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Perspective

The Only Game in Town

My father often told me the story of how he, as a small boy, had sat on the knee of Wyatt Earp. The former marshal] of Dodge and Tombstone, as an old man, came to Chicago to give a lecture. He had heard of my Great-Uncle Garret's heroism in rescuing a lady from an armed terrorist and expressed a desire to meet the kind of lawman he admired. Having no children of his own. Garret brought along his brother and his son, who got to sit on the hero's knee. My father loved the West and in retirement spent some years in Del Rio—a decision that bewilders even most Texans. Among the earliest "grown-up" books I recall reading was Stuart N. Lake's biography of Earp—which, at times, reads more like a film star's "as-told-to" autobiography—and I never missed an episode of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, the Hugh O'Brien TV show, "based loosely" on the book.

My father, although an Earp admirer, cautioned me that there was a little more legend and less life not only in the program but also in the biography. Although Wyatt preferred ice cream to redeye, the Earps were not exactly the milk-and-water Methodists portrayed on television. They made their money from gambling, invested in saloons, and contracted commonlaw marriages with women whose virtue was not at all dubious. "The fighting Earps," their admirers called them. Others, less respectful, dubbed them "the...

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