LADY AT THE OK CORRAL is the biography of Josephine Marcus Earp, the woman who was Wyatt Earp’s common law wife for nearly 50 years, the woman who sparked the world’s most famous gunfight, the one who buried her husband in a Jewish cemetery after he died — in her bed — in 1929, and the one who shaped the legend of Wyatt Earp and the Wild West.
I’ve always been interested in how people’s lives are shaped by the accidents of history. My first book, Sala’s Gift, told the story of my mother, a Holocaust survivor who lived through five years of war as a Nazi slave laborer. I wrote that deeply personal story with the help of hundreds of letters that she received in labor camps, but then kept hidden after the war. My mother’s friends and family were a remarkable cast of characters; I wanted so much to bring them to life, as so few of them were alive to tell their own story.
How different this book appears to be — and yet I hope you will see the thread of re-invention and history that ties my interests together. I was first drawn to Josephine by the incongruity of a 19th century Jewish woman in Tombstone. When I was a kid, westerns dominated the networks, but the cowboys, Indians, and lawmen I watched on tv rarely had mothers, sisters, or wives. Now I was fascinated by the enigma of Mrs. Earp. For four years, the detective work of untangling her secrets led me from the boomtowns of Arizona to Nome, Alaska, and finally to California deserts and the Hollywood backlots where Josephine and Wyatt spent their final years.
My hope is to inspire and entertain once again with the story of a remarkable woman, an unforgettable marriage, and the frontier history that shaped America.
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“On an October afternoon in 1881, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, along with Doc Holliday, confronted a group of outlaws ‘in an open lot near the O.K. Corral’ in Arizona Territory; the ensuing barrage of gunfire became the stuff of legend. The Earps and Holliday emerged as heroes, but standing in the shadows was Wyatt’s fourth and final wife, Josephine, who, until now, was a specter of history. In this admiring and vivacious biography, Kirschner (Sala’s Gift) brings the frontierswoman into the limelight. Born in New York City to Prussian Jews, Josephine (1860–1944) was a rebellious and lively young lady who disliked school but became ‘infatuated with the stage’ after the family moved to San Francisco; there the aspiring thespian saw a performance of HMS Pinafore, and promptly joined a traveling acting troupe. By the time she was 20, Josephine had rolled into Tombstone, Arizona Territory, and met Wyatt Earp. The story follows the couple in search of new opportunities, from running a saloon in Alaska to getting in on the booming film industry in Hollywood. Kirschner’s fascinating profile captures the restless spirit of the frontier as deftly as it does Josephine’s energy, affection, and limitless appetite for adventure.”
— PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
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A simple question from a friend about why Earp was buried in a Jewish cemetery prompted Kirschner (Dean of Macaulay Honors College at CUNY; Sala’s Gift: My Mother’s Holocaust Story, 2006) to uncover the truth of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, the fourth wife and most constant companion of the famed frontier hero. The author mines letters, archives and manuscripts to tell Josephine’s story, panning for gold in a very muddy family history. After the showdown at the O.K. Corral and long before his death, newspapers and local lore had already made a legend of Wyatt and his family, with plenty of controversy and inconsistencies to fuel it further. To make matters more complicated, beautiful and theatrical Josephine was hard at work on her own self-made myth, burying her poor, Jewish origins and obscuring the more tragic, scandalous and, consequently, interesting periods of her life. From Tombstone to Nome to Los Angeles, Josephine created a maze of challenges for her future biographers, all of which Kirschner handles skillfully. Even with all of the rootless couple’s many adventures to recount, nearly half the book is an untangling of the drama that began just a few years before Wyatt’s death in 1929 and continued through the rest of Josephine’s life and into the next century. With vividness and certainty, Kirschner lays her story to rest at last. Tragedy, adventure, romance and scholarly investigation come together like pioneers to a boomtown, with something for Earp worshipers and casual readers alike.” – KIRKUS REVIEWS