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Josephine Marcus Earp


November 10, 2021 by Pamela Nowak

Wyatt’s third wife, Josephine, is the second of my protagonists in NECESSARY DECEPTIONS. Josie is fascinating in that she rarely, if ever, told the truth about her life (or Wyatt’s). Researching her was a fascinating challenge, crafting her character even more so. She frequently cited different stories, different dates for events, and different names for those involved. What she did cite was never quite in agreement with the historical record and a check of those records reveals her lies. Constructing a truth among them was difficult and fiction provided me the vehicle to pull what out what was most plausible and run with it.

Josephine Sarah Marcuse was born in New York City to Hyman (Henry) and Sophie Marcuse. She had one older step-sister, Rebecca, an older brother, Nathan, and one younger sister, Henrietta (Hattie). June 2, 1861 is most often cited as her date of birth. When she was about seven, the family moved to San Francisco where Hyman pursued work as a baker but was frequently employed at a series of odd jobs. Josie (or Sadie, a nickname for Sarah) later claimed her last name was Marcus and that her father was a wealthy German merchant. In truth, he was a Polish Jew, though it does not appear the family actively practiced the faith. It is likely that the stratified social ladder among Germans and Poles was her reasoning for the claim. As a youngster, Josie and her younger sister took dance lessons and she developed an interest in the theatre.

Josie lived for a while near San Francisco’s parlor house brothel district and it’s likely the experience had an impact on her. Evidence points to Josie joining with Madam Hattie Wells when she was fourteen and being sent to Prescott, Arizona. Josie maintains that she ran away with Pauline Markham’s HMS Pinafore traveling show and was abandoned in Prescott when the troupe disbanded but known dates for the Pinafore tour do not coincide with Josie’s stories (different years). Almost none of her stories about her teen-age years match the historical record. It’s most likely that she ran away with Wells, apprenticed in Prescott, where she was known as Sadie Mansfield, then perhaps returned to San Francisco and ran away a second time with Markham’s troupe (perhaps as a way to get back to Prescott). An 1874 source lists Sadie Mansfield traveling through Wickenberg en route to Prescott along with Hattie Wells, Julie Burton, and Ella Howard. Josie mentioned “Aunt Julia” in a tale about the dance troupe and an Ella Howard lived near the Marcus home for much of Josie’s childhood.

It is very likely that Prescott’s Sadie Mansfield and Josie Marcus were one and the same. In Josie’s later stories about her life, she would mention being abandoned in Prescott in 1879 and that she was rescued by Al Seiber (Seiber lived in the area in 1873-75). She likely met Johnny Behan (who would become Wyatt Earp’s competition for the office of sheriff in Tombstone) while passing through Wickenberg (sources put him there at the same time as Sadie Marcus) and the two spent a great deal of time together in Prescott. Sadie Mansfield is later listed on census records as a courtesan in Top Top, Arizona, where Behan owned a saloon. Sadie Mansfield’s name also pops up in records in Tombstone.  While Josie always insisted that she was never a prostitute, Doc Holliday claimed she was. Josie’s own lies about that period of her life suggest she was trying to cover up events of those years.

Josie Marcus’s relationship with Johnny Behan was complicated. As Sadie Mansfield, she knew him in Wickenberg and in Prescott. Behan was married at the time but was known to frequent brothels and seemed to have a special bond with Sadie Mansfield, whom he took out for a night on the town in early 1875. His wife divorced him a short time later.  Josie shows back up in San Francisco for a few years, during which there is no record of Sadie in Prescott. In Josie’s tales, she is rescued and returned home where she becomes ill. She spoke of Johnny coming to San Fransisco with his son and (either then or on a different visit) proposing. She turned him down and he sent Kitty/Ida Jones to intercede. However, she so often mixed up dates, time spans, and details that it is difficult to sort out the order of events.

Josie claimed she ran away with the Pinafore dance troupe when she was young but this likely occurred in the fall of 1879 based on when the troupe was in business—an indication she may have run away twice.  At any rate, she again became involved with Behan and went with him to Tip Top. She was signing letters as Mrs. Johnny Behan in October of 1879 and is recorded as J. Marcus at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tombstone in May of 1880. In June, she was listed in the census in Tip Top (as Sadie Mansfield). These records help to track dates of Josie’s travels since her stories simply don’t match (taking trains before tracks were extended to certain locations, for example). She claims she arrive in Tombstone to marry Johnny Behan in fall of 1880 though it may have been as early as 1879.

Wyatt Earp and Josie Marcus met in Tombstone sometime in 1879 or 1880 during the time that Wyatt and Johnny Behan were competing for the office of sheriff. Within months, the two became involved and he was involved in an affair with her at the time of the shooting at the OK Corral in October of 1881. In February 1882, S. Mansfield is reported traveling by train to Colton, California—where Wyatt’s parents lived and where he likely sent her when death threats were made after the shooting.  After the “vendetta ride” and the fallout after it, Wyatt never returned to his wife Celie/Mattie Blaylock. He spent the rest of his life with Josie, the two claiming to have married after Mattie’s death. Josie never told a straight story about her years before Wyatt and never talked about Mattie. She relentlessly litigated against biographers who attempted to disclose any such information and actively supported the evolving legend of Wyatt Earp.

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