Kit’s Crit: Dodge City (Tom Clavin)

Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson. and the Wickedest Town In the American West

(Tom Clavin)

Although Dodge City  has the Author’s Note, Illustrations, Bibliography, and Index of a non-fiction book, the tone and lack of scholarly footnotes makes the book appear more like one of the hybrid non-fiction/fiction books recently made popular by writers such as Erik Larson.  It is an account of how the Earp and Masterson families brought frontier justice to the “wickedest town in the American west” during the late Nineteenth Century.

A lot of interesting facts come to light throughout the tale.  Parts of the book are particularly entertaining and will undoubtedly appeal to the western reader, though scholars may argue the accuracy of some minor details.  The latter half of the book is the most engaging.

But whereas writers like Larson manage to effortlessly weave their history within a narrative setting, Clavin’s work is clunky and too reliant on a journalistic approach, darting around from person to person, following after minor characters, with no consistent timeline, story, or authorial voice to join things together.  In Chapter Ten, Clavin adopts a casual tone:  “After all that Bat had been through on many a hoof-beaten trail, this town probably seemed like a good place to slap the dust off his clothes, wet his whistle, and enjoy the company of good gamblers and not-so-good women (118).”  Yet three chapters later a more academic voice explains, “In May 1877, The Kansas City Times sent one of its reporters the 335 miles west to give readers a glimpse of the young city on the edge of the frontier that the people in the east were hearing more and more about.  He stepped off the train at 8.30 A.M., ‘in the tranquil stillness of the morning.  In this respect Dodge is peculiar.  She awakens from her slumbers about eleven A.M., takes her sugar and lemon at twelve, a square meal at one P.M., commences biz at two o’clock, gets lively at four, and at ten it is hip-liiphurrail till five in the morning (151)’.”  This mix of popular and academic writing does not work well together.

That said, I believe Dodge City is worth reading for the detailed insight into Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson.  I particularly enjoyed Clavin’s efforts to show how these figures interacted with other legends of the American west.  And I certainly know a whole lot more about Dodge City than I ever did before!



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