The Bookworm Sez: ‘Dodge City’ explores the men behind the badge

The Bookworm Sez: ‘Dodge City’ explores the men behind the badge

It’s only a piece of metal.

Star-shaped, circular, oval, or shield-like, it’s so small, it could fit in your hand or your pocket. It’s made of few letters, a few numbers, and a high shine that reflects lights – particularly blue and red ones, flashing. It can call up respect, it sometimes attracts derision, it can calm turmoil, finish arguments and, in the new book “ Dodge City ” by Tom Clavin (c.2017, St. Martin’s Press, $29.99, 400 pages), a badge can be the stuff of legend.

Of all the towns that appeared in the West in the 1870s, why is there “immediate name recognition” for Dodge City?

The short answer, says Tom Clavin, was that Dodge City might’ve been unremarkable, except for three “uncontainable” things that came together in one Kansas spot: “buffalo, railroads, and longhorn cattle from Texas.” The junction of the three made Dodge City “a totally lawless young town,” and the perfect place for myths to be made.

But here’s the truth …

Born into a large family and raised in Iowa , Wyatt Earp was “bold,” even as a child. He would tolerate no foolishness and embraced an “adventurous life” that ultimately led him west. There, he lived and thrived in an area with a reputation for hard living and hard drinking, though Earp was a near-teetotaler.

Bartholomew Masterson (who later took the name William Barclay Masterson) was born in Quebec, Canada, and never quite got around to becoming an official U.S. citizen. He, too, was born into a large family and was said to love a good prank and a better joke; he also loved to hunt buffalo, which is how he reportedly met Wyatt Earp.

The two shared a type of Old West wanderlust and a sense of adventure. Both moved restlessly from city to territory; Earp married and was briefly a father, while Masterson gained a reputation for being a gunfighter. Both fell afoul of the law for various crimes before settling down and becoming peacekeepers themselves. Each seemed to know that he could call on the other for help when needed – which is what happened in 1883 when the “wickedest” city in the West was out of control.

Much as I enjoyed the bulk of “ Dodge City,” its subtitle is a bit of a misnomer.

This book is, indeed, the story of two historically-iconic men in a dusty Kansas town, but that’s not all. Author Tom Clavin also writes of other Old West towns and about dozens of contemporaries of Masterson and Earp, which is necessary but can be overwhelming, too – especially since neither man stayed in place for very long.

Still, Clavin tells a lively tale that’s both entertaining and informative, with plenty of action and little-known information to keep a reader around. It’s those between-facts facts that prove the romanticism of the Old West is absolutely misguided.

Fans of Western U.S. history or lovers of Larry McMurtry novels should covet this non-fiction book; it’s everything you want it to be. If you’re unfamiliar with Old West history, however, “Dodge City” just might test your mettle.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

The Bookworm Sez: ‘Dodge City’ explores the men behind the badge

More in Life

Rich chocolate pudding can use up excess milk products. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Pudding to the rescue

Chocolate dessert saves a feast gone awry.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Enough is enough

Ole Mother Nature must have misplaced her backup box of vintage dregs from a Cold Duck wine vat.

Homer writer Richard Chiappone. (Photo by Joshua Veldstra)
‘Hunger of Crows’ perfect for winter reading

Chiappone’s first novel is set in Homer, Anchor Point.

Fresh dinner rolls made without the addition of dairy. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Baking for everyone

Dinner rolls skip the dairy, but not the flavor

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: ‘Tis the Season

The Kenai Community Library has always been one of the stars in the crown of the community.

Homer News Ben Mitchell, left, serves spaghetti to helper Pat Wells in the kitchen at a past Share the Spirit spaghetti feed. (Michael Armstrong/Homer News file)
Looking to share some holiday spirit? Here’s how

Share the Spirit serves the Homer community by donating food, essential needs and Christmas presents.

Appease your child’s picky palate with these tasty Tater Tots. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Tots to be thankful for

Two years ago, I spent the entirety of Thanksgiving Day in my green rocking chair, cradling my newborn son.

File
Minister’s Message: Keep in step

Sometimes it takes going half way around the world to learn how to “keep in step” as I journey.

Shelli and Mike Gordon pose in October 2011 at their Halibut Cove, Alaska, home in an Alaska Gothic version of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting. (Photo courtesy of Mike Gordon)
‘Dagnabit’ features tales of ’80s wild Alaska

Gordon’s second book also tells of Ruben Gaines, creator of Chilkoot Charlie.

Before boiling, this handmade pasta is rolled, cut and tossed in flour to keep from sticking. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Pasta by hand

Learning one of the most important task of the Italian kitchen: making the pasta.

Will Morrow (courtesy)
The Great Thanksgiving dessert debate

Our holiday gathering is going to be smaller than it sometimes is, and it was argued that we didn’t need two desserts.

Dianne Spence-Chorman’s “Fig Study” is one of the works showing in the Homer Council on the Arts “Fun wtih 5x7” show through Dec. 22, 2021, at the gallery in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
‘Fun with 5×7’ offers affordable art

HCOA annual art show presents art in a variety of media, all in 5x7 format.