STARRED REVIEW
March 2017

Stories from America’s wild past

By Tom Clavin
Review by

Tales of the Old West seem to improve with age, as award-winning historian Tom Clavin (The Heart of Everything That Is) demonstrates in his lively new book, Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West. Revisiting the capital of the wild frontier, Clavin focuses on Dodge City’s heyday—the 1870s and 1880s—and brings into sharp focus stories that long ago acquired the sepia tone of antiquity. 

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Tales of the Old West seem to improve with age, as award-winning historian Tom Clavin (The Heart of Everything That Is) demonstrates in his lively new book, Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West. Revisiting the capital of the wild frontier, Clavin focuses on Dodge City’s heyday—the 1870s and 1880s—and brings into sharp focus stories that long ago acquired the sepia tone of antiquity. 

Established as a military settlement, Dodge City developed into a frisky cowtown with a bustling stockyard and railroad terminus. Set on the plains in southwestern Kansas, it was an inevitable stop for buffalo hunters, businessmen, miners, guns-for-hire, cowpokes and other folks traveling westward. Dodge City, Clavin says, “came to symbolize both the American West and a nation seeking to fulfill its manifest destiny.” 

Because it attracted gunslingers of every breed (Dirty Sock Jack, Cold Chuck Johnny and Dynamite Sam, to name a few), extra-vigilant lawmen were needed to keep the peace. Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp were tailor-made for the task. 

Clavin’s storytelling skills shine as he chronicles the personal histories of the now-mythical pair, tracing the years of their reign in the West and providing an intriguing look at their comradeship. He delivers plenty of quick-draw drama—with appearances from Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James and others—in detailed accounts of the shootouts and duels that were the order of the day. 

Clavin’s bold narrative of life in a nation still coming of age provides a shot of good old-fashioned escapism. Dodge City “was a reservoir of tall tales,” he says, “yet many of the facts are equally if not more fascinating.” This rip-roarin’ read proves he’s right.

This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Dodge City

Dodge City

By Tom Clavin
St. Martin's
ISBN 9781250071484

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