From Brooklyn to the O.K. Corral: The Gripping Tale of Josephine Marcus Earp

Did you know that Wyatt Earp married a New Yorker?

Josephine Marcus is the heroine of her own Wild West tale, which is every bit as exciting as that of her husband. Born in Brooklyn to a Jewish immigrant family, she experienced the California Gold Rush, ran away from home at a young age, and became a major player in the historic Western city of Tombstone, Arizona.

Early Life in New York

Josephine was born in 1860 in New York City. Her father was a Prussian Jew, who immigrated from his hometown, located in modern-day Poland, around 1850. Her family struggled in New York City - though she would later claim her father was a wealthy German merchant, at this point in his life he was a poor baker.

After reading of the amazing promises San Francisco offered, the Marcus family moved out West. They traveled to California by steamship, across the Isthmus of Panama.

Josephine's Mysterious Past

Josephine was a very attractive and outgoing young woman, who had a special love for the theater. At some point in her youth (possibly as early as 14 years old), she ran away from San Francisco to Arizona, apparently in the interest of joining a theater troupe - musical theater was booming out West, and new settlements in Arizona were often desperate for performers.

The author of this biographical novel, which hit the bookshelves earlier in 2016, will speak at an upcoming NYG&B event.

The author of this biographical novel, which hit the bookshelves earlier in 2016, will speak at an upcoming NYG&B event.

Interestingly, this period of her life is somewhat uncertain, as are many other details. Not only is historical evidence scant, but there is also undoubtedly intentional and unintentional obfuscation of facts in the many versions of her story that do exist.

The blame falls partially upon the proclivity for Wild Western history to merge with the era's all-too-common tall tales and sensational characterization of historical figures. But Josephine herself also attempted to hide her past.

Josephine was clearly sensitive to the societal perception of her gender at the time. It wasn't easy to be an independent woman, even in the Wild West, and she may have spent time as a "sporting lady." As she gained even more notoriety as Wyatt Earp's wife, she took steps to hide what she felt were damaging pieces of her past and attempted otherwise shape her public image, often threatening to sue those who were attempting to publish information she wanted to keep hidden from public view.

This is not to say her story is unbelievable or entirely fictional - many scholars have done outstanding work separating fact from fiction. Some great, fact-based narratives tell the tale of the many exciting aspects of her life, including:

  • Her first relationship with another Western man of the law, Johnny Behan.
  • Her experience in Tombstone Arizona at the height of the great Western boom (including a role in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral).
  • Her 46 year marriage with Wyatt Earp.

Upcoming NYG&B Book Talk & Benefit Luncheon: The Last Woman Standing

We're thrilled to have the author of a recent biographical novel on Josephine, Thelma Adams, as the guest speaker at an upcoming benefit luncheon, co-sponsored by the NYG&B and the Knickerbocker Chapter of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution.

Thelma's recent book, The Last Woman Standing, is a biographical novel based on the real-life story of Josephine Marcus. This take on Josephine's life offers a unique combination of meticulously researched facts and a gripping first person narrative that helps illuminate Josephine's journey from her own perspective.

Join our societies on November 18th at Sarabeth's Park Avenue South to hear Thelma talk in detail about Josephine's journey and the challenge of researching and writing this work.

For more information, see the NYG&B events calendar on our website.