Essential Books on Wyatt Earp
There are countless books on Wyatt Earp, and it comes with good reason, he was a lawman and gambler in the American West perhaps most known for his role in the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, during which, three outlaw cowboys were killed.
“Fast is fine, but accuracy is final,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most famous lawmen to blaze a legendary legacy, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best books on Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend by Casey Tefertiller
Based on recently discovered material, including newspapers believed to have been lost as well as personal accounts from Earp’s friends, enemies, and acquaintances, this definitive biography paints a superbly balanced portrait of the man who helped shape the modern view of the Old West. A rich panorama of nineteenth-century American culture and politics, Wyatt Earp brings a fresh perspective to the life of a common man of uncommon courage, whose ultimate wish was to live a quiet life.
The legend of Wyatt Earp began on the Kansas plains, where he toiled as a lawman in the untamed cowtowns of Wichita and Dodge City. But the booming mine towns of the Far West promised greater riches. It was in Tombstone, a wild, lawless mining camp masquerading as a town, that Wyatt Earp and his brothers determined to make their fortune. As Tombstone grew, so did the demand that someone enforce the law, and with their reputations preceding them, the brothers took up the call and the badges.
They found themselves up against killers and thieves who had decided that the riches of the Arizona territory were theirs for the taking. While the sparring between the lawmen and the outlaws reached its most storied point at the O.K. Corral, that bloody confrontation – rare in the Old West – was far from the end of the feud. When friends of the dead men took revenge on Virgil and Morgan, Wyatt Earp, with his good friend Doc Holliday and a carefully chosen group of men, carried out a ruthless vendetta. Their actions created the legacy of Wyatt Earp that would live ever after.
Tombstone by Tom Clavin
On the afternoon of October 26, 1881, eight men clashed in what would be known as the most famous shootout in American frontier history. Thirty bullets were exchanged in thirty seconds, killing three men and wounding three others.
The fight sprang forth from a tense, hot summer. Cattle rustlers had been terrorizing the back country of Mexico and selling the livestock they stole to corrupt ranchers. The Mexican government built forts along the border to try to thwart American outlaws, while Arizona citizens became increasingly agitated. Rustlers, who became known as the cow-boys, began to kill each other as well as innocent citizens. That October, tensions boiled over with Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, and Billy Claiborne confronting the Tombstone marshal, Virgil Earp, and the suddenly deputized Wyatt and Morgan Earp and shotgun-toting Doc Holliday.
Bestselling author Tom Clavin peers behind decades of legend surrounding the story of Tombstone to reveal the true story of the drama and violence that made it famous. Tombstone also digs deep into the vendetta ride that followed the tragic gunfight, when Wyatt and Warren Earp and Holliday went vigilante to track down the likes of Johnny Ringo, Curly Bill Brocius, and other cowboys who had cowardly gunned down his brothers. That “vendetta ride” would make the myth of Wyatt Earp complete and punctuate the struggle for power in the American frontier’s last boom town.
Ride the Devil’s Herd by John Boessenecker
Wyatt Earp is regarded as the most famous lawman of the Old West, best known for his role in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. But the story of his two-year war with a band of outlaws known as the Cowboys has never been told in full.
The Cowboys were the largest outlaw gang in the history of the American West. After battles with the law in Texas and New Mexico, they shifted their operations to Arizona. There, led by Curly Bill Brocius, they ruled the border, robbing, rustling, smuggling, and killing with impunity until they made the fatal mistake of tangling with the Earp brothers.
Drawing on groundbreaking research into territorial and federal government records, this hallmark among books on Wyatt Earp reveals a time and place in which homicide rates were fifty times higher than those today. The story still bears surprising relevance for contemporary America, involving hot-button issues such as gang violence, border security, unlawful immigration, the dangers of political propagandists parading as journalists, and the prosecution of police officers for carrying out their official duties. Wyatt Earp saw it all in Tombstone.
The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn
On the afternoon of October 26, 1881, in a vacant lot in Tombstone, Arizona, a confrontation between eight armed men erupted in a deadly shootout. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral would shape how future generations came to view the Old West. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons became the stuff of legends, symbolic of a frontier populated by good guys in white hats and villains in black ones. It’s a colorful story – but the truth is even better.
Drawing on new material from private collections – including diaries, letters, and Wyatt Earp’s own hand-drawn sketch of the shootout’s conclusion – as well as archival research, Jeff Guinn gives us a startlingly different and far more fascinating picture of what actually happened that day in Tombstone and why.
Dodge City by Tom Clavin
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.
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.
Wyatt Earp was a product of his time, often walking both sides of the street, sometimes on the side of law and order and sometimes as the law-breaker. Some see him as the “Lion of Tombstone,” a hero lawman of the Wild West, whereas others see him as yet another outlaw, a pimp, and failed lawman.
Roy B. Young, Gary L. Roberts, and Casey Tefertiller, all notable experts on Earp and the Wild West, present in A Wyatt Earp Anthology an authoritative account of his life, successes, and failures. The editors have curated an anthology of the very best work on Earp – more than sixty articles and excerpts from books – from a wide array of authors, selecting only the best-written and factually documented pieces and omitting those full of suppositions or false material. Nearly all of the selections come from the last twenty years, when a more critical eye was turned to sources of Earp history. Many articles derive from the five stellar western publications dedicated to preserving the history of the American West: True West, Wild West, WOLA Journal, NOLA Quarterly, and the Journal of the Wild West History Association.
Earp’s life is presented in chronological fashion, from his early years to Dodge City, Kansas; triumph and tragedy in Tombstone; and his later years throughout the West. Important figures in Earp’s life, such as Bat Masterson, the Clantons, the McLaurys, Doc Holliday, and John Ringo, are also covered.
Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal by Stuart Lake
An authorized biography of the legendary marshal that describes the Old West exploits and law enforcement career of Wyatt Earp, his brothers Morgan and Virgil, and his sidekick, Doc Holliday.
My Fight at O.K. Corral by Wyatt Earp
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place on October 26, 1881 in Tombstone. It was fought between Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury at one side and the lawmen Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, Wyatt Earp, and the dentist Doc Holliday at the other side. Wyatt Earp narrates in this authentic report the gunfight from his own point of view.
Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson by Bill Markley
Which lawman did the most to tame the frontier, Bat Masterson or Wyatt Earp? Neither of them was a saint. At times their actions were not in compliance with the law, and they only served as peace officers for limited portions of their lives. What sets them apart from the thousands of sheriffs and marshals who served on America’s frontier? Did they make more arrests than others? Did they kill large numbers of men? This necessary installment to the ever-growing index of Wyatt Earp books reveals the intersection of their legacies and attempts to answer the questions about their place in the story of the West.
Doc Holliday: The Life, The Legend by Gary L. Roberts
In Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend, the historian Gary Roberts takes aim at the most complex, perplexing, and paradoxical gunfighter of the Old West, drawing on more than twenty years of research – including new primary sources – in his quest to separate the life from the legend. Doc Holliday was a study in contrasts: the legendary gunslinger who made his living as a dentist; the emaciated consumptive whose very name struck fear in the hearts of his enemies; the degenerate gambler and alcoholic whose fierce loyalty to his friends compelled him, more than once, to risk his own life; and the sidekick whose near-mythic status rivals that of the West’s greatest heroes.
With lively details of Holliday’s spirited exploits, his relationships with such Western icons as Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, this book sheds new light on one of the most mysterious figures of frontier history.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Wyatt Earp, check out our list of The 10 Best Books on John Wayne!