Lottie Deno, Lady Gambler

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Did you know who Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke was created from? If you said the lady gambler, Lottie Deno, you’d be correct. She was one of the most interesting women on the American frontier. She was born Carlotta Thompkins on April 21, 1844 on a Kentucky plantation.

Her parents were very well-to-do and Lottie didn’t want for anything. At her birth, she was assigned a nanny from among the slaves—Mary Poindexter. She was a giant of a woman—7 ft. tall—and she accompanied Lottie everywhere she went. Nobody messed with big Mary.

lottie_denoLottie’s father taught her to play cards and she became an expert. When he was killed in the Civil War, Lottie played cards to support her mother and younger sister. For a while, Lottie worked on the riverboats and gambling houses along the Mississippi. She was a vivacious redhead with sparkling brown eyes and could charm the pants off any man—and his wallet too. LOL Which she did every chance she got.

In 1865 Lottie arrived in San Antonio and a year later was offered a job dealing cards at the University Club. She fell in love there with a half-Cherokee gambler named Frank Thurmond. He left town suddenly after killing a man and Lottie soon followed. I don’t know about you, but he sure wasn’t anything to look at. She could’ve done far better.

She was a bold woman and rode into the rough, lawless town of Fort Griffin, Texas on the top of a stagecoach like a fairy princess. She sat out in the open right on the very top like a fairy princess where she could see everything. With her flame-colored hair shining in the sun and a wide smile flashing, she caused quite a stir. It didn’t take long to get a job at the Bee Hive Saloon. One night she and Doc Holliday played cards all night long and by morning she’d won thirty thousand dollars of Doc’s money. She also played with legendary Wyatt Earp and many other notables of the old West.

frankthurmondIt was in Fort Griffin where Lottie got the Deno part of her name. One of the gamblers who’d lost to her hollered out, “Honey, the way you play your name should be Lotta Dinero.”

During a gunfight when all the others fled the saloon, she got under a table and stayed. When they asked why, she said she wasn’t about to leave her money and besides they weren’t shooting very straight.

She separated herself from the violent population of Ft. Griffin by taking a shanty in what they called The Flats on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. She only left it only to visit the local mercantile and to go to work. But Lottie lost her heart to Frank Thurmond and followed him to Silver City, New Mexico where they married and opened two saloons, a restaurant and a hotel.

lottie-denoLottie got involved in charity work, feeding newly released prisoners and giving them a place to stay.

She and Frank eventually moved on to Deming, New Mexico where they got out of the gambling business and settled down to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Frank became vice president of the Deming National Bank and helped found the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

In 1908, after forty years of marriage, Frank passed away. Lottie outlived him by 26 years until she, too, died and was buried next to Frank. Those who knew her said she maintained her laugh and good cheer to the end. I’d love to have met her. She was a colorful character.

She and Frank became models for characters in a series of books by Alfred Henry Lewis. Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke fame owed everything about her characterization to Lottie Deno. 

Okay, how many of you watched Gunsmoke? Do you think Matt and Miss Kitty should’ve gotten hitched? If you can remember that far back, did you have a favorite episode? I liked the one where Miss Kitty got kidnapped and Matt searched everywhere for her.

Linda Broday
I live in the Texas Panhandle where we love our cowboys.There's just something about a man in a Stetson that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!
http://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules/

27 Comments

  1. Wow! What an absolutely fabulous post that I so thoroughly enjoyed. I didn’t know anything about what was in your ever so informative post and I just loved it. Thank you ever so much. I saw a number of books on Lottie on Amazon. Can you suggest any particular one?

    To answer your questions: I did watch “Gunsmoke,” and I think they did the right thing in not having Matt and Kitty get married because it kept people watching and a tension–in a good way–that added to the draw of the show, I think. I think the guessing was part of the appeal IOW.

    Change of subject: I know your followers know this but in case there are newbies here, Linda’s new book “To Love a Texas Ranger,” the first in a new series called “Men of Legend,” will be released soon on Oct 4. I can hardly wait. Don’t miss it!!!

    1. Good morning, Eliza……..I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my post. Lottie was such a huge presence in the west. But she could do outrageous things because she had Mary Poindexter to protect her. I wish I could’ve had more room to include some information about Mary. She once grabbed a rattlesnake and got bit so that it wouldn’t strike Lottie. Men were afraid of that woman. No, I’m sorry. I don’t have a book to recommend that is just about her. The research books I have on her are ones that include a lot of other women. One is “Texas Bad Girls: Hussies, Harlots and Horse Thieves.” It’s an interesting book.

      Thank you soooo much for plugging TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER! I didn’t say anything about it in my post because I figured I’ve been hammering readers over the head enough. 🙂 I’m glad you’re excited for the release. It’ll be out three weeks from today!!

      Have a smilin’ kind of day, Eliza.

      1. Thanks for the book suggestion, Linda. I looked at the table of contents online and about fell out of my chair. Chapter 5 is about a Sarah Bowman, which was my great-grandmother’s name (except she went by Clementine). I wonder if she went by Clementine because of that other Sarah?

        THEN chapter 6 is about Belle Starr who my great-grandfather knew! And funny enough, my grandfather wanted to name my mom Belle when she was born but my grandmother wasn’t having a bit of it of course! Guess who had the last laugh?? My mom’s name was Bettie, but when she went to get her birth certificate for a passport later in life after her father was gone, she found he had named her Belle anyway–it’s right there on the certificate with his signature!! He knew his whole life that he got his own way but no one ever knew until my mom found out in her 50s.

        Obviously, I have to get that book now. Thanks. Hope I gave you a laugh about my “illustrious” background.

        1. Hi Eliza, I’m so glad you found something that interested you. You have a great family tree! I’m amazed at your ties to the past. Because my last name is so common, I haven’t been able to go back beyond my great grandfather on my mother’s side. I feel a loss at not knowing where I came from. But I love genealogy. If I wasn’t didn’t write books, I’d spend my days tracing family roots.

          Enjoy the book.

  2. I never knew this story! What an interesting woman. I have only ever seen a few episodes of Gunsmoke, but my parents watched it all the time.

    1. Good morning, Susan……Thank you for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Lottie. She was just bigger than life. I really wish I could’ve met her. I would’ve enjoyed that. Gunsmoke was the thing when I was growing up. In fact, westerns were everywhere. It was a wonderful time to live. And Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty were so much in love. I hated that he never asked her to marry him.

      Have a blessed day!

  3. I enjoyed learning about Lottie. I didn’t see many episodes of Gunsmoke, but I do remember Miss Kitty.

    1. Good morning, Janine…….I’m glad you came by and that you enjoyed reading about Lottie. I feel so drawn to her and I think it’s because she lived life the way she wanted. She was certainly no victim by any means. I’m sorry you missed Gunsmoke. I think you would’ve liked it.

      Have a good day and enjoy being alive!

  4. I loved Gunsmoke!
    What an interesting post. I watched Matt and Kitty from the start—–and who could forget Festus.

    1. Good Morning, Estella…….Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found Lottie as interesting as I did. She was something. I yearned with all my heart and being for Matt and Miss Kitty to get married. Oh my goodness, I couldn’t wait for each episode because I just knew that would be the one where they cemented their relationship. I can’t recall but I don’t think he ever even kissed her. That would’ve been great. I needed something at least. Yes, Festus was a great character and I loved Doc and Newly. It was a great show.

      Have a wonderful day, Estella!

  5. I enjoyed learning about Lottie. I watched Gunsmoke as a kid. My parents watched it all the time. I think they did right by not letting them get married. That always seems to mess up a good show when they do. Things just seem out of sinc when they have to balance the marriage with the rest of the show’s concept. I can’t say I had a favorite episode but I did like the show. The secondary characters were the best.

    1. Hi Connie……Glad you stopped by. It’s great to see you. You’re probably right about Matt and Miss Kitty not getting married. But, my gosh! He could’ve kissed her. They wouldn’t let him do that.

      Have a good day!

  6. What a woman! Loved this post, Linda. I’m embarrassed to admit that I live less than an hour from Fort Griffin, and I’ve never been there. One of these days I’m definitely going to have to rectify that oversight. The folks in Albany put on a big Fandangle every year with a Wild West reenactment. Surely they have a Miss Lottie character in there somewhere. I really need to get tickets.

    1. Hi Karen W…….I’m glad you saw in Lottie what I did. She was sure a brave woman. I’ve been to Fort Griffin a lot and to where the actual fort was. Sadly, not a lot left of it. I haven’t been to the Fandangle but my sister had a booksigning there when they had it this year and she did pretty good. You might need to think about getting a booth next year.

      Hugs, Linda

  7. What a great post! I didn’t know who the character of Miss Kitty was based on but there was no doubt that Miss Kitty, as well as Dottie, were very strong women. My thoughts on Matt and Miss Kitty…..their relationship on the show was as it should have been. There was a love and respect there.

    1. Hi Melanie…..I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Miss Lottie. She just leaped out at me when I was reading a research book the other day. I’m going to have to find a way to put her into a story. I rarely write about real people but I did put the gunslinger/outlaw Clay Allison in Book #2 of Men of Legend that will be out in May. That was fun. You’re probably right about Matt and Miss Kitty but I still say they could’ve let them kiss once in a while.

      Have a great day!

  8. Fantastic post.

    1. Hi Kim…..Glad you enjoyed it. I loved bringing Miss Lottie to light.

      Have a wonderful day!

  9. What a great post, Linda! I remember the whole family watching Gunsmoke when I was little. My mom always used to guffaw at Miss Kitty’s “generosity” in offering jobs at the Longbranch to girls new in town because, according to her, that just meant they were gonna be prostitutes LOL. I loved her beauty mark and yes, always wanting her and Matt to get together. I remember one episode where David Carradine popped into town and was such a bad-a#%. Wonderful show! They sure don’t make TV like that any more, where good guys were good. I am getting really tired of anti-heroes.

    1. Hi Tanya…..Sorry I had to disappear yesterday afternoon. Copy edits. I laugh at your mother’s misconception. Miss Kitty never ran prostitution out of the Longbranch and her generosity was great to see. I wish we’d known more about her past. I sensed that she’d gone through a lot of bad stuff. Maybe she was a prostitute at one time. I don’t know. But I do know she loved Matt! Yes, David Carradine was such a bad guy. Creepy. And I never liked Bruce Dern either after he killed John Wayne. Still to this day can’t stand the guy.

  10. Wow, never heard of her but glad you shared her story so amazing. She was very pretty.

    Like Gunsmoke but can’t pick a favorite. As for Matt and Kitty they might not have ever married but I do believe they where “together”. Can’t wait for your new series (and released on my birthday how great) I have loved every book you have written.

    God Bless!

    1. Hi Sherry, I’m sorry I didn’t get to respond to you yesterday. It was a crazy busy day. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Lottie Deno. I think she lived such an interesting life and yes, she had the beauty to go along with it.

      Thanks for your nice words about my books. I’m so glad to know how much you like them. I think you’ll really love “To Love a Texas Ranger.” It has more twists and turns than a dog’s hind leg. What you think you know might not be true at all. In three weeks, you’ll get to find out.

      Happy Early Birthday, Sherry!

  11. Linda, what a fabulous post. I had never heard of Lottie! She was really pretty and VERY talented. And what an interesting life she must have led!

    Gunsmoke was my favorite western for many, many years. My mom used to laugh and tell the story that when I was about 4,one night it was coming on, and when Matt and the guy draw on each other in the beginning, my dad said “Let’s see what Marshal Dillon is going to get himself into tonight.” I popped up and said, “His name should be…TIGHT BRITCHES!” LOL So poor Matt was christened Tight Britches in our house. But all kidding aside, I STILL watch that show! It come on a station we get called Heroes and Icons, and it’s one show my dog will lay and watch by the hour. I think he likes their voices. LOL

    Yes, I believe in the end Matt and Miss Kitty should have gotten married. Truthfully, I’m surprised for the times they let their “relationship” be as open as it was on TV!

    Thanks again for this wonderful eye-opener. I had no idea. Learned something new today!

    1. Hi Cheryl, sorry I had to disappear yesterday afternoon. Copy Edits. Oh Lord, I hate doing these because they’re so much work. I’m glad I could share someone you didn’t know about. There’s a lot of information on Lottie Deno online and in books. And it’s rare that she had so many pictures taken of her. Most of those women had none. She just really interests me.

      Thanks for the laugh about Gunsmoke. How funny. I still watch those old westerns when I can find them. Unfortunately, my cable has dropped those channels that show the reruns. Irks me to death. They have to have more room for their blood and gore shows.

      I still argue that those writers should’ve at least let Matt and Miss Kitty kiss. At least once! I LOVED that shot of his butt in the opening!!

      Have a good day, Miss Tight Britches!

  12. Tried not to miss an episode of Gunsmoke. Funny you should mention that episode of Gunsmoke when Miss Kitty was kidnapped. I saw a bit of it a few weeks ago. It was playing on the TV in many of the rooms when I was visiting the local VA Rehab center. It is a bit funny that back in the 50’s there was a relationship between them that was hinted at, but never really explored or clarified. At a time when married couples on TV had twin beds, there was this couple that obviously had some sort of relationship outside of marriage.
    Thanks for an interesting post.

    1. Hi Pat, Thanks for coming. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to answering your comment yesterday. I’m buried in work. I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Lottie. Such an interesting lady who lived life her way and didn’t care what anyone said.

      That is rather odd that you saw a portion of the Gunsmoke episode I mentioned just a few weeks ago. I think in that episode, Matt and Miss Kitty came closer to kissing than any other. He was just frantic to find her and she looked such a mess when he finally did. And he sure made the bad guys pay!

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