The recent Wild West auction in Harrisburg, Pa., included a trunk owned by Celia Ann “Mattie” Blaylock, Wyatt Earp’s second wife.
I couldn’t verify its origins, but I wonder if it was the one that surfaced in the 1950s when her nephew read an article about the opening of a new museum in Dodge City, Kansas, and remembered his Aunt Celie’s trunk.
It contained the bible inscribed to Wyatt from the grateful citizens of Dodge City and photos of a young Wyatt. That’s when the story of Mattie and Wyatt’s relationship emerged. His third wife, Sarah Josephine Marcus (Josie to most of the world and Sadie to the Earps), had suppressed information about Mattie for years. And Wyatt never mentioned her to biographers.
His reluctance stemmed from a twin desire for privacy and a measure of control over his public image. Most historians believe Mattie worked as a prostitute before, during and after her relationship with Wyatt, and she committed suicide several years after they separated in Tombstone.
However, Wyatt also avoided talking about his first wife, Urilla Sutherland, and asked his family not to talk about her publicly. Urilla died of disease or complications from childbirth; the child died, too.
We are left to puzzle out his feelings and attitudes from his actions. Shortly after Urilla’s death, he got into more than one scrape with the law and in many ways behaved like a man unmoored by grief. And after he left Mattie, according to Ann Kirschner in “Lady at the O.K. Corral,” he sent her money until the year she died—a sign of regret, guilt, responsibility or perhaps lingering affection?
It’s interesting to note that word of Mattie’s relationship with Wyatt did not come from the Earp camp. I wonder how much longer it would have taken for Mattie to surface if she hadn’t left those mementos in her sister’s care—and whether she did it on purpose so she wouldn’t be forgotten.