Wyatt Earp's Relationship with Women Was...Complicated
All told, Wyatt Earp had a complicated domestic situation. He had four wives and, for a time, he was loyal to each one.
Something that doesn’t normally get talked about with Wyatt Earp is Wyatt’s history with women. Forewarning: it’s going to get a little bawdy here.
Wyatt Earp was a man who respected marriage and thought marriage was important—in fact, he thought it was so important that he was married four times. Less important, however, was divorce, as there’s not much evidence to suggest that he actually divorced any of his previous wives before he married the next one and often they tended to overlap. To say the least, Wyatt Earp had a somewhat complicated domestic situation. In my book, Dodge City, I contrast that to Bat Masterson, who did not marry until he was well into his thirties and when he did marry, he married for life. Bat and his wife, Emma, were together for thirty-three years until Bat’s death.
Wyatt had a different story when it came to women. In his early twenties, Wyatt was wandering around, going from job to job, and decided he would visit his family. They were living at Lamar, Missouri at the time, so Wyatt journeyed back to Lamar from the west. He lived there for a while, and met a young woman, Aurilla Sutherland. Aurilla’s parents were originally from New York City and had come to Lamar after the Civil War to operate a hotel. How Wyatt and Aurilla met is uncertain—they were both part of a methodist community and may have met that way, or they may have met because Nicholas Earp, Wyatt’s father, had a business that was just a few doors down from the Sutherland’s hotel.
In any case, Wyatt, who was in his early 20s, and Aurilla, who was around the age of 19 at that time, met and fell in love. They were married and Wyatt bought a piece of property with a small house for $75. He intended to expand the house, which was going to come in handy because not too long after they were married Aurilla became pregnant. Wyatt had also been appointed a constable in Lamar. It looked like life was pretty well mapped out for Earp and everything seemed to be fine until late in Aurilla’s pregnancy, she became ill. The most common probability is that she contracted cholera, which both she and the baby died from.
Wyatt was grief-stricken and, being unable to handle the way he was feeling, started to get into fights. He sold the piece of property now that he had no use for it and left Lamar to begin a life of crime. Wyatt got into trouble in different towns, the worst instance occuring when Wyatt and some companions stole horses and were caught. Earp ended up being imprisoned as a horse thief and that he wasn’t hanged was a miracle for that time. Luckily, there was more of a judicial system available in Missouri and Kansas than there was farther out west where you were hanged if you were caught stealing horses. After serving his time, Wyatt got out of jail, he took off, kept a low profile, and ended up in Wichita.
Wichita was a place of redemption for Wyatt Earp, as he was able to get a job as a part-time lawman, a definite turnaround point for him. However, one of his jobs to make extra pay, which was not unusual at the time for lawmen, was as a bouncer at a house of prostitution. Today it would cause some serious issues for a policeman to moonlight as a bouncer at a brothel, but at that time it was a pretty decent way to make a few extra dollars.
It seemed as though Sally and Wyatt would be together for quite some time...
It was while he was working at one of these houses that he met Sarah Haspel, who was known as Sally Haspel. Sally was still young, a teenager, working as a prostitute in a whorehouse that was run by her mother. She and Wyatt developed feelings for each other and she would become Mrs. Earp number two. It seemed as though Sally and Wyatt would be together for quite some time—Sally didn’t have to live the life she had been living as long as Wyatt could support her. When the time came that Wyatt Earp accepted an invitation to become an assistant marshal of Dodge City, Sally Haspel came along.
Along the way to Dodge City, Wyatt met Celia Ann “Mattie” Blaylock and fell in love with her and she with him. There was a bit of a problem for this new love in that Sally was still around. So, to take care of that issue, Sally was put on a farm with Wyatt’s brother to wait for Wyatt to visit and Mattie became Wyatt Earp’s third wife. They were together in Dodge City and everybody knew Mattie as Wyatt’s wife. Eventually, Sally got wind of what was going on but decided not to go to Dodge City and fight for her man. She instead moved on, marrying another man and having children, living into her nineties before she passed away.
Mattie Blaylock and Wyatt were together for years, all through the Dodge City years and through some of Wyatt’s travels. But this marriage, too, did not last. While in Tombstone, Wyatt met Josephine Marcus. Josephine Marcus had been born in New York but her family relocated to the west coast and she grew up in the San Francisco area. When she was a teenager, she ran off to join an acting troupe, which toured California, Arizona, New Mexico—stopping any place that was large enough and could afford to pay for a stage for an acting troupe.
Josephine Marcus was actually engaged for a time to a man called John Behan, the county sheriff then who was not too delicately trying to straddle both sides of the law. He was a lawman, but also in with the Clanton gang and the horse thieves and cattle rustlers that were prominent on that side of the Arizona border. He was also a philanderer and eventually Josephine called off the engagement.
Wyatt noticed Josephine and was quite taken with her, so they started to see each other. Mattie learned of this new relationship and she thought that Wyatt would get over it, that it was a passing thing, but unfortunately for Mattie it wasn’t. Wyatt made Josephine wife number four with Mattie still around. Mattie had to be persuaded to leave town, which she eventually did.
Mattie was heartbroken when Wyatt took Josephine and left her behind, not quite recognizing the pattern Earp had established when she became wife number three. She had a hard time with life after Wyatt Earp, becoming addicted to laudanum. She went to live for a time with Big Nose Kate Elder, who was Doc Holliday’s girlfriend before moving elsewhere to live by herself. While she was living by herself she took an overdose of laudanum and died—a tragic ending to the life of Wyatt’s third wife.
Wyatt and Josephine were together for many years, getting together in the early 1880s and staying together until Wyatt died in 1929. They were together during all of Wyatt’s travels—from Arizona and New Mexico, to California, then Alaska and back to California, where they lived in San Diego for a few years. In the later years, Wyatt and Sadie would live in Los Angeles, with Wyatt doing some consulting work with directors of silent westerns, including John Ford.
After Wyatt passed away in January 1929, Josephine would move upstate in California and live with Virgil’s widow. They lived together for years as friends and companions, and were even buried in the same cemetery.
All told, Wyatt had a complicated domestic situation. He had four wives and, for a time, he was loyal to each one.
Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West is now available in paperback! Pick up your copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Books-a-Million, or iBooks—or if you prefer to listen, check out the audiobook on Audible.