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Wyatt Earp’s Main Squeeze

Lawrence Bush
December 31, 2017

Wyatt Earp’s wife, Josephine Sarah Marcus, died at 84 on this date in 1944 (although some sources cite her yortsayt as December 19th). She claimed to have run away from home at 18 to join a theater troupe, but it is extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to her life; she spun many a yarn and claimed several identities in the course of her life, and even her autobiography, put together from her writings by Glenn G. Boyer in 1974, was judged primarily to be a work of fiction, which forced the University of Arizona Press to remove the book from its catalogue. Marcus did become romantically involved with the lawman/gunslinger in 1881, the year of his duel at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, and married him eleven years later, with a captain aboard a friend’s yacht officiating. According to Kate Morrison at Messy Nessy, “Sadie apparently gambled their money recklessly and had to be cut off from their finances. Their marriage was quite rocky according to friends and family. After a stint in Alaska during the mining boom, the Earp’s returned with nearly $80,000 ($2.3 million today), which they lived off for most of their lives. However, during the last years of her husband’s life, she gambled away the last of their money, leaving them both destitute.” Josie (whom everyone called “Sadie”) stayed with Earp until his death in 1929. They ended their lives in Los Angeles among the personalities of Hollywood; Earp served as a coach to several cowboy actors. Wyatt and Sadie lie together amid Cohens, Goldbergs, Schwartzes and other Jews in a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California.

“The grimly humorous phrase about our town was that Tombstone had ‘a man for breakfast every morning.’ ” —Josephine Sarah Marcus

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.