I have a soft spot for the strong women behind famous men. After all, I am writing a book about Anita Garibaldi. Josephine Earp has certainly helped cultivate that. According to Stuart Lake (Wyatt’s biographer), she was “The key to the whole yarn of tombstone.”
As the story goes, Josephine and her German-Jewish family moved from New York to San Francisco in the mid 1800’s. In 1879 Josephine ran away from home to join an acting troupe (though there are those that believe that she was prostitute by the name of Sadie). In the midst of her adventures she met a Johnny Behan, a bankrupt, divorced smooth talker and fell in love. When Josephine was brought home Johnny followed and conned her family into letting the two of them become engaged.
The couple moved to Tombstone, Arizona. Initially she and Johnny were quite happy. So happy, in fact, that she called herself Mrs. Behan. Whether it was because Josephine got tired of Johnny’s cons or because she met someone else the relationship ended. That someone else she met was Wyatt Earp. Though Earp was in a common law marriage the two carried on a passionate affair.
Tombstone was a tense place to live. Conflict was coming to a head between the US Marshals and a gang that called themselves the Cowboys. Wyatt Earp was a marshal with his brothers. Johnny Behan became the sheriff and was in the pocket of the Cowboys. Including deputizing some of them. The animosity between Earp and Behan aided in the tension building.
There is a lot of speculation as to where Josephine was at the time of the gunfight. Some say she was there while other historians believe she wasn’t even in Tombstone when it went down. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Josephine, from her origins to even which pictures are of her. The fact that we are still debating her story and talking about her still makes her an incredibly fascinating woman.
For some wild west adventures take a look at these books:
- I Married Wyatt Earp This book is one of the go to books for anyone who wants to know more about Josephine. Just as with everything else Josephine related, there is controversy. The book has many instances that are unproven.
- Elsie: Adventures of an Arizona School Teacher 1913-1916 The true story of what life was like for one teacher in the wild west.
- Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster A great historical fiction with time travel mixed in