01 February 2010

Love Affairs: Wyatt Earp & Josie Marcus

By Lorelie Brown

Wyatt Earp is most known for his role in the OK Corral shoot out in Tombstone, Arizona. As one of the largest and yet quickest gunfights in Old West history, it's epic. But when my family and I visited Tombstone a couple weeks ago, I was reminded of one of the minor players in the drama--Josephine Sarah Marcus, called Sadie by her contemporaries and the woman who would be Earp's third wife. They were together until Wyatt died.

In 1881, Josie Marcus was in Tombstone because of an on-again, off-again relationship with Johnny Behan, a rival of Wyatt's. An attractive woman, it's known for sure that she worked as an actress and sometimes speculated that she was a prostitute as well. (Wyatt Earp wasn't exactly the white-hat that later movies have portrayed him as, either.)

Despite Josie signing documents in Tombstone with the name Josephine Behan, she is supposed to have begun a torrid affair with Wyatt. Um, let's just ignore the fact that Wyatt's second wife, Mattie Blaylock was still living in Tombstone as well. Details are a little murky, having been subsumed under the bigger drama of the OK Corral gunfight, but Josie and Mattie supposedly had at least two fights in the streets of Tombstone over the affair.

Nevertheless, Wyatt and Josie left Tombstone separately. Wyatt had a mess to sop up and a Vendetta Ride to make, hunting the men who killed his brother. Josie had a career in a second rate actors troupe to continue.

But they met up again in 1883, in San Francisco, and were supposedly inseparable ever after. No one has ever found a marriage certificate for Wyatt and Josie, but they presented themselves as husband and wife. In the Old West, that was sufficient for a common-law marriage.

Together, Josie and Wyatt continued to travel the Old West. Minus a short involvement in the Dodge City War, Wyatt did just about every job but lawman. They owned a racehorse and did the racing circuit in San Diego. They traveled to the Nome, Alaska gold rush and ran a gambling operation. In Nevada, they owned a saloon.

The couple spent a good portion of their latter years in Hollywood--gambling and also advising at the sets of Westerns. John Wayne is said to have based his iconic depictions of gunslingers on his conversations with Earp. They both wrote biographies with assistance. A cropped version of the following picture was on the cover of a re-issue of Josie's biography, but has since been proven unlikely to be an actual picture of Josie. (Why yes, I am including it just for the salacious aspect.)

They were sometimes flush and often on the move, but throughout it all, Josie and Wyatt were together for 46 years. A later biographer of Wyatt called them a "contentious" couple, but I prefer to think they were crotchety. After all, both had shown a distinctive propensity for ditching partners they weren't happy with. Why stick together for more than 40 years if they didn't love each other?


Brian Phelps said...

This is NOT Josephine "Sadie" Earp. Glen Boyer's book "I Married Wyatt Earp" displays the image above on its cover, however, experts who have studied the image have concluded that it dates from 1914, long after Sadie Earp had passed her prime. In fact, Boyer's work was discredited as a hoax in 1999. See the Wikipedia article "I Married Wyatt Earp" for the well-documented details.

Hitmanfan45 said...

There is a difference between "discredited" and "unproven". The book was unverified not discredited.

Blue Brown said...

I'm not sure that Brian Phelps knew (at the time he commented here) that even back in the Early Days of photography, it was quite common to send, say a Daguerreotype -or a Tintype or Image Media of Any Kind out to the many photographic "Job Shops" to be Photographically Copied for Reprinting, but it was Commonly Done. There's no reason to believe that Boyer was inaccurate in saying that Josephine's 1880 Image was used for the "Kaloma" Ad/Poster.. in fact, he Insisted that his statement was accurate! The 1914 Copyright was printed on the poster, itself, at publication. Josephine (as she later preferred to be called) also gave 1880 as the year in which that Image of Her was Created. I have Original Photographic Evidence which leaves No Doubt as to what Josephine Sarah "Sadie" Marcus looked like at the age of 20 in 1880.. & I'm here to say that the woman in the Kaloma Image Is Josephine, without Any Doubt. The Image Featured at the Top of her page on Wikipedia Is Definitely Not that of Josephine Sarah Marcus (as most people are aware) -& should be Removed!