I’m constantly pleasantly surprised by the Prime monthly book offerings from Amazon, which is where I found The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams. Most of us know about Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, right? It is, after all, one of the most famous Wild West stories about Tombstone, Arizona. But what about the woman behind the man? What do we know about her? Based on most of the stories we’ve seen on TV or read about the Wild West, you’d think there were no women of significance except for the occasional barmaid or madam. Thelma Adams must have been puzzled about this too, and she’s set out to correct that perception by writing The Last Woman Standing.
Now there were several women in Wyatt’s life at various times but he only married one, Josephine Marcus, and this is her story. It’s probably best described as a fictionalized biography since it contains biographical information but that information is relayed within a fictional narrative. I was mesmerized by it and couldn’t wait to share it with you.
Josephine Marcus grew up in an orthodox Jewish family of bakers in San Francisco. Theirs was a very traditional home which observed all of the tenets of their faith. It was expected that Josephine, like her sisters, would marry a nice Jewish man of her parents’ choosing and settle down into a life very similar to the one her parents had. That just shows how little they knew about who Josephine was deep inside.
She had always longed for adventure, much like her best friend did. A couple of decades after the Civil War, these two teens plotted and schemed and ran away from home to perform H.M.S. Pinafore with a traveling theatre troupe. That adventure didn’t last long and Josephine soon found herself back at home. If she thought she had a lot of rules before, now she was basically a prisoner in her own home. And her family let her know how shamed they felt by her behavior.
While traveling with the show, Josephine had met a charming man who was much enamored of her – Johnny Behan, a smooth lawman in Tombstone, Arizona. Johnny swore he was in love with her and wanted to marry her. He showered her with affection and gifts and he was determined to spring her from her home and family. To that end, he sent a woman to San Francisco to bring her back to Tombstone to be married to him. Her parents told her that if she went, they would disown her and that she would be dead to him since Johnny was not Jewish and they did not approve of him.
Josephine was so besotted that she didn’t listen, and soon she was on the stagecoach with her chaperone with only a few moments of sadness at leaving her family behind. She was, after all, embarking on a daring adventure to be with the man who loved her incredibly.
So, I can hear you right now saying, “Wait a minute. What does all this have to do with Wyatt Earp?” Patience, my friend, because this story has lots of twists and turns. What is that saying about the path to true love never running smooth? Well, this story proves that saying in spades.
Josephine is, after all, a sheltered and pampered teen without a clue about the real conditions in the Wild West town of Tombstone…and they don’t come much wilder. She also has little to no experience with men beyond those older men her family tried to foist onto her as beaus. All that is to say that she has no clue what she’s riding into on that stagecoach. Spoiler Alert: Let’s just say that Johnny Behan is not at all the man she thinks he is and his idea of marriage and hers are vastly different.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Josephine hasn’t arrived and even gotten the layers of dust off before she spots Wyatt Earp and his brothers, and is shocked at her reaction to him. She’s never reacted physically and emotionally to anyone – much less a complete stranger – like she does to the gorgeous Wyatt Earp. But she pushes all of that away since she’s engaged to Johnny. And thus begins a story filled with enough hairpin turns to make you think you’re going to get whiplash. And this is where I leave you dangling…sorry about that but saying more would definitely create huge spoilers.
Josephine Marcus is naïve and easily fooled, but what none of the much harder men or women who encounter her expect is that she has a backbone of steel and one smart and savvy brain to boot. She is dealt some extremely harsh life lessons in a very short time and she rises from the ashes over and over again. You’ve got to admire that. I can’t write my opinion of Johnny and his confederates here – let’s just say it’s a good thing he’s not around to hear what I think of him. Wyatt and his brothers are not angels but, comparatively speaking, they are the heroes of this story. Like most people in real life, they were trying to do what they thought was right even if it didn’t always work out that way.
Excerpt from an online interview with Thelma Adams: “…in the conventional history of gunfights and border skirmishes, law and order, Republican and Democrat, she only existed at his side on the frontier. And, then, she’s often portrayed as a floozy, an actress or dancer, a beautiful opportunist, an exotic, a Jewess. As a historian out of Berkeley, I knew that there were many alternate histories, and the history of women and the poor are not marked by battles won or lost. A social historian has to dig deeper and read between the records in order to discover what these forgotten people were about. Once I heard about Josie, I wanted to dig deeper and discover what made her tick…I knew that I could only get close to it through fiction, through imagining what impelled Josie from a good home in San Francisco to the dangers of Apaches and outlaws and scheming politicians in the Arizona territory, in Tombstone.”
Bottom Line: Thelma Adams is an excellent storyteller and her fascination with what made Josephine tick shines in this novel. I think she also had a wonderful subject in Josephine Marcus, and I’m so glad that she’s brought Josephine’s life to us. Why have we never heard of Wild West women like Josephine before? We need more of these kinds of stories because men were not the only ones to make their mark on the West when it was being founded. I loved every minute of The Last Woman Standing and I hope you will too!
Can’t wait to read it? The Last Woman Standing is available in every format from your favorite online bookseller. BTW: The e-book is free on Amazon if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, and it’s a bargain at $4.99 if you’re not.
I’d love to get your comment on The Last Woman Standing, Thelma Adams or her other work, and/or this review.