Online bidders soar for Earp auction of guns, family items

2014-04-14T00:00:00Z 2014-04-14T00:03:46Z Online bidders soar for Earp auction of guns, family itemsBy Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The infamous confrontation lasted less than a minute.

And yet more than 130 years later, the shootout at the OK Corral still captivates the imagination and has bestowed near-immortal status on the cast of combatants — none more than Wyatt Earp.

Old West aficionados and collectors this week will get the chance to own a piece of that history.

An auction scheduled for Thursday at Scottsdale’s J. Levine Auction and Appraisal, 10345 N. Scottsdale Road, offers a cache of Western historical items, including numerous weapons once owned by members of the Earp family.

“This is actual Americana,” said Josh Levine of J. Levine Auction and Appraisal. “It’s garnered a lot of worldwide attention.”

Levine said Western items usually attract interest. For example, he said, he knew someone who bought one of John Wayne’s cowboy hats for nearly three-quarters of a million dollars.

But unlike the hat of an actor known for playing Old West characters, the items in Thursday’s auction actually were owned by one of the most famous lawmen the country has ever produced.

Up for sale in the auction are Wyatt Earp’s Colt .45 revolver, Virgil Earp’s Colt revolver and Nathan Earp’s Remington ball and cap revolver.

Other items include personal items like eyeglasses and a riding crop owned by Wyatt Earp’s wife, Josephine Earp.

“I don’t think we’re going to have anything that’s going to pass,” Levine said.

The auction house has already registered nearly 5,000 online bidders and Levine suspects thousands more could register before the auction.

The collection of items were the property of Western historian and novelist Glenn Boyer, who died in February 2013. Boyer lived much of his life in southern Arizona.

“This is basically everything he had,” Boyer’s stepson, Dan Coleman, said.

Born in 1924, Boyer spent nearly all of his life delving into Western history.

His widow, Jane Candia Coleman, said her husband’s interest in the Old West and Wyatt Earp went back to his boyhood. A Chicago Tribune story he read in the 1930s captivated him as a child.

Boyer clipped the story from the paper, which his wife said she still has.

“It just lit a candle in him,” she said.

As a young man serving in the U.S. Air Force in Yuma, Boyer began to meet people who would again spark his interest in Western history, including Albert Behan, the son of Earp contemporary and rival Johnny Behan.

Boyer struck up a friendship with Albert Behan, then an old man, from whom he collected stories of Tombstone and the players in the shootout.

From there, Boyer began to seek out others with either first-hand or familial accounts of the OK Corral shootout and Tombstone from the territorial days.

Over years, Boyer interviewed the direct descendants of many of those who have come to embody the lore of Tombstone.

“He was almost adopted by Wyatt’s niece,” Jane Candia Coleman said of the bond her late husband formed with some Earp descendants.

Among the items for sale in the auction are the notes, recordings and manuscripts Boyer’s years of study in the Tombstone saga produced.

“The volume of contribution Glenn gave to this field is all documented in this collection,” Dan Coleman said.

Despite Boyer’s acknowledged achievements in igniting public interest in Tombstone, among Western historians he remains a controversial figure.

A popular tome of Boyer’s first published by the University of Arizona Press in 1976 stands as one of the author’s most controversial works.

“I Married Wyatt Earp” was billed as the memoir of Josephine Earp, with Boyer the editor.

The popular book went through a dozen printings at the University of Arizona Press and sold more than 35,000 copies, earning Boyer a reputation as one the most acclaimed Earp experts.

In the early 1980s, the book formed the basis of the made-for-TV movie of the same name starring Marie Osmond.

A key document of the memoir’s primary source materials was a manuscript Boyer said came directly through Josephine Earp. Boyer said she worked on the document in the late 1920s and early 1930s with Tombstone Epitaph founder and former Tombstone mayor John Clum.

Almost 20 years after its first publication, however, the book came under fire. Academics began to question the authenticity of Boyer’s source material, in particular the Clum Manuscript, which likely was a collection of source materials as opposed to one finished document.

Another Boyer book, “Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta,” also attracted criticism.

Written as historical fiction, the book still managed to draw the ire of critics. Some of those became the subject of criticism themselves for failure to recognize the work as fiction.

“It’s a matter of jealousy,” Dan Coleman said. “He was not an academic historian and never purported to be one.”

He described some critics as “dress-up cowboys” with “nickel-plated revolvers.”

Jane Candia Coleman said much of the research Boyer compiled for his non-fiction works was done over years, through conversations with sources.

“A lot of that couldn’t be footnoted,” she said.

While Boyer continued to write and secure supporters for his work, the criticisms wore on him and his family.

Some critics even turned to threats.

“At a certain point, I got tired of it,” Jane Candia Coleman said. “We were getting death threats in the mail.”

She even suspects someone tampered with the brakes on her car at one point.

The work that had captivated Boyer and defined much of his life had become almost burdensome.

“I have been safeguarding them,” Jane Candia Coleman said of Boyer’s collections. “I don’t have to live with that anymore.”

Dan Coleman agreed, saying his stepfather accomplished the things he set out to do, namely to help create a more accurate portrayal of the Earp’s and life in Tombstone in the 1880s.

“It’s kind of the end of it for our family,” Dan Coleman said.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or pmcnamara@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @pm929.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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