle Miller that he would “set the record straight about her uncles.”(94) On that core he has failed, and that is sad. The tragedy is that even if he has found the truth, it is so buried in a crazy quilt of obfuscation and deceit that serious searchers will not believe it. He is, at least, an accessory after the fact in the “suppressed murder” of Wyatt Earp that he described thirty-one years ago. He has acted with premeditation and malice aforethought because he knows better than most what standards good history requires. Boyer has said more than once that he would rather make history than write history. In fact, he has succeeded in becoming a part of the Earp saga that cannot be ignored. But at what cost to history?