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Earlier this year I got my hands on a gold-plated Hopkins & Allen Czar revolver that has “SAN.FRANCISCO” engraved on the right octagonal barrel flat and “TO JOSEPHINE MARCUS” on the left barrel flat. When I found the gun at a mid-March sale of mostly Victorian-era opera and theater apparel in Hartford, Connecticut, it was all I could do to keep from crying out, “Do you have any idea how important this revolver is?” and “Doesn’t anyone here realize that Josephine Marcus was the future wife of Wyatt Earp?”

Could I have been any more excited? Sure, if I had found Wyatt Earp’s legendary Buntline Special, a foot-long-barreled Colt .45 single-action revolver that Western fiction writer Ned Buntline allegedly gave to Wyatt in 1876! Or maybe if I had located the never-found revolver used by Cowboy Tom McLaury (if one in fact existed, see related story, P. 34) at the so-called Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881! But, though I’ve collected antique arms since 1962, nothing so far has ever matched the excitement of my discovery in Hartford. Previously, my fellow collectors and I had only seen Czars with plain nickel finishes. This one not only was “gold mounted” but had apparently been given to one of the Old West’s most famous ladies—Josephine Sarah (“Sadie”) Marcus, who would become known as Josie Earp.

Although accounts about Josie (her family mostly called her Sadie) written by her hand and by other authors have sometimes muddled the facts, she was reportedly born in New York in 1861 and raised in San Francisco. While traveling in Arizona Territory with a dramatic troupe performing HMS Pinafore in 1879, the young dancer/actress met John H. Behan, who would become sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona Territory, in February 1881. Their acquaintance was renewed in Tombstone, where they lived together for a time, and she signed her name “Josephine Behan.” In the summer of 1881, Josie separated from Behan (after having caught him with another woman) and then took up with his political rival Wyatt Earp, although the latter already had a wife, Mattie. Josie was in Tombstone at the time of the famous October 1881 street fight, but not long after that she returned to her family in San Francisco. Wyatt rekindled the romance with Josie there in 1882, and they left early the following year for a long life of adventure (more than 45 years’ worth) together at a variety of Western locations from Arizona Territory to Alaska Territory. Although Josie probably married Wyatt (his wedding tuxedo is in the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, according to historian Lee Silva), there is no known record of when or where they got married in Arizona Territory. Wyatt died in January 1929, while Josie lived until December 1944. She and Wyatt were both cremated, and their ashes were buried in her family plot at a Jewish cemetery in Coloma, near San Francisco.

During the private sale in Hartford, I came across this snappy-looking .22-caliber, seven-shot revolver that appeared unfired (lack of any brass contact with the gold-washed flats of the rear of the cylinder) and well kept (the sporadic blackened oxidation on the face of the cylinder is the only evidence of aging). It was nearly hidden by a 19th-century ivory jewelry box marked “Sold.” Beautifully scroll-engraved on the frame, with a serpent-like chiseled design on the barrel, the revolver has a gold-plated cylinder and cylinder rod. The top strap is marked “CZAR.” (with a period after it). I knew by this trade brand it was a Hopkins & Allen product, especially with the upper flat of the barrel marked “Pat. Mch 28, 71 May 27, 79”—the patent dates of the endless low-cost, spur-trigger revolvers produced by Hopkins & Allen from roughly 1879 to 1900. The fancy hard rubber grips had the logo T & R at the top—the initials of Boston-based Turner and Ross, who were agents for Whitney revolvers and for the Hopkins & Allen Czar revolver.

Some advertisements indicated that these guns were sold under a contract to Czarist Russia (as reported in the Norwich, Conn., Bulletin in 1878). If so, the guns were likely presented as gifts to Russian army officers, since the weapons were too small and weak to be used as a military arm in the field. Although one of today’s least known of the Hopkins & Allen lines, the Czar was advertised in an 1880 Homer Fisher catalog as “The Famous CZAR Revolver, Gold Mounted Etc.” The 1895 Montgomery Ward and 1898 Hopkins & Allen catalogs had them priced at $1.75 with nickel-plated finish in .22 rimfire caliber and 3-inch barrel. The 1880 Turner & Ross catalog made some outrageous boasts, insisting that the Czar was “made from the finest English Steel,” was “the most accurate shooter in the United States at any price,” was “the most beautiful, appropriate and acceptable present you can give to a friend” and was guaranteed to be “equal to a Colt or Smith & Wesson in workmanship, material, and action.”

I was fortunate to buy the classy Czar for a mere $750. Obviously, nobody connected with the sale had the slightest clue of the significance of the name Josephine Marcus engraved on a fancy pocket revolver. No paperwork accompanied the little gem, which for many years was in a trunk with “other cluttered junk” at the Goodspeed Opera House (built in 1877 by shipping magnate William Goodspeed) in East Haddam, Conn. The trunk was removed during renovations to the opera house in the late 1950s. On what occasion Josephine Marcus was presented this gift—most likely by somebody in San Francisco, where Behan once went to propose to her—is a mystery. One can’t help but wonder if she had the gun in her possession at the time of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. I’m also most curious about when (before or after she hooked up with Wyatt Earp?) she parted with the revolver. Did she perhaps give it to an acting friend or else pawn it for cash? I hope to learn more about this .22-caliber prize in the months and years to come, but in the meantime, you can bet your bottom dollar that Josie never shot Behan with it or lent it to Tom McLaury.


Originally published in the October 2006 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here