“Is he a liar now, or was he a liar then?” is the central theme of Glenn Boyer’s accounts on Wyatt Earp.
“Caveat emptor” never applied more to an auction than the sale of Boyer’s purported Earp collectibles at J. Levine Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, on April 17. The top-selling weapon, Wyatt’s alleged Colt .45, was even stretched as possibly being carried by the lawman at the 1881 O.K. Corral shoot-out in Tombstone.
Boyer’s “provenance” is a typewritten letter dictated by Bill Miller to daughter LaVonne Griffin, attesting to the weapons and their ownership. Bill was married to Estelle, Wyatt’s niece. The letter claims “Sadie,” a nickname for Wyatt’s widow, Josie, probably gave the gun to actor Tom Mix. Bill advised Boyer to search “hock shops” to see if he could locate the Colt.
The letter is strange because, 25 years after Bill’s death, in 1999, Boyer said he had never asked Bill for documentation for the guns. A copy of his statement, which appeared on Boyer’s website, was provided to us by Casey Tefertiller, author of Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend. Before that, in 1994, Boyer signed an affidavit that confirms he did not have such documentation from Bill. Did Boyer type the letter up later, to give his weapons an air of provenance?
The serial number, 5686, ties the alleged Wyatt Colt to a batch of Colts purchased by the U.S. Army in 1874, putting it in circulation before the 1881 gunfight. Those who knew Boyer won’t be surprised that even the serial number is in question. Boyer, or someone, filed it off the gun, and the number represented at auction was determined via x-ray testing.
The Boyer auction is not the first time someone has tried to represent a gun as being at the O.K. Corral gunfight. John Gilchriese claimed this about a Smith & Wesson, says Jeff Morey, the historian who first revealed Boyer’s big whoppers in 1994 (which eventually led to the University of Arizona admitting Boyer’s I Married Wyatt Earp had a “fictional format”). The Autry National Center in Los Angeles purchased that gun, but it was later determined to be a presentation revolver given to John Clum.
Nor is this the first time a Wyatt gun has made waves in the Earp community. In this magazine, in February/March 2001, Randy Smith argued “one revolver…can be clearly associated with Earp with little doubt of its authenticity.” He stated the Republican party gave Wyatt a Colt .45, serial 40609, when he left Dodge City, Kansas, in 1879. The gun has a backstrap engraved with “Wyatt Earp, 1879,” allegedly by Dodge City jeweler Francis J. Durand.
Morey recalls that when the editors of Guns & Ammo looked at the engraving in the 1980s, they felt the edges were not sufficiently worn down by use to have been executed in 1879. That issue could be settled by testing the engraving to see if it matches the oxidation exhibited by other areas of the gun. Without knowing the results of such a test, the jury is still out on that gun.
Even the gun that has the best provenance one can hope for in a Wyatt firearm was given with a story that Wyatt had carried it in Tombstone.
The Arizona Historical Society owns that Colt .45, serial number 87145, donated by the family of Lincoln Ellsworth. Josie gave the gun to Ellsworth after learning he had christened the ship for his Antarctic expeditions Wyatt Earp; Ellsworth’s fascination with Wyatt extended to his crew members, who read Stuart Lake’s Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal and Walter Noble Burns’s Tombstone, kept in the ship’s library.
The gun is accompanied by two handwritten letters by Josie. “In the first two letters Josephine describes the provenance of the .45 Colt as being given to Wyatt by Wells Fargo detective Jim Hume and used by Virgil Earp as well as Wyatt, during Tombstone days,” says Laraine Daly Jones, museum collections manager.
The gun is an 1873 Single Action Army, yet it was shipped from the Colt factory to New York in 1883, which means it is not old enough to have seen service during Wyatt’s Tombstone days.
“It is important to note that most of the anecdotes Josephine told Ellsworth about the [gun] were simply not true,” wrote Neil Carmony, in his investigation published in the April-June 2002 edition of Quarterly of the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History. His report does confirm that Josie wrote those two letters.
In her first letter to Ellsworth, Josie wrote she would tell him the “history of the gun as far as I know, what I have heard Wyatt say.” After revealing the details in her second letter, dated November 1, 1936, she admitted, “I just can not remember all.”
Josie was 75 years old when she wrote Ellsworth. Wyatt had left Tombstone 54 years before, and he had been dead for nearly eight years. That she didn’t get the history right does not invalidate the gun as being one owned by her husband.
Josie did not, however, fabricate documents to support her account, as Boyer had with his Clum manuscript that changed the story of the O.K. Corral gunfight by having Doc Holliday and Morgan Earp start the shoot-out.
Why would anyone trust an admitted liar and faker of historical artifacts? Boyer brushed such questions of his credibility aside, saying in 1998, “Who else knew all these people? Who else today knows all the people who are still living?… I should get credit for what I did.”
This spring some collectors gave him credit by ponying up quite a bit of dough for firearms Boyer claimed were owned by Wyatt, his father, Nicholas, and his brother Virgil. Miller, who called Boyer the “only son I ever had” in his dubious letter, commented, “…if they don’t believe Glenn, he should tell them to go to hell.”
The Glenn Boyer Estate made nearly $400,000 on its Earp artifacts sold at the auction.