Don't Mess With The Chafin Brothers.
By Tim Vanderpool
JANUARY 11, 1999: IT HAD BEEN a long, damp, tedious January, and Lane Rogers was starving for a little down time. He'd just spent two grueling years editing When All Roads Led to Tombstone, the memoir of pioneer John Plesent Gray. Now his publisher, Kathy Gaudry of Tamarack Books, was itching to get it on the shelves.
Rogers was racing through the final proofreading when his phone rang. "I figured it was Kathy, thanking me for my hard work," he says. "Boy, was I wrong. Instead she said, 'Lane, I have a cease-and-desist order to stop publication.' After I picked myself up on the floor, she told me 'This guy is probably just a kook. Nonetheless....' "
On her desk Gaudry had a peculiar letter from a previously unknown outfit called Newmedia Communications. "Gentlemen," it read, "It has come to our attention you are offering for sale a book which is our exclusive copyrighted possession. We acquired all rights to the subject book from the descendants (sons) of Mr. John Pleasant Gray some years ago and have already published and sold out of the first edition... We will consider any violation of our copyright as a very serious matter and have requested our patent attorney Mr. Roger Marrs to look into the possibility of obtaining an injunction to stop this infringement."
Tamarack was then warned to stop the presses. "Otherwise we are prepared to ask the federal court in Los Angeles for substantial damages ($250,000) and penalties," the letter said, "for continued wilful [sic] infringement after notification.
"Cease and desist!"
The letter was signed by one Earl Chafin.
"Obviously, that threw everything out of whack," Rogers recalls. "For better than a month we were stuck. We had no choice--we had to shut down production and contact an attorney. I immediately started doing my homework."
Some quirky tidbits quickly turned up. For one, the California Bar Association had never heard of Roger Marrs. "I later learned he was a patent attorney, but a retired one," Rogers says. "That's the first red light that Chafin was a total phony. Then I discovered that Newmedia didn't have a business license."
Nor did Chafin enhance his letter's credibility by misspelling Tamarack Books as Tamarak--similar to the way he'd misspelled Gray's name as John Pleasant Gray on his own mass-marketed photocopies. The correct spelling was John Plesant Gray. More importantly, Tamarack found zero copyrights on the Gray manuscript. Instead, it was held by the Arizona Historical Society, where Gray lodged it in 1940, and where Rogers dusted it off nearly 60 years later.
After hunting throughout California, Tamarack's team finally found Gray's death certificate in L.A. It was dated January 11, 1943. That meant the 50-year time lapse after an author's death, required for placing a document in public domain, had been surpassed.
Now there was no question about who owned the Gray memoir: no one at all. And certainly not Earl Chafin.
Tamarack sent Chafin and his erstwhile lawyer a note to that effect, giving them 10 days to prove their case or disappear. Ten days later, Earl Chafin responded by dropping his ownership claims.
However, his reply did cite a few reservations about the title, "as we have applied for a trademark on the expression 'All Roads Lead to Tombstone,' which we are using on a new design of our Western Style Belt Buckles."
Then Earl Chafin dropped off the page and out of sight. "The whole thing had been blatantly ridiculous," Rogers now says, "but at least we thought that was the end of it. My book was coming out that March, and we weren't hearing anything else from him."
It would prove a brief respite.
Taking a book--particularly an archaic, obscure memoir--from concept to reality is a lonely chore. Part of the pay-off comes at book signings, where authors can shoot the literary breeze with like-minded readers, and hopefully score a little cash. Rogers' day in the sun was scheduled for May 23 in Tombstone's Territorial Book Trader.
Unfortunately, he'd underestimated the Chafin fetish for erratic behavior. On May 21 a legal notice in the Tombstone Tumbleweed cited both Rogers and Lynn Bailey, owner of Tucson's Westernlore Press, as usurpers of the Gray manuscript. The Territorial store was also mentioned. "Gentlemen, by these presents know that you are in violation of both trademark and copyright law of the United States," the newspaper notice read.
Again, Earl Chafin was claiming ownership of the "All Roads" title, and copyrights to the manuscript itself. Now he was also threatening "seizure and destruction by U.S. Marshalls" of Rogers' books. But including Westernlore was an ironic bungle; though Bailey would become involved with another Chafin in a different melee, his well-considered, family-run publishing house had nothing to do with the Gray memoir.
Either way, the damage was done. "The bookstore was owned by somebody in California, who got wind of (the notice) and got cold feet," Rogers says. The signing was hastily canceled.
This time Tamarack took the gloves off. "I was under the impression that we settled this issue back in January," Kathy Gaudry wrote to Earl Chafin on May 22. "I am meeting with our lawyer to explore our legal options. You are costing us time, money, and reputation by your spurious claims, and we want it stopped NOW.
"In your own words, CEASE AND DESIST, or we will use the full power of the law to resolve this matter."
Chafin apparently got the hint. He crawled back into the woodwork, and Tamarack tallied its legal bills. "At least that's the last time we've heard from him," Rogers says. "But to date, he has personally cost me about $3,000 in legal fees--or about what I was planning to get for my first royalty check. I'm sure he'll be pleased as punch to hear that."
Today, Gaudry calls the whole string of events strange and needlessly destructive. "Small publishers like us have a very thin profit-margin, and this kind of thing can create great difficulties," she says. "Anybody can make these kind of claims, whether they're valid or not, and it can get very expensive for us."
MEANWHILE, WESTERNLORE'S Lynn Bailey was busy battling Earl's twin brother, Carl. As second flank of the odd fraternal team, Carl had reportedly spent decades transcribing the journals of George Whitwell Parsons. Like Gray, Parsons had arrived in Tombstone in the 1880s. And like Gray's memoir, the Parsons journals were firmly planted in the public domain.
However, many Parsons fans were growing impatient with Carl Chafin's snail-paced progress. Finally, Bailey decided to re-publish the journals as they were transcribed by the federal Work Projects Administration, back during the Great Depression.
Bailey tried to be gracious. "Through one of our authors, Don Chaput, we asked Carl Chafin if he'd be interested in editing and writing an introduction to the WPA version," he says.
"Carl never answered me directly. But he faxed his answer all over Hell's half-acre, to everybody in the Arizona Historical Society, to booksellers, and God-knows-who-else, that the WPA version of the Parson's journal 'belonged on the scrap heap of history,' that he had the only true rendition of it. It was all just a bunch of hokum."
As claptrap goes, it was also increasingly familiar. "I already had a good many thousands of dollars invested in typesetting the book, and I decided to just go ahead and do it myself," Bailey says. "At that point, Carl not only began writing reviews about it, but he began leveling personal attacks against me. That's when the real battle between us began." Chafin even sent a nasty review to one of Bailey's regular booksellers. "The guy called me and he was perplexed," Bailey says. "He told me he thought these guys were a pair of schizophrenics."
When he first heard that Westernlore was publishing the WPA's version, "Carl also rushed out and published his Volume Two, dealing with Parsons up to 1887, the year that he left Tombstone," Bailey says. "There was no first volume and no index. Whoever heard of such a thing? Now people use my index if they want to find something in Carl's book."
Then the strange turned downright weird, when Earl Chafin suddenly surfaced. "He told me he was on the outs with Carl, and wanted to talk to me about publishing some stuff of his," Bailey says. "I told him I wouldn't publish anything that bears the name 'Chafin.' "
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION about the Chafins is murky and sparse. Newspaper articles have referred to Carl Chafin as a retired mechanical engineer, and acquaintances say he owns several rental properties. No one contacted seems to know much about Earl's past, though several times he told the Tucson Weekly that he once worked for Howard Hughes. In what capacity remains a mystery. Both men live in or around Riverside, Calif.
Physically, they appear to be in their late 60s, edging on 70. While they don't look identical, they're awfully similar: Both have the same thinning, curly hair, the same default gaze--incredulous, bordering on petulant--and the same build, though Earl is a bit chubbier.
But that doesn't explain why these pernicious twins habitually raise havoc, and why they do it in such petty ways. Not to say that the rest of modern Tombstone is a hotbed of academic maturity, mind you. Rather, its dusty streets remain an archaic stomping ground where simmering feuds over obscure historical minutiae--who was pinching the barmaid's bum, and with what hand, when the Earps whipped out their arsenal--steam bitterly for years. It's a place where grown men regularly devolve into sand-box style name-calling and pissing contests.
That atmosphere also prompts proprietary impulses to run amok. "Any time you step foot in the Tombstone arena, people come boiling out of the rock," says Old West writer and editor Neil Carmony. "And some of those people seem to take charge of Tombstone as a subject, and then resent other people getting involved."
Ergo the Chafin twins, in spades. "The behavior of these men is certainly different than most people I meet," Carmony says. "They border on the bizarre. And the thing is, they have never written a thing in their careers."
Earl Chafin's modus operandi is re-typing historical manuscripts culled from various library collections, and then claiming those manuscripts as his own. He subsequently markets the crude, Xeroxed copies as exclusives, selling them through the mail for upwards of $150. According to reports, refunds are rare: Unhappy customers are usually just stonewalled into resignation.
Carl Chafin's methods vary little, except that he has published at least one manuscript in a professionally bound book, albeit minus footnotes and an index. Like Earl, however, Carl viciously battles other contenders to the manuscripts he's commandeered.
Combined, those activities relegate the Chafins to the fringes of an already marginal culture, like a pair of archival ankle-biters yapping at an eccentric fray. Add to that their habit of steadily frivolous legal shenanigans, and you've heard the tenor of latter-day Tombstone.
In a larger sense, this kind of fussing has drawn derision from mainstream historians, and given Tombstone research an international black eye. The Chafins only sum up that process.
That's exactly why many, like Lane Rogers, try to steer clear. "I pledged to myself that I'd never do anything directly on Tombstone," he says. Indeed, through years of writing articles and books, he toed that line. The Gray manuscript, however, proved too tempting. Still, he thought he held an ace: Since John Gray blew into town only on the last flurries of Earp rule, Rogers might escape the curse.
"Over time, I've learned that historians are generally more than willing to work and share what they have with others," he says. "But these twin brothers apparently go hand in hand the other way. Whatever one does, the other seems involved. This time, one of them got into my pocketbook."
Sometimes, Chafin tomfoolery even treads perilously close to theft and fraud.
Glenn Boyer is author of the controversial Tombstone classic I Married Wyatt Earp, his version of Josephine Earp's memoirs. For years he's been the de facto Godfather of what he calls "Earpiana." He's also endured a few bouts with Carl and Earl. On his website, he refers them as Carl "Motormouth" Chafin, and "Earl the Squirrel."
Keep in mind that Boyer relishes his role as an Old West crank, which he grooms through an ongoing barrage of Internet harangues. He refers to himself as "The Icon," and likes to bait reporters with racial and lifestyle slurs (he calls them PC litmus tests).
Still, he's a bright historical light and he produces, making him a perfect foil for the Chafins.
His enmity with Carl Chafin dates back to the early '80s, when Boyer lived in Bisbee and Carl was a regular visitor. Most of their time together involved Carl trashing other Tombstone researchers, Boyer says. All of which was just mildly irritating, really, until Boyer says some of his own research material disappeared.
Such ephemeral nuggets are the historian's stock and trade, and unaccredited archival rustling is a major taboo. In this case, Boyer says the widow of an erstwhile pal, the late Al Turner, unwittingly turned the purloined notes over to Lee Simmons, a Sonoita realtor and current president of a group of western buffs and scholars called the National Association for Outlaw and Lawmen History.
Boyer says Simmons gave them to Carl, who gave them to Earl, who then acted on his chronic Xerox itch. The material mostly involved a couple of manuscripts, including one by John Henry Flood which comprised much of Wyatt's Earp's autobiography. Earl now hawks the retyped manuscript for $99 as Wyatt Earp, Western Gunfighter.
Here's where several forks in the winding Chafin road meet: According to Boyer, Carl Chafin and Lee Simmons were also getting maps and other information under the table from the Bisbee offices of Cochise County Recorder Christine Rhodes.
Both Rhodes and Simmons admit being tight friends with Carl Chafin. Both also deny secretly handing the documents to either twin. "I think Glenn sits over there getting into his 'refreshments' and starting this stuff," Simmons says. "He just likes to go after people. "
Regardless, Boyer remains adamant, and more than a little perturbed. "These guys are just a pair of assholes," he now says of the Chafins, claiming that Carl is behind "an ambitious campaign to prove that I Married Wyatt Earp was faked by me."
CARL FINALLY HIT ethical bottom two years ago in his dealings with Ben Traywick, official Tombstone historian, author of several Tombstone books, and longtime Boyer ally.
The historian post is strictly volunteer, but apparently quite a feather in the Stetson, so to speak. According to Traywick, Carl Chafin began lobbying for the job, despite his California address. Among Carl's prime supporters was Christine Rhodes. In a March 5, 1997, letter of reference on official Cochise County stationary, Rhodes described Carl as "intimately informed about the important individuals involved in Tombstone's development...His meticulous research spanning several decades has resulted in an unsurpassed comprehension of the subject."
Traywick says he'd done the job for 12 years, had wearied of it, and was more than ready to step down--until he heard they might give it to an out-of-stater, and a Chafin to boot.
That's when he did a little reconnoitering.
A solid older guy, his mustache a narrow brush of gray, Traywick initially comes off as the kindly grandfather type in his uptown Tombstone headquarters. But mention the Chafins and he flashes cagey and mad.
"There was even a rumor that the historian job was going to some ex-hippie from Patagonia, who'd just be a front man for Carl," he says. But it was Rhodes' pro-Chafin letter that really stuck in Traywick's craw. "Let me ask you this," he says. "What's the County Recorder doing writing a letter to the neighboring town telling them they should hire a Tombstone town historian who lives in California?"
Traywick's fussing sparked a melee culminating a year ago last February, when his wife lay dying of cancer. She was nicknamed Red Marie for her mane of crimson hair, and Traywick planned to bury her in his city cemetery plot. That plot was part of a 1972 graveyard adjustment, when a former right-of-way was opened to accommodate crowding.
Of course Carl Chafin was lurking nearby. Reportedly using a 1913 map--obviously minus the later adjustment--Chafin deduced that a baby was already buried in Traywick's spot, and generously shared his discovery with anyone who'd listen. At that point, Traywick started briefing Red Marie's visitors, lest someone upset her by mentioning the cruel dispute.
"I got a report that two people heard Christine Rhodes and Carl joking about it," Traywick says. "But believe me, I did not take it as funny. I had a great weight bearing on me anyway. My wife was dying day-by-day. I kept her at home here, and I was taking care of her myself.
Traywick had the gravesite opened and probed. Then he hauled the city manager over while he climbed in for a look himself. The plot held nothing.
"And there was no reason for these people doing this," he says. "I had nothing against these people, and had done nothing to them. Luckily, it didn't hold up anything, but that son-of-a-bitch caused me a lot of anxiety while I was watching my wife die."
The way Traywick figures, Chafin went after him because of Traywick's friendship with Glenn Boyer. "I can't figure any other reason," he says.
"Really, I don't understand why people even pay attention to these guys anyway," he says. "They have no credentials whatsoever. They've never even written a newspaper story. The only thing they got to say about being historians is, 'I are one.' "
When asked about Traywick's assertions, Rhodes first responds that she "didn't know anything about that."
Then she says she might have heard something, but wasn't sure when. "Carl had talked about something like that. I've heard that it's been discussed, but I really don't recall."
Slowly her haze begins to clear. "I've heard it brought up before, actually," she says. "We've been friends for a very long time, and we've met on numerous, numerous occasions, so I really wouldn't know when. But I didn't hear (Carl) was trying to prevent somebody from being buried there."
Ultimately, what Rhodes heard or didn't hear, and when she might or might not have heard it, remains a little sketchy. As for providing Carl with a 1913 map of the cemetery, as Traywick asserts, "The only maps we have of Tombstone, that we use, are 1881 maps, and they don't show individual cemetery plots," she says. "We don't keep those records here."
Lee Simmons and Christine Rhodes aren't the only Chafin partisans. The Tombstone Tumbleweed, a weekly community paper, regularly publishes transcripts from Carl's version of the Parson's Journal. Tight-lipped managing editor Pat Koester won't discuss the hotly contested manuscript, except to say, "We don't get involved" in such feuds.
"Wyatt Earp Wants You! The Wyatt Earp Society is looking for a few good men (and women). WES is a [sic] historical organization dedicated to promoting quality research on the life and times of Wyatt Earp. If you're interested in Wyatt, Tombstone or the Old West, then this is the organization for you.
CARL CHAFIN CEMENTED his stature among most historians two years ago, when he founded the Wyatt Earp Society. More than 200 Earp aficionados dished out $20 apiece for the promised newsletter, and eagerly awaited the Earp conference to be held in Las Vegas.
They're still waiting.
After collecting his fees, Carl crept off the Tombstone radar screen, taking the Wyatt Earp Society and dreams of countless Earpophiles with him. His defenders say he just became overwhelmed by the effort. Among them is Casey Tefertiller, author of the recently published Wyatt Earp--The Life Behind the Legend. Tefertiller counts Carl Chafin among his friends, and cites him as an important contributor to his book. "He was an excellent research associate," Tefertiller says. "He helped me in many ways."
Tefertiller says Carl just got in over his head, and was returning membership fees to anyone who asked.
But that doesn't appear to be the case. At least one aspiring WES member, Rick Wagner, tried to get his money back. "Having had quite my fill of the Chafins, I sent a written request to Carl Chafin in California, requesting a refund of the money I paid to join the WES," Wagner wrote in a March letter to Ben Traywick. "This request has been ignored."
Repeated attempts to contact Carl through his Wyatt Earp Society were unsuccessful.
Earl Chafin likes to hand out a little photocopied sheet called the "History Ghoul's Guide to Southern California and Arizona." It's a list of colorful folks from frontier days, and where they're buried. The roster also includes Glenn G. Boyer ("THE EARP EXPERT STILL DIGGING FOR DIRT"), and Ben Traywick ("STIFF AS A BOARD, NO BEN(D) NO MORE").
Earl was straightening a small pile of the burial broadsides when the Tucson Weekly caught up with him, at a July NOLA conference in the Palo Verde Holiday Inn. He stood behind a table lined with books and fliers, surrounded by dozens of other tables and endless historians chatting and milling about.
For all his rollicking reputation, Earl looked to be a garden-variety guy perched between middle-aged and elderly. His hair rode across his head in gray, lightly oiled swells, and his sport shirt outlined a small paunch.
In short, it was tough to imagine this Chafin raising much hell. That's until you scanned his table of wares, the shiny "Kiss My Six-Shooter" belt buckles, and copies of the Gray manuscript. Or until you heard him stitch together winding, tortured and teased explanations.
He warmed up with a veiled swipe at Glenn Boyer. "Much of what has been written about Wyatt Earp to date has been fantasy or fiction," he said, talking fast. "A number of current researchers like myself are now putting out 'source documents.' That way, someone will write the definitive biography of Wyatt Earp."
He holds up his photocopied, spiral-bound, $40 version of the John Gray manuscript. "I published this a year (before Rogers)," he says. "I own the copyright because I obtained it from a family member in Los Angeles. I'm the only one that has the legal right to publish this book."
When pressed, however, Chafin isn't exactly sure which Gray relative was his benefactor. That question requires a shift. "Actually, this book was donated by Dixie Lee Gray's son," he then says, "John Gray's grandson."
In fact, Dixie Lee was John Gray's brother. He was murdered in southern Arizona's Guadalupe Canyon at age 19, and never fathered children.
Chafin also claims it was Rogers who misspelled John Plesent Gray's middle name. "I took my spelling from the death certificate," he says.
When it's pointed out that Rogers' spelling came from Gray's own signature on another document, Chafin recalled that, darnnit, he actually got his spelling from Gray's gravestone.
Earl eventually admits he doesn't really own the Gray manuscript--no one does, of course--but says he does hold copyrights on the table of contents and chapter headings. When asked about the cease-and-desist order against publication of Rogers' book, he says, "I don't want to discuss that. I don't want to discuss legal matters. I'm a historian." (In a later telephone conversation, he said he didn't even remember the order.)
Rogers' version of the Gray memoir is "a 145-page paragraph," he says. "On top of that, it has a number of footnotes, most of which are incorrect. It has number of photographs, and most of the captions are incorrect. I'm denouncing it because it's a charlatan piece of work."
Then Earl holds up a belt buckle. " 'Kiss My Six-Shooter,' that's one of my trademarks," he says. "But Glenn Boyer used it in three of his books. He's violating my trademark. He's been told to stop using it, and one of these days he's going to get a bill for about $100,000."
He sighs. "If you look on the Internet," he says, "you'll see an enormous amount of slander about me and my brother. So what we're trying to do is counter these guys with a little levity."
Lane Rogers was also at that summertime NOLA conference. He shot dark glances at Chafin, but kept his distance. Glenn Boyer did not.
Boyer admits to having a little "chat" with Earl. A few days later the twin typed out a letter to then-Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods and then-Tucson Police Chief Doug Smith. He claimed that at the NOLA conference Glenn Boyer "threatened to kill me and said he would shoot me if I ever returned to Arizona."
In the letter, Earl can't resist noting that, "Of late Mr. Boyer has been generally discredited as 3 out of 4 of his books have been shown to be historically inaccurate, more fiction than history..."
Woods, Smith, and other Arizona officials are no doubt deeply curious about Glenn Boyer's Tombstone stature.
By contrast, the Chafin brothers' ranking seems quite secure.
Books: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Cover . News . Film . Music . Arts . Books . Comics . Search
© 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . Tucson Weekly . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch