Book Review: Lady at the O.K. Corral by Ann Kirschner

I had a thought the other day. The kind of thought that smacks you right between the eyes and adjusts how you see the world.

I used to believe that I was born in the wrong time because living in the last century would have been easier. I used to believe that people were as great as history wrote them.

Then I realized two important truths- humans are still humans regardless of the year and history didn’t write those stories, humans subject to human tendencies did.

These seem like obvious or unusual observations to make but reading biographies of two controversial characters in succession brought it to the forefront of my mind. These truths took root while reading Lady at the O.K. Corral by Ann Kirschner and further developed while reading Untamed Land about Pete French, written by Mark Highberger. Ann writes a very different view of Josephine Marcus Earp than the one we experience in films like Tombstone or Wyatt Earp. She was not the confident woman portrayed in the movies, nor was she allowed a public relationship with Wyatt Earp during their time in Tombstone. These are not facts that sell movies though, so they were conveniently omitted to satisfy a shortened timeline.

Josephine was the quintessential teen brought up in a religious household only to rebel when opportunity arrived. She and a friend ran away from home with an acting company that spent time in Tombstone. Despite this, she always kept strong ties with her family, returning there several times throughout her life. Josephine was only actress for a short time, making it a relatively small part of her story. Her identity was, and forever is, tied to the title of Mrs. Wyatt Earp.

It always bothered Josephine that her and Wyatt were never legally married but carried his name, regardless. That is what ladies of society did, the true circle she longed to be recognized in. Between Wyatt’s business decisions and their love of adventure, Josephine rarely found herself in the life she envisioned. However, she was loyal to him, despite his indiscretions over the years. She followed him to California, Nevada, Idaho, and even the Yukon of Alaska.

Josephine lived an interesting life but not because of a theatrical recreation of history in Tombstone. She lived life as an entrepreneur’s wife on the road to the next boom town, acting as self-appointed Public Relations Specialist for her common law husband before the title ever existed. The story left behind by the author of Lady at the O.K. Corral offers a few too many apologies for the lonely, struggling woman Josephine became in life after Wyatt. The movies offer an embellished version of the rather common woman Josephine was. Hopefully, we can read between the agendas and human emotion to see her for who she really was- an average woman doing her best to chase love, adventure, and all the best things in life.

I purchased this book at Boot Hill, a side trip of my Cochise Cowboy Poetry Gathering adventure, earlier this year. If you can't get to Tombstone, order from Amazon here