Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Article excerpt


By Andrew C. Isenberg

Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($30)

Wyatt Earp survived countless brawls with drunken cowboys in Dodge City, Kan., and walked away from the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., without a scratch. But he couldn't outride the academics.

In "Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life," Andrew Isenberg, a professor at Temple University, calls on the big guns to debunk the Earp myth: German sociologist Max Weber, Henry James and even Shakespeare's Prince Hal. You may wonder exactly what these men have to do with the frontier West, and you may finish the book still wondering.

The worst thing that ever happened to Wyatt Earp was having his name used on a 1950s TV show and in movies by worshipful Hollywood directors such as John Ford in "My Darling Clementine" and John Sturges' "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." It's been more than half a century since anyone accepted the hagiographic version of Earp's life offered by Stuart Lake, in the 1931 book "Frontier Marshal."

We've known for decades that Earp as a young man may have been involved in a horse theft, that he spent some time as an "enforcer" in a bordello and that he went on a vendetta ride to avenge his brother's murder in Arizona.

The Vendetta Ride looms large in Mr. Isenberg's narrative because it was a classic example of the law man -- Wyatt was a deputy U.S. marshal at the time -- taking the law into his own hands. The reader, though, might feel more sympathy for Earp than Mr. Isenberg intends because Earp's only alternative was to let his brother's assassins go unpunished.

Mr. Isenberg cherry-picks through the historical record, discarding evidence that doesn't support his case. …

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