Tombstone: The Earp Brothers, Doc Holliday, and the Vendetta Ride from Hell by Tom Clavin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.
I will try to restrain myself and not include any quotes from the movie Tombstone in this review. It won’t be easy.
The interesting thing to me about the infamous gunfight near the O.K. Corral and its bloody aftermath is how the event has been subject to interpretation. Depending on which version of history you believe either several lawmen were valiantly standing up against a gang of criminals or a bunch of crooked officials used their badges to murder some innocent ranchers to seize control of a town.
Tom Clavin follows the most generally accepted facts and seems to have come down on the side of the Earps. While they were no angels and came to Tombstone seeking fortune, the Earps look like choir boys compared to the large numbers of rustlers, thieves, and killers who were driven west by the Texas Rangers who banded together in a loose affiliation in Arizona. Time after time the Earp brothers tried to do things according to the book only to be frustrated by how the cowboys and their pals like the corrupt Sheriff Behan skirted the law.
Clavin does a particularly nice job of giving the overall history of the area as well as the major and minor figures. He uses the facts to build a narrative that explains how the law, politics, business, crime, and the affections of one woman put the two sets of rivals on a collision course. While well researched it also hums along as a hell of a story so there’s no dry ole dusty history vibe to it.
However, while it’s interesting and well written, I also didn’t learn anything particularly new other than a few stray bits of trivia. I also think that Clavin does put a bit of romantic sheen to the Earps with Wyatt in particular coming across as the hero who first tries to do the right thing and then goes on a revenge rampage once his family was attacked following the gunfight. That’s the general perception these days, and again, there’s an argument to be made for that interpretation. On the other hand, while I think the Earps were in the right overall, I also think that this is a story that proves that even seemingly righteous violence has a way of coming back and biting you in the ass, and there's not much consideration of that idea in the book although there is one chapter about how the gunfight might have been avoided if things played out just a little differently. Clavin also tries to spin Wyatt’s ‘vendetta ride’ as an overall victory when in truth the whole thing kind of fizzled out with no big winners or losers. It seems like everybody just lost the stomach for it and went their separate ways eventually.
If you’re interested in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral this would be a great book to understand it. There’s no new real info in it, and Clavin definitely thinks Wyatt was the hero of the whole mess. Still, he provides a pretty fair and objective view of it while making the whole time and place come alive in his writing.
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