October 30, 2021 by Pamela Nowak
NECESSARY DECEPTIONS centers on the braided stories of Celia/Mattie Blaylock and Josephine/Sadie Marcus, the last two wives of Wyatt Earp. This week, I’ll be introducing you to Mattie.
Celia Ann Blaylock was born in Johnson County, Iowa during January 1850. Family remembered her parents as strict and fundamentalist. Henry and Elizabeth Blaylock had moved to Iowa from Indiana four years before Celie, as she was called, was born. The had a small farm about eight miles south of Fairfax. The farm was located near a main wagon road and strangers often stopped by the farm for water. The family was very active in church and tolerated no card playing, alcohol, or frivolity. Celie was likely a good seamstress and proficient in most domestic pursuits. She was around five feet tall and had a small frame as a young woman.
There is little information about Celie Blaylock’s childhood. Her older sister, Martha, was know as the beauty of the family and was generally favored by her parents. Martha married and had four children of her own. Celie had two brothers, Marion (older) and William (younger). William was wounded during the Civil War. Celie was closest with her younger sister Sarah. Sarah had sandy blond hair while Celie’s hair was auburn. Family lore says that Celie had no desire to marry and also relates that she was opinionated. She had one other sister, Tony May, who was just a toddler when Celie left home.
Celie Blaylock left home sometime between the age of 15 and 18 along with her sister Sarah, who was three years younger. There is no firm evidence of the date but historian Ted Meyers believes she was 18 and Sarah was 15; the year 1868. There is much speculation about the reasons the two left home. Family lore suggests they may have run away with a circus. Another theory is that they were fleeing the family’s strict rules and heavy farm workload. A third theory focuses on tension with her sister Martha and possible sibling rivalry and jealousy. It is also possible that Celie simply craved more excitement than was available in her quiet household and left to seek adventure.
No one knows where Celie and Sarah Blaylock went upon leaving home. There is no record them in any census or municipal record. The only authentic photo of Celie during her youth is one taken by J.T. Parker, a photographer in Fort Scott. Celie is posed leaning on a pillar in a plaid dress. An online site lists a photo of two girls as Celie and Sarah but that photo has not be authenticated. In the Parker photograph, Celie appears to be about 5’3” tall.
While photographs were very popular during this era, it is unlikely that a young girl would have been able to afford that type of luxury. On the other hand, photographs were frequently used as advertisements by prostitutes at that time. Sarah was back at the family farm by October 1870 and family lore says she was “kept on a short leash” and considered “spoiled goods.” Sarah married in 1878 and her son later (1950) unearthed Celie’s existence in his mother’s photos and letter. Celie had been erased from family history until that discovery.
There is little information about when or where Celie Blaylock and Wyatt Earp met. It is known that Celie posed for the Parker photo in Fort Scott, Kansas in January 1870 and that Wyatt was living on his brother Newton’s farm near Fort Scott, in mid-1871. It is possible they met there, especially if Celie was involved in prostitution. From autumn 1871 to autumn 1872, arrest records and court documents list Wyatt in Peoria, Illinois with involvement in several brothel enterprises. Earp family recollections place Wyatt with Celie on visits to family members before and after the Peoria arrests. It is possible she may have stayed with family while Wyatt was in Peoria since neither Celie nor Mattie shows up in any of the city records with Wyatt. There is record of Sally/Sarah Haspel and Sally Earp with him. Historians differ on whether this was Celie or another woman but it is most likely that this was a different woman since Sarah/Sally Haspel is documented as a Peoria working girl. As to her name being listed as Earp…prostitutes frequently used the last name of brothel managers as aliases and several of those working with Wyatt listed themselves as Earp. There is no record of marriage between Wyatt and Celie but Celie maintained they were married and Wyatt paid her a monthly stipend, even after leaving her for Josie.
By 1873, Celie and Wyatt are linked together in Rice County, Kansas and thereafter in Wichita and Dodge City. Wyatt was known to be a faro dealer and to work as a seasonal deputy/city policeman. Celie visited her family in Iowa once; family believes it was after her father died and that the visit was extremely strained and she never returned. Celie became Mattie sometime during the Wichita/Dodge City years. She and James Earp’s wife Bessie were associated with a brothel in Wichita (along with Kate Elder/Big Nose Kate). It appears Celie took the name Mattie during that time. No one knows why Celie chose the name but it is likely a prostitution alias. Her family believes she may have been mocking her older sister, Martha, but Mattie was also a common name at brothels during that time. It is interesting that in Kansas, Wyatt’s name does not appear in any brothel arrests. Wyatt and Mattie moved to Dodge City in 1876, after trouble in Wichita. During the Kansas year (1873-1879), the two frequently wintered in Texas on the gambling circuit.
In late 1879, the Earps left Kansas for Tombstone, arriving there in December. There is no evidence that Mattie was ever arrested or licensed as a prostitute there. She appeared to live quietly, as did all the Earp women. By this time, she is known to have been using alcohol and laudanum although there is no firm evidence she was an addict. It appears she was in control of the usage, however, because mixing the two was deadly and she avoided using them together until the end of her life. Mattie and Wyatt cosigned for a mortgage as man and wife while in Tombstone but Wyatt was openly involved with Josephine/Sadie Marcus by the time of the shooting at the OK Corral. After the Earps left Tombstone, the two never lived together again. Mattie lived with Wyatt’s family in California briefly, then went to Globe, Arizona. Blaylock family members indicate Mattie had abscessed teeth and possibly cancer by the late 1880s. Whether her death in Pinal, Arizona, in 1887 was suicide or an accidental overdose is unknown.