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In mid-April, Josh Levine and his J. Levine Auction & Appraisal company in Scottsdale, Ariz., will be auctioning many personal effects from Wyatt Earp and his family, including Wyatt's Winchester shotgun. / Charlie Leight, The Arizona Republic

One of the most divisive figures of the Old West is stirring up controversy again with the upcoming auction of two guns that reportedly belonged to Arizona's most famous lawman.

J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale, Ariz., is auctioning the guns, which owner Josh Levine believes belonged to Wyatt Earp. Levine says another gun in the collection was owned by Wyatt's brother Virgil and another by Earp's grandfather.

Levine expects up to 6,000 bidders from around the world for the April 17 auction. He calls the "star" of the show a Colt .45-caliber revolver that Earp descendants said he carried in Tombstone, possibly at the O.K. Corral.

"This is American history here - and not only is it that, it's Western folklore. ... This gun, the O.K. Corral shootout, it's lived on where other stories have not stood the test of time,"Levine said.

But the value and, in fact, authenticity of the guns have been thrown into question because of whom they come from. The guns and auction items come from the estate of Glenn Boyer, the controversial author of three Earp books.

Other Earp researchers and authors have challenged the authenticity of Boyer's works, including the book, I Married Wyatt Earp, published in 1976 by the University of Arizona Press. The book was billed as the memoir of Earp's third wife, Josephine, but Boyer later said it was a blend of fact and fiction. The UA Press removed it from its publication list, and it has been republished by a non-academic publishing house.

Wyatt Earp's Tombstone Vendetta, published in 1993, further rankled Earp historians and authors because the non-fiction novel is said to be based on accounts of Earp's life by a newsman who worked in Tombstone and knew Earp better than anybody.

Earp historians were suspicious of the journalist, and several articles were written before Boyer said that he was in fact the journalist.

Can Earp researcher be trusted?

It's going to be impossible to separate the authenticity of the auction items from Boyer's own troubled history, said John Boessenecker, a San Francisco collector of guns and memorabilia from Western lawmen and outlaws. Especially because the provenance of the guns is based on letters written to Boyer or passed on to Boyer, Boessenecker said.

"When you have things that come from a highly reputable collection or collector, most collectors would accept those," he said. "The biggest problem is that anything that came through Glenn Boyer's hands - how do we know Glenn Boyer didn't write it himself?"

The auction collection includes 32 file boxes with taped interviews of people who knew Earp or Earp relatives, along with photos and rare handwritten manuscripts.

Scott Dyke, a former Wall Street broker, Wild West researcher and columnist for southeastern Arizona newspapers, said the 32 file boxes will vindicate Boyer.

"I know it will, and no one is in a better position than me to make a judgment on Glenn Boyer," said Dyke. He spent nine years organizing Boyer's files before the 89-year-old author died in Tucson on Valentine's Day 2013.

"He's the foremost Earp researcher I've ever seen, and I've seen more of it than anybody alive," he said. "Glenn actually met these people and spent time with the Earps in the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s."

Dyke stopped short of calling Boyer's books accurate accounts of Earp's life, saying, "Maybe he wrote his opinion in his books and stretched reality, but he didn't make up the research."

Yet Casey Tefertiller, a Santa Cruz, Calif., journalist and author of the 1997 Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, asked, "How do you trust material you're buying from somebody caught fabricating evidence?

"He was the most charismatic, charming person I have ever met. But people wound up paying for it by buying into a hoax."

The gun from the O.K. Corral

Levine values Boyer's archive at up to $120,000.

The big draws, however, in the auction are expected to be Earp's Winchester lever-action shotgun and a Colt .45 revolver.

Levine values the two guns at up to $275,000 but could bring in more. A Doc Holliday shotgun auctioned in 1999 brought in $220,000.

The guns are expected to ignite more controversy. The revolver, the one that Boyer and Earp relatives said would have been carried in Tombstone - thus making it possible that it was used in the O.K. Corral shootout - is missing the serial number.

"Kiss of death," said LeRoy Merz, owner of Merz Antique Firearms of Fergus Falls, Minn., the nation's largest dealer in antique Winchesters. "No serious collector will want that."

X-ray testing revealed that the original serial number matched records proving Earp owned the gun. The highest bidder for the Colt .45 will receive a sworn affidavit from Boyer stating that the gun belonged to Earp, along with other expert findings. The gun's barrel, cylinder and grips have been replaced, though the frame of the gun, which is most important in determining value, remains intact.

Merz said the replaced parts are going to be a turnoff for antique-gun collectors.

Old West guns, particularly Colts and Winchesters, are highly coveted and could bring in a half-million, he said. But when they are lacking in some kind of paperwork proving owner authenticity, they don't sell for nearly that much.

The provenance on the other three guns primarily comes from a typed letter to Boyer written by the late Bill Miller, a nephew by marriage to Wyatt Earp. In the letter, Miller lists several guns and other items he is giving to Boyer. Miller received the guns from "Aunt Allie Earp," Virgil's common-law wife.

This includes Wyatt's Winchester lever-action shotgun, a Colt revolver belonging to Virgil and a Remington ball and cap revolver belonging to Earp's grandfather that the letter said he carried as a marshal in Iowa.

A family happy to sell

The Boyer family is relieved to be selling the archives and the guns.

Daniel Coleman, Boyer's stepson, called Wyatt Earp a family curse.

"The volume of vitriol you have to deal with when you're involved with Wyatt Earp, isn't worth it," he said. "In many respects, at least in my family, Wyatt Earp is a dirty word. It comes with a lot of baggage, especially in southeastern Arizona."

Jane Candia Coleman, Boyer's widow, a poetry and fiction author whose work has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize five times, said she lost a third of her hair because of threatening e-mails and letters regarding her husband's work.

"I don't need that. I'm out," said Coleman, who lives in Laveen, Ariz. She said she will attend the auction.

Levine said that, at the suggestion of people familiar with Boyer and the hostilities over his legacy, he is going to increase security at the auction from two off-duty police offers to four.

Gary McLelland, editor of oldwestmagazine.com, formerly of Glendale and now living in New Jersey, said that's a good idea.

"The Tombstone crowd is more vicious than the (Gen. George Armstrong) Custer crowds or (historical) Texas crowds." he said. "It's really a cut-throat community. But I'll tell you, the Tombstone crowds, the Arizona crowds and any people involved in Southwest history are going to be watching this (auction)."

The Tombstone legacy

Critics and fans seem to agree that Boyer, as much of a lightning rod as he was over the Earp legacy, helped Tombstone to become the international tourist destination it is today. The town was founded in 1887, and the silver mines turned it into a boom town. But when the mines closed in the early 1900s, "the town too tough to die" withered.

Today, Tombstone annually attracts about 500,000 tourists who want an account of the most famous 30 seconds in Western history, the shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Billy Clanton, along with Tom and Frank McLaury, ended up dead on Oct. 26, 1881, at the hands of Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and Doc Holliday outside the corral.

"Did (Boyer) have an effect in keeping the Tombstone myth alive? He sure did," Tefertiller said. "You watch the two movies that came out in the '90s - Tombstone and Wyatt Earp - they picked up all kinds of stuff from Boyer."

Though the family has to sell some of the auction items privately and consulted with renowned New York auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's, the family said the items should be sold in Arizona.

"I mean this is the history of our state, and we're very much interested in putting Arizona on the map culturally and making our history available to our own citizens here,"said Daniel Coleman, Boyer's stepson.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Dust cloud hangs over auction of Wyatt Earp's guns

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