Sadie was already turning tricks when she was a young teenager. She was a free spirit who took up acting in a traveling show. There were few career choices for women. They could make good money as prostitutes. If they avoided drugs and alcohol and had a good head for business, she could become a madam. Many of them became quite prosperous. For a working girl, the smart ones of the business while the getting was good. Many of them married and lived good lives.
Sadie was an adventurous young woman and wasn’t wired to be a schoolteacher, housemaid or laundress. While touring with an acting troupe in Arizona’s Yavapai County she hooked up with Johnny Behan. His wife in Prescott had recently dumped him for consorting with prostitutes. Behan persuaded her to join him in Tombstone where he had been appointed Sheriff of the recently created Cochise County. Johnny continued his womanizing, so she dumped him and took up with Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt was a member of the fraternity of sporting men like Bat Masterson. They lived in a world that included sporting women. All were flawed but they lived by a code and they were loyal to their friends. Wyatt ran bordellos in his saloons and had lived with a number of working girls during his time in Kansas, Illinois, and Alaska.
Sadie and Wyatt were a good match. From the 1880s to the 1920s they traveled around the West. Sometimes winning and losing fortunes along the way. They lived a full life. Soon after he died Bat Masterson, now a New York journalist, suggested to Stuart Lake, who wanted to write a book about a legendary gunfighter, to talk to Wyatt Earp. Wyatt was a taciturn man and difficult to interview. Lake only interviewed him eight times so Lake filled in the words with a lot of color and exaggeration. At the time America was in the depths of the Great Depression the nation was more interested in heroes than historical accuracy.
At this time in her life, Sadie had become very protective of Wyatt’s past. To her Wyatt was a frontier Galahad in shining armor and she was carefully guarding her checkered past as well. “It must be a nice clean story,” she insisted. For Stuart Lake, Sadie was his worst nightmare.
The colorized version of Wyatt was released in 1931. Lake carefully avoided mentioning Sadie. Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal immediately became a bestseller, and the legend was born.
There are no photos with provenance of Sadie as a young woman. This photo was on the cover of Glen Boyer’s “I Married Wyatt Earp.”