The Bride Outlaw

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West.

 

Every bed in the hospital at the military prison in Louisville, Kentucky was filled with wounded and dying men. The Civil War had officially ended on April 9, 1865, but Rebels still fighting for their lost cause refused to surrender. Union soldiers pursued renegade Confederates until they were captured or shot. Guerilla leader William Quantrill was gunned down on May 10, 1865, by a Union ranger party. Quantrill and his followers were holed up in a barn on the farm of James H. Wakefield in the southern part of Spencer County in Kentucky.

Quantrill was suffering from a serious injury. He’d been shot in the back while trying to flee the scene. A bullet struck the left side of his body near his left shoulder blade and smashed downward into his spine. The impact of the bullet knocked him off his ride face down in the mud. He struggled to get to his feet but found he was completely paralyzed below his arms.

Quantrill winced in pain when he opened his eyes and attempted to reposition himself in the crude, narrow bed where he had been placed. The thin bandage placed over his wound did not stop the blood from oozing through the bullet hole and soaking through the top cover of dirty sheets. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Catherine King was seated next to him on the bed trying to keep him still. She was a sturdy, buxom girl with striking features and raven-colored hair. She flashed a smile at the dying man, reached out, and gently took his hand in hers. The twenty-seven-year-old patient was pale, but his features were still sharp and handsome. With great effort he lifted his head to search the room for members of his loyal band of followers. The room was lighted by smoking, kerosene lamps, and the place was swarming with flies. Quantrill’s eyes came to rest on the form of a man lying in a blood-soaked bed next to him. The man was crying like a child. Quantrill didn’t recognize him. He did know Sarah however.

When Quantrill looked at Sarah, tears of pain rolled down his face and a sweat broke out on his forehead. She kissed his cheek. He was comforted by his wife’s presence. Sarah explained to him that a priest had stopped by the boarding house she operated in St. Louis and let her know that “he had been wounded in a scuffle on a farm and was not expected to live.”

Tears welled up in Sarah’s eyes and spilled onto Quantrill’s hand. With as much strength as he could manage he brushed the tears from her cheek. Stretcher barriers came and transported the dead man lying next to the couple away. The appalling conditions at the hospital as well as the sounds of the wounded swept over Sarah and for a moment she sat frozen with the horror of the picture.

A priest graciously interrupted and in a low voice instructed Sarah to let him have some time with her husband. Quantrill was dying and the clergyman wanted to pray with him and encourage him to get his heart right with the Maker. Sarah overheard a little of Quantrill’s confession and watched him be baptized into the Catholic faith.

Quantrill’s child bride watched him languish in terrible pain for more than two days after she arrived. The Confederate soldier referred to as “the bloodiest man in the annals of America” breathed his last breath on June 6, 1865.

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The Cosmopolitan Gambler

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A broad grin spread across Doc Holliday’s thin, unshaven face as he tossed five playing cards facedown into the center of a rustic, wooden table. His eyes followed a petite, gloved hand as it swept a pile of poker chips toward a demure, dark-haired beauty sitting opposite him. Lottie Deno watched the infamous dentist, gambler, and gunfighter lean back in his chair and pour himself a shot of whiskey. Doc’s steely blue eyes met hers and she held his gaze. “You want to lose any more of your money to me or is that it, Doc?” “Deal,” he responded confidently. Lottie did as he asked and in a few short minutes had managed to win another hand.

A crowd of customers at the Bee Hive Saloon in Fort Griffin, Texas, slowly made their way over to the table where Lottie and Doc had squared off. They cheered the cardsharps on and bought them drinks. Most of the time Lottie won the hands. The talented poker players continued on until dawn. When the chips were added up, the lady gambler had acquired more than $30,000 of Holliday’s money.

“If one must gamble they should settle on three things at the start,” Doc said before drinking down another shot. “And they are?” Lottie inquired. “Decide the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.” Holliday smoothed down his shirt and coat, adjusted his hat, and nodded politely to the onlookers. “Good evening to you all,” he said as he made his way to the exit. Lottie smiled to herself as she sorted her chips. Holliday sauntered out of the saloon and into the bright morning light.

Historians maintain that it was only natural that Lottie Deno would have grown up to be an expert poker player—her father was a part-time gambler who had taught his daughter everything he knew about cards. She is recognized by many gaming historians as the most talented woman to play five-card draw in the West.

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Wyatt’s Female Bandits

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It was almost eight in the morning on June 3, 1895, when Jennie Freeman and Belle Black rode into the quiet, unassuming town of Fairview, Oklahoma. The women, who would later be described by the people they robbed as “neither young, fair, nor dashing”, steered their rides toward a large, brick building that was a combination mercantile and post office. Although few paid much attention to them, the women smiled politely to passersby going about their daily routines. When Jennie and Belle reached the store they tied their horses to a hitching post in front of the business and went inside.

A handful of customers browsed through the assortment of merchandise on display; blankets, canned goods, material, brooms, etc. Belle and Jennie did the same. Jennie concentrated on the back of the store and Belle the front. She lingered around a long counter near the entrance, inspecting a decorative row of ladies hats laid across it. She tried one of the hats on then reached for a nearby hand mirror to check her look. Belle glanced behind the counter and spotted a rifle leaning against a back wall close to the cash register. She caught Jennie’s eye as she removed the hat and put it back in place.

Jennie inconspicuously scanned the shelves and barrels around the section of the room where she was at. A pair of six-shooters resting on a table next to several neatly stacked cans of chewing tobacco gave her pause. She gave the weapons a closer look. They were new, unloaded guns with price tags hanging from the barrels.

After a several minutes shopping, both women strolled nonchalantly toward the exit. A store clerk called out to them just before they reached the door. “Was there something I could help you ladies find?” The courteous man asked. “Now that you mention it,” Belle said as she stopped and turned around. “That lovely hat on the end…,” she said, pointing. “How much is it?” The clerk walked over to the item Belle referred to and she followed after him. The clerk located the price tag, tucked inside the brim of the bonnet and showed it to Belle. She studied it for a moment then sadly shook her head. “Thank you for your help,” she said as she headed for the exit. She glanced thoughtfully back at the hat one last time before joining Jennie, waiting for her outside.

The two women climbed onto their horses and rode out of town in the same slow, deliberate fashion they arrived. Jennie smiled at Belle and patted the rifle cradled in her lap. The gun was the same one that had been sitting behind the register at the store. Jennie had stolen the rifle. Belle almost laughed.

 

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Wyoming Cattle Baroness

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As Ella “Kate” Watson sashayed down the crude staircase of the Rawlins, Wyoming saloon and brothel where she worked she inspected the potential customers in the smoke-filled bar. Eager cowboys eyed her hourglass form as she brushed by them. They sniffed the air after her, breathing in the scent of jasmine she left behind. Kate looked past the scruffy wranglers vying for her attention and fixed her gaze on a tall, lean, well-dressed man sitting alone at a table, drinking.

“I’m Kate,” she purred to the handsome gentlemen as she walked up to him. “Would you like some company?”

The man nodded, smoothed down his mustache, and slammed down another shot of whisky. “Jim Averill. I’m pleased to meet you.”

Kate had seen Jim Averill in the saloon before. He wasn’t like any of the other men who frequented the bordellos where she worked. Jim was a civil engineer and a gifted writer who had served in the army. His entrepreneurial spirit had driven him west to make his fortune in whatever venture presented itself. When Kate and Jim met on February 24, 1886, Jim was ranching. He owned a small spread along the Sweetwater River where the Rawlins-Lander stage line crossed the Oregon Trail. The supply store he had opened at the stage stop was very profitable. He sold groceries, whisky, and other items cowboys needed.

Kate had long since given up hope of ever meeting an accomplished man like Jim Averill. She was the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Smith County, Kansas and was accustomed to fine things. In her teens she married a man who promised to provide her with the lifestyle in which she was raised, but the marriage ended when she found him with another woman. By the time she was twenty Kate was divorced and earning a living as a prostitute in Wyoming. She preferred to work at houses in cow towns rather than bergs near army outposts because cowboys paid better.

Kate was too ambitious to remain a common percentage girl. She was always looking for new opportunities – opportunities that would lead her to a position of wealth and power. Jim Averill possessed the same drive and Kate fell in love with him. After the two enjoyed a few days of pleasure Jim rode back to his ranch. Kate was left alone in her room at the brothel praying he would return her feelings. But Jim Averill had other things on his mind for the time being.

 

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Virginia City’s Wicked Woman

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The cold, grey January sky above Virginia City, Nevada, in 1867 unleashed a torrent of sleet on a slow moving funeral procession traveling along the main thoroughfare of town. Several members of the volunteer fire department, Virginia Engine Company Number One, was first in a long line of mourners following after a horse drawn carriage transporting the body of soiled dove Julia Bulette. The Nevada militia band shuffled behind the hearse playing “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” Black wreaths and streamers hung from the balconies of the buildings along the route which the remains of the beloved thirty-five-year-old woman was escorted. Miners who knew Julia wept openly. Out of respect for the deceased woman all the saloons were closed. Plummeting temperatures and icy winds eventually drove the majority of funeral-goers inside their homes and businesses before Julia was lowered into the ground.

Julia Bulette was murdered on January 19, 1867 at 11:30 in the evening in her home on North D Street in Virginia City. The fair but frail prostitute told her neighbor and best friend Gertrude Holmes she was expecting company, but did not specify who the company might be. Twelve hours later Gertrude discovered Julia’s lifeless body in bed. She had been beaten and strangled. Gertrude told authorities that Julia was lying in the center of the bed with the blankets pulled over her head and that the sheets under her frame were smooth. She told police that it appeared as though no one had ever been in the bed with Julia.

The authorities believed the scene had been staged. Marks on Julia’s body and tears on the pillow used to smother her indicated she struggled with her attacker. The murderer then set the room to look as though nothing was out of the ordinary. He covered Julia’s body in such a way that at a passing glance she would merely appear to be asleep. It had fooled the handyman she had employed to come in and build a fire for her each day. When the gentleman entered Julia’s home at eleven in the morning he believed she was sleeping. He explained to law enforcement officers that he was quiet as he went about his work and left when the job was done. A search of the modest home Julia rented revealed that many of her possessions were missing. The citizens of Virginia City were outraged by the crime.

 

 

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The Dead Files

Tune in to the Dead Files on Saturday, August 12, and watch the episode

The Devil Inside. I provided the on-camera historical interview. 

Check local listings for the time when the episode will air. 

 

 

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Wicked Rosa

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Rosa May sat beside the bed of a dying miner and wiped the sweat off his feverish brow. She looked around his rustic, one-room cabin, past the sparse furnishings, and fixed her eyes on a tattered photograph of an elderly man and woman. “Those are my folks,” the man weakly told her. “They’re in Marshall County, Illinois. Where are your folks?”

The question stunned Rosa. No one ever asked about such things. No one ever asked her much at all. Conversation wasn’t what men were looking for when they did business with her. Rosa glanced out the window at a couple of respectable, well-dressed women. They watched her through the clouded glass, pointed, and whispered. She knew what they were saying without hearing it.
Rosa was just one of a handful of “sporting women” living in Bodie, California, in 1900 and she knew what people thought of her. It used to bother her years ago, but not now. It was an occupational hazard she’d learned to live with.

“Don’t you have people anywhere?” the miner asked. Rosa dabbed the man’s head with a cloth and smiled. “I don’t know anymore,” she answered. “If I did have they’d be back in Pennsylvania.”
Rosa’s parents were Irish – hard, strict people. Rosa had dreamed of the day she would be out of their puritanical household. She had left home in 1871, at the age of sixteen and soon found there weren’t many opportunities for a poor, petite, uneducated girl with brown eyes and dark, curly hair. She ended up in New York, hungry, homeless, and eager to take any job offered. The job offered was prostitution and five years later she came west with other women of her trade, hoping to make a fortune off the gold and silver miners.

Prostitution was the single largest occupation for women in the West. Rosa hoped to secure a position at a posh brothel with crystal chandeliers, velvet curtains, and flowing champagne. The madams who ran such places were good to their girls. They paid them a regular salary, taught them about makeup, manners, and how to dress, and they only had to entertain a few men a night. If a high-class brothel wasn’t available, Rosa could take a job in a second-class house and work for a percentage of the profits, turning as many tricks as she could each night. If all failed, she could be a street walker or rent a “crib” at a boardinghouse. Cribs, tiny, windowless chambers, had oilcloths draped across the foot of the bed for customers in too big of a hurry to take off their boots.

Rosa May arrived in Virginia City, Nevada in 1875 and went to work for a madam known as Cad Thompson. Cad was a widow who ran several parlor houses in town, including a three-story, brick structure called the “Brick House.” Cad and Rosa became fast friends, confiding in one another and talking about meeting their Prince Charming. “Whores dream of falling in love, too,” Cad frequently told Rosa.

 

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West

Wayward Ladies

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The effect of vice upon the destiny of the expanding western frontier was considered by some religious and political leaders in the mid-1850s to be a sign of a rotten and decaying civilization. In 1856, Methodist pastor John M. Chivington told a congregation in Nebraska that “the extravagant development of immorality, particularly the development of immoral women given to gambling, whiskey drinking and prostitution, marked the decadence of a potentially great nation.” Ernest A. Bell, the secretary of the Illinois Vigilance Association maintained that “from the day the serpent lured the first woman in the garden there have been few days and nights when some daughter of Eve’s has not been deceived into a wicked life by some serpent or other. It has not changed and will not change.”

In 1849, women of easy virtue found wicked lives west of the Mississippi when they followed fortune hunters seeking gold and land in an unsettled territory. Prostitutes and female gamblers hoped to capitalize on the vices of the intrepid pioneers.

According to records at the California State Historical Library, more than half of the working women in the West during the 1870s were prostitutes. At that time, madams – those women who owned, managed, and maintained brothels – were generally the only women out west who appeared to be in control of their own destinies. For that reason alone, the prospect of a career in the “oldest profession” – at least at the outset – must have seemed promising.

Often referred to as “sporting women” and “soiled doves,” prostitutes mostly ranged in age from seventeen to twenty-five, although girls as young as fourteen were sometimes hired. Women over twenty-eight years of age were generally considered too old to be prostitutes.

Rarely, if ever, did working women use their real names. In order to avoid trouble with the law as they traveled from town to town and to protect their true identities, many of these women adopted colorful new handles like Contrary Mary, Little Gold Dollar, Lazy Kate, and Honolulu Nell. The vicinities where their businesses were located were also given distinctive names. Bordellos and parlor houses typically thrived in that part of the city known as “the half world,” “the badlands,” “the tenderloin,” “the twilight zone,” or the red-light district.”

The term “red-light district” originated in Kansas. As a way of discouraging would-be intruders brazen railroad workers around Dodge City began hanging their red brakemen’s lanterns outside their doors as signal that they were in the company of a lady of the evening. The colorful custom was quickly adopted by many ladies and their madams.

 

 

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West

 

Squirrel Tooth Alice

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Libby Thompson twirled gracefully around the dance floor of the Sweetwater Saloon in Sweetwater, Texas. A banjo and piano player performed a clumsy rendition of the house favorite, “Sweet Betsy From Pike.” Libby made a valiant effort to match her talent with the musician’s limited skills. The rough crowd around her was not interested in the out of tune playing; their eyes were fixed on the billowing folds of her flaming red costume. The rowdy men hoped to catch a peek at Libby’s shapely, bare legs underneath the yards of fabric on her skirt. Libby was careful to only let them see enough to keep them interested.

Many of the cowboy customers were spattered with alkali dust, grease, or plain dirt. They stretched their eager unkempt hands out to touch Libby as she pranced by, but she managed to avoid all contact. At the end of the performance, she was showered with applause, cheers, and requests to see more. Libby was not in an obliging mood. She smiled, bowed, and hurried past the enthusiastic audience as she made her way to the bar for a drink.

A surly bartender served her a glass of apple whiskey, and she headed off to the back of the room with her beverage. When she wasn’t entertaining patrons, Libby could be found at her usual corner spot by the stairs. A large, purple, velvet chair waited for her there along with her pets, a pair of prairie dogs. As Libby walked through the mass of people to her spot, she saw three grimy, bearded men surrounding her seat. One of the inebriated cowhands was poking at her animals with a long stick.

“Boys, I’d thank you kindly to stop that,” she warned the unruly trio. The men turned to see who was speaking then broke into a hearty laugh once they saw her. Ignoring the dancer they resumed their harassment of the small dogs. The animals batted the stick back as it neared them, and each time the men would erupt with laughter.

Libby watched the three for a few moments then slowly reached into her drawstring purse and removed a pistol. Pointing the gun at the men she said, “Don’t make me ask you again.” The drunken cowhands turned to face Libby, and she aimed her pistol at the head of the man with the stick. Laughing, the man told her to “go to hell.” “I’m on my way,” she responded, pulling the hammer back on the gun. “But I don’t mind sending you there first so you can warn them,” she added. The cowboy dropped the stick, and he and his friends backed away from Libby’s chair. One by one they staggered out the saloon. Libby put the gun back into her purse, scooped up her frightened pets, scratched their heads, and kissed them repeatedly.

 

 

Wicked Women

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Wicked Women:

Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West