Book Review: Mrs. Earp, by Sherry Monahan

By Lee Silva
5/2/2014 • Drafts, Wild West Reviews, Women's History

Mrs. Earp: The Wives and Lovers of the Earp Brothers, by Sherry Monahan, TwoDot, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Conn., and Helena, Mont., 2013, $16.95

When I started my Wyatt Earp research in 1988, I was more interested in the blood and thunder of the making of the Earp legend than I was in the trivia about Wyatt’s personal life. But my late wife, Sue, finally woke me up to the fact that the women of today want to know more than the blood and thunder. They want to know about the women of the Old West, too—those usually nameless women who stood behind the men who created the legends. And that is exactly what award-winning historian Sherry Monahan has brought us with this book.

There were six Earp brothers in all, but the oldest, half-brother Newton, always strayed on a different path than the other five legend-making full brothers—James, Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan and Warren. So Monahan doesn’t include Newton in her book. But she has given each one of the five full brothers a separate chapter in it, with the largest chapter devoted to—who else?—Wyatt.

Book reviewers are also called book critics. But I can find nothing major to criticize in this book. It’s a good, easy read, and Monahan’s storytelling style flows along nicely to an ending that comes all too soon. If I have to nitpick, I would like to have seen a more extensive index and more in-depth footnotes, and my one and only criticism is the question of why the publisher’s art department used as cover art a 20th-century revolver that has nothing to do with the Earp legend. There are a few other curves in the road. For example, I don’t agree with Monahan’s assessment that a prostitute named Sarah Haspel was Wyatt Earp’s “second” wife. But one surprise in the book is that younger brother Warren was probably married. As most Earp aficionados know, James Earp was involved with prostitutes for most of his life. And anti-Earp historians delight in smearing the Wyatt Earp legend with his own early 1870s involvement with prostitution before he settled down with “third wife” Josephine Sarah Marcus for the rest of his life.

Monahan is a dedicated researcher who has built herself a reputation for digging up facts most of us would have missed. That’s why her books are always a delight to read. She is also well known as an Old West food historian; two of her previous books are Taste of Tombstone and Tombstone’s Treasure: Silver Mines & Golden Saloons. If you want to know more about the Earps than who shot first and who shot who in the gunfight near the O.K. Corral, then this is a must-have little book for your library.

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