November 19, 1935

Josephine Earp, Wyatt Earp’s Jewish Widow, Admits Her Destitution to Earp’s Biographer

Autograph Letter Signed
3 pages
SMC 618
Writing to the biographer of her husband, the Jewish widow of Wyatt Earp offers to sell Stuart Lake a set of Bancroft’s history of the West; she would like to make a present of it, but cannot, as she needs money desperately. To that end, perhaps Lake might apply the value of the set to the “little debt” she owes him…

Lake, having worked as a professional wrestling promoter, a press aide to Theodore Roosevelt during the Bull Moose campaign, and then been run over by a truck in World War I, was well suited to deal with the widow Earp – who, in her weeds, was just as singular a character as in her fabled prime. What Sadie wanted, she told Lake after Wyatt’s death in 1929, was a “nice, clean story” which, presumably, would have left out the subject of her shifting affections from Sheriff Johnny Behan to Deputy Marshal Wyatt Earp – and, imaginably, much else. As Lake worked on his landmark biography, Sadie attempted to control the content, hasten the writing and tried to hamper him, he claimed, in every way possible. Sadie, on her part, insisted she was only protecting Earp’s memory, and in such dire of need of money, she needed the book done at once. She consulted lawyers; he complained to publishers. Their disagreements did not end, but were rather, exacerbated, when Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall came out in 1931, with Sadie insisting she never saw a penny from the book. This seems unlikely, though it was doubtlessly true she had no money – having, most likely, done with whatever came her what she had always done with cash: gambled it away.

This letter finds her conciliatory, and pleading:

After so long a time it seems I should be ashamed to write you, but…I am visiting my sister in Oakland who has just sold her home and as I had my things stored at her place I am here packing my things. Among them I found the Bancroft works, twenty nine volumes in all which… you expressed a wish you would like to have… Should you desire to have them you can direct me how to send them to you…. Much as I would like to present the books as a gift as at present I am so very short I can not do so but will place no price on same leaving that to you as to what in your estimation they are worth to you and feel that you will do the right thing by me and apply same on the little debt I owe you. At the present time I do need money so much.

Whether Lake bought the books and so “saved her” is unknown – but Sadie, typically, landed on her feet soon enough. She co-wrote and peddled a biography of Wyatt Earp; consulted on the 1939 remake of Frontier Marshall; and sued – unsuccessfully but in a friendly fashion - various members of her family over oil leases. 
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pages, quarto, Oakland, November 19, 1935. To Stuart N. Lake.
Read transcript Bookmark