Tombstone History Archives

 Chronicles of Tombstone's TurbulEnt Years

I Varied Wyatt Earp


One of its books has been misrepresented as a memoir, but the
University of Arizona Press has no plan to correct the record


by Tony Ortega


Phoenix New Times, Thursday, March 4, 1999




There's no longer any question that a book published by the University of Arizona Press has earned a reputation it did not deserve.


For more than 20 years, I Married Wyatt Earp has influenced Western history and the popular imagination. Supposedly the memoirs of Earp's third wife, Josephine, the book has been taken to be a verbatim, first-person account by a woman who witnessed Old West history. Her account has been studied in classrooms, cited in scholarly texts, and drawn upon by filmmakers. It is the fourth all-time best-selling book by the University of Arizona Press; only one other book about Wyatt Earp by any publisher has ever sold more copies.


In recent years, however, some Earp experts have claimed that the man who produced the book, Glenn Boyer, used dubious sources for Josephine's account, particularly of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, and may have invented large portions of it.


Boyer himself now admits that the book is "100 percent Boyer." The president of the University of Arizona, meanwhile, describes the book as a "fictional format."


And the woman who edited Boyer's book for the University of Arizona Press says that from the start she doubted Boyer's sources. "I think it's a shame anyone took I Married Wyatt Earp literally," says the former editor.


But what has Western historians hopping mad is that after admitting that the book is a muddled blend of fact and fiction, the University of Arizona seems to have no compunction to do anything about it.


And those same historians are shocked at new evidence that the University of Arizona Press itself may be implicated in what some are calling a significant literary hoax.


Jack Burrows says he was surprised at admissions Glenn Boyer made about his book I Married Wyatt Earp in a recent New Times article ("How the West Was Spun," December 24, 1998). Boyer admitted that Josephine Earp's supposed memoirs were not really a first-person account, that he had inserted his own theories about Wyatt Earp in Josephine's voice, and that he couldn't produce disputed documents he claimed would vindicate his methods.


Burrows--himself the author of John Ringo, a book about Tombstone published by the University of Arizona Press--worries that Boyer's work could hurt the credibility of other books put out by the press.


He wrote a letter to the university's president, Peter Likins, asking him to investigate the controversy over I Married Wyatt Earp.


Likins wrote him back, promising that he would do just that.


But when New Times asked Likins to comment on Boyer's book, Likins downplayed the controversy, characterizing it as a squabble between non-academic authors hoping to promote different interpretations of Western history. It might take years, Likins said, for scholars to decide which version of Earp events was correct.


Besides, the university president explained, the book makes plain that Josephine Earp's voice is not a first-person account but a blend of secondary sources. Not that Likins has read the book or, despite his assurance to Burrows, done any investigation of it.


"I'm not referring to the text here," Likins tells New Times, "I'm referring to a paragraph that was prepared for me in order to respond to questions like yours, that the text as it has been published indicates to the reader that this is not a first-person narrative."


Likins went on to say I Married Wyatt Earp has a "fictional format."


"It's not as though [Boyer] presents the book as being a lost manuscript," Likins said. "He presents the book as being a creation that is synthesized from a variety of source materials. And you know there's a lot of that now in contemporary historical accounting. And it's controversial as a class of activity, when you write in a kind of a fictional format, using your imagination blended with historical information. And then the poor reader . . . has no way to separate what in the text is based on well-researched historical material and what in the text is kind of an interpolation, you know what I'm saying? But that's a scholarly dispute. That's not something the University of Arizona or certainly its president is properly involved in."


After offering this description of the book as a confusing blend of fact and fiction, Likins asked that a reporter read him the book's actual epilogue, which describes the book as a memoir based on the writings of Josephine Earp herself.


Likins' response baffles Paul Hutton, a history professor at the University of New Mexico.


"Pick up the book, buddy. Read it yourself. He's probably got a Ph.D.," Hutton says of Likins.


Hutton, who serves as executive director of the Western History Association, says he is amazed that the University of Arizona would now claim that I Married Wyatt Earp is partly fiction after selling it for 23 years as a memoir and an important historical document.


"They've published a book that is essentially foisting a fraud upon the public," Hutton says. "Everyone believes it is her memoir. And it's not. It would be different if they were a commercial press, but they're a university press. They can't do this. I'm very surprised.


"The book always carried a cachet because it was published by the University of Arizona Press. When I first read the book, I just assumed it was authentic because it carried that cachet. They are putting their reputation on the line, and in defending the book they are going down a dangerous road."


Citing volumes of evidence--including articles by professors in academic journals that have denounced Boyer's methods as fraudulent--Hutton says he's shocked that president Likins would characterize the controversy over Boyer's books as simply a clash of opinions on Old West history.


Well-known Western author Leon Metz agrees. "This isn't about speculation. This is about fraud," Metz says.


Metz says he can't believe the university has no plans to investigate Boyer or the book. "If these charges prove to be true," he says, "the most suitable thing the Press can do is grovel. They should apologize. This is a contemptible way to write history."


Arizona historian Marshall Trimble also registered shock that Likins and the university press had dismissed any duty to review Boyer's book and methods. "There is a responsibility as a university press, a fiduciary responsibility to present history as it is or put a disclaimer in it. Anything else is a cop-out. They need to come clean," Trimble says. "It's amazing. I wonder what the other university presses would say."


Dan Ross, director of the University of Nebraska Press, says that Boyer's book isn't the first to fool a scholarly press. "There are instances that university presses have published books that have later been reviewed or attacked or found wanting in some respect. I have a lot of sympathy for them. This could happen to any of us."


"Ultimately," he says, "they'll want to stand behind their books and will take these charges seriously."


Likins, however, says he knows of no University of Arizona Press plans to study Boyer or his book.


In the meantime, documents obtained from the University of Arizona Press as well as interviews with people who actually helped produce I Married Wyatt Earp 23 years ago suggest that the publishing house may be as much to blame as Glenn Boyer for skewing Arizona's historical record.


By the time Glenn Boyer approached the University of Arizona Press in the early 1970s with his idea for a new book on Wyatt Earp, the field of Tombstone history was already glutted with books on the gunfight at the OK Corral.


Generally ignored by academics, the details of the fight--such as who shot first--are an obsession with non-academic historians. The last thing the University of Arizona Press wanted to publish, wrote then-director Marshall Townsend, was "another lengthy rehash of the gunfight." (New Times obtained prepublication correspondence between University Press officials and Boyer after submitting a formal public-records request.)


But Boyer had something unique. He had a firsthand, eyewitness account of events in Tombstone from the wife of the gunfight's most famous participant, Wyatt Earp.


At the time Boyer pitched his book, Earp's reputation as a lawman had been battered and bruised in the 40-odd years since he had died in 1929. Revisionist histories of the 1960s had made Earp and his brothers, once seen as virtuous peacemakers, out to be more outlaws than heroes. It didn't help any that records unearthed in the 1960s showed Earp had had a previously unknown second wife, Celia Ann Blaylock, whom he had abandoned in 1881. Blaylock committed suicide seven years later.


Earp took up with his third mate, Josephine, soon after leaving Blaylock. Despite the title of Boyer's book, the two never formally married, though they would remain together until his death in California in 1929. Boyer claims in the book's epilogue that Josephine then began writing her memoirs and produced two very distinct manuscripts.


The first, which Boyer says Josephine prepared with the help of former Tombstone mayor John Clum, covered her years in the rough Western town, including the gunfight. This manuscript supposedly forms the basis for the first half of I Married Wyatt Earp, and Boyer refers to it as the "Clum manuscript." Many Earp experts question whether this manuscript ever existed. They accuse Boyer of inventing his descriptions of it to hide that this half of the book is really Boyer's own version of the gunfight told in the voice of Josephine Earp. Boyer today cannot produce the Clum manuscript, and his various descriptions of it and its fate are so contradictory that they aren't credible.


Boyer based the second half of I Married Wyatt Earp--the portion that covers Wyatt and Josephine's post-Tombstone years--on an actual manuscript that survives. Josephine prepared it with the help of two of Wyatt's distant cousins. It is known today as the "Cason manuscript" after Mabel Earp Cason, one of the cousins. Mabel's daughter, Jeanne Cason Laing, gave the manuscript to Boyer in 1967.


Boyer kept tight control of the Cason manuscript until a few years ago, when copies of it began to proliferate among Earp researchers. A comparison of Boyer's text and the manuscript itself makes it clear that in portions of the book Boyer all but ignored Josephine's actual words.


Still, I Married Wyatt Earp was published as her first-person memoir. In its epilogue, Boyer says that he made the vocabulary in the two manuscripts consistent by comparing them to the speech patterns of the living Earps, whom he had befriended. In places where the historical record clearly contradicted Josephine, Boyer wrote, he left her "prejudices and miscolorings" intact and footnoted them to alert the reader. In other words, Boyer tells readers, except for cosmetic editing to produce a consistent-sounding voice, the work is essentially the thoughts and memories, warts and all, of an actual witness to Western history.


Subtitled "The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp," for 23 years the book has been taken as a firsthand narrative by Josephine herself.


But documents obtained by New Times suggest that the University of Arizona Press was aware that Josephine's voice in I Married Wyatt Earp was not her own.


In a 1972 letter to Boyer, Kit Scheifele, an associate editor at the University of Arizona Press who first handled Boyer's manuscript, chides Boyer for taking out a line in his introduction admitting that Josephine Earp's voice was a composite of several sources and not a verbatim memoir:


"In your earlier draft of the Introduction, you made clear that the manuscript you have presented is not solely the first-person writing of Mrs. Earp, and that you have written a first-person account based on her memoirs and other material as well. In your new Introduction you no longer make this clear. This is not fair to the reader--nor is it sound scholarship. I would like to ask that you seriously consider rewriting at least the first page of the Introduction so that you make clear to the reader exactly what he is reading," Scheifele writes.


Boyer ignored Scheifele's advice. To the press, however, Boyer was quite open about the nature of the book. In 1973, Boyer sent an official description of his book to the press, indicating that it was a mixture of the Cason manuscript (he doesn't mention the so-called Clum manuscript) and facts that he had been able to "fill in." Since the Cason manuscript only covers the post-Tombstone years, what Boyer apparently filled in was the entire section on the famous gunfight.


In 1973, Scheifele was replaced by Karen Thure, who edited Boyer's work through to publication.


Thure, who lives in Tucson, says she doubted the validity of Boyer's sources from the beginning.


"I think it's a shame that anyone took I Married Wyatt Earp literally," she says. "It's somewhere between history and historical fiction."


Thure says she particularly questioned the Tombstone portion of the book, and that each time she raised objections, Boyer would cite the Clum manuscript as his source. Several times, Thure claims, she demanded to see the Clum manuscript, but Boyer refused to show it to her.


"I had real qualms from the very beginning whether this was an appropriate vehicle for a university press," says Thure, who no longer works for the publishing house. "Glenn put a lot of Glenn in there. Glenn's theories appeared as Josie's."


Despite her qualms, Thure didn't object to the book's printing. She may have been influenced by then-press director Marshall Townsend, she says.


Townsend's letters to Boyer reveal that the press director repeatedly encouraged Boyer to insert "more of yourself" into Josephine's account. Thure says when she raised questions about Boyer's book, Townsend discouraged her. She says Townsend, who is no longer alive, didn't relish confronting authors about the authenticity of their work.


"Oh, my God! That astounds me," says Arizona historian Marshall Trimble. "A university press is a prestige press. To be afraid to question the veracity of an author?"


"I'm flabbergasted," says author John Boessenecker, who has several Western histories published by university presses. "That's totally contrary to the strictures of university printing. That's very disappointing that the University of Arizona would have done that. This whole thing has focused on Boyer and whether he is presenting the facts or fictitious information. But now it appears [the University of] Arizona [Press] knew there were serious problems back when it was published. That's a very disturbing thing. I've never heard of a university press doing something like this."


"I think the press was quite unprofessional in the handling of this book, from my reading of this correspondence," says New Mexico professor Paul Hutton, who was asked by New Times to examine the documents released by the university. "No wonder Boyer did what he did. He sure got some encouragement."


Boyer, who lives in rural Cochise County, reacted angrily when New Times asked him to comment on Scheifele's 1972 complaint that he wasn't being honest with readers.


"I have been provided a full copy of what the Press sent you, and you apparently either missed or ignored Marshall Townsend's remarks about looking at my documents later, since that wasn't the time, and my early remarks about wishing to remain very much in the background which later changed due to their attitude," Boyer wrote via e-mail.


In this response and others he has posted on the Internet, Boyer seems to blame the University of Arizona Press for forcing him to fictionalize Josephine's account. Meanwhile, the university's president describes the book as a "fictional format." And during a recent Internet forum, Boyer wrote that a friend's description of the book as "40 percent Josephine Earp and 60 percent Boyer" was untrue. The book is "100 percent Boyer," he says.


There now seems to be no one defending the book as the actual memoirs of Josephine Earp. But that doesn't obligate the university to alert readers of its dubious nature, Likins argues.


Current University of Arizona Press director Christine Szuter, meanwhile, told the university's student newspaper recently that the press has no plans to investigate the validity of Boyer's documents: "That's not something the press would do under any circumstances."


"That's not true at all. That's outrageous," says Paul Hutton. He warns that Szuter and Likins, in their inaction, will jeopardize the credibility of the 40-plus-year-old University of Arizona Press.




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