March 14, 2012

Who were the Earps?

In a good new book, we see that Wyatt Earp was neither saint nor thug, but a complex, ego-driven man at the heart of an ultimately explosive situation in Tombstone, Arizona.

The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral--And How It Changed the American WestThe Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral--And How It Changed the American West by Jeff Guinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a realistic interpretation of the "shootout at the O.K. Corral" (which didn't happen there), and the events and people leading up to it, and afterward.

Serious western history aficionados know that nobody involved here was a saint. That said, some recent revision has attempted to make Wyatt Earp into a thug, and he wasn't that either.

Guinn does a good job of showing that Earp, before Tombstone, rarely fired his gun, rather using the gun butt or barrel to control drovers in Dodge City and elsewhere.

As for the "showdown," he says that, while a variety of tensions had been building, it was Ike Clanton's alcohol-fueled bragging that was the trigger.

Beyond both the Earps and Clantons were GOP/Democrat party politics, cattle rustling vs. respectability, stage robbers vs. Wells Fargo and more.

Even some earlier histories of the fight have failed to catch the full complexity.

Guinn also shows how Earp family ego was behind events. A family that had moved across the Midwest, then the West, for multiple generations, yet generally failed to attain the level of recognition family patriarchs believed it deserved, was a major issue.




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Beyond the scope of the book, I can also add that Tombstone, Ariz., today is a HUGE tourist trap. Compare that to Lincoln, N.M., of Billy the Kid fame, a New Mexico state historical park where you're not being pricew-gouged around every O.K. Corral corner.

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