The Jewish First Lady at Legendary Lawmaker Wyatt Earp's O.K. Corral

Josephine Marcus Earp Finally Gets Her Due

The Lawmaker’s Heartbreaker:  Josephine Marcus Earp was Wyatt Earp’s common law wife for 46 years.
Courtesy of HarperCollins
The Lawmaker’s Heartbreaker: Josephine Marcus Earp was Wyatt Earp’s common law wife for 46 years.

By Hilene Flanzbaum

Published March 02, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

● Lady at the O.k. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp
By Ann Kirschner
Harper Collins, 304 pages, $27.99

As a kid, I perfected a strategy for beating anyone at “Twenty Questions.” I always chose not someone famous, but the wife of someone famous. My opponent would say, “Was she an actress?” No. “Was she a writer?” No. “But then how do I know her?” You get the picture. The person I had chosen had not done anything except marry someone famous. If you played this game with me more than a few times, of course, you knew my strategy and would eventually say, “Was her husband famous?” In Ann Kirschner’s new biography, “Lady at the O.K. Corral,” it remains questionable whether her subject, Josephine Marcus Earp, common-law wife of the famous lawbreaker and lawmaker Wyatt Earp, has done anything but marry the guy.

But wait a second — you say his wife was Jewish?

In her introduction to the book, Kirschner describes her amazement at learning that Wyatt Earp’s wife was Jewish. She remembers the many years she sat in front of her family’s black-and-white television, watching Westerns with her brother. The female characters were either prostitutes soon to be dead or spinster schoolteachers left to die loveless and alone. If a woman did become a wife, (with the notable exception of “High Noon”), the adventure was over. Indeed, weddings and wives often signaled the end of these old Westerns.

The viewer never wanted to think about the hero in a life without saloons and card games and gunfights. More specifically, for those who have watched movies about Earp himself, they have seen [Henry Fonda}(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TCbWu1PhLU), Jimmy Stewart, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner, as well as half a dozen others, portray Earp, without the benefit of spouse, Jewish or otherwise. The fact that Earp had a common law wife — and a Jewish one at that — with whom he lived for 46 years is remarkable.

It is Kirschner’s job to make this more than just a quirky factoid of history and convince her readers that Marcus Earp is worthy of the meticulous and responsible biography she has written. It is not an easy task, nor is it fully accomplished. The author can make virtually nothing of the fact that Marcus Earp was Jewish, because it appears that there is nothing to tell. The woman cared not a lick about being Jewish: She knew few people who were Jewish, nor was anyone to whom she was related mindful of a religious or cultural inheritance.

On the other hand, Kirschner can make hay only of this marriage: It is clear that being the wife of Wyatt Earp was the only thing that mattered to anyone, including Marcus Earp. At some point, Kirsch hypothesizes that Marcus Earp might have been partially responsible for the shootout at the O.K. Corral (the event from which she takes her title), because at that historical event, Earp her lover-to-be, faced Johnny Behan, her lover soon-to-be-dumped. There is some evidence to point to this, and it is certainly fun to think about — although in any case, she remained far from the bullets and may not even have been in Tombstone at the time.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.