Setting History Straight
faces a Herculean challenge in confronting
Josephine Earp, who hooked up with Wyatt in
Tombstone and occupied his bed for the next
half century. A prolific and promiscuous
she littered the landscape with
her lies. She set about
concocting her past before she even had much
of one. She passed herself off as the
daughter of a prosperous German merchant
when she left San Francisco for the first
time in her mid-teens when her father was
actually a hard-working Polish baker of
While Josie ostensibly left home to tour with a production of HMS Pinafore, she left the chorus line for a brothel crib as soon the production got to Prescott, Arizona. She labored assiduously her entire life to deny and distort this period, referring to it obliquely as “the dark time,” but she stayed with it. It was in Prescott that she met and charmed Johnny Behan, who all but inhabited brothels, and he was sufficiently smitten to follow after her when she returned to San Francisco still in her teens.
Living at home again held little appeal for Josie and when Johnny Behan came by supposedly dangling a wedding proposal, she took off with him. Whether marriage was ever really in mind is doubtful— Behan wasn’t the faithful husband type — but she called herself his “fiancée” once they got to Tombstone. When no marriage materialized, her father scraped together $700 for her to return home, but she gave it to Behan to buy a house where they took up residence.
“There was simply too much excitement in the air to remain a child” Josie is widely quoted in explaining why she left home so young. The words put a charming and precocious whitewash on her real deeds — turning tricks as a teen under the name “Sadie” — and leave out that she was generating most of that excitement herself. She was one of those young women savvy from the start of her impact on men and instinctive in using that effect.
By her own account Josie matured physically early and could have passed for being older. Virgil’s wife Allie wrote of Josie that her “charms were undeniable . . . Sadie was an attractive woman with thick, dark hair, vivid black eyes, and was well-endowed.” A girlfriend called her looks “exotic” and joked “her bosom came around a corner before the rest of her did.” No less an astute judge of character than Bat Masterson called her the “belle of the honkytonks, the prettiest dame in three hundred or so of her kind.” Bat left no doubt just what “her kind” was.
A veteran prostitute by nineteen, Josie’s was very much Wyatt’s “kind” of gal. Once he became a bordello bouncer in his early twenties, Wyatt only consorted with “working girls.” This was certainly true of Mattie Blayllock, the common-law wife he brought with him to Tombstone; she continued whoring during her first years as Mrs. Wyatt Earp and killed herself with a drug overdose after Wyatt dumped her for a younger, more devious version in Josie.
By Michael Biehn and Jim Anderson