Glenn Boyer kept the name of the iconic lawman Wyatt Earp alive but has been accused of muddying the Earp research field. Though other projects have preoccupied him of late, the controversial octogenarian has not lost his grit and again speaks with Wild West about his main man. This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue of Wild West magazine.
“Wyatt Earp is a dirty word!” snarls Glenn Boyer of the iconic lawman about whom he has written so much. The quote is not his, he explains, but was spoken by an Earp relative tired of the endless postmortems on his famous relative. Boyer himself has spent decades researching and cataloging the comings and goings of Earp, authoring dozens of books, pamphlets and articles about the West’s most famous lawman and his sphere of acquaintances in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, and elsewhere. Boyer’s most noted Earp works are a trilogy—Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp (1967), I Married Wyatt Earp (1976) and Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta (1993). In the first, Boyer suggested Earp had been figuratively murdered by other writers and replaced by a glowing myth, not that the real man had actually been murdered.
Critics who have scrutinized Boyer’s writings fall into two distinct camps of opinion: Admirers have dubbed him “the Icon,” while detractors question his sources and decry him as a fraud. Name-calling between the two sides flared up a decade ago. In October 1998, Wild West ran interviews with Boyer and Casey Tefertiller, author of the 1997 biography Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. These 10 years later, it is not our purpose to restage the old verbal shootout, but to see how Boyer, at 85, views his long obsession with Earp’s life and involvement with Earp family members, to get a handle on just what primary material he has (or once had) in his collection, and to see whether time has mellowed a man known by friends and enemies alike for his cantankerousness.
What is your family connection with the Earps?
My father was operating a shovel and rocker in Nome, Alaska, in 1901, on the Golden Strand. He was in the employ of a woman looking for her own fortune, whose husband was a saloonkeeper. Pa also worked for her husband as a “swamper,” or janitor, in his saloon. This couple was Wyatt and Josie Earp. My father paid little attention to the fact that Wyatt had earned a reputation as a dangerous lawman.
Later on, Pa, again working as an itinerate laborer, was thrown together with Earp in San Bernardino, Calif., while working orange groves owned by George Miller, a close friend of Wyatt’s. The two had met as teenagers in San Bernardino in 1864. Dad hit it off with Miller’s son, Bill. Given the closeness of George and Wyatt, it provided an opportunity for courtship between Bill and Estelle Edwards, the daughter of Adelia Earp Edwards, Wyatt’s sister. Bill and Estelle married a year later. Eventually, they became a second set of parents to me; likewise, they thought of me as a son.
When did you get interested in all things Wyatt Earp?
Looking back, 1937 was a seminal year for my Earp quest. On November 14 that year, I read an article in the Chicago Tribune, “Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die,” and that led me to Stuart Lake’s book Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal . Eventually, my father read it too, and he made a strange remark: “So that’s who he was.” This was the sort of reaction that emerged later on when Estelle Miller told me, “If I’d known Uncle Wyatt was going to be such a big important man, I’d have paid more attention to him.” When I would ask my father about Earp, he would tell me they talked “mostly horses.” He added, “What would a young fellow say to an old guy that didn’t talk much?” But my interest in Wyatt was off and running, and letters between Pa and Bill Miller stoked the coals as well. Bill would reveal much more about Wyatt years later.
What was your relationship with the Millers?
In 1943 I was an aviation cadet stationed in Southern California. I was invited to visit the Millers, and our first meeting was in Los Angeles at the home of Hildreth Halliwell, a relative of the Millers by marriage. Hildreth was the great-grandniece of Virgil Earp. Virg’s widow, Allie, was living with Hildreth. Not much was learned at this meeting, with the exceptions of a few gems not fit for print. What the hell would a green 19-year-old kid say to her? In time I learned plenty about her, mostly from the Millers, who dearly loved her. I would meet her several other times at the Miller home in Highland, Calif. Allie would pull my leg with bogus flying advice: “Fly low and slow,” she would say with a practiced poker face. Bill Miller, when a grown man, would shed tears whenever he remembered her. I also met Josie, Wyatt’s third wife, but, sad to say, had little dialogue with her. The one thing I did remember was, when my father was mentioned, she said, “He was a nice boy.”
The Millers provided much about Wyatt and Josie. As a young man, Bill Miller had spent a lot of time with Wyatt in the eastern California desert. Over these years, a strong bond developed between the old lawman and his young companion. Wyatt, as Stuart Lake would later find out, was not big on telling much about his history. But with Bill he eventually became quite revealing about his Western experiences. Space is too limited to detail the literally scores of my sources who were Earps, or the vast number of relatives of prominent characters of that era who sought me out and gave me much in the way of memorabilia and family letters. Just to mention some of these: the McLaury family, Holliday family, Behan family, relatives of Wyatt’s second wife, Celia Blaylock, and relatives of Big Nose Kate.
Did you, as critics accuse, falsify info in your 64-page booklet Illustrated Life of Doc Holliday (1966)?
As I told a lot of people as early as the 1970s, the Holliday booklet was both a hoax and a trap for lousy researchers.
Some Earp researchers and authors made similar accusations about I Married Wyatt Earp. Your response?
Much of the flack I got was from people who started out to write a book about Wyatt and came to me for help. The usual pattern developed where they eventually “knew” more than I did, and subsequently, I became a target to enhance their own writing and research credentials. Mostly they were people with limited understanding who used copied or corrupted material for their additional research. I suspect that much of their material originally emanated from my collection. It seems now fruitless to trace the over 40-year history of my loaning out files and documents, only to have some of the recipients claim, at a later date, that they “found them.” These purloined documents eventually were used by some writers as their basis of facts. When they were used, it was an easy stretch for those writers to claim that mine were bogus; a needed justification on their part.
When considering I Married Wyatt Earp, I often used my knowledge of Josie when using dialogue so she could tell her tale, the way she wanted. That knowledge is well fortified by my written, taped and oral research among the many Earps who knew her and Wyatt. Whether the details Josie gave in her memoirs are correct or not is categorically unimportant. They are her details; the way she wanted it written. The fact of the matter is that’s why the manuscript written by two Earp relatives, Vinnolia Ackerman and Mabel Cason, as they interviewed Josie in the 1930s, was never published. They could not get her to tell the truth about Tombstone. Researchers Scott Dyke, Ben Traywick and Lee Silva have examined my manuscript and compared it with another. All three have concluded mine is the original. In addition, Scott has seen corroborating notes made by the two Earp women. He found them in one of my files.
You based Josie’s post-Tombstone years on the Cason manuscript. But you’ve said the Tombstone part of the book was based on the Clum manuscript, prepared by Josie and former Tombstone Mayor John Clum, along with George W. Parson, who kept a Tombstone journal. For instance, in I Married Wyatt Earp, you write, “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 A. Colyn.” But critics have said there is no Clum or Colyn manuscript. What is your response?
First, let’s look at the origin of the so-called Clum manuscript. Jeanne Cason Laing wrote me over 25 years ago: “My mother [Mabel Cason] and aunt [Vinnolia Ackerman] were aware of the earlier ‘Clum’ manuscript covering the Tombstone years and, for that reason, were willing to burn that portion of their manuscript [Cason manuscript] at Mrs. Earp’s request. My aunt had written that portion.” Contributions to the overall fabric of Josie’s story were undoubtedly made by former Tombstone mayor and Earp friend John Clum. It seems that some Earp researchers got hung up on this “manuscript” business, just like they did on the significant contributions of Esther Colyn (nee Irvine) and hence the bandied name “Colyn manuscript.” Mrs. Colyn, a dear friend, turned over a large body of work to me before she died. She was a consummate genealogist and researcher. I owe much to her lengthy quest to track the Earps.
You have also been accused of making up the source for your book Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta. Any response?
I was more than slightly amused that some in the Earp field were shocked and aghast that I used a literary device to tell the story. My initial goal was to write the book to “set the record straight” on Wyatt. I had promised the Millers and other family members that I would do so. Not all I wrote about Wyatt was complimentary, of course, but it sure was revealing and accurate. Along with that responsibility, I had a moral obligation to protect these relatives from intrusions by Earp nuts and writers. Unfortunately some of these nice folks got caught in the crosshairs of some “one-book wonders.” I really think this controversy was overblown. Your average high school kid could figure out that the character (Ten Eyck) was a storytelling device. Even the most howling of my critics would grant that I am not stupid. Ergo, it stands to reason that if I used a figure that was not historically present in Tombstone during that period, something less than a genius could pick up on that—or so I thought. The fact that some didn’t “get it,” or didn’t want to “get it,” troubles me little. After all, life gets a tad shorter at 85. Besides, I addressed all this in The Earp Curse .
So, Scott Dyke and Ben Traywick can verify your primary sources?
Yes. Scott Dyke has been collating my files for the last three or four years. I am grateful for Scott’s help. It has been a tedious piece of labor. I am also in the process of scanning and digitizing my collection. The folks of Legendary Publishing are handling this. They are updating the process on their blog at www.legendarypublishing.com. Before Scott, Ben Traywick had access years ago. [Traywick, who has known Boyer since 1969, calls him “the No. 1 Earp historian” and adds, “Glenn has always opened his files to me when I visited his home.”] They are the only ones that have had complete access to my collection; so much has “disappeared” over the years when I was in a sharing mode.
What Earp memorabilia have you sold or donated?
I’ve sold lots of memorabilia, and not just Earp stuff. I sold a bunch of Wyatt’s things to the museum in Harrisburg, Pa., for $250,000, and donated one of his guns. Private collectors have bought some of my files. Items run the gamut from Wyatt’s deathbed to his saddle and razor. I sold my file with original stuff on Big Nose Kate [gathered in collaboration with Dr. A.W. “Bill” Bork, who met Kate in 1935]. I have sold some of Josie’s things. I understand that one of Wyatt’s rifles I sold resurfaced lately and sold for a year’s wages. I donated one of the original Cason manuscripts to the University of Arizona. The Ford County (Kansas) Historical Society was given the other Cason manuscript and one of the two original Flood manuscripts [from unpublished Earp biographer John H. Flood]. I also gave them some Louisa Earp [Morgan Earp’s widow] letters and some other stuff. The president of the Ford Historical was given instructions that no one is to view those documents unless I give permission. The last people to view them were a professor back East and Scott Dyke. A private buyer bought the other Flood manuscript.
Your wife, Jane Candia Coleman, is an accomplished writer. Do you discuss the craft with her?
Of course. She used my files to write several books, notably Doc Holliday’s Woman and Tombstone Travesty. Her talent has resulted in many awards through the years. Recently, she published The White Dove, a classical book of poetry on Father Kino. She received her fifth Pulitzer nomination for that effort.
Who else has made significant contributions to the Earp field?
Well, Stuart Lake certainly did. Of course, parts of his book were mythical. There were some debunkers of the Earp legend that made a name for themselves—Frank Waters comes to mind. His work has been pretty much discredited. Earp biographer Lee Silva is a good writer and researcher. Karen Tanner did a great job on Doc Holliday, her relative. Ben Traywick—hell, with what he’s done for Tombstone, they ought to rename the town after him. Recent published efforts have been more or less reinventing the wheel.
Do you have plans to publish more about Earp?
Yes. a publisher is pushing me to reissue two of my Earp books, with new chapters added. I Married Wyatt Earp, Josie’s memoirs that I edited, is scheduled to be reprinted with chapters that were excluded from the original publication. Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta is being considered as well. That book has become rare and has been out of print for some time.
What do you consider your key accomplishments in the Earp research field?
I delivered on my promise to his relatives: to set the record straight on Wyatt, what he did and who he was. Along the way, which has been over 40 years, I turned into a pretty damn good writer. I just finished a book that I have been working on for years. Where the Heart Was will soon be published. It’s not an Earp book, but it is probably my best work.
Do you regret the years of controversy?
Oh boy, that’s a loaded one. Well, let’s see.…I sometimes feel I would have been better off if I had never heard of Wyatt Earp. It kind of grew into this consuming cocoon through the years. Many of his relatives, as well as myself, have acknowledged the existence of a curse upon those who brought his story to light. Looking back, I know how Wyatt must have felt about the unwanted attention he got. But I’m stuck with it, just like Wyatt was.
I wish I had not shared my research with others in the early years. Their pirating only muddied the waters.
Critics have called you gruff and confrontational. Have you mellowed any?
That sounds suspiciously like a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question. Actually, I have always considered myself a pussycat. ww