Josephine and Wyatt Earp
February 8, 2010
The only one who called her “Sadie” was Wyatt. It was his pet name for her. Josephine Sarah Marcus and Wyatt Earp came from entirely different backgrounds. She was born around 1861, the sheltered, beautiful daughter of wealthy, German-Jewish immigrant parents. She lived in the elegant big city of San Francisco, Calif., and planned to be an actress.
Wyatt’s ancestors were English and Scottish who arrived in America in the early 1700s. They settled in Pella, Iowa. In 1864, his father, Nicholas Earp, headed up a wagon train of 40 wagons destined for California’s San Bernardino Valley. Sixteen-year old, Wyatt, drove one of his father’s wagons. Nicholas became one of the founding fathers of San Bernardino.
Wyatt and Josephine met in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Some authors reported that Josie was part of a traveling Gilbert and Sullivan acting troupe, who toured throughout the Arizona Territory, delighting some of the mining towns who longed for some “big city culture.” Other historians claim that Josephine Marcus was an actress but had settled down in Tombstone with Johnny Behan, a local politician. She sang and danced at the Oriental Saloon and Gambling Hall where she met and fell in love with Wyatt.
Wyatt was just over 6-feet tall, considered handsome with a stylish, droopy mustache, and dressed completely in black except for his white dress shirt. He wore his black Stetson pushed back on his head. The Buntline gun, especially designed for him that he always wore, enhanced his power and prestige.
In some non-fiction history books, there is a photograph of a beautiful, dark-haired woman, dressed in a gauzy, low-necked, black dress that was taken in Fry’s Photo Gallery on Fremont Street in Tombstone. There is some dispute whether the picture is actually Josephine or not.
We do know that she was a singer and a dancer and was 20 years old on Oct. 26, 1881, the date of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. After the shootout, Wyatt was concerned for her safety and sent her back to her parents in San Francisco, telling her he would come for her there.
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Before he left Tombstone, he told the sheriff that he, his brothers and friends, including Doc Holliday, were leaving for Gunnison, Colo. This was affirmed in Colorado history books.
Josephine wrote her memoirs but they were not published until after her death. They were edited and annotated by Glenn Boyer in his book. In the book, she mentioned Wyatt’s brother, Morgan. She wrote, “While Morg possessed the intelligence and courage of his older brother, he was more quick to anger.” In another passage, Josephine mentioned Doc Holliday “who was good company to his friends. He had a sense of humor and a sense of fun as well. I liked to be around him and we saw a lot of him after we left Tombstone.”
The couple enjoyed their early married years together. They claimed to be married but historians have not been able to confirm this. They prospected together in what are now Nome, Alaska, Tonopah, Nev., and along the Colorado River in Arizona, near the town of Parker. She especially loved their days in San Diego, Calif. Wyatt dealt cards in old San Diego near McGurk’s Saloon. (The restored downtown area, named “the Gaslight District” brags about Wyatt’s presence there).
She respected Wyatt and his closeness with his family. So, it was easy for Wyatt to accept and understand her own familial ties when, for a time, they moved to San Francisco where her parents resided.
As a former actress, Josie especially enjoyed their years in the Los Angeles area where Wyatt was hired by movie companies to be an adviser on the early Western sound stages. It involved Hollywood parties and brushing shoulders with “newly discovered” movie actors and actresses. As a couple, they were immediately transformed into what was considered “America’s royalty” through the magic of celluloid film images shown in darkened, newly constructed, ornate movie theaters.
Wyatt died at age 80 in 1929. Among his pallbearers were Tom Mix and William S. Hart. They say that Josie was too grief stricken to attend the funeral. After his cremation, his beloved “Sadie” traveled alone by train, carrying his ashes in a suitcase to San Francisco. He was interred in the family plot of the Jewish cemetery, “Hills of Eternity Memorial Park” in Coloma, Calif.
Josephine lived to be 84 years old. Dying in 1944, her ashes were taken to the same cemetery outside San Francisco, where they rest beside Wyatt. Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp lived in the most remarkable era of America’s history, spanning the time from the gold rush days to almost the end of WWII. But she lived and was loved by one of the most infamous men of our time, Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp.