it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken
matociquala

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i dug some graves you'll never find

I've just finished reading Jeff Guinn's The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West.

He's got a really aggravating tendency to claim an understanding of motives and leave out words like "perhaps," "probably," and "allegedly" that should be liberally sprinkling this text, and he's got that annoying tendency that many male historians and biographers of generally lionized male historical figures have of getting all possessive of his boyfriends and either dismissing the women in their lives as insignificant, hysterical, clutching, or entirely out for the main chance; or of editorializing on how irritating their men must have found them.

Also, I quibble some with his description of the forensics of the infamous gunfight (this is one of those places where "perhaps" would have come in really handy), especially as he misses my pet theory about how Tom McLaury managed to take a load of shotgun pellets in the armpit (my favorite reconstruction of the fight has the unarmed Tom reaching over the saddle of Billy Clanton's horse to retrieve Clanton's rifle from the saddle sheath, and being dragged around in a circle when the horse spooks, thus exposing his side and underarm to Doc), but at least Guinn does point out that it's pretty implausible for Doc to have put down the shotgun, pulled his revolver, shot Billy Clanton in cold blood, picked the shotgun back up, killed Tom with it, then dropped the shotgun and picked up the pistol and proceeded to miss Frank in the <30 seconds of the entire fight.

However, the book is pretty impressive on historical context and backstory, and presents one of the clearer pictures of the tapestry of interwoven motivations, politics, social considerations, and economics that drove the tensions in Southeast Arizona at the time.

Guinn also makes really good sense of the stagecoach robberies, and rightly points out that gunfight was the top of the second act in this particular narrative, and not the climax at all. (The actual climax is kind of an anticlimax, as is so common the real world and why the end of the story gets rewritten when it's fictionalized for film. Curly Bill and John Ringo have to be foregrounded a heck of a lot more, and Ike Clanton kicked back to his admittedly rightful place as a second-stringer for something closer to the real world narrative to work as a story.)

What we learn from the lives of the Earp brothers, in the end, is if you have to be an Earp, be James. Live quietly and more or less without notoriety, show up for work, and die in your 80s in bed, contented and comfortably well off.

What we learn from the lives of historians of the Matter of Tombstone is that anybody who wades through the John H. Flood manuscript of Wyatt's memoirs deserves hazard pay. You can read the PTSD between the lines in every single account that mentions it.

A representative sample:

     Earp could feel the warmth of the conspirator's body as he leaned against him; the pulsations beat against his own and then there was a throb; something that felt like nerves, and the tenseness of muscles at the drawing of a gun. Earp was watching Allison and the movement of his forty-five; gradually, it was slipping forward from its holster while the marshal stood silently and looked on.


Now the assassin's thumb reached towards the hammer - quietly - then he felt a thrill, something that made his side turn cold, the side against that of the city marshal. Then he raised his eyes to another pair of eyes, and flinched, and dropped his gaze to the ground; he saw a movement at his side and he thought his end had come. Earp was two seconds ahead of him on the draw, and Allison knew that he had lost his play, and he edged out onto the walk...

Tags: gunfight on fremont street, the matter of tombstone
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