Friday, September 25, 2015

Wyatt Earp's story

I wonder if the Earps will ever escape the bushels of printed nonsense written about us.
Richard S. Wheeler, Trouble in Tombstone

In his 2004 novel Trouble in Tombstone, Richard S. Wheeler tells the Earp story in Wyatt Earp's own words, much as he did with Bat Masterson in Masterson in 1999. Whether the result is really the truth, or just more printed nonsense, is left to the reader to judge.

To be sure, much nonsense has been written about the Earps, Masterson, Doc Holliday and assorted other western heroes and villains over the years. There remain disagreements about what really happened at OK Corral and whether Wyatt and Virgil Earp were more lawmen or lawbreakers. Wheeler says he "stayed reasonably close to historical events" in his novel, which is probably the best one could hope for given that historians disagree on the subject. Yet I find Wheeler's novel convincing because, rather than painting Wyatt Earp as the nearly flawless hero of the TV legend or the killer the some newspapers of his time called him, he makes him a real human being, with flaws, who means well and does the best he can, even when he doesn't quite follow the letter of the law.

As Earp tells the story of Tombstone, it wasn't Ike Clanton and the rest of that gang of thieves who were the real problem. Rather it was the sheriff, John Behan, who protected more than he pursued the criminals, and the Tombstone newspaper editor, whose front-page fiction blamed the Earp brothers for every robbery and every shooting. "There's nothing worse than a journalist, except maybe a novelist," Wheeler has Earp say, taking a jab at both his own profession and mine. The story shows how Wyatt Earp might have thought that way. He knew how to handle rough men with guns. It was civilized men telling lies who left him helpless.

The main problem I find is that while Earp says again and again how weak he is with words, once asking Doc Holliday to write something for him, this book supposedly written by Earp himself is quite beautifully written. Holliday, being dead for years when Earp in his old age gets around to telling his story, could not have written it for him.

No comments:

Post a Comment