By Leah R. Harrison / email@example.com
In a highly descriptive, richly worded work of historical fiction, author and historian Thelma Adams brings us “The Last Woman Standing,” the plausible and surprising tale of Josephine Marcus, often referred to as the common-law wife of Wyatt Earp.
Josephine, the daughter of a loving Prussian-Jewish immigrant father and an emotionally absent mother, grew up in a home where “the air was thick with Ma’s unspoken criticism. Every prayer, even the HaMotzi over the bread Papa had made with his own hands, felt like a curse.”
Rather than dutifully proceed along the traditional path of a convenient arranged marriage, at 18 Josephine runs away with a performing troupe, resulting in an engagement to dapper cowboy and aspiring lawman Johnny Behan.
Lured from her “San Francisco home with a diamond ring and no wedding date,” this naïve yet adventurous city girl lands in Tombstone, Ariz., in October 1880, and at 19 she is “waiting for her real life to start.”
Adams writes prosaically of the booming, arid mining town, the intoxicating landscape, the cowboys and the crusty and sometimes questionable characters, the townspeople, and the valiant lawmen who strive to protect them. She describes the brave and steadfast Earp and his loyal band of brothers. She relates the politics and allegiances of the day, when “only fifteen years had passed since Union General Ulysses S. Grant accepted Confederate Robert E. Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox. While the officers officially ended the Civil War, they failed to cauterize wounds still seeping into the conflicts between cowboys and lawmen in the Arizona Territory.”
All these factors come into play in this tale of an audacious and pioneering first-generation Jewish daughter of a baker. It follows Josephine as she transitions from a gullible and trusting teenage girl to a brave and determined young woman, making her way through heartache and adversity in a rough and tumble Western town.
Although it includes infamous references and personalities, such as Doc Holliday and Wild Bill Hickok, as well as the fabled gunfight at the O.K. Corral, it is not a raucous western yarn told in the style of Larry McMurtry. Narrated with a feminine sensibility in the voice of Josephine, “The Last Woman Standing” is, at its heart, a love story of epic proportions. The reader is led on an emotional journey to see if, in the end, the good guys prevail and true love conquers all.