My appetite was whetted for learning more about adventurous women in the 19th century West. I added American history to the sections in my favorite used bookstores which I trawled regularly. So many of those books were hagiographies of all the familiar famous men like Daniel Boone and Robert E. Lee, or blow-by-blow descriptions of battles.
But, buried between the hefty books I could occasionally find a footnote to ‘big history’. It was there one lucky day I found “I Married Wyatt Earp. The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp.” Josie’s biographers were her nieces, Mable Earp Cason and Vinolia Earp Ackerman and this was an ‘as told to’ book. Her story fascinated me on many levels, not the least of which was that this coquette reminded me of my oh so vain grandmother. Oh yes, Josie was of another generation, but the way memory of her youthful beauty informed her old age was recognizable to me. My Bubby’s grey eyes would brighten and her liveliness would spread throughout the room when she spoke of how the men flocked to her on the streets of the Lower East Side, NYC at the turn of the 20th century. The complete sense of privilege that comes with being a beauty continues throughout a life that grows heavy and marred.
Josie Marcus was born into a Jewish merchant family in San Francisco some time around 1860. She ran away from home with a girlfriend to join a traveling Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. Tombstone Territory was the most exciting place in the West in 1880, most exciting and most unruly. Those few sentences are as close to the facts of her life as we can get because she was self-invented and selective about what she chose to recall. Her love for Wyatt Earp and his love for her was the stage on which she played out her tales.
I had discovered another wild and free woman in the Old West. My own book began to take shape as my research deepened.