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On My Nightstand: Toss out everything you thought you knew about Wyatt Earp

 wyatt earp: A Vigilante Life by Andrew C. Isenberg

wyatt earp: A Vigilante Life by Andrew C. Isenberg

“Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp. Brave, courageous and bold.”

We (of a certain age) heard that song once a week circa 1958 via the Hugh O’Brien television series. Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda and Burt Lancaster had already perpetuated the Earp story in the movies. Now comes Andrew C. Isenberg for the prosecution and slays the wandering hero’s tales. In their place we are left with a general rounder, bunko artist who inherited a family passion for scamming other people’s money and turning a buck as quickly as possible. He also killed a few men, left behind a few women and a couple of close friends. He ran brothels, “invested” in other people’s race horses, prize fights and silver mines. Many of which he probably won in a successful life “dealing faro bank” – the principle card game in gambling halls where fast money gathered.

Isenberg is a Temple University history professor whose book is 1∕3 footnotes – and interesting ones. Isenberg tells the fascinating tale of the Earps wandering the west. We learn a lot about the sociology of the “real west” between the Civil War and 1900. Wyatt Earp’s mobility is one fascinating slice of his life. He was born in Illinois and – it would seem – lived for a time in just about every cattle or mining town between there and the Pacific Ocean. For a while he ran a saloon in Nome, Alaska. This is a great read for those who wonder how much of the western legend was real. Look for a copy at the public library before heading to the OK Corral.

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