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Josephine (Josie) Sarah (Sadie) Marcus (born about 1861 - died December 19, 1944 - aged 82 or 83) was a professional dancer and actress who became best known as the wife of famed Old West lawman and gambler Wyatt Earp. According to United States Census records, Josie was born in the state of New York about 1861, although the exact date and city of her birth are not known.

Early life

The middle child of three, Josie and her family moved to San Francisco when she was young. Her baker-father, Henry, and her mother, Sophia, were both Jewish immigrants from Prussia; it is not known when they arrived in the United States. The Marcus household also included siblings Nathan (born about 1857) and Henrietta (born about 1863). Marcus wanted to become an actress and at the age of eighteen, Josie and friend Dora Hirsh ran away to join a theatrical company, where the two girls were hired as dancers.[citation needed]

As members of Paulina Markham's traveling theater company, Marcus and Hirsh travelled all over the wild west, including Arizona Territory. Records show that the Markham troupe reached Tombstone in December of 1879, after which they headed north to Prescott.

Johnny Behan and Tombstone, Arizona

While on their way to Prescott, Josie met Johnny Behan, then a Yavapai County sheriff's deputy. At the time of the troupe's trek to Prescott, Behan was travelling the same route, following the trails of three fugitive robbers. Marcus caused quite a stir in Behan's heart, and he left the pursuit in order to spend time getting to know the woman with whom he had fallen in love.[citation needed] Soon after arriving in Prescott, however, Marcus became homesick and returned to San Francisco.

Johnny Behan followed her, in order to ask her to marry him. Marcus declined, and he returned to Arizona Territory. Marcus, however, soon changed her mind and returned to Tombstone, where she lived with a lawyer for some time, while working as a housekeeper for Behan and his ten year old son, Albert. This version of her return has been disputed, as some believe that she was really living with Behan all along after her return to Tombstone, while other versions indicate she was working as a prostitute with the lawyer acting as her pimp.

In the midst of their romantic relationship, Behan continued to see other women, a fact known by most, including Marcus. She wrote a letter to her father, who sent her $300 for a return to San Francisco. Rather than leaving Tombstone, Marcus was instead convinced by Behan to use the money to build a house for them. In addition to using her father's money, Josie pawned a diamond ring in order to complete the construction.

Relationship with Wyatt Earp

In 1881, Behan became involved in a serious romantic relationship with another woman and Marcus then left him for good, becoming enamored instead with Wyatt Earp. Behan suffered public embarrassment because of this; in Tombstone, everyone thought that Marcus and Behan were legally married. Her breakup with Behan and her arrival into Wyatt's life were publicized by the Tombstone Epitaph, a leading local newspaper. To add to the scandal, Earp was in a common-law marriage with Mattie Blaylock since sometime in 1873. It is reported that the two women had at least two verbal altercations over the affair between Josie and Wyatt Earp.[citation needed].

Gunfight at the OK Corral

The embarrassment suffered by Behan was one of many factors that may have contributed to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Numerous other events between Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton, and others of the Clanton gang, actually sparked the gunfight; the feud between Behan and Earp was little more than a side show. On October 26, 1881, Josephine Marcus was at her home when she heard the sound of gunfire. Taking a wagon in the direction of the shots, Marcus, to her relief, saw Wyatt standing and uninjured.

Later life

By 1882, Josie Marcus had adopted the name of "Josephine Earp", although no official record of their marriage exists. Following what has been dubbed as the Earp vendetta ride, Josie and Wyatt travelled through various western states hunting for gold and silver. It is also said that they ran horse races in San Diego as well as operating saloons in Idaho and Alaska.

Wyatt and Josephine became gamblers during this period. She became friends with millionaire Lucky Baldwin, from whom she received money in return for her jewelry. Eventually, Josephine would give almost all of her jewelry to Baldwin in exchange for gambling money.

Earp biographer, Stuart Lake, learned that Wyatt and Josephine were hostile to each other during their relationship when he went to collaborate with Wyatt on his autobiography. In the course of writing the Earp biography, Lake learned some other unsavory aspects of Josephine's life: the fact that she had worked as a prostitute. Wyatt became critically ill in 1928 and died on January 13, 1929. Before Wyatt's biography was released soon after his death, Josephine traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, in an attempt to convince the publisher to stop the release of the book.

Much later, in 1939, Josephine tried to stop 20th Century Fox from making a film based on the book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal. Under the condition that Wyatt's name be removed from the title, the movie was later released, as Frontier Marshal.

In Los Angeles, Josephine became friends with many celebrities, including Cecil B. DeMille and Gary Cooper. She received part of the money made by Stuart Lake's book about her husband as well as royalties from the movie Frontier Marshal. Josephine also wrote her own book entitled I Married Wyatt Earp; The Memoirs of Josephine Sarah Earp. She approached several publishers for the book, but backed out several times due to their insistence that she be completely open and forthcoming, rather than slanting her memories to her favor. It was later printed, but many parts were refuted as being fictional and inaccurate by Wyatt's sister-in-law, Allie Earp, wife of Virgil. Ownership of the book, following Josephine's death, eventually fell to Glenn Boyer, following his obtaining rights from the relatives of Josephine Earp. [1]

Josephine Earp spent her last years in Los Angeles, where she suffered from depression and other illnesses.[citation needed] One of her few consolations toward the end of her life was the correspondence she kept with Albert Behan, whom she had grown to love as her own son.

Sarah Josephine Marcus died on December 20, 1944 in Los Angeles, California. Her body was cremated and buried next to Wyatt's cremains in Colma, California in the Marcus family plot at the Hills of Eternity Memorial Park cemetery.


Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp. I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp; ed. Glenn W. Boyer; University of Arizona Press, 1976. ISBN 0-8165-0583-7. This book has come under criticism for supposedly having mostly come out of the imagination of the editor. Boyer, however, is explicit about the methodology he used, and the fact that he edited Josie Marcus' own (two) intended autobiographical manuscripts using interviews with family members and those who knew the Earps, letters, and other documents. He footnotes the manuscript copiously and notes where Josie is prevaricating or fabricating herself, letting her own words stand. Thus, the book remains an invaluable Earp resource, and the best historical treatment available on Josie Marcus and her life and marriage to her controversial husband.

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