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.