Cochise County CowboysThe Cochise County Cowboys, who were these men? Joyce Aros, Goose Flats Publishing (P.O. Box 813, Tombstone, Arizona 85638) www.gooseflats.com/aros/  $11.95, Paperback. 112 Pages, Index.

When we read about “Cochise County Cowboys” it is usually within the context of those individuals accused of being enemies of the Earps during the 1880s conflict in Tombstone, ArizonaWyatt Earp himself was interviewed in the 1930s, and when talking about his life and times he cooked up a lot of fancy along with the facts, determined to tell his side of the story with an eye toward an eventual book and movie contract.  Wyatt might have the reputation of being the greatest “Frontier Marshal”, but in his old age he was also a sharp businessman.

Certainly he and his brothers, and their pal Doc Holliday were greatly embroiled in the booming silver mine town, but in reality they were only in Tombstone less than 2 years when they were chased out of the Territory wanted for murder.

Books, movies, magazine articles, museum artifacts, TV shows and lively historical re-enactors have kept the Tombstone/Earp story alive until it has become so convoluted nobody knows the truth of what really happened.  And now, who really cares?  Four brothers dressed in long black coats, thumping along the boardwalk, spurs jangling, totin’ well-oiled shootin’ irons is the stuff Hollywood is made of.

For night there has to be day, to have good there must be evil.  If we are to believe the Earps were frontier defenders of law and order, then there has to be a pack of villains, con-men, robbers, thieves and cattle rustlers for the Earps to tangle with.  The worse these characters were portrayed, the bigger heroes the Earps became.  At least, that is what audiences gleaned after reading books about Wyatt, and watching movie and TV dramas starring heroes like Burt Lancaster, Hugh O’Brien, Kevin Costner and Kirk Douglas.

Enter “Cochise County Cowboys”, whose supposed leader was a grizzled individual known as “Old Man Clanton.”  He lived in a shack in the hills, a widower with a passel of mean sons who toted guns and rode with their Pa beside a horde of equally murderous barn-burners with names like “Curly Bill’ and “Johnny Ringo.”  They supposedly stirred up every conceivable mischief from stagecoach robbery to cheating at cards. They lived by their guns, fast horses and derring-do.  A bunch of liars and back-shooters, they were cruel and heartless scoundrels who had taken over Cochise County. Fortunately the Earp brothers arrived just in the nick of time to save the gentle and defenseless townsfolk.

To top it all off, the fighting Earps caught three of those horrible villains at the O.K. Corral on a cold October day in 1881 known as the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”  Those gunshots are still being heard around the world.  But now, after 135 years, some serious writer-researchers have determined to sniff out the truth, or at least come close to it, and evidence gleaned from census records, newspaper articles, personal letters and courthouse documents bring some truths to light.

Joyce Aros, a resident of Tombstone, Arizona is an astute observer of human nature, careful researcher, and dedicated historian who has doggedly followed the trail of a dozen “Cochise County Cowboys”.  She brings to light the reality of how these men really worked, lived, and sometimes died.  She is fair in her assessment of their contribution to the Tombstone saga.  She scrapes away the frosting on a highly fantasized cake, and takes the reader into a new world of honest evaluation of the characters involved with the Earps in Tombstone.  The four Clantons, the McLaury brothers, Frank Stilwell, Johnny Ringo, Major Frink, Billy Claiborne, Pete Spence, Curly Bill and Sherm McMasters are examined here.

If you like old Tombstone stories, and are interested in the real truth; this little book is a must for your Old West collection.  I suspect Aros will have more of these books forthcoming; perhaps next will be about the Earp women?

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including The Earp Gamble, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700, www.silklabelbooks.com

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Filed under: Old West Book Reviews

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