Why Wyatt Earp is Buried in a Jewish Cemetery

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

The incredibly happy marriage of Wyatt Earp and Josie Marcus.

Wyatt Earp a Jew? Well, no, but he is buried in a Jewish Cemetery. Why? Read on...

In 1867, Josephine Sarah Marcus moved with her observant, immigrant, German-Jewish parents from Brooklyn, New York to San Francisco. She said her prayers every day and was taught a by-the-books good Jewish education. In 1879, young Josie was exposed to the romance of the San Francisco gold rush era.

After seeing the Gilbert and Sullivan play H.M.S. Pinafore at the age of 18, Josie caught the show biz bug. She ran away with a friend and joined the company touring the U.S. When the troupe played Tombstone, Arizona, she fell in love with the corrupt city marshal Johnny Behan. Ironically, it was Behan who introduced Josie to Wyatt Earp.

Josie and Wyatt were to soon fall in deeply in love and be married for some 50 years. The marriage was, by all accounts, a joyous one.

While we know much, factually, of Josephine Marcus, Wyatt Earp, while a true legend, had a checkered, disputed, and much-debated life history. While it is certain that Wyatt, then a U.S. Marshal, participated in the legendary "gunfight at the O.K. Corral" in 1881, the facts of that historic day remain foggy.

Wyatt, along with his brothers Morgan and Virgil and friend Doc Holliday, did participate in the shooting of the Clanton gang. The fight injured both Morgan and Virgil, while three of the Clantons were killed. The Clantons claimed it was a deliberate set-upĀ  and that the Earps waited for them and drew first, while the Earp side claimed the Clantons drew their pistols first.

During the shoot-out, Josie heard the gunshots from down the street. She ran from her house, hopped on a passing wagon and came down to the O.K. Corral. In Josie's own words: "I didn't know at the time who was wounded and I was all too frightened ...I almost swooned when I saw Wyatt's tall figure very much alive... He spotted me and (with companions) came across the street. Like a feather-brained girl, my only thought was 'My God, I haven't got a bonnet on. What will they think?'"

(Hardly a pleasing account for latter-day feminists to read, I'm sure -but remember, political correctness was still almost 100 years in the future.)

The courts saw fit to acquit Wyatt and the boys on the grounds of self-defense. The verdict caused a huge stir with many, not the least of which was the angry Clanton gang. The Clantons, in a revenge attack, ambushed Wyatt and killed his beloved brother Morgan. After that, Wyatt and Doc Holliday, along with others, raided various hideouts, killing anyone they suspected had a hand in Morgan's death.

Now on the lam from the law, Wyatt and Josie moved to Gunnison, Colorado, where the law refused to extradite Wyatt -on the grounds that he couldn't get a fair trial. After that, Wyatt and Josie led the happy life of a storybook couple from a Hollywood movie.

Appearing everywhere a gold, silver, or copper boom town appeared, the Earps were there to stake their claim. They invested in mines, and real estate, and operated saloons and gambling parlors in such far-flung places as Nome, Alaska and Eagle City, Idaho. For a while, they lived with Josie's parents in San Francisco. It was here that Josie resumed some of the lessons of her Jewish upbringing.

Later, they settled in southern California and raised racehorses and lived off gambling winnings and real estate speculation. In the 1920s, they invested in oil wells, worked on Wyatt's autobiography, and drafted a screenplay about his days as a frontier marshal. Sadly, the screenplay was never produced. A journalist named Stuart Lake wanted to make the project, but he and Josie argued about his vision, which she thought was unflattering to her beloved husband.

Wyatt Earp died in 1929, after a half-century of happiness, fun, and adventure with his darling Josie. In 1931, a book, Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal was published. Josie made sure all the offending passages in the book were stricken. The book was hugely popular. Wyatt Earp mania followed, and to this day, Wyatt Earp is one of the true American icons and legends of the Old West. At least three films have been made about Wyatt and the "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." (The best by far is Tombstone (1993) -my all-time favorite Western. Kurt Russell nails the role of Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer also gives his best performance as Doc Holliday. I highly recommend this film.)

Widowed Josie had her beloved Wyatt's ashes buried in the family plot at the Little Hills of Eternity Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Colma, California. One can surmise that as Josie's parents were both buried in this cemetery, and Josie knew that when her time came, she would be buried beside her parents. She and Wyatt probably discussed the matter, and Wyatt, having no record of anti-Semitism and adoring his wife, probably just said, "Sure."

Wyatt Earp was not Jewish, but his grave is surrounded by gravestones adorned with Stars of David and menorahs. Josie died in 1944, and was buried next to Wyatt.

Of course, the Earp gravesite is the most visited and popular tourist attraction in Colma. A simple, flat plaque anchors the Earps' joint gravesite, unlike the other graves around it, which are mostly upright, stone graves. Josie once had a 250-pound block of concrete installed to mark Wyatt's grave. Incredibly, in 1957, the concrete marker was stolen. We can presume, by huge Wyatt Earp fans!

(Image credit: Flickr user Joel Meadows)

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In regards to the OK Corral shootout, only ONE Clanton was murdered (Billy Clanton, believed to be 19 years old)
The other two men who died were Frank and Tom McLaury.
And Wyatt had a common law wife named Mattie Blaylock at the time he met Josie.
They split up around the time his affair with Josiae started.
Mattie died in 1888 from an overdose of laudanum and alcohol.
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Earp spent his last days in Oakland across the bay from Colma. The town of Colma is famous for having a population of about 1.5 million. Only 3,400 or so are alive. Graveyards as far as the eye can see. Just south of San Francisco - "the city that waits to die" (earthquakes). Colma is the city that waits for the city that waits to die - to die! Check out the little movie available on Netflix titled Colma - some interesting dance scenes in the graveyards......
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