Wyatt Earp and Josie Marcus met in Tombstone and roamed the West together.
Surprisingly, one of the questions I have been asked most often during my 25 years of research on the legend of Wyatt Earp has nothing to do with the famous 1881 gunfight near the O.K. Corral or the size of his six-shooter. That question is, Were Wyatt and Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, who met in Tombstone and spent 47 years together as husband and wife, legally married?
I, frankly, just hadn’t cared whether or not Wyatt and Josie, as she was commonly known, had ever stood before a preacher. Nevertheless, during my early research I did learn some interesting bits and pieces that provide strong oral history that Wyatt and Josie had, indeed, officially tied the marital knot.
I interviewed Ray Enz and his sister Alice in Vidal, Calif., in 1988. Ray was born in 1915 and Alice in 1913. As youngsters in the 1920s they had lived in Vidal, where their grandfather John Harger had a merchandise store and sold mining supplies to Wyatt Earp for Wyatt’s claims in the nearby Whipple Mountains. Both Enzes got to know Wyatt and Josie intimately, and Ray often accompanied Wyatt to his claims.
After Wyatt died in 1929, Josie gave Ray the tuxedo jacket (with tails) and gold-colored vest Wyatt had worn when he married Josie. In 1984 Ray gave the jacket and vest to an Earp historian to donate to a museum, along with a notarized statement of facts verifying their history. But Ray couldn’t remember the name of the historian or the museum, and neither he nor his sister could remember when the wedding had been.
I had thought that this evidence of Wyatt’s wedding ended there. But when I met Earp historian Truman Fisher, I discovered that it had been he to whom Enz had given the jacket and vest, and that Fisher, in turn, had donated them to John Bianchi’s Frontier Museum in Temecula, Calif. And the jacket and vest had, in turn, gone into the Autry Western Heritage Museum (now the Autry National Center) in Los Angles when Bianchi sold out his museum to the Autry in 1985. I documented the valuable history of the tuxedo jacket and vest for Autry curator James Nottage, but ever since Nottage left the museum, no one there seems to know what happened to these Earp “wedding” clothes.
In 1988 Earp historian Glenn Boyer gave me the name and address of Marjorie MacCartney, the granddaughter of Josie’s sister Henrietta. Mrs. MacCartney told me that Wyatt and Josie had definitely been married, but she couldn’t remember where or when. So she suggested I go to Bakersfield, Calif., and contact George Scofield, whose father, Fred, had been involved in various “business” ventures with Wyatt all his life. And Fred Scofield becomes a key figure in the question of whether Wyatt and Josie were actually married.
George Scofield was terminally ill and not up to talking to me. But his wife, Thelma, said that Fred Scofield and Wyatt had hooked up in Tombstone during its halcyon days, and Fred had secretly been a liaison for Wyatt’s federal posse during Wyatt’s vendetta ride after the Cowboys had assassinated Morgan Earp in March 1882. As the story was told to me, Scofield had covertly delivered messages and supplies to the posse during that time.
Born in Michigan in 1858, Frederick Newton Scofield was a mining and real estate speculator when he moved to Phoenix in either 1879 or ’80. After the legend-making Tombstone days of the early 1880s, Scofield was involved in real estate with Wyatt in San Diego in the late 1880s. Scofield then relocated back to Arizona Territory and earned the rank of captain in the Arizona National Guard. Cut from the same cloth as Wyatt, Scofield was something of a wandering rogue and was involved in horse racing. He was even arrested during a “legal” faro game in Los Angeles in 1892.
After the turn of the century Scofield moved to Bakersfield, where he got rich in the oil boom there and probably also influenced Wyatt to join him in oil field speculation. According to that city’s Daily Californian, Schofield won a shooting match on New Year’s Day 1906 with a score of 91 out of a possible 100. His March 18, 1937, obituary in The Bakersfield Californian states, “For many years he resided at Phoenix, Ariz., where he was associated with Wyatt Earp in numerous mining ventures.” And the Los Angeles Times of March 19, 1937, headlined Scofield’s obituary with WYATT EARP ASSOCIATE DIES in a size 10 times larger than the letters in Scofield’s name. “He was also interested in an Alaska mining venture,” the obit reads. “For many years he was associated with Wyatt Earp, famous Western law officer, in mining ventures.”
So Wyatt and Scofield were “business friends” in Arizona Territory and California. But Scofield does not show up in any Tombstone census. The earliest I can place him there is February 13, 1886, when The Daily Tombstone noted there was a letter addressed to him at the post office. And in 1887 Scofield divorced his first wife, Fanny Kigar, in Tombstone. Interestingly, however, Scofield does not show up in any census for Phoenix or Tucson either. Because of his peripatetic mining and real-estate ventures, Schofield apparently slipped through the cracks of Earp history during Tombstone’s glory days.
So what does Scofield have to do with the Wyatt Earp marriage? His daughter-in-law Thelma Scofield also sent me to a rest home in Santa Cruz, Calif., to look up Jesse Sinclair, Scofield’s son-in-law. According to Sinclair, Josie had never learned how to drive a car, so after Wyatt’s death in 1929, Sinclair had often driven her around L.A. Josie had told him that she and Wyatt had gotten married in Arizona, but he couldn‘t remember in what town. And Sinclair also told me that Fred Scofield had been the best man at the Wyatt-Josie wedding.
And there are other tidbits that provide further evidence there was an official marriage.
In Suppressed Murder of Wyatt Earp and I Married Wyatt Earp, Glenn Boyer notes that, according to Marcus family history, Wyatt and Josie were married aboard Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin’s yacht. Land speculator Baldwin, who at one time was considered the richest man in California, was heavily involved with Wyatt in horse racing and gambling in southern California in the 1880s and ’90s. But in 1988 when I interviewed Sandy Snyder, who had done her Ph.D. thesis on Baldwin and was curator of the Los Angeles County Arboretum at Baldwin’s Santa Anita Ranch, she assured me that Lucky had never even owned a yacht.
In Los Angeles in 1908, Wyatt and Josie testified as husband and wife as witnesses in the sensational murder trial of a friend of theirs, Estelle Corwell, for shooting and killing her paramour, George T. Bennett. But I don’t know if either Wyatt or Josie actually swore under oath that they were legally married. And interestingly, the Los Angeles Times of January 23, 1908, featured a drawing of Wyatt (see image on opposite page) as a lead-in to his testimony.
In the 1910 federal census for Los Angeles, Wyatt is listed as head of household, 62 years old, occupation “miner” in “gold and copper.” Josephine Earp, 41 years old, is officially listed as his “wife.” And both entries state they had been married for 25 years, which would make the year of their marriage 1885.
In March 1929, just two months after Wyatt died, his biographer Stuart Lake filled out a three-page form for an Earp entry in the Encyclopedia Americana. Lake wrote that Wyatt and Josie had been married in San Francisco in 1886.
And after Wyatt died in 1929, Josie gave or sold a batch of photos, letters, a Colt revolver in a holster and Wyatt’s wedding ring to famed Arctic/Antarctic explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, who named his Antarctic support ship Wyatt Earp; Ellsworth’s widow, in turn, donated most of it, including the ring, to the Arizona Historical Society in 1987.
So there you have it. When all of this information is stirred into the stewpot, we have Wyatt’s wedding tuxedo jacket and vest, the name of his best man, Wyatt’s wedding ring, and the claim that the wedding had taken place somewhere in Arizona or in San Francisco in either 1885 or 1886. And so, I am one historian who is convinced that the marriage did take place, even though the question of where or when remains unanswered.
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.