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Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are two of the old West's most famous characters. Their friendship, their sharp shooting skills, and their loyalty to family are all legendary. The incident at the O.K. Corral with the Clanton and Earp gangs has inspired many story tellers. There have been numerous books, movies, and television shows based on their lives and that event. In his newest book, The Last Kind Words Saloon
, Larry McMurtry, the author of more than thirty books, has created his version.
Usually Wyatt Earp is portrayed as the upright moral lawman devoted to his brothers and deeply in love with Jessie, his second wife. He was one of the men who cleaned up the Wild West, making it fit for womenfolk and families to live there. Doc Holliday is most often shown as Wyatt's best friend and loyal sidekick. A gambler at times, he was a good man, always ready to stand beside the Earps in all of their endeavors.
McMurtry's version of the two men is different. They are compatriots still, but the author changes quite a few things. The book begins in Long Grass, Texas, a settlement nearly in New Mexico. Wyatt, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, his wife Jessie, and Doc Holliday are living there, having already made Dodge and Abilene civilized places. Neither Doc nor Wyatt shoot very well; they can't hit a snake but probably could hit a buffalo. Wyatt says he subdued more men with a mean look than with his gun. His brothers are the ones actually employed as sheriff and deputy. Wyatt is just the strong arm. His relationship with Jessie is tense and quarrelsome. She often throws him out of the bar where she works. Both Wyatt and Doc are big drinkers and spend more time in the saloons than anywhere else.
To celebrate the formation of the largest cattle ranch in the West, Buffalo Bill Cody comes to Long Grass. For a short time Wyatt and Doc join Cody's Wild West show. Their engagement doesn't last long, due to their lack of gun fighting skills.
So they travel down to Mobitie, Texas and from there to Tombstone where Virgil and Morgan are hired as lawmen again. Wyatt is once more the law without any official position. Jessie finds another bartending position. Doc practices dentistry but really supports himself as a gambler.
Always known as a man of few words, here Wyatt is taciturn and withdrawn. Jessie complains to Doc that Wyatt never says a word. When she complains to Wyatt, he starts drinking at a saloon that does not employ her. When he finds how much time Jessie has spent talking with a man he dislikes, Wyatt punches her in the mouth, then slaps her face, then bursts into tears. This is not the Wyatt Earp seen in the movies. In this book the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral was not a showdown between the evil Clanton gang and the righteous Earps. The incident started when the Clantons drove a herd of cattle into town, raising so much dust that Wyatt's eggs became inedible. That made him angry enough to run out into the street and pick a fight with the head of the Clanton clan. That particular temper tantrum led to deaths in both families.
Larry McMurtry has been described as "our leading unsentimentalist" (by the 'Texas Monthly') while he continues "demystifying the West" (Tim Gautreaux, 'Washington Post'). Of this book McMurtry wrote that he kept in mind the movie director John Ford who "...said that when you had to choose between history and legend, print the legend. And so I've done." The Last Kind Words Saloon
is less than two hundred pages, divided into five sections, each with short chapters. With his wonderful writing the Pulitzer Prize winning author packs a lot of story into those pages.
Children's Librarian, Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls