Legendary Western lawman Wyatt Earp was larger than life, heroic, perfect. But only in the movies.
In reality, Earp longed to be a successful businessman, revered in his community and respected by his peers. In every effort to achieve that dream, he failed.
Mark Warren’s trilogy of books, ending most recently with Promised Land delivers an intimate look at a man who was in fact fearless and whose sense of duty never wavered. But it is also a portrait of a man who continually failed to achieve what he wanted most, and ultimately whose legend even outshined him.
“He didn’t want to be a lawman but he had to keep falling back on it, he didn’t know what he was doing in business,” Warren said. “He wasn’t creative. He wasn’t good with other people in the sense of business relations or being political. He was never going to fit in with that crowd and he wanted nothing more than to be respected by rich people,” Warren said.
“What I came to understand about Earp is that he wasn’t driven by courage. He is a man without fear, that is a very different thing,” he said.
He added that ultimately Earp never understood how much others did look up to him for what he never wanted to do.
“Anyone who learned the facts of his life was going to respect him. He did things men dreamed about,” Warren said. “He had supreme confidence in himself, he would never want someone to see him in any other way. He wouldn’t know how to put on a show, there is no doubt about that. Part of what made him so scary was everyone knew he didn’t bluff. He said what he meant.”
Warren, a historian, spent more than 60 years researching Earp. At age 7 he read what was then considered the gold standard biography of Earp. Warren was hooked on the story of America’s perfect “white knight on the plains” he said.
As an adult, Warren learned that even though that author had studied Earp extensively and even interviewed him shortly before his death in 1929, the legends of the man were more interesting than the truth. The book was filled with tall tales and there was no mention of Earp’s own brushes with the law, of which there were many.
“That’s the way history goes,” Warren said. “We’ve all been handed a lot of false information throughout our lives.”
Warren’s three books are historical fiction novels in which Warren not only details Earp’s real history but provides context for the reader. He breathes life into Earp and his friends and foes with realistic and engaging dialogue and storytelling.
The series’ first installment, Adobe Moon, finds Earp at age 14 as his family treks to California. The backbreaking work on the family farm inspires Earp to work smarter, not harder to achieve his dreams and he sets out on his own. The next installment, Born to the Badge, was named a 2019 Spur Award Finalist and chronicles Earp’s Move to Dodge City. The final book, Promised Land, recounts the events leading up to the gunfight at the O.K Corral.
Promised Land was a 2020 Will Rogers Medallion Award winner and named “Editor’s Choice” by The Historical Novel Society.
Each is rich with well-researched, intimate details about Earp, the people he knew and the places he lived. The descriptions of Earp’s world are vivid transporting the reader to a place many have never seen.
“I’m a novelist at heart. I wanted to write his story in a way that gave me the leeway to share his
Warren’s portrait of Earp is not of a cowboy we should adore, not of a lawman we should fear but as a human we have all known or been – a man struggling **. Warren said the books took longer to write because he spent so much time getting to know Earp through historical recollections and trying to understand him.
“Most people think about Wyatt Earp and they think about one big event which was the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Hopefully my trilogy expands upon that so they see there is no one claim to fame for this man. He went through so much and did so many remarkable things,” Warren said.
Warren’s examination of Earp can be used as a metaphor for how the United States sees itself as a whole.
One of America’s most persistent images of itself, Warren said, is of the cowboy – the self-reliant person who can handle anything and Earp was someone who really could.
“He fulfills that legend we like to imagine for ourselves as Americans but when you look back at his whole life it really is one of disappointments,” Warren said. “Much of the first book was all about living with whatever comes your way and Wyatt did not have the personality to admit that to himself. He was always wanting more.”