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Wyatt Earp and Mattie Blaylock: the Illinois Years


November 13, 2021 by Pamela Nowak

Few people familiar with the legend of Wyatt Earp know about the years Wyatt spent in Illinois. It’s a part of Wyatt’s history that was carefully omitted when Wyatt and Josie spoke with biographers…with good reason. The Illinois years were not ones Wyatt was proud of and they certainly didn’t fit with the image that Wyatt and Josie were carefully crafting. Until recently, historians knew little about those years, despite the large amount of historical record that survives (discovered in 1989).

Some time after Wyatt met Celie (Mattie) Blaylock, the couple lived for a few weeks with Newton Earp and his wife. There is no record of the marriage of Celie and Wyatt but Celie’s letters to her sister Sarah over the course of a fifteen-year period use “Mrs. Wyatt Earp” within the return address. Celie first met Newton and Nancy Jane in 1871; the couple lived near Fort Scott, Kansas, and hosted Wyatt and Celie prior to their move to Illinois. By early 1872, there is record of Wyatt in Peoria.

Historians have found no official record of Celie/Mattie in Peoria, Illinois but there are ample records that Wyatt was there. It is possible that Mattie may have stayed with Wyatt’s parents near Aullville, Missouri during the time Wyatt was in Peoria (family lore suggests that she spent time there). Her name shows up on none of the arrest/court records in Peoria and it is unlikely she would have escaped arrest had she been there.

Wyatt Earp lived on the wrong side of the law almost continuously during his time in Peoria, Illinois. He was arrested on February 26, 1872 and charged for “being found at and keeping a house of ill-fame.”  His brother Morgan was also charged with being found at a brothel. Arrest records for that date also list a George Randall. Wyat is listed in the 1872 Peoria City Directory at the same residence as Jane Haspel (Haspell/Haspil/Hackell), who was a known madam; both are listed as working on Hamilton Street. According to the newspaper article reporting the arrest on February 26, 1872, Morgan, Wyatt, and George Randall were all arrested together as Haspel’s brothel. Interestingly enough, Virgil may have known Haspel while Wyatt was still in Lamar, Missouri. Randall was linked to her in multiple arrest records from 1871 through 1872. On May 11, 1872, Wyatt and Morgan were arrested at the McClellan Institute, another Peoria brothel and fined $44.55 each (the amount suggesting they were keepers at the brothel rather than customers. They served the 30-day sentence instead of paying the fine. In September 1872, Wyatt is again arrested in Beardstown, just outside Peoria, as keeper of a gunboat brothel. That appears to be his final arrest in Peoria and that he then moved with Celie to Peace, Kansas (now Sterling) where the couple lived for a few months near Newton and his wife.

Wyatt was not regarded fondly in Peoria. His arrests as a “keeper” of a brothel would imply a role as both manager/bouncer and pimp in the terms of the day. News accounts referred to him as the “Peoria Bummer,” a pejorative term. In later years, Wyatt and Josie would tell biographers that Wyatt was a buffalo hunter during this time period and that accounting would find it’s way into the legend. The court documents, arrest records, and news accounts in Peoria, however, would later place him firmly in that location instead.

During Wyatt’s time in Peoria, he appears in the same arrest records or has his name linked in newspaper articles to Sarah/Sally Haspel, the daughter of madam Jane Haspel. It is likely that Sally worked for Jane and later struck out on her own or in partnership with Wyatt. She was arrested at Jane’s brothel in October 1871 and several times in 1872 at different locations. In September 1872, news records (the court docket book for that time period is missing) link her to Wyatt in arrests and she uses the name Earp. Several other women arrested with Earp also use his name. It was a common practice for prostitutes to use the brother-keeper’s name as an alias.

There is speculation that while in Peoria, Wyatt Earp may have been married to Sarah Haspel. However, prior to Wyatt’s time in Peoria, the Earp family recollections place Wyatt and Celie Blaylock together with Newton and his wife and at the Nicholas Earp farm. Some historians suggest that Haspel was an alias for Celie but Haspel exists in Peoria records prior to Wyatt’s time there and the link to Jane Haspel makes it more likely that Sally was indeed Sarah, Jane’s daughter, rather than Celie. However, since a “Sally” Earp was later arrested in Wichita with Bessie, it seems probable that Celie may have been mistaken as Sally. Like much else in Earp history, the real truth is buried and remains open to speculation.

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