You're probably familiar with the name Wyatt Earp. He was, after all, a notorious gambler and gunmen and one of the famous lawmen who fought the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But are you familiar with the woman who captured the heart of this wild west policeman — his common law wife, Josephine Marcus? In The Last Woman Standing: A Novel of Mrs. Wyatt Earp, Thelma Adams tells the love story of these very real historical figures through the eyes of Josephine.
In 1881, Josephine Marcus — a gutsy, beautiful Jewish woman — captured the heart of Wyatt Earp while they both lived in Tombstone, Arizona. But she didn't come to Tombstone for Wyatt; in fact, she was living with another man at the time — John Harris "Johnny" Behan, another lawman in the area, and a man who'd declared Wyatt Earp his sworn enemy. Years before meeting Earp, Josephine left San Francisco, where she lived with her family, and moved Arizona with the much-older Johnny, who'd promised to marry her. The Last Woman Standing blends fact and fiction to tell her story and the story of her romance with Earp, a man she called her husband until his death at age 80.
In the exclusive excerpt below, Josephine's fiancé, Johnny, takes her to dinner at the Grand Hotel. There, she drinks champagne and nearly succumbs to his smooth-talking charm. You'll get a real feel for the personality of Josephine, a woman who moved to Arizona on the arm of a charismatic sheriff and snatched the hearts of not one, but two, notorious lawmen. Read the excerpt below, and order The Last Woman Standing, available now from Lake Union Publishing.
As midnight approached, Johnny rose from his chair and knelt beside me in the dining room of the Grand Hotel. I felt light-headed and desperately in love. I was both free in the world and attached to a man who adored me. Even if I couldn’t carry a tune, my life would be a song, a duet. Confidence bubbled up inside me. The words I’d never before spoken to a man besides my father flew out of my mouth: “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Josephine Marcus. You’re a gambler, and you’ve doubled down on me.”
A pause followed while I awaited the marriage proposal expected from a gentleman on his knees. It didn’t happen.
I could have said “Marry me” right then and sent Johnny sprinting for the justice of the peace. But I followed Johnny’s lead as he rose with just the slightest of creaks and eased back my chair. Together, we waltzed out of the dining room under the curious stares of strangers.
In the lobby, I approached the porter who held the glass doors ajar. Beyond, Allen Street was as lively at midnight as it was at noon. Johnny caught my elbow and aimed me toward the staircase. We climbed beside the mahogany banisters. By the fourth step, I felt like a girl being jerked awake from a dream where I was flying over the city, hand in hand with a loving friend. By the seventh, my fingers had stiffened in Johnny’s grasp, his hand on my lower back less supportive than urging. I fully awoke from my dreamlike state to a figure dominating the landing above. She had a heavily powdered, pale moon face under a ruler-straight center part, her dark curls escaped and frizzed from ringlets that must have been tight as wood shavings earlier that night. Around her neck she wore five silver necklaces, some with topazes, some turquoise, and one with a large, scrolled heart-shaped locket. She stared down the remaining steps with black-flecked sapphire eyes. In Spanish-accented English, she said, “Evening, Johnny,” with a soft J.
“Miss Timberline.” Johnny nodded with a pleasant reserve, as if it was noon and he’d encountered the town librarian on the boardwalk.
“Ah, tonight I’m a Miss.” The woman pulled lavender gloves over ringed fingers. “Are you working the bar later?”
“Then I suppose I’ll see you mañana. Like you, the sun goes down and I go to work.” Miss Timberline descended two steps, kicking the pleat of her turquoise silk skirt ahead of her. It rustled like dry leaves. She stopped, adjusting her right glove as she peered down myopically at Johnny and me. I could smell the heavy attar of roses she wore. “So, this is the blushing bride.”
On cue, I reddened from my collarbones to my scalp. I looked back toward the safety of the lobby, where I saw the eager faces of the porter and the maître d’.
“Guilty as charged,” Miss Timberline said throatily. She crossed so near on the wide steps that our skirts rubbed against each other, the jewel-toned turquoise of hers making my traveling dress appear flat and worn. I watched her swish downstairs and disappear into the bar.
A door opened above. A stout old man emerged, half-hidden behind a dense white beard that floated out ahead of his chin and was of a piece with spiny sideburns. His white eyebrows extended like awnings over deep-set, canny eyes. Well into his sixties, he struggled to fasten his last vest button with rough fingers. He stopped to check his pocket watch and then descended. He nodded at Johnny conspiratorially and said with excessive ceremony, “Mr. Behan.”
“Mr. Clanton.” Johnny led me up past the man, who smelled of attar of roses mixed with cigar and sour sweat.
“Where are we going, Johnny?”
“Upstairs. I want to show you the fine suites with their Eastlake furnishings. You’ve never seen anything like them, even in San Francisco!”
“I doubt I have.” My feet turned mulish and stopped one step below the landing. I steadied myself on the banister, leaning away from my fiancé.
And then it clicked: the attar of roses, the upstairs rooms, the Champagne. I was instantly sober. And furious.
My mother’s scolding dominated my thoughts: That man just wants to take advantage. That she might have been right stirred my rage. While I was a virgin, I was not entirely naive. My older sister Rebecca had been unpleasantly surprised on her wedding night. “He wanted to put that thing where?” It had been a shock. Always protective, Becca had refused to let me remain ignorant. Since Ma delivered dire warnings on the subject without adequate enlightenment, Rebecca initiated my lessons in human reproduction. Sitting me down, my sister distilled the facts of life. While she avoided the topic of pleasure (perhaps because she lacked empirical knowledge), Rebecca had explained intercourse with scientific specificity.
After the mechanics, my sister turned to more practical advice tailored to my reckless nature. Using a rough drawing, she outlined what I could and could not do before a wedding ceremony. I’d paid sufficient attention to know that going upstairs in a hotel with a man not your husband would not be conducive to keeping that line well drawn. I said to Johnny, my voice small and uncertain: “I cannot follow you any farther.”
Johnny stood above me on the landing. “But you are my bride.”
“Not yet, although you make me blush. I am your fiancée, and that allows certain privileges, but not carte blanche.”
“In Tombstone, we’re as good as married.”
“Tombstone is not the world.”
“But it’s our world, Josie dear.” Johnny removed a room key from his vest pocket and stretched to place it in my hand.
I refused with two open palms raised to Johnny, hands that had never slapped a man but seemed to know instinctively how it was done. “I have a ring, but no license.”
“On my honor, you have my undying love.” Johnny, smooth and gracious, stepped down to raise me up.
“If you bought a piece of land, you’d want the security of a deed,” I said. “You wouldn’t build a house on a handshake.”
“My love is your security, my heart your collateral,” Johnny said. “Let’s not discuss this here. Let’s go where it’s private.”
“No, sir, not until we wed.” Rebecca would be proud. I turned my back on Johnny and began my descent. The maître d’ and the porter hovered below. When I glanced back, Johnny smiled graciously, accepting momentary defeat as he followed in my footsteps. He gently took my bare forearm from behind and kissed it softly, slowly above the wrist, moving back the fabric ruffles of my three-quarter sleeves with his lips. Enflamed, I nearly spurned Rebecca’s advice. I almost took the key. My feet wanted to climb those stairs, to end the tension. But Johnny was already guiding me down, stepping ahead to lead me as if it was he who had second thoughts. The maître d’ scowled after him, wringing his arthritic hands.
Johnny's friend Kitty later told me in a moment of spite that the maître d’ was among the many sporting gents in attendance who’d bet cash money on Johnny’s ability to keep me upstairs and take my virginity by morning. I won. He lost.
Johnny did not appreciate my disloyalty.