PERSPECTIVErnThe Only Game in Townrnby Thomas FlemingrnMy father often told me the story of how he, as a smallrnboy, had sat on the knee of Wyatt Earp. The formerrnmarshal] of Dodge and Tombstone, as an old man, came tornChicago to give a lecture. He had heard of my Great-UnclernGarret’s heroism in rescuing a lady from an armed terrorist andrnexpressed a desire to meet the kind of lawman he admired.rnHaving no children of his own. Garret brought along his brotherrnand his son, who got to sit on the hero’s knee. My fatherrnloved the West and in retirement spent some years in DelrnRio—a decision that bewilders even most Texans. Among thernearliest “grown-up” books I recall reading was Stuart N. Lake’srnbiography of Earp—which, at times, reads more like a filmrnstar’s “as-told-to” autobiography—and I never missed anrnepisode of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, the HughrnO’Brien TV show, “based loosely” on the book.rnMy father, although an Earp admirer, cautioned me thatrnthere was a little more legend and less life not only in the programrnbut also in the biography. Although Wyatt preferred icerncream to redeye, the Earps were not exacdy the milk-and-waterrnMethodists portrayed on television. They made their moneyrnfrom gambling, invested in saloons, and contracted commonlawrnmarriages with women whose virtue was not at all dubious.rn”The fighting Earps,” their admirers called them. Others, lessrnrespectful, dubbed them “the fighting pimps.”rnWyatt had a particularly checkered career: He skipped bailrnon a charge of horse-stealing, and he showed little reluctancernabout hanging out with notorious characters like Doc Holliday.rnIf Ike Clanton were to be believed (note the subjunctive),rnthe Earps’ feud with the Clantons, celebrated in a hundredrnfact-ignoring films, began in a joint-venture robbery of a stagecoachrnin which both the driver and a passenger were murdered.rnWhile it may be safe to dismiss Ike’s claim that DocrnHolliday suspected Ike of ratting out the highly vindicfive dentist,rnWyatt’s friendly relations with a variety of lowlifes did notrnenhance his reputation, and perhaps more than rumor gavernHolliday the credit for the stagecoach murders.rnThere were even two sides, my father cautioned, to the Gunfightrnat the O.K. Corral, and, depending on whether you followrnthe case in the Epitaph or in the Nugget, the Earps were eitherrnrighteous defenders of law and order or cold-blooded killers. Irnhave often thought that a director could have fun making arnmovie from the Clantons’ point of view: just a bunch of goodtimingrncowhands who were persecuted by a courthouse ring ofrnRepublican gamblers who speculated at the faro table insteadrnof on Wall Street. It would be a lie, but no worse than thernfrighteningly bad film that miscasts Burt Lancaster as Wyattrnand Victor Mature as Doc or John Ford’s better but even lessrnaccurate movie, My DarUng Clementine, which tried to pass offrnHenry Fonda as Wyatt and took Ford’s principle of “print thernlegend” to a new high.rnIf you confine your reading to Wyatt’s hagiography, whichrngoes back to the Tombstone Epitaph, you will not discover thatrntwo of the cowboys—Tom McLaury and Ike Clanton—mayrnhave been unarmed, nor that the conflict had political as wellrnas personal roots. In part, the feud between the Earps and theirrnenemies was a product of post-war sectional conflict (asrnRichard Maxwell Brown argues in a recent book). Many of therncowboys were from Texas or Missouri, Confederate sympathizers,rnand Democrats; the Earps were good Republicans, andrnWyatt’s older brother Virgil fought for the Union.rnThe Clantons and McLaurys, the fun-loving Curiy Bill Brociusrnand the book-reading John Ringo were all wild bucks livingrnon one side or another of the law but almost always outsiderncivilization. Quiet, churchgoing people occasionally becamernlO/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn