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Sun, June 16

Purtyman place in Oak Creek history is secure

Mattie Purtymun outlived both of ex-husbands and four of her children.  (Photo courtesy of: Sedona Historical Society)

Mattie Purtymun outlived both of ex-husbands and four of her children. (Photo courtesy of: Sedona Historical Society)

The Purtymun name was synonymous with Oak Creek Canyon during the latter 19th century and early years of the 20th century. Martha (Mattie) Howard, the daughter of Bear Howard, married Stephen Purtymun in California before they found their way to Arizona.

They had a passel of Purtymun children (nine of whom survived infancy) before she divorced Stephen in 1897.

According to Mattie, Stephen had a drinking problem. He moved back to California and eventually Mattie married James Cook.

There was a co-mingling of families. Cook had five children and Mattie still had most of her brood to rear.

Unfortunately, Mattie didn’t have much luck with husbands. According to family members, James Cook liked alcohol too well and was a notorious womanizer to boot. Divorce No. 2 was in the offing for Mattie.

She continued to be productive and active for many years. Mattie was an exceptional seamstress and was noted for her quilts and knitting.

She outlived both ex-husbands and four of her children.

Jess (or Jesse) Purtymun was the second son of Mattie and Stephen. He was born in California in 1879 and made the trek to Arizona with his parents and brother. Jess grew up and lived off and on for a time in a cave at Cave Springs in the Canyon.

Later he also farmed in the Canyon where he had about 10 acres under cultivation.

Like many of the early settlers, he was a man of several talents. Jess played the accordion for church services and for dances. He wrote songs and poetry. He did a little gold prospecting, and if rumors of the day be true, he also knew how to run a still.

Jess was a good-looking man …movie star handsome. (See photo) The ladies found him to be attractive -- think a young Tom Selleck.

He married Emma Arrowsmith and they had two sons. However, like the misfortune of his grandfather and his mother, this marriage ended in divorce.

He then married Lizzie Thompson Nail, the eldest daughter of J.J. and Maggie Thompson.

Lizzie had been married to Frank Nail. They had three daughters when Frank was killed on the railroad near Jerome.

Lizzie and Jess had five children, four of whom survived infancy, Vera, Verna, Martha and Bud.

He worked for Coconino County for some time. He was part of the crew that built the road from the top of Oak Creek Canyon to the city of Flagstaff while Lizzie and her daughter Myrtle cooked for the men.

It was through the effort of Jess Purtymun that the first wagon road went through the Canyon. The county supervisors had promised that if the folks in Oak Creek would cut a road that could be driven over with an empty wagon, it would be made a county road to be maintained by Coconino County. It was done on July 3, 1914.

Jess died in February 1941. Lizzie outlived him by 14 years.

She died in March, 1956.

They left their mark in the Canyon’s history.

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