Editor’s Note: Glenn Boyer stirs up controversy once again with the April 17, 2014, auction of his Tombstone artifacts (caveat emptor) at J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale, Arizona. To give you a glimpse of the man behind the auction, we share Earp author Ann Kirschner’s story of meeting him while researching her book.
I’d heard a hundred stories about Glenn Boyer: he was a hero, a villain, a thief, a scholar, a scamp. Or maybe all of the above.
You can’t visit Planet Earp, the place where experts and amateurs spar for bragging rights about who knows most about the most enduring legend of the Wild West, without encountering Glenn Boyer. When I decided to write a book about Josephine Earp, common law wife of Wyatt Earp, I heard his name immediately. I needed to meet him, to know what he knew. Besides, I wanted to make up my own mind about Glenn Boyer.
Over the course of three years, I met with him about a dozen times. What old magazine used to have that series, “Most Interesting Person I Ever Met?”
Glenn Boyer is my choice.
I approached my first meeting with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Driving down an unpaved, dead-end street in Tucson in the heat of the afternoon, jet-lagged from an early morning flight from New York City, I finally located a low ranch house almost hidden behind by a chain link fence and a front yard filled with scrubby bushes and tall cactus.
And so it began.
Glenn’s wife Jane welcomes me in, a tall, spare woman with a wide, warm smile, a distinguished author and teacher, with some ten published works of fiction and poetry. After the blinding Tucson sun, I can hardly see very far in the dark interior but I follow her through the house, with its high ceilings and shelves filled with beautiful handmade baskets and cachinka dolls. There on the far side of the house, seated in an armchair in front of a laptop computer and surrounded by piles of papers, sits Glenn Boyer.
A mountain of a man, he unfolds from the chair and straightens up with some effort before he kisses my hand with exaggerated gallantry and gestures me over to the leather couch not too far away, then sinks back into his own big easy chair.
Glenn’s hearing is weak, and his steps uncertain, but at 80-something, he is still commanding presence. He starts to question me in a low rumbling tone, punctuated by an occasional puff on his cigar and sip of Scotch. The questions start simple and then escalate. More than testing my knowledge, Glenn wants to know who sent me? Was it any of the Earp boys on his shitlist? Two people are high on that list of his most-wanted. They are members of the gang he calls “Friends of Tombstone.” They are all his enemies. They are all idiots.
I’m not a front for anyone, I protest: I’m Switzerland! I care only about the truth!
But Glenn blows off my platitudes and things go downhill from there. Our first meeting is a mud bath in political incorrectness.
Am I one of those “libbers?” he demands. A feminist, defined by Glenn as “a sister who wanted to be a brother, and ended up a mother instead.” Or, “a woman seeking on a public platform the sexual satisfaction that has eluded her everywhere else.”
He moves on to homosexuality. He has personally defended the rights of gay soldiers to serve in the military, he asserts, but he can’t help being curious, as he imagines I am, about “why so many apparent homosexuals were drawn to Wyatt Earp…I wondered if they deplored their own place in society and in fact their biological propensity and were seeking an ultra male identity with Wyatt Earp. Somewhat like Walter Mitty.” These are members of the “Peter Pan Patrol,” he drawls, recognizable by their skinny arms and hairless legs, and they are not really men. He waves his own still hefty biceps in the air for emphasis.
Dizzy from the first cigarette I’ve had in years, which happens to be a Camel that I’ve snitched from Jane’s always ready pack, I’m nodding faintly, feeling like I might keel over from the overdose of testosterone and my rising anxiety at being an unwilling accessory to a homophobic rant. I must have heard wrong when he said that “Friends of Tombstone” should be renamed “Faggots on Tour.” I had decided not to tape record the conversation, and now I’m relieved that I did not, as I could hardly bear to relive the sound of my complicit silence as I absorb a barrage of ugly slurs.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned.
Ace in the Hole
Everybody who has ever studied or written about Wyatt Earp since 1960 has a point of view on Glenn Boyer, usually taken and held with the ferocity of the beach landing on Normandy.
As the reigning Earpist until the 1990s, Glenn’s ace in the hole was his personal link to people who knew Wyatt and Josephine. Over the course of our many conversations, he told me that he had known the son of Wyatt’s rival Johnny Behan, who eventually became the sheriff in Ajo, the Arizona town where Glenn had completed part of his military training. He also did many interviews with Wyatt’s relations, the Cason family, who also knew “Aunt Josie” in the 1930s. In fact, his father actually worked for the Earps several times up in Alaska as a “saloon swamper.” His father described the sight of Josephine panning on the Golden Strand of the Nome beach, “dressed fit to kill.” The Boyers and the Earps went way back; his father had been employed by Wyatt’s family in their San Bernardino orange grove.
It was his father, he told me, who introduced Glenn to Wyatt’s niece Estelle and her husband Bill Millers in 1943, when he was a lonely aviation cadet in Santa Ana. He celebrated Christmas at the home of Allie’s grandniece Hildreth Halliwell – and imagine, Virgil Earp’s widow, Allie Earp, was there! I enthusiastically agree that must have been “a helluva event!” second only to being at the poker table the night before the O.K. Corral. I can just see the scene: young, handsome Glenn Boyer interviewing Allie about the gunfight and hearing how she hiked up her skirts and ran all the way to Fremont Street, jumping over Tom McLaury and asking, “what son of a bitch shot you?”
Best of all, Glenn told me that he had met Josephine! “I was blindingly handsome,” he reminded me, with a roguish smile, and Josephine had “looked me over carefully.” Josephine, still attractive at 80-some years, remembered Glenn’s father from his days working for the Earps in Nome. “Such a nice boy,” she recalled with warmth.
It is all too delicious.
Days later, I am still trying to make the chronology work. Could Glenn have met Josephine? Could his father have worked for the Earps in Nome? I’ll have to work it out later.
Wyatt and Josephine’s Affair
The next time we meet, I try to play offense with my own theories. Surely Wyatt and Josephine had an affair in Tombstone, don’t you think? We roll our eyes together when I tell him about my argument with some Earp colleagues who consider this impossible. “I can account for every single day of Wyatt’s life in Tombstone,” one Earpist insists. “Wyatt was very very very busy. He didn’t have time for an affair.” That induces a belly laugh from Glenn, though he winces a bit in pain. “That’s the Peter Pan principle,” he roars! “Get me Sex Ring in a Small Town,” he instructs Jane, who returns with a slim volume that he presents to me with mock seriousness. It is the first of many books that he will give, lend, or sell me. This one is a slim pornographic novel written by Glenn under the pseudonym John Pelham to teach “stupid lovers how to make love.” There’s young Glenn on the back, posing in his tighty whities, raising a glass of something to the reader. Glenn inscribes it to me, and later sends me an email that includes the beefcake photo. No joke, he was one devilishly handsome fellow.
Then we’re back to talking about Estelle and Bill Miller, who were like second parents to him. “If I’d have known my Uncle Wyatt was going to be such a big, important man, I’d have paid more attention to him,” Estelle told Glenn. Estelle Josephine Miller was named after Josephine, and her husband Bill was the one who would sit next to Wyatt at the campfire, pulling out his stories about Arizona territory. It was Bill who got a good look at Wyatt’s huge equipment when they were taking a companionable leek. Bill asked Wyatt if he “raised that or did it raise you,” Wyatt grinning in return and waving it at Bill.
More stories from Bill and Estelle? Josephine was pregnant in Tombstone with Behan’s child and had an abortion. Josephine had an affair with Doc Holliday, who loved having his way with Josephine just to piss off Johnny Behan. Josephine observed payoffs in the form of rigged poker games when she was still living with Johnny. Josephine had a second abortion in San Diego, when Wyatt is cheating on her. Josephine’s wealthy sister Henrietta had an affair with Wyatt, and that’s why Henrietta supported Wyatt and Josephine in their later years.
All the while, Glenn lights up cigar after cigar, and Jane’s Camels are stacking up in the ashtray. We finish the bottle of wine I’ve brought and start on the Scotch.
I haven’t had a Scotch since my freshman year in college, and I dearly hope that this evening doesn’t end the way it did then, with my head in the toilet.
Around the third visit, I finally got around to my most important question. I’m a woman on a mission: I believe that Glenn has the manuscript of Josephine Earp’s memoir. I’ve been looking for a year at a fifth generation photocopy, and I am eager to see the original. Glenn finally brings it up himself. Would I like to see the manuscript? I’m dying to see it, I confess, hoping it’s in the next room.
He stalls a bit. But after he plies me with more books and more stories, and I’m ready to expire from exhaustion and nicotine poisoning, he reveals that he has placed the original manuscript of Josephine’s memoir not in the next room….but in Dodge City, Kansas.
Dodge City, Kansas!
Why there and not some of the important Tucson or Phoenix repositories? “They treated me like shit,” Glenn thunders. “When I sell this stuff, it will be apparent what I have. I’m tying strings on a lot of the stuff to make sure that the boys, you-know-who, never get to look at it.”
As fatigue washes over me, I feel like Dorothy appealing to the Wizard of Oz. I thought I had breached the Boyer fortress in Tucson, only to find out that I have to go to Dodge City to complete my quest.
Glenn is tired too. I accept a kiss on the hand, and I’m outside, gulping the cool evening air like a drowning person.
“Can’t help lovin’ dat man,” I hum on my next visit. The Glenn Boyer I met last time was a master storyteller and talented writer and an excellent researcher with a nose for ferreting out sources. Since then, I’ve heard more about his discoveries. Most recently, he rescued the letters of Louisa Earp, which were headed for oblivion. Louisa, the most mysterious of the Earp wives, married again after Morgan was killed, and her papers languished in family collections for decades, until her great grand-nephew found them, and offered them to Boyer. It is possible that these letters would have slumbered indefinitely, or been discarded, and no one would ever have known about the delicate naturalist and grieving widow.
But I’ve also learned more about the other Glenn Boyer, the inveterate trickster who is too damn fond of making mischief, justifying himself with the theory that anyone who falls for his tricks deserves his and her fate. Glenn prizes humor above all, except perhaps loyalty, and so it is a supreme insult when he says that the primary characteristic of Earp experts is a lack of laughter. So when I realize that Glenn’s father could not possibly have been in Nome with the Earps, and that Glenn made up the Christmas dinner scene with Allie and Josephine, I force a laugh—but really, I’m pissed off.
Over the course of the next two years, I could never convince him that what he considered practical jokes packed a corrosive power that alienated an entire generation of Earp writers and historians. Instead of being the King of Planet Earp, he chose to be the court jester.
Lost in the Boyer Vortex
Someone is watching me. All of Planet Earp seems to know that I have met Glenn. It happens with bewildering speed, as if somebody transmitted a secret message heard only by humans trained in the key of Cochise County. Is there a webcam trained on the Boyer driveway? GPS on my rental car? Somebody hacking into his email or mine? A paid informant at his favorite local Mexican joint, Casa Molina, recording our conversation and counting the empty Coronas? Did they follow me to Dodge City, where I went to see the original manuscript of Josephine’s memoir? To Nome, where the Earps lived for several summers? To Pasadena, where the papers of Wyatt’s first biographer, Stuart Lake, are held by Huntington Library?
I am buffeted by scoldings and warnings on all sides. The Earpists tell me that I am an ingénue lost in the Boyer vortex. They say that Glenn is in the twilight of his career, an aging jester and fraud seeking one last chance for vindication…or one last big con. He wants someone to authenticate what he’s done, and I am in his sights. Glenn’s supporters remind me that he is still the only real deal, the most authoritative source of Earp history, an old fellow, and a helpless victim of his puny enemies.
Glenn, Jane, and I resume our conversation a few months later. We are back at Casa Molina, knocking back cold Coronas and crisp tacos. Glenn is walking more slowly and cautiously, and Jane takes the wheel of the Boyer Cadillac for the short drive. Although the restaurant is nearly empty, Glenn can hardly hear me. His facial expressions have become increasingly mobile as his hearing declines, as if the alertness of his features must now compensate for his mismatched responses to my questions. It is better when he holds forth and I just listen to his stories of the Tombstone old-timers and the ranch where he and Jane first lived. This time, I am not too deep into the Boyer vortex or stuffed with sopapillas and Scotch to keep some distance. Hell, now he warns me himself! He regales me with the story of fake photos that he planted in his earliest book, Doc Holliday, “as a public service to expose the fakes.” This, he tells me, is his “higher purpose” in planting these Trojan Horses—to prove that “people copied liberally from each other without checking facts for accuracy.” He also considers it a huge source of amusement, a Western “bigwindie” that separates the real writers with active funny bones from the earnest toilers in the dry fields of history. “I hoodwinked the whole bunch of them!” he announced with great glee when Tombstone Vendetta was published. What his critics have called his hoaxes, he considers “historical experiments” that explore the genre of creative nonfiction. “I put him on outrageously somewhat in the manner of Mark Twain in his best ‘Western Big Windy’ mode,” he brags about a journalist he misled, evoking Truman Capote and Edmund Morris, all in the name of telling a good story.
I get the idea, I tell him. “This is the West, sir. When the past becomes legend, print the legend,” as John Ford instructed us in The Legend of Liberty Valance. I accept my duty to corroborate my research, while trying not being so prissy that I miss the genre-bending poker stick of a joke. I mean, who wants to be one of the humorless crowd? But could we not also have some truth in advertising, so struggling writers could separate facts from fiction, or at least identify the real from the speculative? For instance, I am quite sure, but can’t absolutely prove, that Wyatt and Josephine had their first kiss in Tombstone in the summer of 1881. Josephine kisses Wyatt with her mouth open in Robert Parker’s Gunman’s Rhapsody. I admire that novel. But shouldn’t I know whether Parker considers his work fictional?
My argument goes nowhere with Glenn, who loathes Parker anyway.
But now I see the full range of the Boyer defense: his traps are funny, they are useful, and his use of literary devices in retelling history is a time-honored tradition, blurring the lines of fact and fiction and producing better books in the process. Mark Twain does not appear in the index of Boyer’s books, but he is Boyer’s muse.
This was Glenn’s modus operandi, to draw in his victim with the bait of having been chosen to receive the mantle of leadership for the next generation of western writers, as if blessed by the hand that touched the hand of Earp. “I’ve been looking for a fine young man like you,” he said to a previous acolyte, “someone to take over my work and my manuscripts and now I will tell you stories that I’ve never told anyone.” Who wouldn’t be flattered?
“A new dunce surely would be on the way,” Glenn promised in his book The Earp Curse. Tonight, at Casa Molina, I repeat his own quote back to him, asking if I am the new dunce.
Is he going to fool me? He says no.
How will I know if you do? I press harder. Mentally, I am pulling the trigger. I am ready to win or lose right now.
Jane says quietly, I will tell you. Reader, I believed her.
Where the Heart Was
On my next visit to Tucson, Glenn and Jane are in the best of moods, jubilant about the imminent publication of a novel that Boyer has worked on for 10 years, and a major magazine profile. Better days are coming at last for them, I think, and I am happy to think that I too might play a bit part in Glenn’s rehabilitation.
At the end of the evening, Glenn sits in his big chair, a wreath of cigars and cigarettes circling his head, and reads aloud from the prologue to his new novel, Where the Heart Was.
I am bewitched! This reprobate, rogue, impossible man has put me under the spell of his rumbling baritone and the unexpected lyricism of his writing.
Alas, although Glenn’s novel is totally Earp-free and up front about its status as fiction, it falls victim to the bad karma, or perhaps it is still what Jane calls the Curse of Cochise County. A week after my visit, his editor, who is also the co-owner of the small publishing company, is killed in a car accident.
His Second Family
On future visits, Glenn is so weak that we stay home like old friends, and I bring them up to date on my research and family. There is no trip to Casa Molina, but the Scotch and cigars remain at his side. New York City always feels a million miles away during these visits. We’ve been talking about Estelle and Bill Miller, whom Glenn calls his second family. He stands up and waves me over to follow him as he pushes his walker into his office and opens his file cabinet. I catch a glimpse of a drawer crammed with folders with familiar names handwritten across the top: Earp, Miller, Behan, Cason. From somewhere in there, he pulls out a clattering bag of tape cassettes. I am stunned to see the name of Jeanne Cason Laing among the labels, daughter of Josephine’s first biographer. “I didn’t do all this to keep it under a goddam barrel,” he growls, and tosses the bag to me.
There are hours and hours of recordings, and back in New York, I listen to each one with reverence—and gratitude. These tapes are an extraordinary gift, a portal into another time. And they are authentic, I confirm, after comparing them to other recorded interviews with the same subjects, created a decade later, given to me by different sources.
I return the tapes to Jane and Glenn on my next trip. We talk about some of the revelations, and I tease him about his terrific interview style, particularly with the aging women. I try to explain my evolving theories about Josephine Earp but Glenn’s hearing has deteriorated to the point where I cannot always make myself understood, even with some shouting and Jane’s intervention.
As far as I can tell, Glenn is no longer writing. His emails to me are short, infrequent, and affectionate. I haven’t gotten any dirty jokes for a long time. Even the homophobic, anti-feminist edges have been quieted. He still sits in his big chair, a handsome hulk with his laptop and printer nearby, like Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise. He never opens the laptop anymore, but he reaches forward to stroke it from time to time, as if he is longing to snap open the lid and resume his keyboard punching.
Our roles are reversed. Now I entertain him with my discoveries. I have been dying to tell him my theory that the woman caught by Josephine in bed with Johnny Behan was a Tombstone resident named Emma Dunbar.
“Of course it was Emma Dunbar!” he booms.
Deflated, I wonder aloud why he once assured me that Behan’s lover was not Dunbar but another woman named Kitty Jones. “He fucked her too!” he roars with glee.
I look to Jane for support, but she is busy lighting a cigarette and maybe she is also growing tired of this relay race, in which she repeats the questions that I have been shouting to Glenn.
In the middle of a sentence, Glenn suddenly stands up and pushes the walker into his office, motioning for me to follow. From the same miraculous file drawer that held the cassettes, he rifles through some folders until he locates one specific document, which he passes to me with a grunt of satisfaction.
Glenn hands me a single sheet of old paper, brown with age, and brittle around the edges. I sink down into a chair to read it, oohing and aahing with shock. Can I take a picture, I ask? Sure, Glenn answers. Then he returns the paper carefully to his files.
Boyer’s Last Pawn
The letter is dictated by Bill Miller and typed by his daughter, LaVonne Miller. It offers a detailed accounting of all the Earp valuables that the Millers bequeath to Glenn, numbered 1 through 14. Most of the items are guns (pistols, lever action shotguns, Remingtons, Colts) used by Uncle Wyatt or Uncle Virgil, complete with serial numbers. Number seven is the brass bed and horsehair mattress that Uncle Wyatt died in, which Bill retrieved from Vidal and installed in Los Angeles. Aunt Sadie’s diamond and garnet pin and bracelet is Number 10, which Bill gives Glenn with a reminder that you better be “damn sure not to let anyone know you have any of this stuff” lest her “jew relatives” come after these valuables. He warns too that “old Halliwell,” John Flood, and Mrs. Bessie Nevitt will be snooping around. Number 11 is Wyatt’s saddle, with its headstall and bit.
The letter looks and sounds like a will, an effect that is reinforced by the words “THE ABOVE IS ALL GIVEN TO GLENN BOYER, THE ONLY SON I EVER HAD.” And then it is signed big and bold by Bill Miller, a precaution “in case you ever want to give it to a museum which you said is where it belongs.”
Reader, I have only my instincts to follow. Is this the Big Windy coming right at ME?
Glenn, after all of this, did you really want me to be your last pawn?
But I never got to ask him. Glenn died just a few weeks before I published Lady at the OK Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp.
As for the Big Windy, I will leave it to others to determine its authenticity. My goal today was to introduce you to the one and only Glenn Boyer. It was my privilege to know him.
I would say about him what the journalist Clara Spalding Brown said about Tombstone, in the days of the O.K. Corral: “Friends, I have drawn it mild.”
Ann Kirschner is Dean of Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York and the author of LADY AT THE OK CORRAL: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp (HarperCollins, 2014).