Josephine Sarah MarcusEarp

1861 – 1944

by Harriet Rochlin

Impulsive, adventurous, and outspoken, Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp ran away from home when she was seventeen years old. Two years later, she joined destinies with western lawman, gambler, and entrepreneur Wyatt Earp. For forty-seven years, they roamed the West, mingling with well-known westerners on both sides of the law. Her name was rarely in print until her published memoir revealed an overlooked western folk female hero, long on daring, short on propriety, and, of all things, Jewish.

The third of four children, Josephine Sarah (Marcus) Earp was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1861 to German-Jewish immigrants Sophie and Hyman (Henry) Marcus. When she was seven years old, the family moved to San Francisco. In 1879 the Pauline Markham Theater Company came to town, and Josephine slipped away with the troupe. In the Arizona Territory, she fell for Johnny Behan, a divorced, bankrupt politico. Her family retrieved her, but Johnny followed and convinced her gullible parents of his honorable intentions. In May 1880, she joined him in Tombstone, Arizona, but they did not marry.

Her gaze shifted to thirtyish, tall, handsome, and laconic Wyatt Earp, who, despite his common-law wife, stared back. Their romance blazed through the shoot-out at the O.K. Corral (the Earp brothers were key participants) and related trials and vendettas. After Tombstone, the couple lived in other western boomtowns, Nome, Los Angeles, and intermittently, San Francisco, at times with Josephine Earp’s parents. In the 1920s, financially aided by her sister, Henrietta, the couple seesawed between mining and oil ventures in southern California, promoting a movie about Wyatt Earp’s lawman exploits and writing his life story. The unpublished manuscript intrigued journalist Stuart Lake, who projected his own Wyatt Earp biography. After Wyatt Earp died in 1929, warfare exploded between Josephine Earp and Lake. Issues included his commercialized depiction of her husband and unflattering portrayal of her. Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal—deleterious passages stricken—came out in 1931 and fueled fifty years of Wyatt Earp mania, pro and con, in print and film.

Josephine Earp’s contribution, I Married Wyatt Earp, written with Mabel Earp Cason and Cason’s sister Vinola Earp Ackerman, and edited by western writer Glenn Boyer, was published in 1967. Boyer had fine-tuned her facts, and now other researchers are working on his facts. Notably, the cover photograph, a discreet cameo of young Josephine Earp, is in dispute. Boyer long maintained that Johnny Behan took the photo of her in Tombstone in 1880. Challengers say Boyer adapted it from a full-length, near-nude portrait of early twentieth-century vintage, copyrighted in 1914 and circulated by a novelty card company.

When her husband died, Earp buried his ashes in the Marcus family plot in the Little Hills of Eternity, near San Francisco. Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp died in 1944, and her remains now rest with his. But the collision of Jewish and cowboy cultures that epitomized their union goes on. Wyatt Earp enthusiasts have made the gravesite the most visited in that Jewish cemetery and once even stole the tombstone.

Bibliography

Boyer, Glenn G. Wyatt Earp: Facts Volume Two, Childhood and Youth of Wyatt’s Wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus (1966), and Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone Vendetta (1993); Earp, Josephine Sarah Marcus. I Married Wyatt Earp, with Mabel Earp Cason and Vinola Earp Ackerman. Edited by Glenn G. Boyer (1967), and Papers. American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Stuart N. Lake Collection, The Huntington Library, Department of Manuscripts, San Marino, Calif.; Hutton, Paul Andrew. “Showdown at the Hollywood Corral: Wyatt Earp and the Movies.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 45 (Summer 1995): 2–31; Lake, Stuart N. Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal (1931); Marcus, Jacob R. The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History (1981); Marks, Paula Mitchell. And Die in the West: The Story of the O.K. Corral Gunfight (1989); Morey, Jeffrey J. “The Curious Vendetta of Glenn G. Boyer.” National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History, Inc. Quarterly 18, no. 4 (October–December 1994); Rochlin, Harriet, and Fred Rochlin. Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West (1984); Tefertiller, Casey T. “Wyatt Earp: O.K. or Not O.K.” Image Magazine, San Francisco Examiner, October 17, 1993; Tritten, Larry. “Looking for a Legend and Finding Wyatt Earp.” Washington Post, June 20, 1993, E1, E8, E9; Waters, Frank. The Earp Brothers of Tombstone (1962).

5 Comments

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The bibliography and content should be updated on Josephine Earp. A rather thorough biography was written in 2013 by Ann Kirschner called Lady at the O.K. Corral. Your article primarily uses documentation from Glenn Boyer. He may have been truthful, but his accounts are in dispute, so it might be good for someone to read the Kirschner book and compare it to Boyer's and the "autobiography," which is also in dispute. I think personally that Josie was complicated, and extremely loyal to Wyatt.  She didn't seem to care much about being Jewish until perhaps the end of her life, when she most likely "adjusted" her past. Responding to "sportzbiker," there was no evidence that she became a prostitute, and certainly not when she was 14. She didn't run from home until she was 18. And, from what I remember of the Kirschner book, there was evidence found of her being part of the Gilbert and Sullivan troupe that she said she had joined.  She never claimed to be a singer, yet at least one movie portrays her as a singer in the troupe. Most likely, she had a bit part as the Cabin Boy in one production that traveled for a time. It is said she could dance the part late in her life. Anyway, that's my two cents on this. This needs to be updated.

Josephine Sarah "Sadie" Marcus
by Martin Goodman

By undertaking a poetic burden,
In the quest for truth here is my version,
To pen the life of Wyatt's wife,
Josephine Sarah "Sadie" Marcus,
Is the task thus thrust upon us.

As the legend of Wyatt and Sadie grew,
The light of truth she did eschew,
Her many stories so conflict,
One another contradict,
It's hard to say with conviction,
What is fact and what is fiction.

Concealing unsavory information,
Distorting fact with obfuscation,
Her tales engender such distrust,
Her biographers give up in disgust.

However there are some resources,
Censuses and stage coach records are major sources,
If you really want to know,
At the truth let's have a go.

Her family had a lot of dough,
Her father a baker was you know,
At age 14 did Sadie go,
To seek her fortune there's no dispute,
In a house of ill repute.

To ply the trade of prostitution,
A for-profit institution,
Old stage coach records have her down,
As Sadie Mansfield, new courtesan in town.

Tall tales that she related,
Were largely uncorroborated,
Of her days in an acting troupe,
There is not one jot of proof.

When asked about her life in Tombstone,
She'd dissemble with abandon,
Was she strumpet or stage actress,
Perhaps in each she had some practice.

Sadie left for California,
Wyatt soon arrived to join her,
For many years they traveled 'round,
From mining town to mining town.

In silver mines they'd stake a claim,
Occasionally they'd strike a vein,
Operating saloons and bars,
Seeking fortune in their stars.

Prosperity however would not stay,
From fortune's path they'd go astray,
Sadie could not resist a gamble,
Gambling left accounts a shamble.

Life went on for quite some time,
Wyatt demised in 'twenty-nine,
When he died he was buried,
In Hills of Eternity Jewish Cemetery,
According to Western lore,
Sadie joined him in 'forty-four,

In some jurisidctions marriage licenses were not required for the union but could be obtianed later as a form of registration. there was a fee required of this service and many oldtime couples saw tis as a needless expense; thus, many marriages were legal but unrecorded. today a licesne is reuiwred before the union.

It should be mentioned in the article that there has never been found any record that Wyatt and Josephine were ever married.

In reply to by Neal Coulter

several witness accounts that they were married aboard a yacht, by the captain (makes it legal) off the coast of san francisco... anyway, you should get a life, they were together 46 years!!!!

C. S. Fly cabinet card portrait of Josephine Sarah Marcus.

How to cite this page

Rochlin, Harriet. "Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 22, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/earp-josephine-sarah-marcus>.

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