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The Early Word: New Books for the Week of May 16, 2011

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The Wild West trumps William and Kate, I’m afraid, as nice as they seem…

The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West
by Jeff Guinn

On October 26, 1881, a confrontation between eight men in a vacant lot Tombstone, Arizona, exploded into deadly gunfire when the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday squared off against Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury. When the dust settled after the 30-second shootout, three men were dead and two were wounded, but the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, often considered the defining battle between frontier forces of good and evil, shaped how future generations came to view the Old West.

The event and the principals, however, come in for a reconsideration in The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons may have become legendary white-hat heroes and black-clad villains, but award-winning journalist Jeff Guinn, drawing on new material from diaries, letters, and Wyatt Earp’s own sketch of the shootout’s conclusion — as well as documentary research in Tombstone and Arizona archives and dozens of interviews — sees the Earps and Doc Holliday and their foes in a different light, and puts a popular period of American history and that fateful day in Tombstone into a revisionist perspective. Indeed, while a loosely knit band of desperados – collectively known as cowboys – who robbed stagecoaches and rustled livestock were at the time causing conflict and threatening whatever tranquility Tombstone had, the bigger picture is placed in the context of a clash between evolving social, political, and economic forces, which includes the impact of independent ranchers and cowboys and the emerging new West of wealthy mining interests and affluent town folk.

Moreover, as Guinn illustrates, much of the information concerning the iconic incident has been misinterpreted or is inaccurate. For example, the shootout occurred not in the O.K. Corral but in a nearby vacant lot. And the common consensus was that “the cowboys” — Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury — fired first. But upon broaching the notion of whether the Earps truly acted in self-defense, Guinn speculates — with a nod toward a cowboy culture digging in and tantamount with thuggery and ingrained in a cattle-rustling economy — that perhaps Wyatt Earp was ultimately aiming for a stint as county sheriff and its lucrative tax-collecting franchise. Would that be white hat, black hat, or, like the real old West, something that reflects a gray area in between?

MORE NONFICTION

The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West
by Jeff Guinn

The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter

by Ian O’Connor

William and Catherine: Their Story
by Andrew Morton

The Long Journey Home: A Memoir
by Margaret Robison

David Crockett: The Lion of the West
by Michael Wallis

Not Dead and Not for Sale
by Scott Weiland, With David Ritz

FICTION

The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific
by Jeff Shaara

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch