by Ann Kirschner
Men like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have become the mythic heroes of the America West, and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral has passed from mere historic event into the land of legends. Yet the women who accompanied these men have largely been forgotten. Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, Wyatt's companion of nearly five decades, was a Jewish girl from San Francisco. In her youth, she landed in Tombstone, Arizona and met the love of her life. Together with Wyatt Earp, she traveled all over the country in search of new opportunities, from the Gold Rush boomtowns of Alaska to some of the greatest cities in California. During her lifetime, she frequently lied and changed the story about her background, making it difficult to trace what truly happened, but Ann Kirschner's access to new primary source documents allows this biography a fresh new take on the life of the companion of one of the Old West's most famous lawmen.
Josephine's story is undoubtedly a fascinating one – but unfortunately, it isn't told here. For example, the first chapter of the book, “A Jewish Girl in Tombstone”, focuses almost entirely on the Earp brothers and the drama that led up to the infamous O. K. Corral gunfight. Josephine is mentioned only as speculation – she “may have” and “could have” done many things, but exactly what she did remains unknown. This pattern continues in later chapters; in the chapter about Wyatt's time in Alaska we learn much about the history of the boom town Nome and Wyatt's business adventures, but frustratingly Josephine remains in the background. It isn't until Wyatt Earp passes away that Josephine finally becomes the focus of her own biography – and by then, she has become a cantankerous old woman scrabbling for money and trying to preserve Wyatt's heroic image while obscuring the more salient details of their past.
Sometimes it seemed like the author was trying to force Josephine into prominence in situations that she didn't seem especially central. In the introduction, Kirschner writes, “The Gunfight at the O. K. Corral was a love story, fought over Josephine Marcus” and “...the [shootout] where the central character was Josephine and the prize was love?” But in the chapter that wrote extensively about the O.K. Corral incident, there are a myriad of reasons given for the gunfight, and the 'love story' seems relatively minor in the sea of political and personal grudges.
It may be that there are too many divergent tellings of Josephine's life, since she frequently lied about her past, or it may be that information about her just isn't available. She is not the star of her own biography – once again, it is her fate to be overshadowed by her famous lover.
2 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Vacation: Weddingpalooza
2011: Matched by Ally Condie
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran