Lottie Deno, Lady Gambler

Do you know who Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke was created from? If you said the lady gambler, Lottie Deno, you’d be correct. Born Carlotta Thompkins on April 21, 1844 on a Kentucky plantation, she created quite a stir everywhere she went.

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’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. I love this woman!

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 several times but stayed single until later meeting a half-Cherokee gambler named Frank Thurmond. He left town very suddenly after killing a man and soon after, Lottie followed.

Lottie rode into the rough town of Fort Griffin, Texas on a stagecoach. She sat out in the open right on the very top where she could see everything. 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 thousands of dollars of Doc’s money. She also played with legendary Wyatt Earp and many other notables of the old West.

It 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.”

Once when a gunfight broke out inside the Bee Hive Saloon all the people fled except Lottie. She got under a table and waited. When they asked her why she stayed, she said she wasn’t about to leave her money and besides, they couldn’t shoot 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 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 like to have met her. I’ll bet she was a lot of fun.

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

I think I would’ve been friends with her. She was bold and daring in a time when women were told what to do and how. I like her rebellious spirit, maybe because I’m a little rebellious also.

If you could sit down and talk to one of the larger-than-life characters from the old west, who would it be? I’m giving away a copy of TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER (#1 Men of Legend series.) 

I’m so excited! I have a new release on February 7th–TEXAS REDEMPTION. This is a reissue of REDEMPTION (2005.)  It’s set in the swamps of East Texas four years following the Civil War. Brodie Yates and Laurel James are searching for redemption for things done in their pasts. Secrets abound–all threatening to come out. It’s a tale of two brothers who love the same woman. I’ll tell lots more about this in my next blog on release day, Feb. 7th. It’s available for preorder everywhere online.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans 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!

42 thoughts on “Lottie Deno, Lady Gambler”

  1. Linda, I’ve always loved Miss Kitty, so this is a truly fascinating post. I never knew she was based on an actual person. Like you, I think I might have been friends with Lottie. She was something else! Truly a free spirit. Isn’t it odd to think of these people we look at as “historical” having actually died within a time that WASN’T so long ago? When I think that my own mom and dad were born in 1922, a lot of these historical figures we are enthralled with were still living at that time!

    Congratulations on your re-release! Hugs, filly sis!

    • Good Morning, Cheryl……I agree. It’s kinda weird to imagine Lottie and some other historical figures were still alive at the time of our parents. My dad was born in 1913 and my mom in 1917. Although they would’ve been young, both of them could’ve spoken with her. I’m so glad you enjoyed my post and thanks for the best wishes for my re-release.

      I hope you’re not iced in up there. Stay warm!

    • Good morning, Cathy……I’m really glad you enjoyed my post. Lottie was such an interesting woman and she wasn’t afraid of much. I like that. Bold and daring and unafraid. She’s the kind of heroine I like to write about. Thank you for liking my books. I’m glad to write them for you.

      Have a good day and keep reading.

  2. Linda what a fabulous article. I would love to think I’d of been a friend of hers too, I love women who weren’t afraid to just be themselves and stand up for what they believed and loved. Yes I think I see a great deal of Miss Kitty in Lottie. Thank you for such a wonderful walk down memory lane.

    • Good morning, Tonya…..Glad to see you. I want all my characters to be like Lottie and live life on their own terms. Sometimes they aren’t at first and have to grow into the role. I think Lottie was able to because she knew she had Mary Poindexter to protect her. That allowed her to inhabit that rough man’s world.

      Best wishes for thawing out a little up there. Watch out for falling tree limbs!

    • Good Morning, DebraG………I’m so glad you enjoyed my post. I’m sure a talk with her would be very interesting. She must have a million stories to tell.

      Have fun – Make a memory today!

  3. Wow. Great post! I never heard of any of that before and I so enjoyed it. Thank you.

    If I had to pick someone from the past I guess it would be Crazy Horse, a Lakota Sioux who was so very revered by his people. Although he was a great warrior, he was also quiet and shy, generous to his people, and had many visions. Second choice of Native Americans would be Red Cloud, a Sicangu Lakota who settled the Red Bud Reservation, while Crazy Horse was part of the Oglala group that later ended up on the Pine Ridge Reservation (which is the group I worked with).

    If I had to pick a European, I’d pick William Clark of the Lewis and Clarke expedition. I know I couldn’t have done what that group did but, oh, would I like to have seen the sites they first saw.

    • Good Morning, Eliza…….History buff that you are, I’m glad I could bring something you haven’t heard. Your dinner guests would be interesting and you find out lots of things that never made it into the history books. Crazy Horse and Red Cloud could tell you lots of stories. So would William Clark. Yes, it would’ve been something to see the land pristine and new before people came. I’m sure it was very different.

      Have a good day, my dear!

  4. I had to think about for a while who I would pick and Quanah Parker came to mind. I’ve always been inspired by that story and I would really like to know more about what went on during that time period.
    There are many Cheyenne Indians that I would love to know their story and visit with them something about the Indians is deer and true to my heart.

    • Tonya….Good choice! Quanah Parker would’ve been great to talk to. He could’ve told you what his mother was like and how it felt to straddle two worlds during a time of many changes. And he met and was friends with so many other historical figures–a president, Charles Goodnight, and more.

      Hugs, sister friend!

  5. Hi Linda, great post and I have heard about Lottie Deno before on one of your post and I have always love Miss Kitty. Thanks for the great post.

    • Good Morning, Quilt Lady……Yes, I posted this over on personal blog and sorry it was a repeat. This is for the people who didn’t get a chance to see it. I loved Miss Kitty too. I thought she was the most beautiful woman but I most loved that she was kind. She never turned her back on anyone in need. And oh did Matt love her!

      Enjoy your day, dear friend!

  6. What a fascinating and interesting post. I would have to sit down and talk to Wyatt Earp. I have read about this lawman and am captivated by his personality, principles and charm.

    • Good Morning, Elaina…….Thanks for coming. I’m glad I could tell you about Lottie Deno. She set the bar high for feisty heroines. And boy, did she love hard. Her heart belonged to Frank and no other. Yes, I think Wyatt Earp would be a fun one to talk to. He must’ve had a ton of stories of close scrapes to tell about. These people went to their grave holding secrets. I’d love to find out some of those!

      I hope your day is fun and interesting!

  7. Annie Oakley is someone who I would have loved to meet. A woman before her time who was strong, courageous and fearless.

    • Hi Ruth…..Annie Oakley was sure a woman who inhabited a man’s world. She was before her time and so pretty too. From pictures, you can see her gentle spirit shining through.

      Glad you came by.

  8. Oh wow, never knew this! I bet she would have been an interesting person to get to know. I don’t know who I would pick to talk to, but I agree that Wyatt Earp would be one brain to pick! I’d love to ask him if all the tales are really true. 😉

    • Hi Susan……I’m really glad you enjoyed my post. Lottie sure captured my imagination. There are so many interesting people in history it’s hard to narrow to one, but Wyatt Earp would be on the list for sure. So would Doc Holliday. He was always with those guys but stayed mostly in the background. The quiet ones always carry the biggest secrets. Ha!

  9. It would be truly interesting to speak to anyone from the past… I would love to hear what Annie Oakley would have to say!

    • Hi Colleen…….Great to see you. I’ve been missing you. Annie Oakley would be a good one. You never hear one bad thing said about her. She was a nice, gentle lady with a big talent. For me, I’ve often wished to talk to Wild Bill Hickok or Jesse James. Ha! I always go for the bad guys! I wonder what that says about me. I think I’d have been a scandalous woman if I’d lived back then.

      Enjoy your sunshine, dear friend!

  10. The men from the Old West were real men and I would have loved to interact with them. One of my favorites to meet and chat with would be Bat Masterson.

  11. I too had no idea Miss Kitty was based on fact. I totally enjoy finding out the pasts of real life characters. Movies and books based on fact are fascinating to me. My dad was born in 1913 and my mom 1922 and she is still alive and at this stage in life constantly tells us stories from the past.

    • Hi Catslady……Thanks for coming! Oh my goodness, your mother must be a treasure trove of stories and information. I’d walk around with a tape recorder. Get them while you can. Forget historic figures. I want to talk to her.

      Have a great evening!

  12. Hi Linda, what a great blog. So very interesting. If I could talk with anyone of the West, it would definitely be Billy the Kid. The facts of his story is so interesting in itself, especially those surround his death is 1881 by Sheriff Pat Garrett. My interest is particularly in the information that Billy the Kid was not killed, but lived out his life in Hico, Texas, under the name of Ollie P. Roberts a/k/a “Bushy Bill”. I believe he died not too many years ago, but left a trail of information about him being Billy the Kid and that he escaped Pat Garrett and someone else was killed. Again, thanks for a great blog. Big hugs, my Sister Filly.

    • Phyliss that’s a great one. I too would love to know the truth about Billy The Kid. I was born in Hico, TX and live 19 miles from there in Stephenville, TX for the 1st 25 years of my life, before I moved to Kansas. It would be interesting to know what really happened.

    • Hi Phyliss……Great to see you. I know well your interest in Billy the Kid. It would sure be nice to find out for sure if those rumors are true. Very interesting to say the least.

      Love you!

  13. Hi Linda enjoyed your info on Lottie & Frank. I would like to talk to President Jefferson before he encouraged Congress to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830. That stated if they had to remove our Native Americans by force it would be alright to do so.
    And George Custer (Long Hair) about his life leading up to the Battle of the Little Big Horn. I enjoy reading the Old West books & the colorful life during that period.

  14. Hi Lois…..Great to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Thomas Jefferson would be a good one to talk to. Bet he could tell you lots and also Custer. Yes, ma’am. The past holds many secrets.

    Have a great evening!

  15. Great post! I, like Ellie would go with Will Rogers. I liked his attitude..” Inever met a man I didn’t like”…..what a guy!

  16. Linda, Thanks for this post. Dottie was certainly an interesting person. You said she was an expert player , so I assume all those wins were due to talent not cheating. She was certainly someone who grabbed life by the horns and didn’t let go. It is amazing how much she was able to do in a time when women didn’t have much standing. Even more interesting is how her life circled round bringing her back to Frank Thurmond. A half indian man with a white wife being accepted as a couple and as respected business people is unexpected. They certainly did well for themselves. It is nice she was able to become active in working for the benefit of the community. Do you know how old she was when she died? She had to have been in her 80’s. She is a good example of taking what life deals you and making the best of it.

    I think I would like to visit with Sacagawea after the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It would be nice to get her take on it. I am looking forward the the rest of The Men Of Legend series was well asTexas Redemption.
    No need to enter my name for the drawing

    • Hi Pat……I’m glad you enjoyed it. Lottie was 90 years old when she died. 1844-1934. She must’ve been tough to have lasted that long. And this was back when everyone used hog lard and fried everything. Goodness! I think you chose an interesting one to talk to. Sacagawea was such an inspiration. She walked all that way across North America and gave birth all alone in open country. What a lady!

      It won’t be long until The Heart of a Texas Cowboy comes out in May. And only two weeks for Texas Redemption. I’m excited.

  17. Hi Linda, thank you for the great post! I love the old west and there are lots of people I would have like to have met. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp, the list can go on and on.

    May you have a blessed day!

    Cindy W.

  18. Hi Cindy…….I’m glad you enjoyed my post. And you’re right, the list is very long of people we’d both like to talk to. So much interesting history and so many secrets that lie buried.

    Blessings to you!

  19. William Cody (buffalo bill) to ask why he built a home in north platte nebraska only to sell it a few years after is was completed

    • Hi Kim…….That’s sure a mystery and it would be great to find an answer. Buffalo Bill was really an interesting man and he established himself firmly in history books with his Wild West Show.

  20. I forgot! Alexander Hamilton!! He was around for everything and one of writers of the Federalist Papers. Not to mention his colorful life. I’m not an economist but I think he doesn’t get the attention he deserves in American history, especially since as the first Secretary of the Treasury he made our start-up, bankrupt country (after the war) work by his work and hands mostly. We owe him more than most people know.

    I’ve realized something through reading this blog. I’m not as much interested in villains as I am people who did remarkable things. At least these days. I remember visiting Andrew Jackson’s home a very long time ago, but now knowing about the Trail of Tears he brought about I probably wouldn’t go now. Similarly, although I was once curious about Jesse James and so forth, I now take that a lot of that kind of activity was a result of post Civil War stuff, and am more interested in the common hero who made a new life for himself in new territory. My reading tends that way now too, more towards the average person or the hero, and away from war or villainy.

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