Howdy. 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.
Taking 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.
Though 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.
After 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?
One 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.