There’s more to Wyatt Earp than gunslinging exploits.
In a biographical fiction trilogy, “Wyatt Earp: An American Odyssey,” Mark Warren takes readers past the legends and lore of the freight hauler, saloonkeeper, gambler and lawman who shot it out in the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone.
Warren, 70, put his lifelong research of Earp and the West into his robust, reflective, “true to history” trilogy. “Adobe Moon” covers Earp’s early years. The second in the series, “Born to the Badge,” largely set in Wichita and Dodge City, Kansas, before his move to the Arizona Territory, will be released Nov. 21.
There are guns, gambling and the rugged, gritty toughness of the frontier, but Warren’s fictional interpretation of his deep research reveals new information about and a new understanding of Earp and his ramblings through up-and-coming towns.
Warren attempts to get into Earp’s head and to describe his personality.
Warren says he became fascinated with Earp’s story around the age of 7. Warren spent the next six decades sifting through stories and tales — including dishonest, misleading narratives — to uncover the truth. He’s made dozens of trips to Tombstone, participating in organized seminars and lectures, and visiting on his own.
Warren says as a child he was attracted to Earp because his was a story of courage and overcoming challenges and obstacles. He now believes that Earp was “truly fearless.”
That fearlessness may be traced to his father, Nicholas, who had an iron fist and was demanding and blustery. Warren says Wyatt Earp, the third of five brothers, may have internalized some of the traits of his father.
While Wyatt Earp was not blustery, his utter lack of fear was coupled with a commanding physical confidence — Wyatt Earp at 6 feet tall was a big man for the time and he studied boxing with a semipro — making him ideal for police work.
“There was no need to work on another biography” or narrative nonfiction on Earp, says Warren. Those have been done.
Writing in the historical novel genre enabled Warren to extract much of Earp’s personality from the facts and craft a nuanced, detail-rich story. He split what would have been a single thick book into the trilogy at the request of his publisher.
“Wyatt Earp’s story is Shakespearean,” filled with loss, triumph and disappointment, says Warren. It is also filled with controversies and exaggerations that percolated after his death.
“Earp was a man of tremendous ambition who sought to be a successful businessman,” but was always a foot soldier, says Warren. He wasn’t a politician and took people at face value, often to his great disappointment.
“Adobe Moon,” the first book’s title, is drawn from Earp’s encounter with a Mexican girl’s philosophy of success and failure that haunted Earp: The “adobe moon” is an ocher orb that reminds a man that if you do not achieve your dreams, you must settle for what you have.
Earp was a “man of few words,” says Warren. While Earp may have exaggerated on occasion, when he said something, it was usually true.
Asked about the O.K. Corral gunfight, Earp would usually say, “I imagine we talk about something else,” according to Warren.
The lawman loved the peace of prospecting, Warren says. He and his wife mined in the Mohave Desert.
Warren, who lives in the Appalachian Mountains of north Georgia, says he admires Earp, might have had common ground with him and would have liked him.
As a child, Warren spent as much time in the woods as possible.
His eclectic background includes graduating from the University of Georgia in art and chemistry/premed, a stint in music composition and arrangement, work as a naturalist and environmental educator for the Georgia Conservancy, and as wilderness director for High Meadows Camp. He’s a champion archer and an expert in canoeing.
Warren operates Medicine Bow, a school on 35 acres in the southern Appalachians, where he teaches nature classes and survival skills of the Cherokees.
“We’ve lost our connection to nature,” Warren says. At Medicine Bow he teaches skills like using plants for food, crafts and tools, such as rope, creating fire without a match and naturally purifying water.
And he’s always been a writer. As a child, Warren says he created books with folder paper and yarn. Warren has completed a series of books on his work as a naturalist, including activities for teachers and students. He has written about nature for magazines.
“Born to the Badge” and the other two books in the trilogy are historical fiction; however, Warren has said “I have written it as close to the truth as I know how. And as usual, the truth is so much more compelling than the myth.”