cover image Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends

Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends

Allen Barra. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $27 (426pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0562-7

Wall Street Journal sportswriter Barra (That's Not the Way It Was) does an admirable job of discounting the stories and outright lies told by Earp's contemporaries by using firsthand accounts and newspaper stories of the time. Barra concludes that the legend we know as Wyatt Earp is really a compilation of many of the characters who frequented the streets, barrooms and card games of the Wild West. But most scholars agree that Earp was intelligent, strong and generally a just lawman. A particularly interesting section concentrates on the shoot-out at the OK Corral and the subsequent trial and lasting animosity between Earp and his associates--his brothers and Doc Holliday--and the gang of ""cowboys"" who forever harassed them. Barra also chronicles Earp's romantic interests, including his and marriage to Josephine Sarah Marcus, a Jewish actress from New York. Barra's writing alternates, somewhat awkwardly, between a rather folksy tone and some academic detail, but readers who grew up with the legend of Wyatt Earp, both in literature and in film, will be intrigued by Barra's comprehensive and detailed dismantling of the popular myths surrounding this figure. (Dec.)