Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend
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Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  214 ratings  ·  37 reviews
"Quite impressive. I doubt if there has been or will be a more deeply researched and convincing account." --Evan Connell, author Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn
"The book to end all Earp books--the most complete, and most meticulously researched." --Jack Burrows, author John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was
"The most thoughtful, well-researched, a...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published March 11th 1999 by John Wiley & Sons (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

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Lori
This was just too hard to read. It is full of interesting facts, but I think I could only read it as a reference book, not straight through. I really wanted to see how much of the book "Doc" was true to life, but this book barely touched on Dodge and moved right to Tombstone. Maybe someday I will try it again, but after I gave up, I skimmed through to find exciting parts and was disappointed. The life of Wyatt Earp was exciting, but the book didn't excite me.
Tom Barnes
Casey Tefertiller’s Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend begins with Cowtown Justice and the young lawman’s early efforts to apply the law in the Kansas communities of Wichita and Dodge City. Wyatt Earp gained wide community approval with his quite way of dealing with explosive situations.
Tefertiller chronicles the Dodge City era of the 1870’s and Wyatt Earp’s role as a lawman. Toward the end of the 1879 cattle season Wyatt joined his brothers and made the move to the silver mining camp at T...more
Marley
If you're interested in good Western history, Tombstone, Wyatt Ear, Bat Masterson, "cowboys" and Western crime then this is this superb bio of Wyatt Earp is for you.

It is also a confusing book at places, but then Wyatt's life was "confusing." Much of it is undocumented (even the "well known" parts such as the "shootout at the OK Corral are subject to multiple reports and interpretations,) Author Tefertiller had a tremendous task untangling myth from realty, and I think he did as good a job as po...more
Hugh Henry
Feb 14, 2008 Hugh Henry rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: western history buffs
Shelves: 19th-century
Wyatt Earp usually settled matters with his brains or his fists, avoiding more fights than he took part in. Only on a few occasions did he resort to gunplay, but they are the ones that have become famous. Casey Tefertiller does an excellent job of putting the real life of Wyatt Earp into historical time and context. In particular, this book sheds light on the reasons behind Earp's vendetta from Tombstone that legend-mongers called the Arizona War. When choosing between the Earps and the Clantons...more
Jake
After seeing Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, and liking/despising aspects of both films, I decided to give a qualified historian a chance to tell me the story. I know there are several “serious” non-fiction works about Wyatt Earp, but this is the one I happened on. I really enjoyed it.

Tefertiller is generally frank and objective, clearly not carried away by the mythologized portrait of Mr. Earp. As best I can tell, in real life the Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral was a gang fight. It’s just that one of...more
Kathy
This book was not as exciting as it's title. This was a dry and well-researched account of what the author could find out about the life of Wyatt Earp. The main thing I learned is that all of the movies and Hollywood stories about Wyatt Earp's life are not accurate. His real life and his real actions surrounding the "gunfight at the OK corral" are definitely not known at all. He was quite famous during his life and afterwards, but not for true reasons. OK, but not an engaging book.
Spooky
Nov 27, 2007 Spooky is currently reading it
Ordered this one on a whim and I'm still waiting for it to be delivered. I've long believed that bikers are today's everyday "cowboys". The Earps hail from a town just down the road from my home town (and still do, I always enjoyed the "Earp" written on the mailbox as we drove by). I figured I'd start out with Wyatt, but Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok also came from my area as well. It's interesting to me that that these larger than life people come from the same area I do. Reading abou...more
Jason DeGroot
A great and exhaustive history of the life of the legendary lawman. After watching several movies about him and the O.K. Corral incident in Tombstone, it's amazing how far from the truth the story has become. Earp was a fascinating man, certainly no saint, but seemed to also be an honest man doing what he thought was right. This was a fascinating look at what the world of frontier justice was really like, and it certainly wasn't pretty and it definitely wasn't black and white. What was most inte...more
Andrew Tollemache
This book is best read in conjunction with watching the 1993 movie "Tombstone". Doing so gives one the perfect contrast between the legend (Tombstone) and reality (book). The movie goes to great length to get small details right, but fudges the big picture. The movie gets all the names right, it gets Doc Hollidays purported last words right and is sound on the narrative. The book shows how murky the facts are, how much the political and economic currents of the day affected contemporary views on...more
Tom Wilda
I found this book tedious at times, fascinating most of the time. The author is/was a journalist and has the journalist's love of detail. The tedious parts detailed some of Wyatt's early years, the stuff I was less interested in. But I found the details pertaining to life in Tombstone in the 1880s fascinating. It did not occur to me that it was sometimes hard to get a conviction for an accused if he/she had friends who would swear they were with them at the time of the crime. And there were the...more
Ingrid
To read Wyatt Earp on the heals of David Crockett was too many "American heroes made real." I didn't finish this, but I'm not sure the rating would have changed. Maybe another day.
Danny
Wyatt Earp had such a full life that to put his life in one volume is impossible unless it's done in a 5,000 page work. Though Casey Tefertiller did however enlighten us with many of the highlights of his life with most of the coverage during the cowtown years in Ellsworth, Wichita and Dodge City KS then on to the wildest most famous wild west town to have come about...Tombstone AZ. Casey also covered in good detail the post Tombstone era of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco CA, Alaska, Colo...more
Rgauthie
Very carefully researched. A lot of surprises.
Kellen
This is easily the most thorough and well researched history of the Earps and of Tombstone, AZ written. It is exhaustive in its research and use of primary and secondary resources. I believe it's most important contribution to history is that it shows how important Tombstone was in the settling of the West. It was a city that was quickly becoming the size of San Francisco, CA and its economic influence was vast. And Wyatt Earp was at the center of it all.
Kimberly
Details abound in this book. Sometimes the details, especially citing a multitude of contemporary newspaper account for each incident, can cause keeping track of the facts a little difficult.

However, the author does not succumb to legend over reality. Thoroughly researched, meticulously explained. Definitely worth reading. I know eventually I will read this again.

Highly recommended. Especially if you really want to learn something!
Nami
Wyatt Earp was an interesting dude. But, this biography wasn't a smooth read. It was like listening to junior high lockerroom gossip, "and then he said, then she said" for 400 pages of the tiniest type-face you've ever seen. I thought that maybe it was just that it was a biography, non-fiction issue, but I'm currently reading a bio on ee cummings and it is actually a good read. I might try an Earp fiction one of these days...
Rick
The story is very interesting telling the background of Wyatt Earp. Most of his story is about the shootout at the OK Corral but it doesn't get into how things culminated at this point. His relationship with Doc Holliday is also very interesting and baffling to some extent. A very good book. Watching the movie with Kevin Costner (I know...) is actually more interesting after reading the book.
Patrick Oden
Picked up this book while in Tombstone. It's a great biography of Earp. It is sympathetic without being a hagiography. I try to convince people how much this book is also related to contemporary politics but no one seems to listen to me. They should because it's really insightful about the various mentalities of Americans. A great book about Earp and the West in general.
Rick McNeely
A decent enough history of the Earp Saga and the pandemonium that occurred in Tombstone, AZ in 1881-82. A bit dry, a times the author tends to fumble around for his voice. Overly detailed when he cites endless contemporary newspaper articles. An OK book containing an enormous amount of careful research. The post-Tombstone accounting of Wyatt's life is very good.
Rae
To date, this is the definitive and most accurate biography of Wyatt Earp. The others suffer from suspect history and/or bias. I especially enjoyed how the author examined the phenomenon of Earp's status as a legendary Western lawman--or icon. There were large differences in what he was and how he was portrayed and how he has been remembered.
John
This is a very well researched and very detailed book. Great for anyone who truly wants to know what Earp's life was about. He was a hero to many and a villain to others. The book tries to debunk a lot of the myths surrounding Earp's life. Those of us who grew up with a Hollywood or t.v. Wyatt Earp only know a bit of the story.
Don
Methodically written book about the Wyatt Earp behind the legend. I found that it got a bit on the weedy, detailed side, which took some of the punch out of it. I'll read it again, though, down the road and see if I have a different take on it the next time.
Christian
Feb 08, 2009 Christian rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all asporing historians
Shelves: bio
I am amazed by the detail that Tefertiller goes into about life in tombstone. I feel, at times it is a bit overwhelming and takes away from the story line. But the book is definately thourough and well researched. i recommend this book to any aspiring history buff.
JP
A balanced portrayal of both the man and the myth. Wyatt's post-Tombstone life took him first to Denver, then the mining towns of the West, the San Francisco and Los Angeles and even to Alaska. Tombstone was one of several controversies during his adventurous life.
Donna
There was a lot of detailed information in this book. The facts were a welcomed relief to the Hollywood hype. It was nice to see some similarities but nicer to see Wyatt Earp as a man & not a super hero. He was, as I had suspected, a dreamer w/ a dash of ADD.
Faith
I loved this book. I'm not really into biographies, but I got interested in Wyatt Earp after seeing "Tombstone," and I wanted to know the real story of his life. This book is really thorough, well-researched, & well-written. I highly recommend it.
Linda
Good book for sure, but I think he included a few too many clips from various newspapers and publications. I understand the need to have some to back up what he was saying, but it seemed a little too much for me.
Tracy
If you are researching Earp, this should be your starting point. My one contention with this book is this version had the smallest print I have ever read. I don't think my vision will ever be the same.
Randy Carlson
Tedious. Requires work to filter through the high volume of reproduced source material, but it's worth the effort for the myth busting yield. The unvarnished Wyatt is good enough.
Melodee
This is an excellently researched book that goes a long way to telling the facts of Wyatt Earp's life, and leaving out most of the "hype." A great bit of American history.
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