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Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West Hardcover – February 28, 2017
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Dodge City, Kansas, is a place of legend. The town that started as a small military site exploded with the coming of the railroad, cattle drives, eager miners, settlers, and various entrepreneurs passing through to populate the expanding West. Before long, Dodge City’s streets were lined with saloons and brothels and its populace was thick with gunmen, horse thieves, and desperadoes of every sort. By the 1870s, Dodge City was known as the most violent and turbulent town in the West.
Enter Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Young and largely self-trained men, the lawmen led the effort that established frontier justice and the rule of law in the American West, and did it in the wickedest place in the United States. When they moved on, Wyatt to Tombstone and Bat to Colorado, a tamed Dodge was left in the hands of Jim Masterson. But before long Wyatt and Bat, each having had a lawman brother killed, returned to that threatened western Kansas town to team up to restore order again in what became known as the Dodge City War before riding off into the sunset.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Tom Clavin's Dodge City tells the true story of their friendship, romances, gunfights, and adventures, along with the remarkable cast of characters they encountered along the way (including Wild Bill Hickock, Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill Cody, John Wesley Hardin, Billy the Kid, and Theodore Roosevelt) that has gone largely untold―lost in the haze of Hollywood films and western fiction, until now.
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"Absorbing. . . . Fun and revealing all the way through. . . . Mr. Clavin gives Earp his due, but one of the virtues of his book is the welcome light it shines on its other protagonist, Bat Masterson, who comes across as much more interesting, human and fun." ―The Wall Street Journal
"Two of the most fabled lawmen of the American West's fascinating careers are brought to life in Tom Clavin’s Dodge City." ―New York Post
"A dramatic history of the West and the late 19th century that focuses on Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson who were fast friends." ―Bill O'Reilly
"Thorough, compelling and entertaining. . . . Clavin sprinkles in fascinating tidbits about life and culture in the Old West. . . . In Dodge City, Clavin vividly re-creates a time, a town and an era that it seems incomprehensible occurred less than 150 years ago. In it, he provides a reality check to the countless books, TV shows and movies about the Old West." ―Houston Press
"Rip-snorting good reading" ―Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
"This real-life story of 'Dodge City' is as colorful as anything Hollywood imagined. . . . In Dodge City Clavin has collected the legends, outrageous lies and even more outrageous truths told about the frontier town synonymous all over the world with America's cattle-drive era." ―Dallas News
"A full-tilt, flat-out, rip-roaring trail ride back into those thrilling days of yesteryear." ―The Virginian-Pilot
"Clavin tells a lively tale that’s both entertaining and informative, with plenty of action and little-known information to keep a reader around. . . . Fans of Western U.S. history or lovers of Larry McMurtry novels should covet this book; it’s everything you want it to be." ―LaCrosse Tribune
"Offers a sweeping and often riveting account of the personalities and exploits of both men whose paths repeatedly crossed as the post-Civil War frontier moved westward. . . . This is an enjoyable saga that will appeal to both Western aficionados and general readers." ―Booklist
"Clavin’s book brims with a colorful collection of real outlaws, sex workers, gamblers, and chorus dancers whose personalities, deeds, and even nicknames help readers understand why the Western legend entranced the nation in the first place. To know the history of Dodge City is to understand how the West was won, and this history is often just as captivating and strange as the legends that have supplanted it." ―Publishers Weekly
"An extraordinary account of the iconic Wild West town of Dodge City, KS. . . . Clavin brings true personality to a severe Earp and the affable but steady-nerved Masterson during their roles in taming the wildest excesses of the Western frontier." ―Library Journal
"The author paints a lively portrait of the town and its denizens, particularly those well-known enforcers. Along the way, he reveals a few lesser-known aspects of their characters . . . . A must-have for buffs." ―Kirkus Reviews
"Tales of the Old West seem to improve with age. . . . [Clavin] brings into sharp focus stories that long ago acquired the sepia tone of antiquity. . . . Clavin’s storytelling skills shine as he chronicles the personal histories of the now-mythical pair, tracing the years of their reign in the West and providing an intriguing look at their comradeship. . . . Clavin’s bold narrative of life in a nation still coming of age provides a shot of good old-fashioned escapism. . . . [A] rip-roarin’ read." ―BookPage
"Tom Clavin's Dodge City is a lesson in historical reporting, exhaustively researched and enthusiastically written with all the page-turning drive of a modern thriller. He's swept aside a century of cheesy myth to excavate the far more fascinating reality that lay beneath. In his hands, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, James Butler Hickok, and that salty perennial Doc Holliday rise from their graves to strut across a raw frontier smelling of fresh-sawn pine, buffalo guts, and human blood." ―Loren D. Estleman, author of Cape Hell
"Tom Clavin has produced a sharp picture of the brief but vivid culture of the 19th century cattle towns." ―Larry McMurtry, bestselling author of Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon
"I loved Clavin’s The Heart of Everything That Is, so I already knew I was in the hands of a gifted storyteller with his new history of the American West. But, wow! Dodge City crackles from the start. Replete with rich characters and a narrative that’s faster than Bat Masterson, Clavin has surpassed even himself." ―Neal Bascomb, New York Times bestselling author of The Winter Fortress and Hunting Eichmann
"In a time when understanding America's real frontier past has never been more crucial, Tom Clavin's Dodge City cuts through popular mythology and offers both clarity and fine entertainment - in other words, it's a book that anyone interested in Western history needs to read." ―Jeff Guinn, author of the New York Times bestseller The Last Gunfight
About the Author
- Publisher : St. Martin's Press; 1st Edition (February 28, 2017)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250071488
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250071484
- Item Weight : 1.37 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.58 x 1.38 x 9.59 inches
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on May 17, 2018
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Wyatt probably wouldn’t shoot you. The town had had quite enough of that with its first marshal, Bill “Bully” Brooks. He shot 12 men in his first month on the job.
If you didn’t comply with Wyatt’s orders, he’d keep you talking though he was a laconic man himself. Reasonable conversation usually kept the gunfire down. If he or his deputies slapped leather, it was with an eye towards accuracy and not speed. And they wouldn’t be shooting to kill but just to wound.
Those were Earp’s guidelines for his men. I am somewhat skeptical how often the third rule was followed. It’s hard enough to shoot a man with a handgun while under stress much less do fancy aiming. However, the city wasn’t paying a bounty for dead men, just prisoners in the jail. And Earp’s encounters were no doubt at a very close range.
Close enough that he “buffaloed” many a ruffian. That was a trick he learned in his first law job in Witchita. Essentially, it was slamming a pistol barrel onto the top of a head of a recalcitrant cowboy, and he’d wake up in jail or in the saloon. And live to spend his money another day.
Dodge City was a lot more peaceful with Earp and his deputies around.
With a wry and dry wit and with minimal hemming and hawing about different versions of events, Clavin gives us the story of these two legendary lawmen as he sees it and makes his third character Dodge City.
There are a lot of books on Earp, and I’ve resisted most except for the scrupulously written and narrowly focused And Die in the West about the gunfight at the OK Corral (actually at the vacant lot behind the corral). Biographies of Earp started out with Stuart Lake’s hagiographic Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, and Clavin confirms they’ve mostly veered between worship and hostility since then.
Masterton has fewer and truer bios, but they relied on his memory and a minor bit of attention seeking later in his life.
Neither man was born in the west. Earp hailed from Illinois. Like another American legend, Buffalo Bill Cody, Masterton was actually born in Canada – which never stopped him from illegally holding federal jobs and voting. “Bat” was probably a pet version of his birth name: Bertholomiew Masterton though, of course, other stories offer other explanations.
Tall (which helped with that buffaloing), lean, blonde and blue-eyed Earp and stocky, dark-haired Masterton both had brothers who were also law officers.
The Earp family was, even by modern standards, peripatetic. The Mastertons less so.
Clavin opens his book in 1883 with Bat and Wyatt reunited in Dodge, called back by the Dodge City War. Like many other famous conflicts in the Old West – the Lincoln County War, the OK Corral, and the Johnson County War, it was a combination of economic and political conflict. And it looked like more than a few people were going to die of lead poisoning.
Clavin then backtracks to give us the history of Dodge – originally called Buffalo City and established as a drinking hole for soldiers from nearby Fort Dodge, buffalo hunting, Indian Wars in Kansas, and, Wyatt’s and Bat’s early life as well as their brothers’ who show up frequently.
Truth be told, a whole lot of this book talks about things other than Dodge and our heroes. Clavin wanders off on many a tangent about the famous people that crossed the two shootists’ paths: John Wesley Hardin, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, and Buffalo Bill Cody to name a few. But it’s all interesting, and who doesn’t want to hear about more obscure figures with names like Salvation Sam, Dog Kelley, Mysterious Dave Mathers, the Hoodoo Kid, Shoot ‘Em Up Mike, Prairie Dog Dave, Deadwood Dick, Dynamite Sam, and Dirty Sock Jack?
Earp and Masterton both were buffalo hunters in their teens. At $3.50 a head, killing ten of them a day would earn more than most men got in a month. Before that, Earp was also a teamster hauling cargo between Prescott and San Bernardino. They first met while buffalo hunters in Kansas.
After surviving the 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls when that trading post was attacked by a band of Indians led by Qannah Parker, formidable offspring of a Commanche chief and a white captive, Bat decided to give up hunting.
Before coming becoming a marshal in Dodge, Wyatt had some early experience with the law both as a lawman and criminal. Mostly what men who met Wyatt remembered was that he was a coffee man and didn’t drink alcohol except for a bit of beer now and then.
Bat, on the other hand, liked his drink and cards in moderation.
Wyatt’s relationship with women was, as Clavin says, complicated. He had four “wives”.
And one of them was a prostitute while they were married. In fact, while Clavin doesn’t call them the “Fightin’ Pimps” as others have, the Earp brothers frequently owned brothels.
Masterton found love later in life and just once when he married an athletic “club dancer”.
In case you’re wondering, only two chapters are devoted to Wyatt in Tombstone. Bat joined him there but left town by the time of the October shootout at the OK Corral. Clavin spends little time on Wyatt’s “vendetta ride” where he killed three men after his brother Morgan was murdered. Wyatt, as a Deputy United States Marshall, became a wanted man for a while.
It was after Tombstone that Wyatt returned for his second stint in Dodge.
One of the delights of the book is following these two men in later years.
Both men had an interest in boxing, and, after wandering about the west as far as Alaska, Wyatt ended up as a boxing referee in Los Angeles after bad investments in real estate and racehorses. (And his fourth and final “wife” developed a bad gambling habit.) In 1911, Wyatt again found himself on the wrong side of the law with a charge of “bunco steering”. Plans to do a biography fell through at first before meeting Stuart Lake. Earp died at 80 in 1929.
Masterton’s post-lawman life was far more distinguished. He became a noted newspaper columnist for the New York City paper The Morning Telegraph. He was a popular writer about sports and, sometimes, the theater.
Like Wyatt, he died with his boots on and in a spectacularly fitting fashion for a newspaperman. In 1921, just after finishing a column, he slumped over dead.
Both men, of course, have their place in pop culture as much as history. Wyatt has several movies about him, most centering on that day in Tombstone. Bat had a tv show, Bat Masterton, but it’s mostly forgotten now. But he wormed his way into memory in a sidewise fashion.
One of Bat’s newspaper protégés was Damon Runyon. A group of his stories were turned into the very popular musical Guys and Dolls. And in that show is one Sky Masterson.
A hearty recommendation for this book which skillfully presents the details of Bat’s and Wyatt’s life and times.
However, there is the minor matter on page 158 which has Wild Bill Hickok’s killer, Jack McCall, hung in Cheyenne. No, no he wasn’t. He was hung in Yankton, Dakota Territory. Not exactly an obscure or controversial fact though one I’m peculiarly sensitized to given my constant early exposure to the legend of Wild Bill.
It claims that all but the first of Wyatt's four wives were whores at one time or other and that Wyatt and Virgil spent times as bouncers in brothels or as the managers of them. This is probably where and how they met their wives.
Even Earp's last wife the actress, was, as most of them were in the day, a whore. Apparenlty she proved the general view that being an actress was tantamount to being a whore . Hell, even William Randoph Hearsts wife was a former whore who worked the stage on Broadway and the "green room" where VIP customers got "special' back stage treatment by the stars and starlets, both male and female.
It gives a more accurate light on the "Me Too Movement." Quid pro Quo to get roles was just a natural out growth of being a whore for cash in between appearances on the stage.
The book in entertaining and educational. The two famous lawmen were only a few steps from being on the other slide of the line but for happenstance.
Top reviews from other countries
I found the book highly informative and written in a prose that is friendly, lively, frequently humorous and often quite gripping. The author is careful in warning the reader at the outset about how fact and legend tend to be intertwined in much of the popular literature about the lives and times of these famous people. Consequently, he makes related comments throughout as to the veracity of some of the various stories are recounted. This book should be of particular interest to readers who are curious about what really happened in the Old West.