Unveiling the enigmatic persona behind one of the Wild West’s most legendary figures, Wyatt Earp lies the captivating tale of his wife.
Often referred to as the wildest woman in the West, her identity remains shrouded in mystery, leaving historians and enthusiasts intrigued by the life of this remarkable yet elusive figure.
Behind The Man
Wyatt Earp’s impact on history is undeniable, as his involvement in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and his reputation as a legendary lawman shaped the Wild West narrative.
However, amidst his fame, one intriguing question persists: What about his wife? Who was the woman behind Wyatt, and why is so little known about her?
Josephine Earp’s Early Life
Josephine Earp, whose birth name was Josephine Sarah Marcus, was born on April 3, 1860, in Brooklyn, New York.
She was the daughter of a German Jewish immigrant father, Carl-Hyman Marcus, and his English wife, Sophie Lewis. Josephine grew up in a middle-class family and received a good education.
A Love For Performing
In her late teens, Josephine developed an interest in the performing arts and became involved in theater.
“There was far too much excitement in the air to remain a child,” she is alleged to have said in her memoir about her life, although much is contested about her early years.
She Went To Santa Barbara
Josephine claimed to be a part of the Pauline Markham Pinafore dance troupe; however, the details of her trip don’t match up with the official records, and her name was never found on any program or document from the troupe.
Regardless of how she got there, Josephine ended up in Santa Barbara, and from there, she headed to Arizona.
Where Did She Go Next?
Josephine claimed then that she was whisked away to a ranch house for safety for ten days, where she would meet her future first husband, Johnny Behan.
Josephine then claimed she then went to San Francisco, but historians disagree and have another theory about where she was during this time.
Josephine Or Sadie?
Records show that in 1874 Behan was a frequent customer at the “house of ill fame,” where he often visited a woman who worked there who went by the name of Sadie Mansfield.
Sadie and Josephine shared many similarities: both made a stagecoach journey from San Francisco to Arizona, both were 19, born in New York City, with parents from Prussia and had a relationship with Behan.
Historians Think They Are One And The Same
There’s no definitive proof that these two women were the same person, but Josephine shared no records of her own life during that time and often referred to it as “a bad dream.”
Soon after moving to Tombstone, Arizona with Behan, Josephine caught the eye of the legendary gambler and deputy sheriff Wyatt Earp, despite her relationship with Behan and his own marriage to Mattie Blaylock at the time.
She Liked Her Secrets
Josephine was actually Wyatt Earp’s third wife, and he was married to his second when they met.
Not much is known about Wyatt’s second wife, Mattie Blaylock, and this is partially due to Josephine’s efforts to cover up that relationship, even taking legal action to suppress information about their marriage from biographers.
Josephine Caught Wyatt’s Attention
According to historical accounts, Josephine was quite beautiful, so it’s no surprise that Wyatt was drawn to her!
Bat Masterson described her as the “belle of the honkytonks, the prettiest dame in three hundred or so of her kind,” and her sister-in-law was quoted as describing her in The Earp Brothers of Tombstone by saying, “Sadie’s charms were undeniable. She had a small, trim body and a meneo of the hips that kept her full, flounced skirts bouncing.”
Her Voice Also Played A Part
“Certainly, her strange accent, brought with her from New York to San Francisco, carried a music new to the ears of a Western gambler and gunman,” her sister-in-law added.
The Western gambler and gunman in question was, of course, Wyatt Earp. It’s also not surprising that Wyatt caught Josephine’s eye as well!
Wyatt Was Just Her Type
“I liked the traveling sort of man,” her memoir claimed Josephine said of the type of man she was interested in.
“Better than the kind that sat back in one town all his life and wrote down little rows of figures all day or hustled dry goods or groceries and that sort of thing.”
She Wanted An Exciting Life
“My blood demanded excitement, variety, and change,” she allegedly said in her memoir.
She would certainly get that in spades in her relationship with Wyatt, and it wasn’t long before the two considered themselves married, even if Wyatt’s previous marriages added some questions to the legal legitimacy of their union.
Married In 1882
By 1882, Josephine and Wyatt were married and would remain so for 46 years until his death on January 13th, 1929.
The ceremony allegedly took place on a yacht off the California coast, but no public record of their marriage has ever been found. Just another layer of mystery to Josephine’s story!
A Life Of Adventure
Following their marriage, Josephine accompanied Wyatt on his various adventures and moved with him to different towns as he pursued his career as a lawman and gambler.
They lived in places like Tombstone, Dodge City, and San Francisco. It was in Tombstone where perhaps the most infamous moment of their lives would take place.
The Legendary Gunfight
In Tombstone, Wyatt Earp became involved in the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1881. Josephine was present in Tombstone at the time, but she did not witness the actual gunfight.
She played a role in the events leading up to the gunfight, as her former lover, John Behan, was one of Earps’ political opponents involved in the fight.
The Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
The legendary gunfight, known as the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, took place on October 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona.
Wyatt Earp, along with his brothers Virgil and Morgan Earp and their friend Doc Holliday, faced off against a group known as the “Cowboys,” which included Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claiborne.
The Fight Lasted Only 30 Seconds
The confrontation erupted in a narrow vacant lot next to the O.K. Corral, where the Earps, supported by Holliday, confronted the Cowboys, who were suspected of being involved in cattle rustling and other criminal activities.
In a tense exchange of gunfire lasting just seconds, three Cowboys were killed—Billy Clanton, and the McLaurys, while Virgil and Morgan Earp were injured. Wyatt and Holliday emerged relatively unscathed.
Major Historical Moment
The gunfight was a significant event in the Wild West, representing a clash between lawmen and outlaws. It sparked controversy and divided public opinion regarding the actions and motives of the participants.
The aftermath of the gunfight led to a series of violent reprisals and ongoing conflicts between the Earps and the Cowboy faction.
A Turning Point For The Earps
Although the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was not widely known at the time, it gained legendary status through popular culture and depictions in books, movies, and television shows, solidifying Wyatt Earp’s reputation as a legendary figure in the history of the American West.
And through it all, Josephine was at his side, ever-loyal!
After The Fight
After the gunfight, Wyatt and Josephine moved to California. Wyatt tried his hand at various business ventures, including mining and gambling, but faced mixed success.
Josephine remained by his side throughout these ventures, offering support and companionship, and they spent the remaining years of Wyatt’s life together in general peace.
After He Passed, Josephine Tried To Tell His Story… Kind Of
Wyatt Earp passed away on January 13, 1929, in Los Angeles. Following his death, Josephine worked to shape Wyatt’s legacy and preserve his memory.
She corresponded with authors and researchers, providing them with information and anecdotes about her late husband, but the information she provided them was not very accurate.
She Tried To Protect Him
Josephine worked hard to protect Wyatt’s reputation and often threatened legal action against those attempting to publish biographies of him. She also tried to stifle accounts that mentioned his previous wives or herself.
Josephine insisted that Wyatt didn’t drink, never owned gambling saloons and that other documented accounts of his illegal activities were false.
Her Own Stories Are Hotly Debated
There have also been historical accounts of Josephine’s life that have been highly contested.
Perhaps most famously, Glenn Boyer collected and edited the alleged memoir I Married Wyatt Earp, which was released in 1976. This memoir was touted as the authentic story of Josephine’s life in her own words, but that has been up for debate.
Who Was Glenn Boyer?
Boyer had long-term relationships with members of the Earp family and claimed the account was based on two manuscripts that Josephine herself wrote.
One of the manuscripts was claimed to have been written with the help of John Clum, and the other with two of Earp’s cousins. Boyer combined them into one story.
No Proof Provided
However, in 1994, researchers began to question the legitimacy of the manuscripts, and Boyer could provide no evidence that the manuscript from Clum even existed.
The photo on the cover of the book, seen above, was also found not to be an image of Josephine herself but instead was of another, unrelated woman.
Boyer Defended Himself
Boyer insisted that he had “a license to say any darned thing I please… [to] lie, cheat, and steal.”
“Some of them are a manuscript. Some are only a mishmash, as a matter of fact…” Boyer said of the resources he used. “The earlier ones of those guys all lean heavily on Clum and Parsons for insights, which is one of the reasons they got in trouble with Josephine Earp…”
No Clum Manuscript
Boyer eventually admitted that the “Clum manuscript,” as he had been presenting it, didn’t actually exist.
“This is a broad way when I say I refer to a Clum manuscript, for example. It is a broad way of referring to something when really this is nobody’s business in a way.”
Boyer Claimed It Was The Story She Wanted Told
Boyer stated that he “often used my knowledge of Josie when using dialogue so she could tell her tale the way she wanted.”
He added that this choice was “fortified by my written, taped and oral research” and that it didn’t matter if “the details Josie gave in her memoirs are correct.”
Boyer Claimed Josphine Hadn’t Been Honest
“They are her details, the way she wanted it written,” Boyer said.
“The fact of the matter is that’s why the manuscript written by two Earp relatives, Vinnolia Ackerman and Mabel Cason, as they interviewed Josie in the 1930s, was never published. They could not get her to tell the truth about Tombstone,” he said.
Josephine’s Life Was A Mystery
It’s almost suiting that the enigmatic and mysterious woman left behind such a mysterious story that only she will ever know the entirety of.
Josephine passed away on December 19, 1944, at the age of 84, and is buried next to her husband. While we may not have all the details about Josephine, it’s clear that her life was anything but boring!