Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp (Harper, 289 pages, $27.99)

lady-at-the-okay-corral anne kirshnerNot to be nit-picky, but the problem with Ann Kirschner’s Lady at the O.K. Corral begins with the title.  Josephine Sarah Marcus, Wyatt Earp’s common law wife of nearly half a a century, wasn’t at the O.K. Corral or, as far as we know, anywhere near it.

All right, nonfiction authors seldom get to choose their own titles, though Kirschner perpetuates the tease early in her book when she tells the world “I had news: there was a woman at the O.K. Corral.” (p. 6)

No doubt a biography of Josephine has been long overdue, and Kirschner does good work in filling in Josephine’s  childhood as a Jewish girl born in New York and raised in San Francisco. (She disposes of the myth that Josephine’s parents were rich.)  She is also good near the end of the book relating Wyatt and Josie’s vagabond existence from the American West to Alaska then back to California. There are numerous new details about the Earp’s lives; for instance, I did not know that they were friends with  Sidney Grauman of Chinese theater fame in Hollywood.

There are some minor mistakes that don’t really hurt the narrative.  Her contention that Tombstone at one time was “more than twice the size of Tucson or Phoenix.” (p. 28) is dubious —   Tombstone was never that big.  And there are a few other errors that damage her narrative a bit more, such as  “None of his [Wyatt’s] brothers and few of his friends ever shared Wyatt’s affection for Doc {Holliday].” (p. 37)  According to some sources, Morgan was closer to Doc than Wyatt himself.

More serious are conclusions which Kirschner draws without adequate evidence. She writes that Endicott Peabody, the Episcopal priest in Tombstone, felt that the Earps were “a little ambivalent about helping Sheriff John Behan” (p. 52) yet  tells us a few pages  later that Peabody thought “The Earps were very good law officers.” (p. 67) I take this to mean that if the first point is an accurate reflection of Peabody’s feelings, then Peabody thought that the Earps were justified in not giving Behan their assistance, but Kirschner does not share how she interprets these statements.

Of Wyatt’s biographer Stuart Lake Kirschner writes, “Lake would never have another success like Frontier Marshal,” (p. 194)  which is not much of a stretch, since Frontier Marshal was the only book Lake ever wrote. Of the famous photograph of a girl in a flimsy negligee that some forty years ago was claimed by some to be Josephine,  Kirschner’s disingenuously writes in her caption , “Is this young beauty Josephine Sarah Marcus?”  I say disingenuously because Kirschner must know that no one for several years believe that the girl is Josephine. (She even went to the trouble to film a YouTube sequence on the photo, calling in a photo “expert.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZntAtZAaJP8&feature=endscreen)

 

Kirschner’s conclusions on some larger topics are a major concern. She writes, “All signs point to the likelihood that Josephine and Wyatt began an affair in tombstone.” (p. 49) What signs, exactly? There isn’t a single source, not a newspaper story, a letter, a diary, nor even a known piece of gossip that connects Wyatt and Josie in Tombstone in any way, shape, or form.  There aren’t even any speculations in later years from those who knew them in Tombstone. There’s nothing – nothing at all.

These were, after all, Victorian times even for the popular frontier vices, and people simply didn’t jump into sexual affairs all that easily.  “There was no general awareness that they were together [in Tombstone],” says Kirschner. (p. 50)  No, indeed, there wasn’t. In fact, there was no awareness of any kind  and anything to the contrary is supposition.  But this doesn’t stop Kirschner from imposing a modern sensibility: on people who lived over 139  years ago: “The location of their trysts is unknown,  but Josephine was surely angry enough to have enjoyed cuckolding Behan in the house they once shared..” (p. 49)  But not angry enough  to be seen with Wyatt in public, which would surely have hurt Behan’s pride even more? And does this imply that the major reason that Josephine had sex with Wyatt was simply to make Behan angry? I think Kirschner needs to rethink her position on this matter.

But what then of Josephine’s role in the gunfight?  Kirschner tells us that just once, in a remarkable 1925 letter, “Josephine lowered her guard. She suggested that Flood explained it was a woman who triggered the personal animosity between Wyatt and John Behan. This letter was the closest Josephine ever came to telling the truth about her role at the O.K. Corral.” (p. 159)  First, how exactly does Kirschner know what “the truth” is? And how exactly does she think it affected what happened?

She isn’t very good on anything that did happen in Tombstone; her Tombstone is a dull place which doesn’t place John Ringo, Curly Bill, or any of the other colorful characters who were there or nearby. Perhaps most significantly, she never offers a coherent picture of what happened on October 26, 1881 or its aftermath, despite having access to an excellent account of the gunfight and inquest in Steven Lubet’s scholarly Murder in Tombstone (which is not even listed in her bibliography).

There isn’t any evidence at all that Josephine had a role in what happened at the O.K. Corral.  If Josie was the cause of personal animosity between Wyatt and John Behan, how does that translate into Wyatt’s part in killing three men in the street fight?

 

Let’s move on, though, to an even more important problem with the research behind Lady at the O.K. Corral.

Early in the book, we’re given this from Virgil’s wife, Allie:  “That was our life: workin’ and sitting home. Good women don’t go any place,” Allie remembered. “Everything was nice if you had money and we didn’t so it wasn’t.”  (p.41)  The passage is from Frank Waters’s 1960 book, The Earp Brothers of Tombstone: The Story of Mrs. Virgil Earp, and it’s used, along with other quotes from Waters, to show how badly Wyatt treated his common law wife, Mattie, in Tombstone.

The problem is that The Earp Brothers of Tombstone was long ago debunked and proven not to be the authentic voice of Allie Earp. Kirschner never tells us this but dodges the issue. In her footnotes she writes that “for two essential articles on the controversy surrounding Allie Earp’s recollections, as filtered through Frank Waters, see Gary Roberts ‘Allie Earp’s Story: Mrs. Virgil Earp and  The Tombstone Travesty’ … and Casey Tefertiller’s ‘What Was Not in Tombstone Travesty.’ ”  (p. 250)

If you didn’t go to the footnotes, you would never know that there was a controversy about Waters’s book. And, actually, there really isn’t a controversy – every researcher on the subject who has read Tombstone Travesty, the title Waters intended, knows that that the Allie of the unpublished manuscript and Earp Brothers simply do not jive. Reading both, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Waters simply made up almost everything Allie supposedly says in Earp Brothers. If you dig out Roberts’ and Tefertiller’s essays (which I very much urge  you to do), you would  know that. If Kirschner read those articles, as one must assume she did, it’s puzzling as to why she would quote from a book whose validity has been thoroughly trashed.

Moreover, there is another, more thorough book to use as a source —  S.J. “Cindy” Reidhead’s Travesty: Frank Waters’ Earp Agenda (Jingle Bob Press, 2005).  Kirschner surely knew of Reidhead’s book as she includes her book a Church for Helldorado, printed in 2006, in her bibliography. Kirschner in fact never contacted Reidhead, although  she told me in an email dated December 22, 2009, that she would “love to talk to Cindy” and “please feel free to connect us in whatever way makes sense..” No connection was ever made.

It’s widely known that Waters falsified his original manuscript to make his story more salacious and thus more saleable. Yet Kirschner, even though she was informed of this, made no effort to steer away from the material. In fact, she embraced it.

But then, Waters’  Earp Brothers of Tombstone makes for sexier reading than his unpublished Tombstone Travesty manuscript.

 

Her use of Waters’ Earp Brothers, though, is just a warm-up. It shouldn’t be necessary by now for anyone to tell anyone who has done much reading on this subject that Glenn Boyer’s I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp is fraudulent: it is not, as the subtitle tells us, the recollections of Josephine Earp but in fact a combination of facts from the Cason manuscript —  as Josephine’s unpublished memoir  is known —  and Boyer’s imagination. In other words, it’s fiction. I Married Wyatt Earp is filled with titillating bits about Josie’s time in Tombstone while the Cason manuscript contains virtually nothing about the time she spent there.

Boyer falsified his story for the same reason Waters did: because his book was unsalable without embellishment.  Boyer’s history of hoaxes, of course, goes way beyond I Married Wyatt Earp. With the exception of his first book, The Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp, every one of his subsequent volumes had been proven to be riddled with bogus material.

Some of his rabid followers believe or pretend to believe his claim that this was Boyer playing some sort of trick on other researchers or because he was actually intending some kind of nonfiction novels or some other trick justified with Boyer’s usual manner of double talk.  The bottom line is that by the time Casey Tefertiller’s excellent 1997 biography, Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend was published, no reputable researcher still believed in the veracity of Boyer’s work.

The research most damaging to Boyer’s reputation were a 1994 essay published in quarterly of the Western Outlaw- Lawman History Association, “The Curious Vendetta of Glenn G. Boyer” by Jeff Morey, one of the most respected researchers in the Earp field, and a 1998 piece by Gary L. Roberts (also author of the definitive  biography, Doc Holliday: the Life and Legend), “Trailing an American Mythmaker: History and Glenn G. Boyer’s Tombstone Vendetta,” also published by WOLA.

Kirschner surely read both essays because she includes them in her bibliography, and yet somehow they don’t seem to have made her suspicious about Boyer or deterred her from using his work.

Nor, amazingly, did the fact that the University of Arizona dropped Boyer’s I Married Wyatt Earp from its publication list after a storm of articles in the late 1990s, the most important  of which were Tony Ortega’s “How The West Was Spun” in the Phoenix New Times (Dec 24-30, 1998) and  “I Varied Wyatt Earp” (March 4, 1999).  I know Kirschner certainly knew about Ortega’s work because I presented her with copies of both stories, along with numerous other materials in the fall of 2008, at the outset of her research, and they are listed in her bibliography.

 

A word on Ortega’s work.  In the spring of 1998 I contacted Ortega at the Phoenix New Times. I’d heard of his reputation as a bulldog reporter and knew there was a good story in detailing how Boyer’s book came to be published by the U of Arizona press.  I sent Ortega copies of Morey’s and Roberts’s pieces. I also sent copies of to the University of Arizona’s student paper, The Daily Wildcat, so they could begin their own investigation. Ortega’s stories revealed step-by-step how Boyer perpetrated his fraud and why the University press had fallen for it.

At first the University tried to ignore Ortega’s work (http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/1998-12-24/feature/how-the-west-was-spun/)  but when the Daily Wildcat jumped on the story and corroborated Ortega’s conclusions,  they could no longer ignore the fact that I Married Wyatt Earp was not, as Boyer had long pretended, “The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp” but a combination of the so-called Cason manuscript, which Josephine had worked on with two Earp cousins, Mabel Earp Cason and Viola Earp Ackerman, and Boyer’s vivid imagination.

Boyer had told the University of Arizona Press that he had spliced the Cason manuscript with the “Clum” manuscript, supposedly a memoir which Josie had worked on with former Tombstone mayor and Tombstone Epitaph editor John Clum. Boyer was, of course, bluffing. No such Clum manuscript ever existed.

 

This all is just one part of what I can only call a shell game that Kirschner plays with her sources, the key to her work is the Cason manuscript. Without access to the Cason, there is no book to be written about Josephine Earp – there is simply not enough material and there is a particular dearth of information on Josie in Tombstone. And even using questionable sources,  there is scarcely enough material to fill Lady at The O.K. Corral.

Kirschner couldn’t draw from Boyer’s colorful fiction, I Married Wyatt Earp, which is widely known to be bogus, but she could get around this by using his copy of the Cason manuscript. There are many copies of the Cason manuscript available; nearly every Earp researcher has one – I acquired one before beginning my book, Inventing Wyatt Earp, published in 1998 – and loaned it to Kirschner ( it has yet to be returned). She could also have used the one at the Arizona Historical Society.

In February, 2000 Ryan Gabrielson of the Arizona Daily Wildcat reported that the Cason family, disillusioned by the revelations regarding Boyer and IMWE, had asked for the manuscript to be returned. Laura Cason, granddaughter of Mable Earp Cason, issued a statement: “We are saddened to learn that Mr. Boyer has seemingly manipulated Cason family members over the years in an apparent effort to provide authentication when questions arose.” http://home.earthlink.net/~knuthco1/IMWEfiles2/Casonswantback-source.htm Boyer’s response was to threaten a lawsuit.

Near the end of Lady at the O.K. Corral, Kirschner writes that “the conflict was never resolved, and today, the manuscript sits in the Dodge City Historical Society, with Laing’s affidavit fixed on top, available only to those who have received Boyer’s permission in advance,.” (p. 237)  (Laing’s affidavit is the notarized statement Boyer obtained from Jeanne Cason Laing, aura Cason’s mother,  dated September 21, 1983 that “I believe the book edited by Mr. Boyer is bona fide in its entirety and is remarkably accurate in its portrayal of Mrs. Earp’s character and personality,” The statement is Boyer’s only basis for claiming his copy of the manuscript is authentic.)

First , there is no Dodge City Historical Society. There is a Ford County Historical Society which has a Boyer collection. But the affidavit refers to Ms. Laing’s belief that IMWE was authentic, not that Boyer’s Cason manuscript was authentic – it’s uncertain what footnotes and alterations Boyer may have made to that manuscript. One might ask how a group that bills itself a nonprofit historical society  dares to restrict anyone from complete access to its materials, let alone at the instance of the donor whose work had been discredited. And why would Kirschner herself  have chosen to use reference material that was donated under those circumstances.. (Would she have agreed to the same restrictions at her own school? )

 

Kirschner knew of Boyer’s reputation before she started on her project. She contacted me in the fall of 2008, and my family and I met with her in her office at the Macaulay Honors College  for a run-down on Earp history  and its many politics and pitfalls.  Shortly after starting her research, on December 10 , 2008, she sent me an email with the link to the Daily Wildcat story about the Cason family’s war with Boyer over getting their manuscript back. She closed the email with the note “I can’t resist sharing.”

For some reason, though, Kirschner went with Boyer’s copy.  Other academicians had steered clear of Boyer. Paula Mitchell Marks even rewrote her 1989 book, And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight, to remove all references to Boyer’s work in the wake of Ortega’s exposure of IMWE. Why the Dean of the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York would associate herself with a man whose book was dropped by a university press in disgrace is a mystery.

Most of these questions can be wrapped up in one big question:  Why would an academic of Kirschner’s standing have anything to do with a writer so completely discredited as Boyer? There are several possibilities.

One is fear of being attacked by Boyer and his many acolytes on websites, on Amazon.com with negative reviews, and of course fear of being denied access to important papers.  All these things happened to me and perhaps a dozen other writers I know who dared to start their own projects without Boyer’s approval. Some  suffered considerably worse than I did.

The following is from the website of western novelist Richard S. Wheeler, written almost two months after Boyer’s death on February 14.

“Glenn Boyer is dead. I am torn between the axiom to speak no ill of the dead, and my instinct to write intensively about a man who did so much damage to western historical literature.

You can find the bulk of the case against him in Wikipedia’s lengthy discussion of his conduct under the heading, I Married Wyatt Earp (one of Boyer’s fraudulent histories).

When I was editing the western fiction line at Walker and Company, he submitted a novel titled Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta. It was much too long for our line, and it made me uneasy. I turned it down, while telling Boyer that it skillfully evoked the period.

Later, Boyer published the same work, but now it was no longer a novel but an eyewitness account of Tombstone in the 1880s, a manuscript that had lain hidden for generations, a primary source that he had tracked down and acquired. All that was bunk, and the fraud was swiftly discovered.

Boyer turned on me, sent me poison-pen notes and cards, trashed some of my novels, and wrote long, scornful letters, which I still have.

He did add to our knowledge of some of the women of that period, but even some of that material is suspect.

I do send along my condolences to his widow, the gifted poet Jane Candia Coleman.”

http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/3997550-glenn-boyer

I could probably post a score of similar experiences from writers and editors who questioned  Boyer, — many of them can testify to his frequent use of homosexual slurs -but coming from a writer who was never publicly associated with Boyer,  I think Wheeler’s epitaph has more impact.

If she wished not to go through the strife Boyer and his cronies put many of us through, it’s certainly understandable, but it calls her scholarship directly into question.  To have her name publicly linked with Boyer’s casts a great shadow on Lady at the O.K. Corral, Boyer’s copy of the Cason manuscript is the only one referenced in her footnotes and bibliography.

(It should also be mentioned that she gave a publicity blurb to Boyer’s 2009  novel, Where The Heart Was. One wonders if there isn’t some aspiring writer out there who hasn’t been publicly proven to be a fraud who was more deserving of Kirschner’s endorsement .)

 

In her final chapter, “Planet Earp,” Kirschner skips around Boyer’s tarnished reputation. For instance, she writes that “Boyer could not show anyone the Clum manuscript [which he supposedly spliced with the Cason manuscript to produce IMWE] because it never existed as a ‘manuscript,’ i.e., a single document of some internal coherence such as the Cason manuscript. So what was in that ‘stack of papers almost a foot high’ [which Boyer, after his bluff was called, claimed was the Clum manuscript]? Probably a precious heap of handwritten letters and notes relating to the Tombstone era, which Clum and others had gathered for Josephine …” (p. 236)

Now just a minute. What is this “probably”? Kirschner either saw the so-called Clum manuscript in some form or she didn’t. If she didn’t, why is she offering Boyer a loophole with which to validate his claim to a Clum manuscript that no other researcher has ever seen? And if she didn’t see it – and study it – how does she know that “Clum and others” had gathered anything for Josephine?

Either way, doesn’t she owe it to her readers to tell us exactly what, if anything, she took from the Clum manuscript, or any of Boyer’s papers?

Here’s how Kirschner handles the scandal of IMWE, the failure of Boyer to produce a “Clum manuscript,” and the University of Arizona Press’s dropping of the book. After the Tortega story and the University  newspaper’s expose,  “Boyer  lobbied the University of Arizona Press with a blizzard of letters that proclaimed the historical authenticity of I Married Wyatt Earp. But the Press was looking worriedly over its shoulder at Boyer’s noisy and persistent critics.” – I guess this includes me, as I was the first to present Kirschner with the evidence of Boyer’s lies.  “The lawyers threatened to withdraw the book unless they were allowed to label it ‘historical fiction.’” (p. 234)

This passage might be interpreted that Kirschner doubted Boyer if she had not gone out of her way to find so many excuses for him, particularly the one that the  Clum manuscript  (which she had never seen) “probably “ existed in some form.

Regarding those “noisy and persistent critics,” she says that “In 1997 Casey Tefertiller published Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, a comprehensive and scrupulously researched biography that almost completely omitted Boyer …”  (p. 234)  There’s no “almost”  about it: Boyer is not mentioned in either Tefertiller’s index or his bibliography. Regarding me, she writes that “Boyer was invisible in Allen Barra’s Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends, and from Barra’s bully pulpit as a respected and prolific free lance journalistic for publications that included the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, he kept up the heat on Boyer’s credibility.” (p. 234)

That “bully pulpit” also included American Heritage magazine, and I personally presented Kirschner with everything I wrote about Boyer. As for Boyer being “invisible” in my book, he is most certainly not. On page 56 of the University of Nebraska Press edition, which I gave her a copy of when we met. “One of the purposes of this book is to steer the general interest reader through the swamp of misinformation which continues to surround Earp and his associates, which means coming to terms with the work of Glenn G. Boyer. After four years of consideration, my conclusion is that the major works of Boyer, I Married Wyatt Earp and Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta (Talei Publishers, Inc..1993) are historically worthless … Boyer’s Earp books are supposedly based on legitimate historical documents, but those documents have never been examined by nonpartisan researchers. I regard the works which rely heavily on Boyer’s material such as Paula Mitchell Marks’ And Die in The West and the recently published Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait by Karen Holliday Tanner (University of Oklahoma, 1998)  to be – there is no other word to use here – tainted.” [To repeat, Marks subsequently rewrote her book, purging it of material from Boyer; Karen Tanner did not]

“As work on this book was being completed, Boyer told a Tucson journalist that the document which could legitimatize I Married Wyatt Earp, had been lost years ago in a ‘bitter divorce settlement.’ This contradicts numerous remarks Boyer has made about the existence of the document (or documents) which he ‘merged’ with the Cason manuscript to produce IMWE. After two years of trying, I have yet to find anyone who has seen this manuscript or documents, including the staff at the University of Arizona Press …”

Further, there is “the dilemma posed by Ms. Tanner’s Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait. Ms. Tanner, in a phone interview; told me that she had rejected the Cason manuscript as a source because she thought Josephine Marcus Earp to be an unreliable historical witness. This is true to an extent, but Josephine Marcus’ memoirs are surely no more questionable than numerous other sources, particularly Billy Breakenridge’s or Frank Waters’ books, which are listed amount her sources. Ms. Tanner, like many who have been influenced by Boyer, has painted herself into a corner: since one can’t reconcile the Cason manuscript with I Married Wyatt Earp, the historian has to make a decision as to which he or she will put faith in. Ms. Tanner has chosen I Married Wyatt Earp, because it contains material on Doc’s adventures in Tombstone, whereas the entire Tombstone section of the Cason manuscript is either missing or was never written. But relying so much on a source that is dubious at best, she has undermined the credibility of her own work.” (I wish I didn’t have to add that Kirschner includes Tanner’s book in her bibliography as a source.)

Except for a couple of word changes, I would make precisely the same judgment about Lady at the O.K. Corral, with this exception: Kirschner was advised of all Boyer’s falsehoods and deceptions  before she even started her research.  But the biographic  part of Lady at the O.K. Corral is a skimpy 219 pages, and without borrowing from Boyer (and to a lesser extent from Frank Waters),Kirschner  wouldn’t have had much more than a series of magazine articles.

Which is probably why, in her acknowledgments, she writes “to the one and only Glenn Boyer and Jane Candia Coleman, thank you both for welcoming a New Yorker and an ‘acaDumic’ to Planet Earp and for opening those doors to the past to which only you have the keys.” (p. 241)

Well, some “acaDumics” are smarter than others and have chosen — as, alas, Kirschner did  not – to avoid paying the Devils’ price for those keys.

In his paper, The Real Tombstone Travesty,” Gary Roberts write “Boyer has muddied  the historical waters.” It took nearly a generation to clean up those waters, and now Ann Kirschner has muddied them all over again.

 

 

 

What do you think?