Dodge City by Tom Clavin

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Came for the Wild West. Stayed for the ridiculous nicknames.

Quick synopsis: Part biography of Dodge City and what it was like in the time of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Part biography of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Part random cowboy stories which are almost completely tangential but hilarious.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Here’s the list of nicknames I giggled at like a 10-year-old: Big Nose Kate, Texas Dick, Happy Jack, Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce, Gopher Boy, Deadwood Dick, Mysterious Dave, and Hoodoo. I did not make any of that up. You can even check the index.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Not as many people got shot in the Wild West as you thought! There still was plenty of gunplay, but especially for Earp and Masterson, they had to avoid it as much as possible to keep Dodge City out of the national papers as a crazy town. They were modestly successful for a certain period of time.

My Take: Clavin is obviously having a lot of fun with his subjects. He makes it very clear in his introduction that he did the best he could with what he had. He tries not to ruin too much of the fun by pointing out a whole lot of this stuff could be complete poppycock. However, he will admit when something most definitely did not happen. He will still tell the story anyway because why the hell not.

Clavin gives a pretty good rundown of the genesis of all three of his subjects, Dodge City, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson. Anyone who reads about this period of time in American history knows the whole thing is a muddle of names, nicknames, aliases, and newspaper reports which make no sense whatsoever because “facts” do not sell newspapers in the 1800s.

The whole thing makes for a light and airy read which also demands your attention to names who will jump in and out of the story multiple time until someone shoots them or they disappear. Clavin tries to give everyone their moment to shine when warranted, but it can be maddening at times when you want the story to keep moving. Then again, I probably would also be the idiot saying out loud, “But what happened to Gopher Boy, Tom?!”

Verdict: A fun read if you want to learn more about the time period and want a good deal of facts mixed in with some outlandish and funny stories. Clavin is never boring, but the details can sometimes become distracting.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Paul Andrew Hutton, The Apache Wars
  • Casey Tefertiller, Wyatt Earp
  • Jim DeFelice, West Like Lightning
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Dodge City by Tom Clavin
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