The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Reviews

But now, Paula Mitchell Marks has produced a book that may well dispose of
the Tombstone mystique and the gunfighter myth. In And Die in the West: The
Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight, Wyatt Earp is, of course, central to the book's
thesis. But here he is simply a kind of template on a far wider canvas that sus-
tains neither the gunfighter myth nor the claims that he was a tinhorn outlaw
or a fearless lawman. When the legendary Earps and Doc Holliday march to
the O.K. Corral, they march here in carefully constructed historical perspective.
Marks is in no hurry to get to the shooting. Through exhaustive research she
has brilliantly evoked the Tombstone scene and its pervasive sense of place. By
the time we head for the corral, we are familiar with the currents and under-
currents of tensions and hostilities in Tombstone, and the uncertainty of the
Earps' intent.
The account of the gunfight is superbly controlled, with the accusations, eye-
witness accounts, and inquest testimony almost surgically delineated. Marks
fixes no blame and comes to no didactic conclusions. She creates no heroes or
villains. But in a thoroughly professional analysis, she offers three scenarios,
each with its own evidence and problems. These clearly permit the reader to
reach his or her own conclusions. She makes no effort to guide, but she strongly
suggests that the Earps made no deliberate or conscious decision to end once
and for all what has been dramatically called "The Cow Boy Curse." Both
Wyatt and his older brother Virgil had compelling reasons to avoid a bloody
confrontation.
As with all salient issues in her book, Marks puts the fight in broader perspec-
tive against other western gunfights, which, she correctly observes, "were usu-
ally confused, even bumbling affairs made even more confusing when more
than two people were involved. . . . Once the first [shot] was fired [at the O.K.
Corral], anything could and did happen. Thus Doc Holliday may be seen as a
catalyst-intentional or not-for a confrontation that got out of control!"
It doubtless took considerable courage to venture professionally into a his-
torical arena so burdened with emotional and literary baggage and so densely
inhabited by opinionated buffs and unscrupulous hacks. Marks has had to take
seriously and make sense of a historic encounter celebrated in tremulous song
and rendered maudlin, even silly, in far too many movies and T.V. shows. Both
Wyatt Earp and that brutal-or accidental-bloodletting at the O.K. Corral
have come to symbolize the western gunfight and gunfighter. Marks's transfor-
mation of this overworked and overwrought event into clear and human per-
spective must surely be considered a classic work of historical significance and
revisionism, and a major artistic achievement.
San oMs5 City College JACK BURROWS
Beyond the Frontier" Writers, Western Regionalism, and a Sense of Place. By Harold P.
Simonson. (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1989. $15.95.)
In Beyond the Frontier, Harold Simonson recognizes what the followers of
Frederick Jackson Turner seldom faced up to: Turner's 1893 frontier thesis
was a profoundly gloomy document. According to Turner, the force that had

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed August 28, 2014.