Tombstone Travesty: Allie Earp Remembers

Written by Jane Candia Coleman
Review by Sarah Johnson

Coleman demonstrates again why she’s one of my favorite western writers. Allie Earp was the petite, feisty, and loving wife of Virgil Earp, brother of Morgan and Wyatt, whose showdown against the Clantons and McLowerys at the O.K. Corral in 1881 is one of legend. Coleman based her novel on the real Allie’s own memoirs, written in reaction to a writer’s questionable story about the Earps. From the viewpoint of old age (she died in 1947, aged 98), Allie narrates an action-filled tale of adventure, local politics, family loyalty, and betrayal. Orphaned at her mother’s death, her siblings farmed out to neighbors, Allie spends her childhood in boardinghouses and whorehouses. At her sister’s Iowa home, she meets Virgil “Virge” Earp for the first time. Declaring themselves married, they travel west, never staying anywhere for long, until they hear about a great opportunity down in Tombstone. “I hope it ain’t ours,” Allie remarks, feeling a chill. Virge and Wyatt, charged with keeping the peace, must deal not only with a corrupt sheriff but also with other nasty outlaws and scumbags. Coleman paints intriguing portraits of Mattie, Wyatt’s clinging, weak-willed common-law wife, and Kate Elder, the subject of her earlier Doc Holliday’s Woman. Through good times and bad, Allie’s and Virge’s love for one another remains the one constant in her life. The real travesty, in Allie’s mind, is how the surviving Earps and Doc Holliday were treated after Tombstone: talked up as crooks by a no-good reporter who got their story wrong. Tombstone Travesty makes a convincing argument in their defense.