Wyatt Earp, The Life Behind The Legend

Published 09 Oct 2017

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was born in 19 March 1848 and died in 13 January 1929. He is most remembered in public perception as a remarkable participant of the famous the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In association with this perception the image pf this man is projected as a Wild West law enforcer. Alongside he was also a saloon keeper and a noted gambler of his time. However, there is more to this person than these perceptions and that is what the author Casey Tefertiller presents us in this book Wyatt Earp, The Life behind the Legend.
Initially the author Tefertiller use to write for San Francisco Examiner but later he decided to follow an independent mode of writing a novel of his own. This book is his first venture and it could be mentioned that this is a successful venture too. Tefertiller’s book is based on primary resources and the author tries to present an unbiased view of the legendary figure of the early 20th century in the Wild West. In a way depicting the life of Wyatt Earp is a difficult proposition because there is enough potential that he could be illustrated as a villain and a hero at the same time. And this became eminent during his life span too. As a result the Earp brothers became a cult figure with Wyatt becoming the more prominent of the two.

However, it should be mentioned that the process of making him a cult figure was mostly instrumented by film makers, historians and novelists and their representation of this man as a super character thus turning a human into legend.

Tefertiller’s method of operation or mode of action in this regard was based on articulate study of personal accounts of a number of individuals of the time. Some of them were enemies of Earp others were friends and few of these personal accounts were written by individuals were mare acquaintances of this man. As a result all the perspectives that could be associated with a person were read, analyzed and evaluated painstakingly by the author Tefertiller. This parameter of formulating a personality is obvious more believable than writers wring about a legend based on a legend. It is a obvious indication that for Tefertiller the character of the person became more clear and understandable once all these parameters of accounts are taken into consideration. Furthermore, to understand the incident of Tombstone, Arizona, the author Tefertiller relied on the details that were published by the newspaper articles of the time regarding this confrontation. This along with the personal accounts helped the writer to uncover the circumstances of the region during the period with much more faith and indulgence.

In pursuing the incident in this mode the writer was able to understand the nature of the man Wyatt Earp and the development process through which the image of this man was constructed. This approach to covering the personality of the man is a fresh look into events that are considered as legendary with enough historical evidence based on well researched work. The end result could be enumerated as a believable text that is pleasurable to read. It could well be mentioned that this book has enough capacity to overpower the myths about the man set by numerous adventure novels and movies.

To make his text well believable the author Tefertiller looks into various elements and historical events of the time. He deals with figures like prosecution attorneys and city marshals along with local crimes of the time like stage robbers and stage robberies and incorporates them with eminent practice of the time like faro game. He shows the dignity and public perception of a former marshal and his influence on the mass psychology along with personalities that became day to day afire and vibe of an area such as honest ranchers whereas the economic structure and formulation of socio economic bondages are reflected by depiction of cattle season, the chief economic source of the area of Arizona. The author Tefertiller also brings in the vibe of the text with comparatively insignificant characters like the assistant marshal or the frontier marshal and brings out the human side of the character with simple but effective studies. He also incorporates in the text individuals who are forgotten in the modern era like the profession of a shotgun messenger or details of a stage robbery.

One of the main features of the author is the interpretation of the characters in the text and it should be mentioned that he performed his act quite impressively. Apart from the main characters of Wyatt Earp and Sadie Earp the writer presents a wide variety of better and lesser know personalities and presented them in the most believable manner. These characters include people like Marshall Williams, Harry Woods, Frank Stilwell, Curly Bill and Ben Thompson. Apart from these characters there are other characters too who are depicted in a very interesting and effective manner and who blends in the vibe or the parameter of the Wild Arizona countryside. These characters can be enumerated as John Ringo, Bob Paul, Clara Brown, Johnny Behan, Bat Masterson, Billy Clanton, Curley Bill and , Ike Clanton. Other characters like Morgan Earp and Virgil Earp also makes up important aspects of the text.

The book also covers a wide area while narrating the story of Wyatt Earp and his brother. The story s never confined in the wilderness of Tombstone or just Arizona but travels far and wide and includes several other areas or cities to shape up the motion of the text along with providing significant historical facts and documentations. In a way the entire region and the time of the early 20th century United States becomes a character by itself. The detailed emphasis of San Diego, New Mexico, New York, Los Angeles, Dodge City and San Francisco enables us to view a geography of the United States that is otherwise a theme or sire of old western gunfights but at the same time represents the economic potential and socio cultural progression and everything is presented in a wrapper of believable facts though is unconsciously read it would appear to be a part of a western fiction.

It should be mentioned that the Great Depression of 1929 created a huge void in the mind of the American citizens. In the aftermath of the stock market crash, it became apparent quite quickly that the country was not ready for an economic disaster of this magnitude. On one hand, the government infrastructure for unemployment relief was simply not there; on the other hand, the Hoover administration, in following the conservative brand of social thinking, considered economic relief to be a task of the populace at large rather than a charge of the government. As Milton Meltzer writes in Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, ‘;…in the early thirties there was no planned relief, and poverty was considered a disgrace you had only your own shiftlessness to blame for.’; (Meltzer, 63) The executive branch of the government had convened the President’s Organization on Unemployment relief, whose purpose it was-in theory-to provide food, services, and money to the unemployed. However, when Senate hearings sought to assess the efficiency of the program, director Walter Gifford ‘;was obliged to admit that he did not know, nor did his organization know, how many people were out of work or in need of assistance.’; (Meltzer, 64)

While local and regional charities did have some effect on easing the burden of unemployment, hunger, and poverty, the country as a whole was simply too overwhelmed by the crisis-and furthermore, it was too fractured-to bear the whole weight of recovery. There was desperation for a real hero who could provide solace to their heart during that period. Wyatt Earp was constructed to fill in this gap. This feature of the man stayed for a long time unlit Tefertiller’s book presented a completely human aspect of the man. This 416 page book is certainly well written and is recommended for all individuals interested in the true depiction of history.


  • Tefertiller, Casey; Wyatt Earp, The Life Behind The Legend; John Wiley and Sons. Inc. 1997
  • Meltzer, Milton. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? New York: Facts on File, 1991
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