The Last Woman Standing
By Thelma Adams
Author’s Website: thelmaadams.com
Two decades after the Civil War, Josephine Marcus, the teenage daughter of Jewish immigrants, is lured west with the promise of marriage to Johnny Behan, one of Arizona’s famous lawmen. She leaves her San Francisco home to join Behan in Tombstone, Arizona, a magnet for miners (and outlaws) attracted by the silver boom. Though united by the glint of metal, Tombstone is plagued by divided loyalties: between Confederates and Unionists, Lincoln Republicans and Democrats.
But when the silver-tongued Behan proves unreliable, it is legendary frontiersman Wyatt Earp who emerges as Josephine’s match. As the couple’s romance sparks, Behan’s jealousy ignites a rivalry destined for the history books…
At once an epic account of an improbable romance and a retelling of an iconic American tale, The Last Woman Standing recalls the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral through the eyes of a spunky heroine who sought her happy ending in a lawless outpost—with a fierce will and an unflagging spirit (Goodreads).
The Last Woman Standing is a fictionalized account of the life of Josephine Marcus, common law wife of Arizona lawman/ gambler Wyatt Earp for several decades. Included is an account of the shootout at the OK Corral, a pivotal event in the lives of Earp and his brothers as well as in Tombstone, Arizona, the ‘town too tough to die’.
Josephine was a teenager when arriving in Tombstone in 1880 to marry Johnny Behan, who she had met on an earlier trip to AZ. When leaving her parents’ home, her father maintained his love for her but her mother had declared her dead to the family as their Jewish faith required (when one leaves to marry outside their faith). At first, Josephine lived with another couple until the day she and Johnny would marry, but the wedding was postponed so long that she finally did move in with him. Johnny and Wyatt would always be at odds with each other; when Josephine left Johnny, it cast the concrete in place even though she lived in a boarding house.
Wyatt Earp and his brothers caught Josephine’s eye on her first day off the stage, yet she and Wyatt conversed from time to time if circumstances put them in the same place. The more she knew about Behan and some of his underhanded ways, the more she admired Earp. Wyatt, however, already had a common law wife and he would spend much time considering how best to live with Josephine while doing the honorable thing by Mattie.
The author wrote about Josephine’s life during the years 1880 to 1881. I had hoped to see more of her life with the lawman, but did learn what life may have been like for single women in the old West towns.
Josephine did not impress me as a young woman of good breeding, in spite of her statement on the first page that she came from a good home. Her mother was depicted as terribly unloving, at least towards Josephine. Perhaps that is how historians thought of her; no bibliography is included, however. She is depicted as someone who, after her liaison with Behan, had no inhibitions talking about sex or speaking in raw terms that were uncomfortable for this reader. It was difficult to like Josephine due to many of her traits, yet I do admire others, including her courage to look ahead no matter what the circumstance was.
Johnny Behan and Wyatt Earp were as different as night and day when it came to honoring their word, the law they swore to uphold, and how they treated the women in their lives. I disliked Johnny as more was revealed about him, and liked Earp and his family based on their behaviors and conversations. The Earp family, except for one of the men’s wives, were respectful to Josephine after they saw how she treated Wyatt. One thing Wyatt did that was a mixed blessing for Josephine was send her to see the husband and wife team who were local photographers, Mollie and Buck. Mollie was a true friend to Josephine, until she began to encourage the young beauty to allow her to photograph her until she became so comfortable that whether posing while sitting (or lying down), with or without clothing, was second nature to her.
The plot has one focus other than most obviously Josephine’s life during the early 1880’s. The reader sees Tombstone through her eyes until the shootout, and demonstrates the growth of the love between Josephine and Wyatt during those years. The author writes with excellence with the exception of the portrayal of Ms. Marcus’ vocabulary and behaviors that were a little excessive considering the time period; however, it could be read as women’s lit or historical romance. The suspense of that day in 1881 when the shootout occurred built through the days immediately preceding it until the very brief minutes that bullets ricocheted throughout the area, raining glass shards into surrounding shops. The final chapters were poignant, especially when Wyatt explains to Josephine what caused the shootout. Overall, The Last Woman Standing is a compelling read, catching and keeping my attention from early in the first chapter throughout. Whether or not I liked certain characters was of less import than learning about a brief period of time in my adopted state. I would recommend this novel to adults of any age who appreciate historical fiction based on real events, particularly from a woman’s point of view. I would not recommend it for most teens due to sexual content.