Steve Gatto
American Mythmaker - oh, the irony of it all . . .
Mon Jul 9, 2018 15:18

Bob Cash’s post relating to Mark Dworkin’s book on Walter Noble Burns last week reminded me of a couple issues with the book that I have wanted to set straight.

The first issue relates to Mark Dworkin’s comments about John Ringo’s death and the fact that Earp did not tell Burns or Lake that he killed Ringo. The second concerns a passage in the book that discusses A. M. Franklin’s reminisces about John Ringo.

Regarding the claim that Wyatt Earp killed Ringo, Dworkin wrote:

“Some have suggested that where it appeared that Earp made the claim that he had killed Ringo, it was the writer that made up the account, and that Earp himself never made the claim. In a recently discovered letter mailed from Carmel, California, to “Colonel Breakenridge,” dated December 23, 1927, Frederick Bechdolt comments that, while he had not yet read Iliad, he had gone to Los Angeles at Earp’s request to discuss writing his life story. . . . He says he got John Ringo where Ringo’s body was found; that he [Earp] and several others, including Doc Holliday, were riding out on one of a number of expeditions from the Hooker ranch, looking for Curly Bill, when they encountered Ringo. . . . Casey Tefertiller discovered this Bechdolt letter in the Houghton Mifflin Company correspondence in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. Why Earp would make such a spurious claim is cause for speculation. He made no such claim to Walter Noble Burns or Stuart Lake. Tefertiller theorizes that, upon consideration, Earp realized that the story was indefensible by facts, and decided to back off it.” (Dworkin, American Mythmaker, pg. 221, note 21).

The irony of Dworkin’s comments about Casey Tefertiller is that Casey took the positon in Raton, New Mexico, at a WOLA conference around 1998 while debating myself, that Earp never told Walter Noble Burns or Stuart Lake about killing Ringo, so there was reason to believe that Earp ever made the claim to have killed Ringo. At that time, I responded to Tefertiller that I believed that the reason why Wyatt did not tell Burns or Lake that he killed Ringo was because Earp knew, after meeting with Frank Lockwood around 1926, that his story of how he killed Ringo before leaving Arizona was not factually correct, so he stopped making the claim.

So it is somewhat amazing to me that Dworkin noted that “Some have suggested that where it appeared that Earp made the claim that he had killed Ringo, it was the writer that made up the account, and that Earp himself never made the claim” - which was Casey Tefertiller’s original position – but Dworkin then morphed my contrary argument in response to Tefertiller that “Earp realized that the story was indefensible by facts, and decided to back off it,” into a position held by Tefertiller. Indeed, I argued this point at a Warren Earp Days Hickey event in July 2002 which was video taped and, thanks to Gary McClelland, is now available on You Tube.

Further, to the best of my knowledge Neil Carmony was the one who discovered the Frederick Bechdolt letter in the Houghton Mifflin Company collection somewhere around 2002. He also discovered letters relating to Breakenridge’s book that clearly showed the William MacLeod Raine did not ghostwrite Breckenridge’s book as Tefertiller claimed in his Wyatt Earp book. My understanding is that Carmony forwarded these to Casey or let him know about them.

Now, my initial claim that Wyatt stopped making the claim because it was not factual correct after his encounter with Lockwood around 1926 was not entirely correct since the Bechdolt letter shows that Wyatt made the claim to him in 1927. However, the point that I was making that Wyatt stopped telling the story because he realized others would see it as not factually correct remains strong – it was just after telling Bechdolt rather than Lockwood.

I don’t know if Dworkin got the issue wrong or if Casey finally changed his position once the Bechdolt letter became known to him. However, in 2000, Casey wrote an article about John Ringo for Wild West magazine stating: “Earp did not make the claim to his biographer Stuart Lake nor did he make it in an interview with writer Walter Noble Burns. While this all leads to a confusing and uncertain scenario, the conclusion that best fits the evidence is that Earp nether killed Ringo nor ever actually made the claim that he did so.” Wild West, February 2000, p. 57). So either Dworkin got his information wrong or Casey finally changed his position once he saw the Bechdolt letter. Still, for me, the irony is that Casey was one of the people that had maintained for years that Wyatt never made the claim to have killed Ringo, but Dworkin paints him as believing that Wyatt stopped telling the story because it was factually wrong when others, like myself, have maintained that position for years.

Regarding the second issue, Dworkin wrote: “Steve Gatto accepts Franklin’s reminisces, pointing to him as a respected man, a future bank president, and a chronicler interested in ‘preserving historical information.’” Franklin reminisced, Gatto explains, ‘before the popular book on Tombstone were written,’ presumably meaning Iliad and Helldorado, but Gatto doesn’t indicate how he knows this. Burrows questions the Franklin material, positing that it may have been written after those publications. . . . The defense of Franklin’s credibility is missing from Gatto’s later Ringo biography, Johnny Ringo (2002).”

It is somewhat perplexing to me that Dworkin states that I did not provide any supporting evidence for my position that Franklin’s account pre-dated the publication of Burns’ book. Iliad was published and received copyright protection around October 14, 1927. In my first Ringo book, John Ringo (1995), I provided a quote of one of Franklin’s account about Ringo and some missing cattle. I noted that the account was written by 1925 and stated the following: “Therefore, it was written before both Burns’ Tombstone and Breakenridge’s Helldorado.”

When I was attending the University of Arizona in 1983, I spent a great deal of time in the library and discovered the Franklin account of Ringo and the missing cattle. I track the information down and the university told me that it had recorded the date it received Franklin’s account as 1925. In my book, John Ringo, I wrote on page 216, note 20, the following: “The University of Arizona library received there copy of Franklin’s copies in 1925.

Further, I noted in my book, John Ringo, that the Ringo and the missing cattle account along with Franklin’s account of Ringo’s shooting abilities was published in the Arizona Daily Star, Fifty Years Anniversary Edition, in May 1927. (John Ringo, pg. 87, pg. 216, n. 23).

So it is rather troublesome to me that Dworkin would state that I didn’t state how I knew the Franklin accounts pre-dated Burns’ Tombstone and Breakenridge’s Helldorado when I noted that they were published in May 1827, several months before Burns’ Tombstone was published and available to the public in October 1927. Further, the fact that I left out some information in my later John Ringo book in no way diminishes the fact that I found A.M. Franklin’s accounts to be credible.

  • Click here to receive daily updates