Legendary Wyatt Earp
I’ll confess to rolling my eyes a bit when my April issue of Wild West arrived. Ah, another cover story on Wyatt Earp. How original. After reading the article, however, my eyes are back in proper alignment and my hat’s in my hands. It’s refreshing to read an Earp piece that avoids the tiresome “who-did-he-shoot, what-gun-did-he-carry” stuff, and instead breaks fresh ground. How a man’s legend is crafted is an apt topic for today’s fame-obsessed, reality-show America. Well done, Messrs. Eric Weider and John Rose. I likewise enjoyed Allan Radbourne’s feature “Out of the West, Into the Western” and have but one wee quibble: Earp’s old compadre “Uncle Billy” Tilghman was killed in Cromwell, Okla. (where he was the city marshal), not in Compton.
La Verne, Calif.
Authors Eric Weider and John Rose respond: We’re glad you enjoyed “The Making of Wyatt Earp’s Legend.” Reading all those letters between the Earps and Stuart Lake was a special experience. It really allowed us to be a “fly on the wall,” in effect listening in on conversations that were not meant for public consumption and free of posturing. We enjoyed sharing this story with the Wild West readers. Without Frontier Marshal, Wyatt would surely have been a well-known lawman today—maybe something like Bill Tilghman or Pat Garrett—but that book is what made him the true American Icon of the West.
Some good new photos in the story about Wyatt Earp by Weider and Rose, but the myths continue. Several inaccuracies appear. The authors claim Wyatt would have preferred being called a lawman rather than a gunfighter. I doubt he wanted to be known as a lawman, either. He certainly never wanted to talk about his police days, and I got that from two people who knew him. The article refers to Lake and Earp meeting in 1928 and says Masterson was “by then working with Lake.” Bat died in 1921. The article implies Wyatt was poor in the 1920s because he and Josie lost their gambling ability. In reality, it was Josie’s inability to win at gambling that cost them a fortune. The article claims that Wyatt was a “consultant” to movie producer. We don’t know that. He may have been on some sets. The article says Billy Breckenridge visited with Earp to get information for Helldorado. But we know Billy was retained in the Crabtreee case and he was interviewing Earp chiefly to connect some dots on that matter, and likely told Earp so to get the appointment with him. After all, what Billy made up in his book, he surely didn’t get from Wyatt, right? The article claims Wyatt wanted Joel McCrae to play him in the movies. McCrae’s first film was in 1927. If Wyatt had any presumptions of someone playing him in film the actor would have been Bill Hart. The funeral photo again cites the guy on the left as lawyer William Hunsaker, but Carol Mitchell says that it is Fred Dornberger. She would know. Her grandfather was at the funeral and covered it for the Hearst papers. Lastly, Josie is pictured in a new photo with a tall man taken in Tombstone. The article cites him as John Flood. He doesn’t look like the nearly anorexic Flood we know. That Tombstone trip was in 1937. Jeanne Cason Laing told me it was the Ackermans who went with Josie to Tombstone. I doubt Mr. Ackerman would have allowed his wife, in the late 1930s, to travel from Los Angeles to Tombstone by herself. I say that’s Harold Ackerman. After all, why would Food go all the way to Tombstone with Josie, a relationship that was not dear, eight years after Wyatt died?
Roger S. Peterson
Eric Weider and John Rose respond: We agree that Mr. Peterson has pointed out some minor factual errors but do not feel these have in any way compromised the validity of our story. Other points he makes are a matter of opinion. Wyatt talked extensively about his police days to Flood and Lake, not the actions of a man trying to bury his police past. We meant to say that Lake had previously worked on the paper with Masterson, but not in 1928 (Mr. Peterson is correct that Masterson was dead by then). We never said that Wyatt or Josie “lost their gambling ability”; all we said was that they were heavy gamblers and had not done well preparing for their retirement years. Josie was the only Earp to ever lose at gambling? We did not claim that Wyatt was a “paid” consultant, rather that he did offer information and consultation about the West to early Hollywood actors and others in the movie business. Mr. Peterson is correct about the official purpose (the Crabtree case) for Breckenridge’s interviews, but the timing suggests that he was possibly also getting material for his book. The statement about Joel McCrae was based on a comment allegedly made by McCrae’s wife. Wyatt might have thought that both Hart and McCrae were good choices for playing him. A current Earp biographer, Lee Silva, says that who the actual pallbearers were at Wyatt’s funeral is still disputed, but we have no reason to dispute what Carol Mitchell says. As for the questioned photo, it did not come with identification. There is some resemblance to Flood’s facial features. But Mr. Peterson is correct that we should have made it clearer that we were not certain it was Flood.
Another Camel Driver
William P. Lowe
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