COVER BOY EARP
The cover photograph of Wyatt Earp used on your October 2005 issue of Wild West turned out great. However, after having furnished a copy of this photo to you upon your request, I was stunned when I read Casey Tefertiller’s opinion of the provenance as being “less than perfect.” Had you asked me for the provenance, I would have gladly sent it to you. This is not some flea market–found look-alike photo. It has excellent provenance; in fact, the exact provenance as the Lamar photo that Tefertiller used on the cover of his book (Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend). It came from the same Earp family album that included the Lamar photograph, the Nicholas and Virginia Earp photo and an original identified carte de visite of Virgil Earp with a photographer’s imprint of Monmouth, Ill., on the back. This photo album was given to Charles Dearborn from his grandmother Pearl Earp, who was Wyatt’s first cousin. Pearl was the daughter of Nicholas Earp’s brother James O’Kelly Earp.
Also, computer overlays have been done to the Lamar and Wichita photo with a perfect match. I quote from a letter from Casey Tefertiller that I have in my files: “A new picture of Wyatt Earp turned up, and it is absolutely spectacular. It is a tintype taken during the mid-1870s, probably about the time he was in Wichita. He is wearing a soft hat at a rakish angle, plus a fancy suit with a rosette tie. The detail on the face is excellent, though some of the suit has washed out and there is a flaw below the tie. The face is clearly Wyatt, with the unique jaw line, and the ears match. Plus, it is from the Earp family album, the same one that produced the 1869 photo that first appeared in John Gilcrease’s museum.” I can only assume that what Casey Tefertiller meant when he said “the provenance was less than perfect,” was that the photograph was not accompanied by a notarized letter of authentication from Wyatt Earp himself.
Casey Tefertiller responds: There is always a problem with partial quotes, and an even greater problem with partial quotes of partial quotes. My quote used in the October issue was, “The provenance is not perfect, but it is about as good as it gets with pictures of this type.” My friend Craig refers only to the first part of this quote.
A perfect provenance would be a picture that was clearly identified during the subject’s lifetime, so there could be no doubt. An example of this is the photo of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson together that has appeared in nearly all Earp books, including mine. The picture that appeared on the cover of Wild West has very good provenance, as Craig listed. Because of space limitations, Wild West only partially quoted my original statements on the photograph. Another notable point is that I submitted the picture to two photo-identification experts, noted photo historian Robin Gilliam and a police photo expert. Both agreed that all indications were that the photo is, indeed,Wyatt Earp. The key identifying points match other photos of Earp.
As with nearly everything in the Earp field, this photo has sparked debate. That is why I made every effort to verify the photo before publication. I think Craig and I agree on everything except the definition of “perfect.” As said, the provenance is about as good as it gets with pictures of this type.
Thank you for resurrecting George Armstrong Custer, again (Wild West, August 2005). In death, he lives forever. “Custer’s Last Stand Still Stands Up,” by Robert Nightengale was disappointing, however, as the vehicle you chose for raising the general’s by-now-exhausted ghost. Nightengale, like all conspiracy buffs, seems in his article to cherry-pick from the fairly large hill of evidence about this most famous of Indian victories. Thus the fruit of Lakota and Cheyenne survivors’ testimony is judged unripe and summarily dismissed as “contradicting.” His “might have” rationales for troop movements transubstantiate into logical truth to be questioned at one’s peril.
As a tease for Nightengale’s other, longer pieces alleging an official coverup, this article works well. Yet, since he presents accusations here that shell-shocked Reno (the favorite villain in this story for over a century) and bumbling old Benteen disobeyed direct orders issued by their commander, acted cowardly in the face of the enemy and failed miserably to rescue the general in extremis, I’d hope Nightengale might reveal to us which specific orders were disobeyed. Does he think “Bring packs” or “Be quick” were not followed by Benteen? We don’t know.
Anyone who has read of Custer’s previous combat exploits, a few noted by the author, understands that Custer had a knack for repeatedly picking the right moment to charge the foe. Was his attack on this “big village” to be another in the string? Nightengale writes that Custer had a plan of attack at the Little Bighorn, and there is good evidence presented elsewhere that this is true, but Nightengale is under some obligation to reveal the details of the plan as he sees it and this he does not do satisfactorily.
What continues to stand up, therefore, is that Custer divided his force in the absence of reliable intelligence regarding his enemy’s position or strength, that he attempted to attack a superior enemy before his forces had reassembled, and that he was surprised by those he had hoped to surprise. It is likely when Custer saw the village from Weir Point he realized that he had miscalculated but also saw a long-shot opportunity to pull off a spectacular coup with another of his patented charges. From there on, his plan of battle was revised from moment to moment as he was compelled to respond to spontaneously clever movements by those uncooperative Indians, who frustratingly outnumbered him by at least 7- to-1 and had (at least many of them did) weapons superior to his own. No doubt at some point, Custer must have thought, “This is just not my day.” But, of course, he was wrong about that, too, wasn’t he?
At best, the Little Bighorn battlefield today can only be likened to a contaminated crime scene. I’ve seen the television special focusing on the archaeological digs in the area, with its arguments that there was a breakdown in communication, command and control. I agree this is nonsense and ignores factors mentioned by Robert Nightengale in “Custer’s Last Stand Still Stands Up.” Sadly, few modern Custer researchers seem to be able to “think outside the box”; most are more aptly described as folklorists. When someone like Robert Nightengale comes along presenting hard facts and sound theories, he subjects himself to accusations of being a revisionist, at the very least. My feeling is that Mr. Nightengale has taken on a difficult task in his study of a very complex subject, but he’ll continue to take a practical approach in separating hard fact from the abundant nonsense in his search for the truth. Nearly a decade after its first printing, his book Little Bighorn is still, in my humble opinion, the best and most realistic overview on the subject to date. I wish him best fortunes in his future quests and hope that both he and Lt. Col. Ed Zimmerman keep their faith. Thanks for a great magazine.
Thomas J. Zion
Signal Hill, Calif.
In Robert Nightengale’s August article we see what an overactive imagination will do when mixed with the mysteries of the Little Bighorn. The author hopes to prove that Custer was fighting in the village. One simply has to read the scores of Indian participant accounts to realize it never happened. The author uses Edward Maguire’s maps to try to prove there was a conspiracy to cover up the idea that troops crossed the river into his “Area of New Discovery.” In fact, Maguire made four maps, all of them slightly different. He admitted he was never even over much of the field and that the maps were only guesswork. He redrew the map for the court and re-lettered it, altering the sequence a bit. His “E” on the first map simply became the “H” on the second map. They still represent the same point in the Deep Ravine and had nothing to do with the other side of the river.
There are problems with the maps on Pgs. 44-45. Maguire’s “H” and the green dot do not represent the same point, as Nightengale contends. The “H” and the green dot are both on the north (east) side of the river and not in the “Area of New Discovery.” The map superimposition is seriously flawed. The green dot for Last Stand Hill should actually be 5.16 of an inch on the map (.3 miles) to the SSE. The dot for Calhoun Hill needs to be moved about 7⁄16 of an inch (.45 miles) to the SSW. The green dot (Maguire’s “H”) that is supposed to be in the Deep Ravine, should be in the Deep Ravine, which is 7⁄16 of an inch (.45 miles) ESE of where the dot is placed. At its closest point, the Deep Ravine is .65 miles away from the “Area of New Discovery.” But Nightengale wants to prove troops fought in the valley so much that he apparently doesn’t see the contradictory historical and topographical evidence. But I will agree with him on one major point: There was a last stand on Last Stand Hill.
I just finished reading the October 2005 issue and enjoyed it thoroughly, as usual. I did find one error, though, in the “Gunfighters and Lawmen” article. R.K. DeArment wrote, “John [Meagher] married Jennie Fitzgerald, the daughter of the noted mountain man Thomas ‘Broken Hand’ Fitzgerald.” Broken Hand’s name was Fitzpatrick not Fitzgerald. Close, but no cigar. Keep the great articles coming.
“Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick (1799-1854) was indeed his name. I bought my last car from a guy in Rockville, Md., named Fitzgerald. Bob DeArment has written about the Meagher brothers elsewhere, and he never brought “Fitzgerald” into it before.We all make such slips, and I should have caught this one. Thanks for the correction. —Editor Gregory “Broken Brain” Lalire.
Originally published in the February 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.