The Earps: Josie and Wyatt's 47-Year Odyssey

In Tombstone in 1881, a historic shootout set the life course of an adventurous Jewish San Franciscan. Her name was Josie or Sadie, and the battle was the historic gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Twenty and single, she was in love with one of its key figures. Their story, as recounted in I Married Wyatt Earp: Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, collected and edited by Glenn G. Boyer, gave western storytellers a spirited new heroine, and Earp biographers fresh facts to dispute.

What was the daughter of Sophie and Henry (Hyman) Marcus, proper San Franciscans, doing on her own in that unruly mining town? As she tells it, in 1879 her best friend decided to run away with a traveling production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore and persuaded Josie to join her. The stage-struck girls wangled minor roles and traveled with the company until Josie's father tracked them to Prescott, Arizona Territory. By then, gorgeous Josie had a suitor, Johnny Behan, who followed her home and won her parents' permission to marry her -- a questionable claim, given that Behan was an unemployed office-seeker, thirty-four, non-Jewish and a divorced father.

Sometime in late 1880, Josie joined her fiance in Tombstone, where he hoped to be, and soon was, appointed sheriff and tax collector of newly established Cochise County. They lived together for months, but when no marriage materialized, she broke the engagement. Soon after, Wyatt Earp, then deputy U.S. marshal, mining investor and part owner of the Oriental Saloon, eyed Josie, and she him, although he was still living with another woman.

As the relationship between the small, expressive Jewish brunette and the tall, laconic, blond gentile heated, so did Tombstone's famous feud: the Earps versus the Clantons and McLaurys. In the wake of the opening clash on October 26, 1881, came hearings, trials, vendettas and more trials. When the five-month-long melee ended, the lovers began their forty-seven year odyssey.

They roamed the Far West, mingling with gamblers, prospectors, promoters and celebrities; spent three years in the Alaskan gold fields; lived intermittently in San Francisco; prospected in the southern California desert; and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where Wyatt hoped to turn his lawman exploits into a lucrative book or movie. Frontier Marshall, the book that would transform him into a mythic western hero, was in progress when Earp became terminally ill.

Told and retold, stories of the legendary couple continue to draw devotees and detractors. Wyatt died in 1929, Josie fifteen years later. Both are buried in the Marcus family plot in the Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, in Colma, near San Francisco. Theirs is the most visited gravesite in that Jewish cemetery.