Bogus bride

The University of Arizona Press passed off "I Married Wyatt Earp" as a historical document. It's not.


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Andrew Richard Albanese
February 8, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

In 1976, the University of Arizona Press first published
"I Married Wyatt Earp," a memoir by Josephine Earp, the third wife of America's
most storied frontier legend,
edited by an
amateur historian named
Glenn Boyer. Over the years the book has sold
nearly 35,000 copies, a surprising commercial success driven
primarily by its never-before-seen first-person accounts of Wyatt
Earp in Tombstone, Ariz., and the events surrounding the infamous
gunfight at the OK Corral. There is just one problem. According
to historians of the West, the book is a fraud.

"I'm really shocked by the University of Arizona Press," says
Allen Barra, a journalist and the author of the recent book
"Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends" (Caroll & Graf,
1998). "Fraud has been committed here, but that is no longer the
story. The story is that the University of Arizona Press is
perpetuating this fraud, and they've known about it from the
beginning."

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According to Barra, the controversy began in the early 1990s,
when historians began to doubt the existence of a collection of
Josephine's personal memoirs, known as the Clum manuscript, that
Glenn Boyer claims he used to create the vital Tombstone section
of "I Married Wyatt Earp." But the rumbling escalated into a
full-fledged scandal in October 1999. That's when newly appointed
University of Arizona Press director Christine Szuter wrote to
Barra, who had been prodding the press for years to investigate
Boyer's sources, and acknowledged that there was a problem with
the book.

To remedy the problem, Szuter wrote, the press intended to
"redesign the cover and rewrite the cover copy, change the
authorship from Josephine Earp to Glenn Boyer, and add a
publisher's note regarding sources used in the book." A puzzling
response, says Barra, who was furious that a scholarly press, or
any press for that matter, could be so cavalier with such
fundamental issues as authorship and the authenticity of sources.
Change it to "I Married Wyatt Earp" by Glenn Boyer? "Is that not
tantamount to an admission of fraud?" asks Barra. "How can you
say for 23 years that a book is a memoir, let it be used as a
primary source for historians, and then say all of a sudden that
it is fictional and that everyone should have known it was
fictional all along? Can anyone offer any parallel for this?"

Even more troubling than Szuter's proposed solution is
the fact that in the past month the University of Arizona has
instituted a media blackout on the subject of Boyer and has
referred all questions about "I Married Wyatt Earp" to university
lawyers. University of Arizona attorney Mike Proctor confirmed
that "a full review" of the "publication issues" surrounding the
book was under way, but that no one at the press or the university
would speak on the matter. "That is solely because of inaccurate
media coverage, no other reason," noted an obviously peeved
Proctor. "I have been very open up to the point where we got
burned and now we just can't go there."

Proctor would not say on the record who in the media had "burned"
the university or what "publication issues" his office is delving
into. But he did angrily single out one publication for
misreporting information: the Daily Wildcat, the student
newspaper of the University of Arizona. Contrary to what that
paper reported, says Proctor, his office would not be reviewing
Boyer's questionable sources. "I am not qualified to look at
sources, I am a lawyer." So what is Proctor looking at if
not claims that the author fudged his sources? "I am just looking
at our entire file on the book, start to finish, trying to
identify objectively publication issues, and then work toward the
best resolution of those issues." Would charges of academic fraud
and creating fictional source material be considered publication
issues? Proctor would not say. "Sorry, but you're all getting the
same thing. No comment."

"A public university refusing to talk to the press? Richard Nixon
would be proud," says Casey Tefertiller a Bay Area journalist and
the author of "Wyatt Earp: The Man Behind the Legend" (John Wiley
and Sons, 1997). Like Barra, Tefertiller has been a vocal critic
of the university and Boyer. "If you feel you have been
misrepresented in the press, you don't institute a blackout, you
insist on a correction. For a journalist, all a blackout does is
hint that there is a story there after all."

According to Los Angeles New Times reporter Tony Ortega, who was
a reporter in Phoenix in 1998, there definitely is a story.
Ortega is the man credited by many with blowing the cover off "I
Married Wyatt Earp" in a 1998 series of articles in the Phoenix
New Times by doing what many critics of Boyer had not the time or
the stomach to do. Tipped off by Barra to the increasingly
bizarre controversy brewing in his backyard, Ortega visited Boyer
in the summer of 1998 at his sprawling Arizona ranch. There he
learned that Boyer could not, indeed, produce the source material
he claimed to possess, specifically, the disputed Clum
manuscript.

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Ortega then contacted the University of Arizona Press and filed a
public records request to view its files and correspondence on
the matter. He was taken aback by the press reaction to his
request. "They treated me as this hostile enemy," says Ortega. "I
was just doing my job, asking simple questions." After much
stalling, Ortega was eventually permitted to look at the files.
It was then, he recalls, that the bunker mentality of the press
finally made sense.

"That's really where the smoking gun was," says Ortega. "It was
bad enough that Boyer was admitting to me that he was including
all these things that Josephine Earp hadn't actually done
herself, but here were the documents to show that the University
of Arizona Press was asking Boyer to embellish things. It was
clear that the University of Arizona Press not only knew his
sources were suspect, but they encouraged him to embellish."

Critics charge that the bizarre, often conflicting defenses
offered by Boyer should have sent a up a red flag to
University Press officials that something was amiss from the very
beginning. According to respected Western historian Gary Roberts,
a professor at Abraham Baldwin College in Georgia, Boyer has
often claimed that he can produce every shred of the
documentation that he claims to have, but somehow he never does.
Boyer has also at times advanced the strange notion that his work
engages in "terminological inexactitude," a tactic involving a
hidden gauntlet of purposely laid-out misinformation within his
books intended to trap sloppy historians. And finally, Boyer
himself has admitted that he is not a historian at all but a
"novelist, and a damn good one," engaged in the art of "creative
nonfiction."

And then there are Boyer's wild personal attacks against those
who question his work. "Boyer has accused almost everyone
involved in this saga of homosexuality, pedophilia, rape or
drunkenness," says Tefertiller, who has been on the
receiving end of more than a few Boyer attacks. "He accused Allen
Barra of being fat."

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Now there's an author a university press can hang its 10-gallon
hat on. But is the University of Arizona Press really staking its
reputation on a work of creative nonfiction and on an author who
replies to questions of scholarship with crude innuendo?

"Not true," says Boyer, claiming he never intimated that his
detractors were homosexual. "But I did refer to them as the Peter
Pan patrol, because they are bunch of little boys that don't want
to grow up," Boyer admits. "I did say that there is so much smoke
regarding people involved in this being homosexuals, whether they
are or not, that it's worthy of an inquiry. If this is true, are
these people for some reason fascinated with Wyatt Earp? I'm just
wondering that in the larger sense. Because they are all so
sensitive. But these are all people who have never been married.
But that has nothing to do with it."

For all this, Boyer is a friendly, rather charming man.
When asked if he has been notified by the University of Arizona
that his book is under review, he chuckles modestly. "I'm aware
of what they're doing," he says. But he refuses to say how he
learned of this. "I'm not going to get into that, because I don't
want to embarrass their position." A figure who is as much
revered as he is loathed within the small but fervent community
of "Earpists," Boyer is clearly tired of the controversy. "Are
you familiar with the concept of creative nonfiction?" he asks.

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The question recalls the stir surrounding Edmund Morris'"Dutch," a
fiction-infused biography of Ronald Reagan, which dominated the
books pages this summer. But unlike Boyer, Morris and his
publisher made the delineation between fiction and nonfiction in
"Dutch" clear from the very start. If historians were dismayed to
learn that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Morris had introduced
fictional elements into his authorized biography, they at least
were in no danger of incorporating his fiction into their
historical research. Readers of "I Married Wyatt Earp" are left
with a nagging question: How much of the book is the work of
Josephine Earp and how much is the concoction of Boyer?

"The author is both of us," replies Boyer. "This is the way I
represented it from the beginning. If the university did anything
differently then that's their problem." So why then would the
University of Arizona Press choose to publish the book as a work
of history, rather than as a work of creative nonfiction? "There
wasn't any such genre at that time," says Boyer. "And I can show
you where they wanted to change what I said and call me the
collector and editor. That puts it on an arty plane. That was
their decision. If they had listed me as the author I wouldn't
have been surprised, but there was so much Josephine in there and
other sources that you could say we're co-authors."

Is one of these "other sources" Boyer refers to the disputed Clum
manuscript? Does it exist after all? Did Josephine Earp detail
her life to Tombstone resident John Clum, who wrote her memories
down, as Boyer once contended, or is the invention of fictional
sources part of the ruse involved in making "creative
nonfiction"? "Why am I compelled to tell the truth about a
manuscript like that that is worth a lot of money?" Boyer
continues. "I may have it and I may not. That's none of your
business." At this point Boyer asks if I am free to travel. If I
were to travel to his ranch, I ask, would I be able to see the
Clum manuscript? "You'd see a lot of stuff," Boyer replies. But
would I see the Clum manuscript?

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"No," Boyer finally answers. "You'd see what amounts to the Clum
manuscript. I still have a ton of stuff I'm trying to organize."
And this "stuff," is that how he represented the Clum manuscript
to the University of Arizona Press?

"You bet your ass," Boyer replies. "The Clum manuscript is a
generic term and I've said it over and over."

"If you want to take a whole bunch of stuff, including primary
sources, and write a novel, that is perfectly legitimate," says
Barra when asked about Boyer's "creative nonfiction" claim. "But
this book has always been represented as the memoir of Josephine
Earp. The copyright is registered in her name with the Library of
Congress. It says right there in the author's note that this was
spliced together using the Clum manuscript."

Today, "I Married Wyatt Earp" continues to sell, and it ranks as
the fourth-best-selling book in the history of the University of
Arizona Press. But critics question whether relatively modest
yearly sales could possibly have factored into the press'
decision to stand by the book for all these years, especially as
the controversy has intensified. Just how did the University of
Arizona Press allow matters to get to this point? Doesn't a
scholarly press have a grave responsibility to investigate
charges of academic fraud? Should it not have recognized this
responsibility immediately?

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"We have been reviewing the situation and digging into our files
more deeply than probably most people will think," claims
Proctor, the University of Arizona attorney, "all with an aim
toward doing the right thing. It's just difficult to reconstruct
things at this point. What we do now is look at our body of
knowledge and react based on that."

But critics of the press aren't buying it. "Once they looked into
this, it's impossible for them not to see what everyone, and I
mean everyone, has seen -- that there is an obvious piece
of fraud here," says Barra. "From the outset, the
University of Arizona Press and the University of Arizona have
been totally uncooperative in dealing with this. They should have
been calling us and saying, 'We seem to be having this problem;
can you help us straighten this out?' Instead they chose to
attack us."

Historians agree that the press has put its integrity on the line
by allowing Boyer's bogus Tombstone account to enter the
mainstream of Western history under the imprimatur of a scholarly
press. "I Married Wyatt Earp" has been adopted in history classes
and has found its way into the bibliographies of a number of
works of serious history. For that, the University of Arizona
Press may have to face a dose of frontier justice. "I know that I
would never use another University of Arizona Press book again
without some way to corroborate it," says Barra.

But most damaging, critics contend, is that the
university, like Boyer himself, chose to attack its critics,
close its doors and look at ethically unsound publishing options
rather than conduct an open, scholarly inquiry to get to the truth, as
would be consistent with the mission of a university press. In
doing that, the University of Arizona has alienated authors and
scholars. While nearly everyone involved in this saga thinks that
the University of Arizona Press will eventually be forced to drop
"I Married Wyatt Earp" after it completes what one observer has
called a behind-closed-doors "show trial," the damage to
credibility highlighted by this scandal will remain.

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"At one point I think this could've quietly gone away," says
historian Gary Roberts, "I don't know if it can now."


Andrew Richard Albanese

Andrew Richard Albanese is a contributing editor covering scholarly communications for Library Journal and is currently at work on an oral history of the National Hockey League.

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