A Novel of The O.K. Corral
By Mary Doria Russell
All nations have their cultural myths. Fantastic stories
from their histories that helped define their national personas. In the Scandinavian
countries it was the myths of the Norse Gods that inspired the Vikings. Great Britain was founded on the tales of King
Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table whereas in America, the post Civil War era of
the Wild West would forever shape our future character. And no single event
from that period was more poignant in myth-making that the Gunfight at the O.K.
From books to movies, that thirty second gun battle on a
dusty street in Tombstone, Arizona on Oct 26, 1881 has continued to
spellbind us a hundred and forty years later. In her long and brilliantly
written novel, Mary Doria Russell paints an all encompassing narrative of both
the characters and the tumultuous times in which they lived. Her primary
character through most of the tale isn’t either the Earps or their Cow Boy
enemies, but one Josephine Sarah Marcus who would eventually become Mrs. Wyatt
Born in 1862, Josephine, called Sadie by her Jewish
immigrant parents, grew up in Brooklyn and then San Francisco where the family moved when she
was a teen. Her father was a baker and she learned the skill from him. Still
Sadie had an obsession with the stage and at the age of 16 ran away with a theater
group. It toured hundreds of cities throughout the west and ultimately landed
her in Tombstone
where she soon became the mistress of the Irish Town Sheriff, Johnny Behan.
In reading “Epitaph” we were constantly reminded of scenes from the wonderful film “Tombstone” which starred Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Yet Russell’s story rips away the sanitized Hollywood version for a more historically accurate portrayal of the Earp wives to include Sadie. She also delves into the psychological backgrounds of Wyatt, a quiet solitary figure, and the tragic melancholy Doc, a dentist turned gunfighter. In doing so she fills in so many gaps no mere two hour movie could ever reveal and offers up a very real, haunting story. One we thoroughly enjoyed and won’t soon forget.