Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wyatt Earp: Knight With A Six-Shooter


"Wyatt never tamed Josie no one could but he captivated and held her

with his flair for constantly finding adventure."

Glenn G. Boyer, author

Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp (Glenn Boyer)
Josephine Sarah
Marcus Earp (Glenn

Josephine Sarah Marcus, a small 18-year-old angel-faced actress, was probably very responsible albeit inadvertently for causing the events that led to the greatest gunfight in the Old West. This bewitching, dark-haired woman had come to Tombstone with a traveling theatre troupe performing Gilbert & Sullivans HMS Pinafore in 1879, fell in love with County Sheriff John Behan, and stayed. From a wealthy merchant family in San Francisco, Josephine or Josie, as she preferred was used to getting her way. The recently divorced Behan promised her the moon.

When Wyatt appeared on the scene, he and Josie immediately fell in love. (In a twist of fate, Behan had introduced the two.) To Wyatt, Josie provided a fresh outlet from the growing problems in his relationship with Mattie; her laudanum dependency had worsened and, even before Josie appeared in the picture, she was rabidly possessive of Wyatt. To Josie, it didnt matter that he was 13 years older than she was; she thought him the best-looking man in Tombstone. Never one for propriety, she would hang on him evenings at his faro table. Tongues wagged.

Mattie spent much of her time in the company of Virgils wife, Addie, and Morgans wife, Louisa; the respective Earps lived near each other on upper Fremont Street. While the three women hadnt been particularly close before, they now found Josie, whom they considered a trollop, a common denominator. They condemned Wyatts "desertion," although he continued to remain with Mattie the entire time. But, the disharmony was adding domestic strain among the Earp clan.

To add to Wyatts troubles, Clanton allies were causing mayhem. Behan had adamantly refused to accept Josies sincere apologies and fell in deeper with the Clantons to warp the Earps at every turn. Now holding a personal grudge, he vowed to help the rustlers rid Tombstone of bothersome Wyatt and his brothers as soon as possible.

In July, 1880, Wyatt accepted a job as deputy sheriff under Chief Marshal Fred White if only to stabilize the Earp presence in Tombstone, which was being threatened by their enemies. Because John Behan had offered him the job, Wyatt sensed a setup and, pondering it, came to the conclusion that it was a move designed to keep him too preoccupied from guarding Wells Fargo shipments. In a splendid coup detat, after Wyatt took office he convinced Wells Fargo to hire brother Morgan as the new guard in his place.

The Clantons were furious. That plan gone haywire, they next tried defamation; they worked overtime to power the rumor mill, citing the liaisons between their new deputy sheriff and Josie. When Doc Holliday came to town with "Big Nose Kate," the Clantons wasted no time to point out Wyatts relationship with "that killer Holliday". After a Kinnear & Company stage was held up outside town, resulting in the slayings of its driver Budd Philpot and a passenger named Pete Roerig, Behan got "Big Nose Kate" drunk and made her sign an affidavit naming her man as one of the thieves. By the time Doc was arrested, however, Kate sobered and confessed that she was coaxed into signing something she didnt understand. Doc was released.

Wyatt and his deputies had gone after the robbers, for that matter, and had arrested a Clanton hanger-on named Luther King who, under pressure, had confessed to taking part in the crime. But, after the arrest, John Behan argued that King was his prisoner, since the crime was territorial, not city. Suspiciously, King escaped from Behans jail. And it was then apparent to Wyatt that Doc had been shanghaied as an intended sacrificial lamb, and that King was released as to not implicate the real perpetrators of the holdup.

The feud was quickly turning into a personal fight, something Wyatt had tried to avoid. He had even made overtures of peace, but to no avail. For one, he had come to the aid of Clanton ally Billy Brocius after he was accused of killing Marshal Fred White. Wyatt had witnessed the incident and explained in court that Brocius, being drunk and asked to surrender his guns, did as White had asked but that his gun, half cocked, went off accidentally.

Ike Clanton
Ike Clanton

In the meantime, the Clantons continued to rustle cattle from Mexico. The Earps, through the early months of 1881, could not make a full move against them because rustling was a county matter and John Behan was the county. The gap widened, and, as a result, the town was dividing into two camps, the general citizenship supporting the Earps and the politically strong outlaw element, with Behan in control, upholding the Clantons. Each side even owned its own newspaper. The Epitaph, published by John Clum (a member of the towns business-backed Citizens Safety Committee), condemned the under-the-table money flow that kept the Clantons criminally active, while the Tombstone Daily Nugget, published by Harry Woods (John Behans Undersheriff), sulked at the conservatives interference into Clanton family affairs.

Events, a piece at a time, now moved rapidly toward a final showdown. Old Man Clanton was shot and killed by a band of vaqueros during a rustling attempt below the border; his eldest son Ike, whose rush judgments would prove fatal, took the family reins. Also, in the heat of summer, 1881, a fire swept the business district of Tombstone and the citizens blamed Marshall Ben Sippy for not controlling the looting that followed; Virgil Earp, the senior deputy, was appointed marshal, a move that antagonized the already-hostile Clantons.

And, of course, there was Josie who continued to see Wyatt. While she made all effort to remain apart from the bad blood churning between the factions, the sight of her riled Behan all over again.


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