The life of Ellen Watson, aka Cattle Kate, was defined for us by greedy cattle barons, and dutifully reported by a cowardly, boot-licking press. According to these men, Ellen was a prostitute, a cattle thief, and a fornicator. She traded sex for cows and had no compunctions about doing a little cattle rustling on the side.
All that was a smear campaign to protect the cattle barons.
So, what was the truth about Ellen Watson? For one thing, she was a woman with a brain in her head and a fire in her eye.
At 18, Ellen married an abusive drunk who beat her with a horse whip. She put it up with it for a couple of years, then left the loser and filed for divorce. Truly a rare thing in 1883. Strong-willed and stubborn, she moved away to escape the ex. Life took her from Nebraska, to Denver, to, finally, fatefully, Wyoming. She made her living alternately as a seamstress and cook. There is no evidence she ever worked as a prostitute at any time in her life. She did drink, smoke, and cuss, though.
She met Jim Averill while she was cooking at the Rawlins House. Jim had a road ranch on his homestead, catering to travelers and cowboys. Ellen worked as his cook and was paid for her time. She eventually bought her own land—adjacent to Jim’s—started her own ranch and acquired her own legally registered brand. All while she and Jim were courting.
The couple applied for a marriage license in 1886, but never filed it. Homesteads were limited in size per family so it would have been to their benefit to keep the marriage a secret. Ellen also took in two young boys who came from abusive homes and they, in turn, worked her ranch.
Ellen’s independent ways brought her into direct conflict with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and a neighboring rancher named Bothwell. Still big on the open range way of ranching, he despised Ellen and Jim’s piddly ranches. For nearly two years, Bothwell saw to it that the couple were threatened, harassed, and watched incessantly by riders from the WSGA.
Not interested in kowtowing to the cattle barons, Jim wrote fiery letters to the newspapers, decrying the men’s greed and tyranny. Ellen just kept on ranching, and to the devil with anyone who didn’t like it. Eventually, Bothwell ran out of patience.
On July 20, 1889, Ellen and Jim were accused of rustling cattle from his ranch. He and some his riders took the couple to a gulch and hung them from a stunted pine, not more than two feet off the ground. Witnesses said Jim begged for mercy, but Ellen went down cussing and swinging.
At the time of her death, 28-year-old Ellen had 41 head of cattle, a little over 300 acres, and a tenacious fighting
spirit that burnt bright right up to the last second of her life. If there is any justice here, it is that we remember her to this day, not the cowards who hung her.
My book, Grace be a Lady, is set during the Johnson County War, in the aftermath of Ellen’s murder. I’ll give two winners paperback versions of the book. Just comment on Ellen and tell me what you think of her life and death. Was she a heroine or a fool? Did she bring this on herself? Should she have sold out and left Wyoming?
Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for one of the 2 print copies of Grace be a Lady.
Hi, I’m Andrea Downing and today I’d like to talk about the lesser known figure of John Larn.
The history of the West is littered with a glittering array of gunfighters and lawmen—sometimes both in one man. After all, the West wouldn’t have been ‘Wild’ without them; think how boring it would be if we only had pioneers and a quite ordinary workforce to write about! Like cream, certain names rise to the top in the litany of gunfighters: Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Their counterparts, the lawmen, were often not much better than they; think Pat Garrett and Wyatt Earp and company. But there were lesser mortals who left a trail of destruction in their wake, and one such man was John Larn.
Larn was born in Alabama in 1849, well before the heady, post Civil War main migration to the West. As a teen, he moved on to Colorado to find work as a cowboy, but the hot-headed young man ended up killing his boss around 1869 in an argument over a horse. Heading to New Mexico, he notched his gun a second time when he killed a sheriff he believed to be in pursuit of him. Moving on to Texas, he next had work as trail boss for rancher Bill Hays in Fort Griffin, around 1871. This led to the deaths of 3 more victims on the trail to Trinidad, Colorado.
As we all know, ladies love a bad boy, and Mary Jane Matthews, from a prominent family, was no exception. The couple married, would eventually have two sons, and Larn managed to become a well-respected citizen—for a time at least—of Shackleford County in Texas. But by 1873, rumors started to appear of cattle rustling in which Larn was involved. Somehow, he was able to put the spotlight on his former boss, obtain a warrant charging the outfit with rustling and, keeping in mind no good deed goes unpunished, he gathered a possee and joined soldiers from Fort Griffin to ambush and kill all Bill Hays’ ranch hands.
By now, you may be getting the idea that Larn was one blood-thirsty dude. I’d agree! His next foray into law enforcement was to join a vigilante group called The Tin Hat Brigade in Griffin. Griffin had become so lawless, such a magnet for the anarchic and unruly, that it needed this group to take control and bring some law and order. Earning respect from the local townspeople for this work, Larn was elected sheriff in 1876 and was able to build a ranch on the Cedar Fork at Lambshead. But I guess law enforcement may not have paid well because in less than a year Larn had either resigned or been pushed out, and his next post was as a deputy hides inspector. This involved keeping an eye on all cattle movement and supervising butchers as well. He also obtained a contract to supply three cattle a day to the fort. Needless to say, Larn didn’t think to supply his own beef. He practically started a range war, leading a band of men in bushwhacking and heading cattle off ranches. When a band of citizens searched the area behind Larn’s house, no prizes for guessing what they found. Six hides with other ranches’ brands were found and, at last, Larn’s game was up. For a moment at least…no charges were filed despite the arrest. Unfortunately for him, however, his bad temper led to his last assault—that of a local rancher by the name of Treadwell who had supposedly uncovered Larn’s cattle rustling. Larn was arrested and taken to Albany, where the sheriff had him shackled to his cell. When vigilantes arrived wanting to lynch Larn, they found they couldn’t remove him and shot him instead. He was twenty-nine years old. That’s about the age of my hero in Shot Through the Heart.
Here’s a little more about the book:
Gunslinger Shiloh Coltrane has returned home to work the family’s Wyoming ranch, only to find there’s still violence ahead. His sister and nephew have been murdered, and the killers are at large. Dr. Sydney Cantrell has come west to start her medical practice, aiming to treat the people of a small town. As she tries to help and heal, she finds disapproval and cruelty the payment in kind. When the two meet, it’s an attraction of opposites. As Shiloh seeks revenge, Sydney seeks to do what’s right. Each wants a new life, but will trouble or love find them first?
So what do you think of these gunslingers and lawmen of the Old West? What made some men into killers? Mental disease? Family genes? And if you’d like to find out whether Shiloh and Sydney manage to find a middle ground, I’m happy to give away one e-book copy of Shot Through the Heart to one person who comments.
And of course, the book in both paperback and eBook is available at:
In the Old West, the terms rustling, and rustler had several meanings. Livestock who forged well were called rustlers by cowmen; meaning the animals could graze or “rustle up” nourishment on marginal land. A horse wrangler or camp cook was also a rustler, but the most widespread and notorious use of the word referred to a cattle thief.
On the vast open ranges of yesteryear, rustling was a serious problem and punishable by hanging. At its peak, one of the largest ranches in the Texas Panhandle had over 150,000 head of cattle and a thousand horses. Obviously, thieves could drive stolen livestock miles away before a rancher learned he had animals missing.
The vast distances to town, hence law enforcement, often prompted ranchers to take actions of their own. Court convictions for rustling were difficult because of the animosity of small ranchers and settlers toward big cattle outfits. Many times, “vigilante justice,” hang ‘um first…ask questions later, was handed down by organized stockmen. Like horse thieves, cattle rustlers could be hanged without benefit of trial, judge or jury.
Today, even with detailed brands logged in books, registering with state officials, inspectors, and the meticulous paperwork involving transportation, not to mention a new era of branding technology to keep track of animals, ranches still face cattle rustlers…those dishonest people who want to profit from selling cattle without the bother of raising them.
No longer is a single head of beef stolen for food or an occasional Native American slipping off the reservation to provide for his family… it is big business. Modern day rustlers often sneak onto rural ranches at night, or on weekends when the owners are away, steal and sell cattle. An average calf can bring thousands of dollars on the open market; so multiply that by a trailer, or even a truck load, of cattle and you can see why it’s a profitable business for thieves.
Amid warnings that cattle rustling is on the rise in Texas, recently the state Senate passed a measure that would stiffen penalties for stealing farm animals, making theft of even one head of livestock a third-degree felony drawing up to a ten year prison sentence and a fine. Until the proposal is signed into law, a rustler can steal ten or more head of livestock and the punishment is a drop in the bucket in comparison to the law of the Old West … hang ‘um high and fast. Cattle rustling wasn’t the only crimes of the 1800’s and earlier. Train robberies closed in on it.
But was hanging always fast and efficient? Maybe you can decide from the following!
I delved into the subject of cattle rustling and the methods of rustlers while researching for one of our anthologies where my Pinkerton Agent comes to the Panhandle to break up an outfit of rustlers. But I became interested in “vigilante justice” from my mother-in-law, who passed on ten years ago at the age of 92. A story teller, she was reared in Clayton, New Mexico. One of her favorite tales was about the outlaw Black Jack Ketchum, the first man hanged in the town. His execution turned into a big town event, with the lawmen actually selling tickets to the hangin’. As history has it, the sheriff had to use two blows of the hatchet before the rope broke. Probably because of their lack of experience in “structured” hangings, coupled with the lawmen misjudging Ketchum’s weight and stretching the rope during testing, he was beheaded. Ketchum was buried at Clayton’s Boot Hill on April 26, 1901.
But my mother-in-law’s story only began there. Three decades later, when she was in grade school, Ketchum’s grave was moved to the new cemetery. Because her father was Clayton’s mayor, she witnessed the reburial. According to her, they opened the grave and she and her cousin touched the bones of Ketchum’s little finger. I’m sure in those days a casket did not weather well.
Do you have a family story you’d like to share? What are your thoughts on vigilante justice of the 1800’s and earlier?
To one person who leaves a comment, I will give you a choice of an eBook copy of Out of a Texas Night or a gift card to
Bath and Body Works.
I hope you’re doing some fun things this summer. A few weeks ago, I drove thirty miles from where I live to what used to be only one of three towns in the entire Texas Panhandle. Tascosa used to be a thriving, but very dangerous, town that at its peak boasted 350 people. It was settled in 1876 by an ex-soldier and blacksmith named Henry Kimball and it became the assembling point for the Tascosa/Dodge City Cattle Trail. Surrounded by large ranches, the town quickly became known as the Cowboy Capital of the Plains and was an economic rival of Dodge City, Kansas.
It also became a place where outlaws and bad men outnumbered the law-abiding sort.
Here’s an adobe schoolhouse (built 1911). It’s the oldest one of adobe in Texas.
Due to the town being only thirty -five miles from the New Mexico line, Billy the Kid used to rustle cattle and bring them to Tascosa to sell. He made the trip many times. His campground is still marked today in a shady spot near a creek.
Pat Garrett was another regular to frequent Tascosa that in 1879 had a population of 150 with only 8 English speaking women who were not employed in the considerable brothels and saloons.
Inside of two years, there were twenty-eight deaths caused by shootings and Boot Hill saw much activity. Here’s the picture I took and the restored markers. I think it’s the first Boot Hill cemetery I’ve ever been in.
A post office opened in 1878 and in 1880 the county of Oldham (only the second county in the entire Texas Panhandle) was formed and a stone courthouse was built. That courthouse is still there and they’ve turned it into a museum. Here’s the picture I took during my visit.
Despite the lawlessness, romance was alive and well. A mysterious saloon girl and gambler named Frenchy fell deeply in love with Mickey McCormick who owned one of the saloons. They married and from then on, the two became inseparable. This huge, deformed tree and marker is all that remains of the spot where their adobe house sat.
Mickey died in 1912 and Frenchy walked to visit his grave every day—even after the town died and everyone moved away, she remained. She lived alone in the ghost town by herself with no running water or electricity for twenty-seven years, grieving for Mickey. Finally, in poor health and her house falling around her, the woman whose real name they never knew or where she was from let them move her to the nearby town of Channing where she stayed a little over a year before dying in 1941. As per her wishes, they brought her back and laid her to rest next to her beloved Mickey.
Other ghosts reside there also—like Ed King, Frank Valley, Fred Chilton, and Jesse Sheets who were killed in a gunfight in the wee hours of March 20, 1886.
The ghost town was bought by Julian Bivins who turned around and donated it to the Cal Farley Boy’s Ranch in 1939. The town sits on this private land and I believe the thousands of boys(and now girls also) who’ve lived there have purged the voices of the ghosts. I didn’t feel any restless spirits. Although it is on private land, they welcome visitors.
If you’ve read any of my Outlaw Mail Order Brides, you’ve seen the town of Tascosa in the stories. Here’s one segment in Tally Shannon’s point of view from Book 1 – The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride:
Life was full of ups and downs, and this wasn’t the worst that they would face. She’d heard the men talk about a bounty hunter Ridge had seen in Tascosa and the reward poster the man had been showing around. Foreboding told her the worst still lay in front of them.
Have you ever been to or read about a ghost town? I’m curious what you thought. I would love to have seen Tascosa at its peak but I wouldn’t have wanted to live there. Too rough for me!
I’m on the last draft of the third book in my Haywire Brides series (at least I hope it’s the last draft). My male protagonist is a Texas Ranger and, as some of you might have guessed from my earlier books, that’s my favorite type of hero to write about.
The Texas Rangers have a long and checkered history, starting in 1823. When Stephan F. Austin hired ten men to protect the frontier, he probably never imagined that nearly two hundred years later, the force would still be going strong.
Those early Rangers were called various names including mounted gunmen, mounted volunteers, minutemen, spies, scouts and mounted rifle companies. The term Texas Rangers didn’t come into use until the1870s.
Maintaining law and order on the frontier wasn’t easy, but those mounted gunmen still managed to move with quick speed over long distances, and settle trouble on the spot. Those early rangers were called upon to serve as infantrymen, border guards, and investigators. They tracked down cattle rustlers and helped settle labor disputes. They both fought and protected the Indians.
The job didn’t come cheap. A man was expected to provide his own horse and it had to be equipped with saddle, blanket and bridle. A man also had to supply his own weaponry, which included rifle, pistol and knife.
As for clothing, a Texas Ranger wore what he had. It wasn’t until the Rangers became full-time professional lawmen in the 1890s that many started wearing suits. (Today, Rangers are expected to wear conservative western attire, including western boots and hat, dress shirt and appropriate pants.)
He would also have carried a blanket, and cloth wallet for salt and ammunition. To alleviate thirst, a ranger would suck on sweetened or spiced parched corn. Dried meat, tobacco and rope were also considered necessities. What he didn’t carry with him was provided by the land. It was a tough life and it’s not hard to guess why a man seldom lasted more than six months on the job.
Those early professional Rangers received twenty-five dollars a month in pay and worked hard for it. An officer’s pay was seventy-five dollars.
Today, the Texas Rangers enjoy a stellar reputation, but that wasn’t always the case. Frontier justice could sometimes be harsh and cruel, and some Rangers fought according to their own rules. This led to excesses of brutality and injustice, including the massacre of unarmed citizens. The Rangers were reformed by a Legislature resolution in 1919, which instituted a citizen complaint system.
The Texas Rangers have undergone many changes and transformations through the years. But the biggest change of all probably has such legendary Rangers as John B. Jones and Big Foot Wallace a-whirling in their graves; The Texas Rangers recently allowed women to join the ranks. (Hmm. I feel a story coming on.)
I told you the kind of heroes I like to write. What kind of heroes do you like to read about?
In The Rancher’s Heart, the third book in my contemporary Hearts of Wyoming series, the hero and heroine own neighboring ranches, both inherited from feuding fathers. The feud goes back generations and has to do with water from the creek that separates their properties. But they quickly realize that each is the solution to the other’s ranching problems, and soon, love knows no boundaries. But cattle rustling and the fallout from that act will soon test both love and loyalty.
Isn’t this a contemporary western romance, you ask?
While talk of cattle rustling usually conjures up images of the Wild West and memories of 1960s television westerns like Rawhide and Bonanza, the crime of cattle rustling is on the rise in the twenty-first century, driven largely by the rise of beef prices.
A calf can bring upward of $1,000 at market; an uncastrated bull more than $2,500. Calves are particularly susceptible because of the lag time between birth and branding.
One heist in northeast Texas involved 1,121 calves worth over $1.4 million. Four thieves in Waco, Texas, stole 107 calves for a payout of $139,000. But more common, and easier to execute, is theft of a few animals from small ranchers who don’t brand their cattle.
To combat this outbreak of thievery, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association has a team of thirty lawmen, described as special rangers, who investigate livestock-related crimes throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Just like their Old West counterparts, these rangers sport six-shooters and cowboy hats but drive pickups instead of ride horses. Rather than relying on tracking skills, these officers use advanced law enforcement tactics, including digital databases that track every head of cattle sold in a state, and they utilize DNA testing to discover the dam and sire in order to ascertain if the cattle have been stolen.
While we no longer hang cattle thieves, stealing even less than ten head of cattle in Texas is considered a third-degree felony and punishable by up to ten years in prison. Texans don’t fool around.
As reported in the Dallas Morning News, Marvin Wills, the special ranger who was in charge of the Waco case, noted “there’s three types of thieves here: there’s family, employees, or someone who knows them.”
You’ll have to read The Rancher’s Heart to find out which of those categories fit the cattle rustlers in the story, but needless to say, suspicion falls on the hero precisely because the Taylors, who own the neighboring ranch, have been feuding with the McKennas for generations, and everyone in town knows the Taylors need the money. The fact Cody Taylor got roped into helping lovely Cat McKenna, who prefers high heels to cowgirl boots, only means he had opportunity. But Cat has fallen for the stubborn rancher, and she will have to decide if she will let either history or circumstantial evidence shake her trust in the man who has captured her heart.
Here’s an excerpt:
Cody placed his shotgun firmly by his side, shaken by the fact he’d pointed it at Cat before he’d realized just who had followed him. Having tied his horse behind the old line shack and camped out on the far side of one of the small hills that mounded the rocky pasture, he had found a spot to watch the herd unobserved. Only to find someone trailing him. With her hair tucked under her hat and her back to him, he hadn’t been able to tell who it was until she’d turned around.
Only then had he realized he could have shot her. He wiped an arm across his brow. Despite the cool air of the higher elevation, he was sweating.
“I’m trying to catch a rustler who I hope isn’t scouting right now, because I’ve certainly blown my cover. I didn’t want to risk you telling someone. I don’t know who the culprit is yet, but I suspect it’s someone who knows Pleasant Valley Ranch pretty damn well. That could mean it is someone working for you.”
Her hands were on her curvy hips, and her chest rose as she took a deep breath. He admired her chest. Perky and perfectly sized.
“That description would include you.”
Cody felt the verbal slap as if his face had met the flat of her hand, sparking anger he struggled to control. A man’s reputation summed up his worth.
And no one had ever trampled on his.
Too furious to speak, he turned on his heel and walked away, toward his gear and the line shack. While the cows lowed in the background, he could feel the steam rising in his blood as his boots crunched along the rocky soil. He didn’t deserve her suspicions. He merited better than this. If she’d been a man calling him out as she had, he’d have decked her.
Despite the loss of money he so desperately needed, better to find out now how little she thought of him than to go on fooling himself that she respected him, maybe even liked him. Enough to find some solace in each other’s arms. What a fool he’d been to even contemplate such an arrangement with a woman who couldn’t hide her disdain for him and the life he valued.
“Cody,” she called from behind him, her voice loud but wavering. He kept walking, taking bigger strides to lengthen the distance between them.
Nope, he’d dodged a bullet.
He heard her boots scuffing along the stony ground at a run as she breathlessly called his name.
He was surprised at how much her lack of faith cut him. Anger was one thing. But her lack of confidence in who he was felt more like betrayal. More like she’d knocked the supports right out from under him, sending him into a free fall of emotion. He’d thought they’d gotten beyond mistrust. Way beyond.
The scuffing noise was getting closer.
He turned. Ready to have it out. She stopped just a few feet away, her breathing ragged.
“I’m sorry. I…” There was desperation in her voice.
“You don’t accuse a man of stealing and then think you can say a few words and all is forgiven. I may not have much in this world. But I do have my reputation. Yet just now you accused me of something no rancher accuses another of unless it’s meant. You either believe in me, or you don’t. There are no shades of gray in this.”
The Rancher’s Heart is the third book in the Hearts of Wyoming series, where love is given a second chance, and is available in either e-book or print on Amazon.
I am guessing we’ve all lost some treasure at one time or another. Could be we valued it for sentimental reasons, for its monetary value, or we just liked it. I’ll gift a Kindle e-book of The Rancher’s Heart to one lucky person who leaves a comment about something they lost or which category they think the cattle rustler in The Rancher’s Heart falls into—family, employee, or acquaintance.And in the comment section, you can also read my note about something I lost and how my hubby became the hero who saved the day.
Anne Carrole writes both contemporary and western historical romances. She’s an eastern girl with a western heart who was raised on a farm (yes, they have them in the East) with horses, dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits and whatever other animals she could convince her parents to shelter. Besides reading and writing romances, she loves western history, rodeo, football, gardening, and tennis. Married to her own urban cowboy, she’s the mother of a college-age cowgirl. Her latest releases are The Rancher’s Heart and an historical short story about a Harvey girl in the Wild West titled When Love Comes Calling, part of the recently releasedJourney of the Heart Anthology. Buy Journey of the Heart on Amazon