I Married Wyatt Earp – The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp
"In the aging Josie Earp, beneath her sprightly charms and annoying eccentricities, there burned one constant, unwavering desire. More than anything else this old woman wanted to create a book that corrected the distorted popular image of her famous husband Wyatt." Their relationship began in 1880, in Tombstone and continued until his death in January of 1929. Josephine, or Sadie as Wyatt called her, was an eyewitness to the events that led up to the "Shootout at the OK Corral," and the events that followed. She personally knew many of the major players, on both sides of the issue, and her perspective is unique.
Josie began writing her memoirs as early as 1929, while Stuart Lake was still researching his masterpiece, "Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshall." She abandoned the project in 1932. Several years later, Josie collaborated with two distant relatives by marriage, Mabel Earp Cason and her sister Vinolia Earp Ackerman, and began a new manuscript. This 400-page effort was left incomplete by Josie’s death in 1944. For this book, Glenn Boyer has merged these two manuscripts of Josephine’s with his own research. Fortunately, Boyer is content to let Josephine tell her view of the events uninterrupted. Then at the end of each chapter, he has added notes that give the reader more background and historical perspective on the many people and stories that Josie has described.
Boyer is aware that Josephine is telling her story from the point of view of a loving wife and not as an objective historian. He warns the reader of "her ‘little-old-lady’ attempts to tell only the decorous and proper." Reading Josephine’s version of the events surrounding Wyatt Earp is a little like hearing about your grandfather’s life from your grandmother; you know she shades the truth at times and presents him in the best possible light. But who could tell his story any better?
Josephine Marcus ran away from her prosperous German Jewish family home in San Francisco before she was nineteen (maybe before she was eighteen). She joined the Pauline Markham Pinafore troupe then playing at the Adelphi Theater in San Francisco, but about to tour the mining towns of Arizona. Considering her weakness for men, Boyer speculates that Josephine may have been involved with a fellow actor in the troupe. Or she may have met Johnny Behan during one of his visits to San Francisco at the home of mutual friends and joined the troupe knowing that it was going to Prescott, Arizona, where Johnny lived. Within the following year she became engaged to Johnny Behan and moved to live in Tombstone.
Boyer presents a reasonable argument that Josie and Johnny were more than betrothed, and that they lived together as common-law husband and wife in Tombstone. Josephine’s story is that she lived with friends and only kept Behan’s house and son, Albert, during "respectable" hours. Actually, it wasn’t Behan’s house; it was Josie’s house. She had purchased it with money from her father. The lot it was on belonged to Behan. Their domestic relationship is one of the details of Josephine’s history that Boyer suspects she wished to conceal, and explains why Josephine was often so "difficult" with interviewers.
While engaged to Behan, Josie played hostess to many of the Cow-boys who came to their home for little poker get-togethers. She describes Curly Bill Brocius as "the most likeable of the crew. I feel like he might have amounted to something if he’d had the chance." He often brought an old unserviceable six-shooter for Johnny’s son, Albert, to play with when he came. "He always treated me as a lady, and I would not have been afraid in his company alone…." She notes that Billy Clanton "was always making passes at me when he thought Johnny wouldn’t get wise." And that his brother, Ike Clanton, "was an entirely unlovely person…" who ate with his mouth open, smacking his lips, and who was messy when chewing tobacco. Frank McLaury was a short cocky man who regarded himself as a lady-killer, while his brother Tom was the hard worker in the family.
Josephine met Wyatt Earp through Johnny Behan. It was Behan’s ambition to be appointed sheriff of the newly formed Cochise County, but he was a Democrat and the Arizona Governor was a Republican. Behan’s chief competition for the job was Wyatt Earp, who was also Republican. Behan promised the under-sheriff job to Earp for his endorsement. Later, Sheriff Behan broke his promise to Earp. Josie reports that Wyatt shrugged it off lightly by saying, "That’s O.K., Johnny, I’ll run fair and square with you for top dog in the next election." From then on, she says, Johnny’s every move was aimed at discrediting Wyatt as much as possible in the eyes of the voters.
In 1932, Josephine interviewed Fred Dodge, who was in Tombstone as an agent of Wells Fargo, about the killing of Tombstone City Marshal Fred White. She reports Dodge’s opinion was that Curly Bill was intending to kill Fred White, and that it was no accidental shooting as the court determined. "That shot was no accident!" says Dodge according to Josie, "If Curly wasn’t planning to use his pistol it wouldn’t have been cocked …But the clincher in my mind is that we found only one cartridge exploded in Curly’s pistol…. Curly was a gunman. Normally he would carry only five cartridges in his gun for safety’s sake. But he had six! He loaded up all around and was ready for a fight!"
The Tombstone story would be incomplete without including the O.K. Corral shootout. The facts surrounding this event are available from numerous sources, but a few things are unique in Josie’s version. She reports that Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday were the "hot heads" of the group, and that it was them that initiated the shooting. She emphasizes that Virgil Earp was carrying Doc’s cane in his right hand, a significant fact showing he hardly expected to do any quick shooting. When Virgil testified in court that he heard these two cocking their pistols, what he had really heard was Morgan and Doc cocking theirs. He threw up his right hand, still holding the cane, and yelled, "Hold on, I don’t mean that!" Everyone since erroneously has assumed he was addressing the Cow-boys rather than his brother and Doc. Doc fired first and Morgan second. Then Josie reports there was a distinct lull and the fighting might have ended. Ike Clanton ran. Tom McLaury was ducked behind a horse. But Ike, Johnny or Ike’s friend Will Allen fired a sneak shot from the passageway between Fly’s house and the photo studio, and the shooting began again. Josie upon hearing the shooting ran out of her house without her bonnet. By the time she arrived, they were already putting Virgil and Morgan into a wagon. She recalls the relief she felt when she saw Wyatt was unhurt. Then she confesses, "like a feather-brained girl my only thought was, ‘My God, I haven’t got a bonnet on. What will they think?’"
According to Josephine, Wyatt and Virgil said what was necessary in court to protect Morgan and Doc, as well as themselves. And she adds, "you can bet though that Wyatt and Virge were hot under the collar, especially at Doc, but almost equally at Morg. I can imagine the priceless conversations the first couple of days afterward down at Virge’s house where he and Morg were convalescing in the same bed. Virge could cuss some, as I can vouch from later observation. I’ll bet he did plenty of it back then, despite Morg’s condition."
Josie tells of the court inquest into the shooting, the ambush of Virgil and the assassination of Morgan. She relates that Wyatt told her his choices boiled down to three: break the back of the Rustler organization, leave the country or be assassinated. "He determined to harass the Indians in the gang, as he said, till they deserted the country, leaving the chiefs high and dry." Josephine wasn’t present when Wyatt killed Frank Stilwell in the Tucson station. And she wasn’t present when he killed Curly Bill at Mescal Spring. She can only describe those events as Wyatt and others reported them to her. Interestingly, Josie does insist that Wyatt killed John Ringo. She says the posse’s intent was to lynch Ringo, but they failed to get the drop on him. Wyatt caught him on the run with a lucky rifle shot that hit him in the head. Stuart Lake, based on letters from Fred Dodge, attributed the killing of Ringo to Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce, as Boyer points out in his notes. Perhaps Dodge lied to protect Wyatt. It is difficult to explain why Josie would invent this story when her efforts were aimed at downplaying Wyatt’s reputation as a killer.
The remainder of the book contains Josie’s recollections of their travels that included Colorado, where she meet Bat Masterson; Dodge, where they helped Luke Short through his difficulties; Austin, where she met a short, heavy set and slightly bald man who approached their table and called himself Ben Thompson; San Diego where they made friends with Lucky Baldwin; Alaska; and Nevada. There are several good stories in this collection.
While living in San Diego, the Earps traveled to Ensenada with Bat Masterson to pick up an army deserter from the authorities. On the coastwise steamer coming back there came a loud knock on their cabin door. It was the purser, and he was insisting that they must vacate their cabin "because his Excellency General Carlos Sancho Diego Morelos Morelos such-and-such and his staff just came on board and we must let the general have this cabin."
"The hell you say!" Wyatt said in English. "We paid for this cabin and we’re staying right here!"
After several exchanges, the captain came to the door and insisted the Earps must move. Wyatt ended the exchange by threatening to throw him overboard if he did not go away. They arrived in San Diego the next morning. The steamship company’s agent and a friend of Wyatt’s told them that the captain had demanded the arrest of a passenger who had threatened and defied him. When the agent looked up the cabin number on the passenger list, he informed the captain that this was Wyatt Earp.
"Who cares?" the captain shouted.
"Have you heard of the terrible American town of Tombstone, Arizona? It is said that Wyatt Earp killed at least half of the population there in a single afternoon!" reported the agent. "His brothers are said to have helped him."
"Madre de Dios!" the captain muttered, crossing himself. "A terrible family."
When Josephine remembers the unfortunate Fitzsimmons-Sharkey fight in 1896, she of course believes that Wyatt made the correct call and that Fitzsimmons accidentally fouled Sharkey. Of interest is her description of Wyatt’s reaction to the controversy that began when he removed his coat in the ring and revealed to the spectators that he was armed. "My Gawd," she quotes him saying, "I’ve gone heeled half my life—I forgot I had the damn thing on!" She says it was an old six-shooter from his frontier days, and she supposes that he actually did feel undressed without it.
She also relates a story that happened while they were in Tonopah, Nevada; Wyatt came to the aid of a fellow named Tasker Oddie. Seems some men were trying to jump one of Mr. Oddie’s mining claims. When Tasker caught them he couldn't think of anything to do but jump into the shallow prospect hole and defy them to move him. Just then Wyatt happened on the scene, driving a spring wagon. Wyatt jumped into the hole with Tasker, and with an ally brandishing a shotgun, they backed down the would-be claim jumpers. Mr. Oddie couldn’t have been more impressed. He later told Josephine, "Wyatt didn’t even have a pistol." But Josephine adds, "I know better. He generally carried a forty-five under his coat somewhere. But he seldom had to get it out. He was too good a tactician and strategist for that."
Boyer has made a significant contribution to furthering our knowledge of Wyatt Earp and his place in Old West history. He has made Josephine’s story both readable and entertaining, and his notes at the end of each chapter provide the reader with necessary information. Boyer brings his reader to understand the complexity of this woman, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp. She could be both "a voluptuous eighteen year old with huge, lambent brown eyes" and a peevish demanding woman, who once provoked family historian Harold Ackerman to exclaim, "No one could convince me that Wyatt was a killer—he lived with Josie for fifty years!"
( webmaster's note: This book is available from Amazon )
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