Joyce Henderson: Pasteboard Flippers

joyce_henderson.jpgHowdy. I’m right proud to be back at the corral in Wildflower Junction. The Old West never grows “old” for me, and today I’ll jaw about a “lady,” Lottie Deno, so-called “Queen of the Pasteboard Flippers.” A gambler who learned the art at her father’s knee, so to speak.

Lottie was christened Carlotta J. Thompkins, but during her travels took many names: Laura Denbo, Faro Nell and Charlotte Thurmond…the latter name when she finally fell in love and married part-Cherokee Frank Thurmond.

carlotta-j-thompkins-aka-lottie-deno.jpgTaking the nickname Lottie Deno protected her Episcopalian family in Kentucky from knowing she supported herself by gambling. Money she frequently sent home to support loved ones would have been considered shocking and gained by illicit means. She lied and told her mother she had married a wealthy Texas cattleman. Don’t you wonder, though? Would old Ma have accepted the funds, anyway?

But I get ahead of myself. Lottie’s father was an upper-class farm owner in the areas of Lexington and Louisville, and he served in the Kentucky General Assembly. Slavery was prevalent and Lottie’s nanny was seven-foot-tall Mary Poindexter, the slave who was devoted to Lottie and remained so even after the Civil War.

After Carlotta graduated from an Episcopalian convent, her father often took her along on his business trips to Detroit, New Orleans, and even to Europe. It was in New Orleans, where he raced his horses, that he loved to gamble and taught his daughter every trick he knew about card playing. Lottie was a stunning, vivacious redhead, well-educated and refined in manner. In other words, she could probably have gotten away with murder.

Her life changed dramatically when she was 17 years old, and her father, a Southerner at heart, enlisted in the Confederate army. He died in battle, and shortly thereafter her mother pined away. Relatives sent Lottie to Detroit, and instead of finding a wealthy husband, Lottie fell in love with Johnny Golden, one of her father’s former jockeys, and now a gambler. With Mary always at her mistress’s side, Lottie and Johnny became expert gamblers, working riverboats on the Mississippi River and tidewater towns.

Near War’s end, Lottie traveled west to San Antonio and continued to ply her trade. That’s where she met Frank Thurmond, and worked for him at the University Club. Even though he had murdered a bully in self defense, he left town ahead of bounty hunters, and Lottie soon followed.  

mary-katherine-haroney-aka-big-nose-kate.jpgThough every professional gambler was known to cheat, Lottie was much sought after by cowboys with hats in hand, and let’s not forget Doc Holliday. That’s when she crossed paths with a jealous Big Nose Kate.

Legend has it that Kate accused Lottie of trying to steal Doc’s affections. Now remember, Lottie was a well-brought-up lady and pretty as the dickens. I leave it to you to decide if she might have screeched at Kate, “Why you low down slinkin‘ slut! If I should step in soft cow manure, I would not even clean my boot on that bastard! I’ll show you a thing or two!”

She pulled a gun, and Kate also drew her weapon. Legend further says that Doc Holliday stepped between them to defuse the fight. Hmm. From what I hear tell, and if history is to be believed, Holliday had a rather short fuse. Would Lottie have dared call him “that bastard” in his presence?

The lady gambled her way across West Texas. In Fort Concho she was called “Mystic Maude.” She moved on to San Angelo, Denison, Fort Worth and Jacksboro. Eventualy she found Frank again at Fort Griffin, aka The Flat. Johnny Golden, the jockey-gambler came back into her life briefly at Fort Griffin, but he was shot dead the next day. Good-hearted Lottie paid $65 for his casket but didn’t attend the funeral.

to_the_edge_of_the_stars.jpgAfter five years in Texas, Lottie and Thurmond pulled up stakes and moved to New Mexico where they married. Lottie became a well-respected pillar of the Deming community. Purportedly, she financed the original 1892 St. Luke’s frontier church with $40,000 she had won off Doc Holliday.

Many a later-day writer has espoused the prostitute or madam with a heart of gold. Miss Kitty of TV “Gunsmoke” fame, played so well by Amanda Blake, was based on Lottie Deno. And my schoolmarm, turned prostitute, turned back to schoolmarm in WALKS IN SHADOW, Lillibeth, was one who could have been patterned after Lottie as well.

My mom, bless her, loved to yodel, Charleston, and generally raise a bit of a ruckus in company. We affectionately called her, Honkytonk Gal. She would have gotten along famously with Lottie.  How do y’all see Soiled Doves, Light Skirts and Madams of yesteryear? With hearts of gold or gold diggers? 

walks_in_shadow.jpgOne person will be picked from those who comment, and I’ll send a signed copy of one of my favorites. Now a collector’s item, I guess, since it’s out of print. WALKS IN SHADOW will introduce you to Lillibeth Gentry.

To those who plan to be at RWA National Conference in July in San Francisco, please stop by during the Literacy Signing event and say Howdy.

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32 thoughts on “Joyce Henderson: Pasteboard Flippers”

  1. A think alot of the women in the old west had little if no choice in how to make money.

    Some I am sure where just down on there luck good gals and understood hardships. So that would imply they had a soft spot. Others I am sure became hard nosed, rough talking, whiskey drinking good time gals.

  2. I see them as women who tried to take care of themselves with the few choices life gave them. I imagine life was not easy for them since they were not respectable in society’s eyes. They must have had to develop thick skins.

  3. Life couldn’t have been easy for them back then, with job choices so few and far between. In some ways they are women of strength just the same as the wives who traveled the rough terrain to make a new life in unsettled areas.

    The only difference was that most of the soiled doves, etc- didn’t have a man they could rely on, so they had to do what they had to do.

    I had never heard about Lottie Deno that I’m aware of, but I really enjoyed your blogging about her, especially since her roots began here in Kentucky, my home state. I love learning new things about people who are from here. Very cool!

    Thanks for sharing about her!

  4. I suppose there were both gold diggers and those whose heart was gold and those who had just lost their hope and tried to survive the best they could and drown their problems in drink.

  5. hi Joyce, will look for you in San Francisco! I really enjoyed learning about Lottie! My mom always snickered about Miss Kitty “saving” the lost souls in town LOL by offering emplyment at the Long Branch. Great show, though. Oh those schoolmarms!

  6. Hi Joyce: Thanks for an interesting post. I actually admire women like Lottie. It wasn’t easy being female and supporting oneself and I really think they did the best they could. It was fun learing about her.

  7. Good Morning Joyce I’m sure it was hard for women back then to take care of them selves and had to be resourceful because of lack of the job market for women. It’s comendable that she financed the St. Lukes Frontier Church with the money she had won. Thanks for the information you brought this morning!!

  8. Good for her for taking charge of her life and making money for her family! It just amazes me sometimes how women were looked down on for things they had to do to earn a living.

  9. Hi Joyce,

    The west sure had its share of fascinating characters. Women that survived on their own had to be tough to make it. Many, I imagine, were forced into prostitution out of necessity.

    Interesting post!

  10. Thanks to all of you for seeing the strong side of Lottie. Yes, I’d say she, along with a host of other young women, was forced to make a living anyway she could. Lottie had learned a craft she could exploit to survive.
    Women’s lib was alive and well long before the 60’s craze! 🙂 Shoot, I blogged about my great-grandmother the last time I jumped over the fence into this corral. Grandma Bond was lucky in some ways. She found and married a good man who didn’t die and stayed by her side as they built their farm and brought twelve youngun’s.
    I don’t think I made it clear about Lillibeth Gentry in my book WALKS IN SHADOW that I’ll give to someone. I chose that book to go with this post since Lillibeth Gentry is the “heart-of-gold, down-on-her-luck” woman who did what she had to do to survive.

  11. Great post–lots of info and ideas.

    It’s difficult enough now for a woman on her own, even with more and better options and it’s not hard to see how a woman’s strength had to be focused into ‘acceptable’ unacceptable behaviors. 🙂

    Here’s a toast to the women who led the way, and to those who follow their leads now!

  12. I see the soiled doves as women that didn’t have any other choice. To me those women in books make the story. They are always strong and helpful to other charactors of the story. I love reading about the soiled doves in the old west. They were alway kind women.

  13. Hi Joyce – just dropping in to let you know I’ve acquired all three of your books and plan on spending the weekend reading!!!! Re:Lottie: I think I was her in a previous life!!!!

  14. FASCINATING story about Lottie! I had no idea that Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke was modeled after a real woman. I think it is funny that after Lottie graduated from a convent, her father taught her how to play cards. I don’t think badly of women who had to turn to gambling or prostitution in order to survive. We women of today are so blessed to have the rights that we have and the ability to earn our own money. Women in the past were so dependent on men for their security. It must have been so difficult for women who did not have a husband or father. It was also difficult to be forced to stay with an abusive man because you had no other options.

  15. Hi Joyce,

    You sure know your western history. The comments about how women made money made me remember something I learned when we lived in Seattle. Since prostitution was illegal, the madams got away with it by declaring their girls were “seamstresses.” Those little ‘sewing circles’ brought so much revenue to the new town, the city fathers turned a blind eye to the plethora of ‘garment workers’ in Seattle. The tale had me in stitches!

  16. Hi Joyce, I’m so glad you came back for a second helping of guest blogging here on P&P! You’re such a delight to have.

    I enjoyed the story about Lottie and have read a few things on her. I see most of the soiled doves as hating what they did and having big hearts. I’m sure there were some who were gold diggers, but probably not the majority. I read about one up in Colorado who sent a ton of money to the orphanages and she also helped out miners who were down on their luck. When she died the whole town turned out.

    I love the cover for “Walks in Shadow.” The colors and graphics are wonderful and pull you right in. I wish you lots of luck with it! Sounds like a story that’s right up my alley.

  17. What a fascinating story!

    As for your question, I have always been intrigued by what made them choose that life…or who they were beyond their profession.

    By the way, your books sound wonderful!

  18. Thanks so much to the kind ladies here in Wildflower Junction for your gracious words of welcome. I really enjoy talkin’ about the colorful characters who make up our personal as well as national history.
    Mary, maybe we were “crib mates” at one time. 🙂 However, if my astrological chart is to be believed, I was royalty and, would you believe, a Native American!
    Kathryn, thanks for hoppin’ over to say howdy.
    Tanya and Charlene, I look forward to meeting you in SF. LOVE that town.
    Seamstresses? Oh, now that’s clever aliases, Emily. 🙂
    Linda, the WALKS IN SHADOW cover is my favorite…thus far. That’s cover model Cherif Fortin in all his glory. Yum, yum! WIS finaled in the 2005 National Readers’ Choice contest and also the Anne Bonney, best historical, first book in both contests. And finaled best cover in the AB contest.

  19. Thanks for sharing!!! You definitely learn something new each day with these great blogs!!! …Let’s see… soiled doves to me are individuals like all woman… each had their own personalities, dealt with what life handed them and lived with what they could live with… some good some bad!!!

  20. Hi Joyce,Glad you could be here,I love to read an love the article you wrote,to be honest ive never heard of a pasteboard flipper,thats a new one for me,thanks for coming by,Vickie

  21. Choices for a woman were few in those days, she had
    to do what she could to survive, and if she had a family to provide for them. We can’t fault women
    for doing what they needed to do in order to stay

    Pat Cochran

  22. These “ladies of the night” were often depicted as so much less than the “good” women of the day. Gee whillikers, you’d think some of the schoolmarms, those who could find jobs, and farmers’ wives would think, “‘There but for the grace of God go I.'”
    Did anyone follow the “Deadwood” series on HBO? I don’t get HBO and hesitated to get it on DVD when my agent suggested it…because of the language. But I sucked it up and watched one season. Lord love a duck, those women were treated so badly it hurt to watch how they were depicted. But in the enterview with the director, he apparently did his research for that series, to make it as authentic as possible.

  23. Hi Joyce,
    What a marvelous post! I’d never heard of Lottie. Wouldn’t we all have loved to come up with her story to write? When we speak of soiled doves, perhaps the most famous ever created on paper was Belle Watling. Who didn’t love her?!? Big hearted woman doing what needed done.

  24. I’m sure many of these women had no other means of survival and then there are those who choose these professions because of the money or maybe they enjoyed it.

  25. Hi again Joyce,

    I also wanted to comment on the term “pasteboard flippers.” I take it that means a card player/gambler. What a fun term–so descriptive. I just love it!

  26. I think many of those women chose that path because they had few or no other choices to support themselves. Unmarried women were so limited in choices then, that I can see how it would happen. I really think we are more alike than we think. Given a different set of circumstances, who knows what choices we would make to survive. Thanks for the great post!

  27. I too agree there weren’t many choices. I find it all very fascinating! Thanks for all the insights.

  28. Thanks for coming to my blog and commenting, ladies. It was a wonderful day.
    And thanks to the Fillies for having me once again.
    I’m sure Cheryl or someone will post who won my book. Then be sure to email your address so I can get it right out.

  29. i am doing research for a book and tvshow based around texas folklore…i was very interested in the info on lottie deno…may i use the info on your web page in my radio show? any other interesting tidbits you might have would be welcome

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