For nearly fifty years she was the common-law wife of Wyatt Earp, yet Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp has nearly been erased from Western lore. Kirschner brings Josephine out of the shadows of history to tell her tale: a spirited and colorful tale of ambition, adventure, self-invention, and devotion; from the post-Civil War years to World War II, and from New York to the Arizona Territory to old Hollywood.
Josephine was Jewish, but though she returned to her roots and buried Wyatt in a Jewish graveyard when he died, religion wasn’t a big part of her life during the years she and Wyatt were together. Her family had moved from Poland to New York City and then San Francisco while she was still young, but the limitations of city society didn’t offer Josephine the life she wanted. She left for Tombstone as a teenager seeking adventure, and she and Wyatt were living as husband and wife to other people when they met. The fact that Wyatt deserted a woman who later died as a prostitute to be with her was embarrassing to Josephine, and it was part of the reason she didn’t want the particulars of her past tainting the legend of the man she loved.
Since Josephine actively tried to suppress her own part in Wyatt’s life, author Ann Kirschner had a challenging job researching this book, but she has succeeded in making Lady at the O.K. Corral fascinating as both a biography of a spirited woman and a history of the rapidly changing American West. Though Josephine only wanted one side of his story told, Wyatt Earp was a lot more complicated than the brave, courageous and bold frontier man who cleaned up the West in the 1950’s TV show. It’s true Wyatt was briefly a lawman but he also spent time in jail himself, and he earned his living as a respected saloon owner, a prospector, a gambler and a pimp while he and Josephine moved from boomtown to boomtown, seeking their fortunes.
Poor Josephine. Her life is a cautionary tale about the importance of financial planning, Wyatt’s rootless existence as a saloon-keeper and gambler left her as a lonely and practically penniless widow, relying on the kindness of relatives to survive.
I really wish this book had pictures, but reading revealed that most of the items from the day were either lost in various calamities or scammed from her. Poor Josephine. Her squabbles with the other Earps and the various authorized and unauthorized biographers had the feel of one of those trashy scandal shows.
DeBlank does a good job describing all the attempts to write a biography of Wyatt Earp by various authors as well as making television shows and movies and the role Josephine played in keeping secrets.