Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp was just thirty-three years old when the shootout at the O.K. Corral took place – he was eighty-one when he died. Anthony F. Hughes takes a look at his life after that famous showdown in Tombstone, Arizona.


“The greatest consolation I have in growing old is the hope that after I’m gone they’ll grant me the peaceful obscurity I haven’t been able to get in life.”

The above quote was uttered in late 1928 by the man who was christened Wyatt Berry Staff Earp back in the year 1848. A short time after he spoke those words to the writer – biographer, Stuart Lake, Wyatt Earp, the most famous of all the Old West Lawmen passed away peacefully in his Los Angeles home just before daybreak on Sunday January 13th, 1929 – he was almost eighty-one years old when he died.
He, unlike many of the bad men that he had known in his days as a frontier lawman, died in his bed with his boots off, his wife Josephine in attendance – the couple had no children.
Stuart Lake was a fairly frequent visitor to the Earp homestead in the year and a bit leading up to Wyatt’s death. During those visits the two men chatted and Lake made written notes – the outcome was a book which is the only authorised biography of ‘The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp’.

Earp didn’t live to see the book published but his wife did and she tried to prevent its publication – she claimed that Lake sensationalised his story with numerous inventions intended to make the book more saleable. She also had an issue with the book’s subtitle which spelled the word ‘gunfighter’. The publishers ultimately relented on that particular matter and entitled the biography ‘Wyatt Earp’, with the subtitle ‘Frontier Marshall’ as opposed to that of ‘Gunfighter’.

Now, as far as the book ‘never seeing’ the light of day’, well that was never going to happen – the publishers, Houghton Mifflin, and Lake suspected that they had a winner in their hands and as things turned out, their suspicions proved correct.

Given the fact that there was a lapse of approximately two years between Wyatt Earp’s death and the book’s publication, it’s almost certain that he never saw the finished manuscript. Lake, as such, had free reign (without contradiction from Earp) to magnify and thus sensationalise certain incidents in the deceased man’s life – just as his wife alleged he had done.
Now, if Josephine, had any reservations about anything defamatory pertaining to her personally was going to appear in the forthcoming book, she needent have been concerned – her full maiden name Josephine Sarah Marcus (who incidentally was a daughter of a San Francisco merchant) only appears once in the book and that is when she and Wyatt got married in the year 1902.
On the couple of occasions where she is mentioned thereafter she is referred to as his wife or Josephine, those mentions relating solely to the couple’s business interests.

If Lake had wanted to he could have written something along the lines:
Wyatt, shortly after his arrival in Tombstone took up with a woman called Josephine who was the common law wife of a blatantly corrupt man called Johnny Behan. Behan, the owner of one of Tombstone’s two local newspapers, was the Sheriff of Cochise County in which Tombstone was located.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons