Frontierado is this Friday, August 7th! In honor of the season here is a look at female gunslingers who don’t get as much attention as the big names like Calamity Jane, Belle Starr and Annie Oakley.
QUEEN KITTY – Kitty LeRoy was also known as Kitty the Schemer, Dancing Kitty, the Female Arsenal and much later as Deadwood Kitty. Queen Kitty is the most appropriate nickname in part because of her last name but mostly because she was variously known as “the Queen of the Hoofers”, “the Dancing Queen”, “the Queen of the Barbary Coast” and “the Queen of the Faro Tables”.
Kitty was born in 1850 and by the age of 10 was earning money for her family as a professional dancer and novelty act in her home state of Michigan. By 14 she was performing exclusively at adult venues and had added trick shooting to her repertoire.
Her most famous shooting trick at this time was shooting apples off the heads of volunteers. At age 15 Queen Kitty was performing in New Orleans and married her first husband – the only man in the city brave enough to let Kitty shoot apples off his head while she was riding around him at a full gallop.
LeRoy loved flirting and sleeping around, however, and this led to the breakup of her first marriage within a year. By 1870 Queen Kitty had married a second time, to a man named Donnaly, with whom she had a daughter. The Queen had gravitated more and more to the Faro tables, making a killing as a celebrity dealer.
With Dallas as a home base Kitty and her husband would travel throughout Texas with LeRoy earning money dancing and dealing Faro. Kitty also earned a name for being able to handle any violence that came her way from sore losers and was involved in multiple gunfights and knife fights in dangerous saloons.
The adventurous lady was often called “the Female Arsenal” because, dressed in either male or female garb she always had multiple pistols, derringers and knives stashed on her person for emergencies. Queen Kitty and her husband headed west in search of fresh gamblers to wipe out, with Kitty plying her trade in towns and cities throughout New Mexico and Arizona.
In California Kitty gained renown as the Queen of the Barbary Coast, charming the Golden State and wiping out new sets of gamblers in casinos and saloons up and down the coast. She also claimed (but it’s never been proven) that she had traveled across the Pacific Ocean, gambling onboard as well as at casinos in Hong Kong and other seaports. At some point Queen Kitty abandoned husband number two along the way as her life of gambling and gunplay continued in full force.
Sometime in the early to mid- 1870’s LeRoy’s third marriage took place. She and a pushy male admirer were having a fierce argument over his refusal to take no for an answer and when Kitty drew her guns the man refused to respond in kind since she was a woman. Queen Kitty supposedly stormed off and came back dressed in one of her suits of male clothing. In the ensuing gunfight Kitty mortally wounded the importunate man and as he lay dying our conscience-stricken heroine let him die happy by having a preacher marry them in her dying suitor’s final days.
1876 found the Queen cleaning out Faro players in saloons and casinos throughout Nevada and Colorado but she eventually headed for Deadwood, SD where she rubbed elbows with the likes of Sam Bass, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Queen Kitty opened The Mint Gambling Saloon and may or may not have been a madam providing prostitutes in addition to gambling and drinking.
Amid her usual rounds of Faro dealing and gunfighting the notorious lady also married her FOURTH husband – a German prospector who had struck it rich. The marriage only lasted until the hard-partying couple had exhausted all the man’s sudden fortune, at which point Kitty threw him out.
Queen Kitty married for the fifth and final time on June 11th, 1877 to gambler Samuel L Curley aka Curly Sam. This marriage was as raucous and troubled as the others, with Kitty continuing to sleep with whoever she pleased, including the ex-husband she had thrown out previously!
Sam Curley was a very jealous man and on December 7th, 1877 the latest quarrel between him and Queen Kitty ended with him shooting her to death in Deadwood’s Lone Star Saloon. He then turned the gun on himself and ended his own life.
MADAME DUMONT – Decades before Poker Alice and Lottie Deno Eleanore “Madame” Dumont made a name for herself as a blackjack-dealing gambler and gunslinger. Much of the Madame’s early life is unknown but she supposedly was born in France around 1830. In 1854, when the record of her activities becomes more concrete, she arrived in Nevada City, CA as the Gold Rush was still at its peak.
The charming and aristocratic Madame Dumont had already acquired a small fortune in gambling winnings after playing cards and slinging lead in mining camps throughout northern California. Eleanore’s cash and her nascent reputation for being able to maintain order with her own guns if necessary made it easy for her to immediately open her casino named Vingt- et-Un (“21”) right on legendary Broad Street itself.
Madame Dumont’s casino was hugely successful, with the most popular table being the one where she herself dealt blackjack. No cursing or spitting were permitted and gamblers lined up to compete against “the Madame”, who would treat losers to champagne on the house.
Before the year was out Eleanore formed a business and romantic partnership with gambler/ gunfighter Dapper David Tobin. The Vingt-et- Un expanded into roulette, faro and other games of chance under the new team and was rechristened The Dumont Palace. A suite of rooms at the National Hotel provided the love nest where Madame Dumont and Dapper David could retreat to during non-business hours.
Two years later Tobin began making noises that Eleanore should retire and let him run the Dumont Palace alone. This resulted in a series of very public quarrels and very passionate reconciliations until, eventually, the love affair had run its course.
Tobin demanded his half of the business be bought out and Eleanore obliged. Dapper David took his proceeds back east to run his own shady gambling network in a fashion more akin to 20th Century gangsters.
With the end of the great romance of her life Madame Dumont found herself much less fond of memory-filled Nevada City. She sold her “palace” and took to touring casinos throughout California, Oregon and Washington as a celebrity gambler. Eleanore’s charm and skill with a pistol protected her from sore losers and overly amorous admirers.
In 1860 the Madame opened up a new Dumont Palace in Virginia City, NV during the Silver Rush. Eleanore spent $30,000 on the furnishings and even had a string orchestra providing the music as her usual “no cursing and no spitting” rules were in place once again. Missing her life as a wandering gambler/gunslinger Dumont sold out again in 1863 and began roaming the mining towns and casinos in Montana and Idaho, mixing card-playing in with brief flings with outlaws in Handsome Henry Plummer’s sprawling organization.
In Bannack, MT Madame Dumont bought into a partnership with an established casinoand brothel owner named McHarney (first name disputed). Legend has it Eleanore conspired to have her new lover John MacFarlane provoke McHarney into pulling his gun during a gambling dispute, during which MacFarlane blew McHarney away. MacFarlane was found not guilty by reason of self-defense and became Madame Dumont’s new partner. His ultimate fate is unknown but Eleanore eventually sold out yet again and returned to life on the road.
Other highlights of Madame Dumont’s checkered career included i) a brief stint in as an actual “madam” in 1869 San Francisco, ii) using her guns to save Fort Benton, MT from a smallpox epidemic by shooting at a ship that was trying to land with diseased passengers on board, iii) tutoring a very young Calamity Jane plus iv) using gunplay and persuasion to end a labor riot in Pioche, NV.
Throw in rumored marriages to ladykiller Jack McKnight aka “Jack of Hearts” and Colonel Kai Carruthers, one of whom ran off with all her money. By 1874 Dumont was a gambler in Panamint, CA and by 1876 was dealing blackjack in iconic Deadwood, SD. Like all professional gamblers Eleanore’s luck ebbed and flowed until in September of 1879 two gamblers in Bodie, CA cleaned her out of every penny she had left. The next morning she was found dead in her cabin after having swallowed a bottle of poison.
KLONDIKE KATE – Kate Rockwell eventually became one of the
best-known entertainers of her day. Most of her career is outside the purview of this article, which will concentrate on her dangerous years in Alaska and Canada during the Gold Rush of the late 1890’s onward.
Kate was born in Kansas in 1876 and by the early 1890’s her wealthy stepfather was paying for her education in the musical arts in Osage. The stock market crash of the 1890’s wiped out her stepfather’s fortune and ended her education.
The young lady took to dancing and singing in cheap saloons, winding up in Spokane, WA, where she first took to performing with a Derringer pistol tucked somewhere in her costume to deal with occassional rowdies or overly amorous fans. After stints in Seattle, WA and then British Columbia in Canada Kate got bitten by the Gold Bug and joined the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897.
Rockwell arrived in Skagway, Alaska by ship and performed at some of the saloons and theaters there, most of which were crude shacks or simply tents at that early stage in Skagway’s history. With more and more frequency Kate was forced to use her concealed Derringer while on stage because the men in search of Klondike gold had generally not seen women in years. Rockwell also took to carrying around a .38 caliber pistol when she was off-stage and it came in handy several times up there in the gold territory, where life was cheap.
Owing to the heavily snowed-in roads people involved in a shooting could not just skip to the next town like they could in the Lower 48 States so a clear-cut case of self-defense was necessary to avoid jail time or deportation. Kate’s good looks drove men wild and she gained a reputation for resorting to gunplay only when other means of subduing an aggressor proved futile. Thus Klondike Kate made her way from mining boomtown to mining boomtown, braving the elements and the trigger-happy thugs along the way.
Kate incorporated tap-dancing, roller-skating and trick-shooting into her stage act and was such a hit with the audiences that in Whitehorse, Alaska her appreciative fans spelled out her name with bullets in the ceiling of a hotel in town. By 1901 Kate and her new beau, Alexander Pantages, were in Nome, Alaska, where another Gold Rush had begun in 1899 and the usual tableau of fast money, rowdy saloons and dangerous streets had taken shape.
By late 1902 Klondike Kate’s gunslinging days were behind her, but she continued performing in the United States and Canada. With Pantages managing her the couple amassed a fortune and that money financed Alexander’s famous Pantages Theatre chain. Unfortunately for Kate, however, Alexander still refused to marry her and eventually dumped her, keeping all the money the two had made over the years.
Kate sued but lost in court twice so she returned to the stage to earn some money just for herself. Klondike Kate died of old age on February 21st, 1957.
Pearl’s myth goes that she had a no-good gambling husband who frequently lost the household money through his bad habit. Pearl eventually took to posing as a saloon girl to lure men into rooms with her. Once there she would rob them at gunpoint.
Hart had two children, a boy and a girl, with her wastrel husband, but abandoned those children with her parents in Canada to return to her adventurous life in the American west. When her no-good husband ran off to fight in the Spanish-American War, never to be heard from again, Hart began dabbling in stagecoach robbing.
Masked, armed and wearing men’s clothing, Pearl would hook up with one or more accomplices at a time and rake in hauls. In late May 1899 Hart pulled off her last stagecoach robbery, near Globe, AZ, with accomplice Joe Boot.
The pair were captured within days by a sheriff’s posse, and while awaiting trial, the imprisoned Pearl began to be a huge attraction, charming and talking with gawkers who came to see “the Bandit Queen”. Pearl escaped jail on October 12th, but was soon recaptured.
It will never be known exactly how many stagecoaches Pearl Hart robbed, as she was only tried on the one count for the job where she and Joe Boot were caught with the loot. She was too shrewd to admit to any other crimes and swayed the jury at her first trial with a tale of woe about her marriage and claimed she had only taken to a life of crime to send money to her mother and her children in Canada.
Pearl was acquitted of the robbery charge, but was retried on a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm. Found guilty, Hart was sentenced to five years at Yuma Territorial Prison, where she often entertained reporters and tourists. Paroled after just eighteen months Hart took to the stage in a play about her adventures and eventually died in either San Francisco, Kansas City or Dripping Springs, AZ.
POKER ALICE – The gambler/ gunfighter Alice Ivers aka Poker Alice was born in England in 1851. In 1863 her family moved to Virginia, then part of the Confederate States of America. Alice attended finishing school where she learned the mannerisms (and pretensions) of Southern ladies accompanied by the sounds of the distant Union cannons as the Civil War raged.
After the Confederacy was defeated in 1865 the Ivers family drifted westward and by the late 1860’s were living in Leadville, Colorado, where Alice’s father found work as a teacher.
Alice married Leadville mining engineer Frank Duffield, a veteran gambler who taught his young bride various permutations of poker until the student exceeded the master, to use an old saying. In 1871 Frank died in a premature dynamite explosion during mining excavations.
The young widow Alice began packing a Colt .45 for protection and became a fixture in various Colorado mining camps earning more money through her skill at card- playing than her husband ever did as a mining engineer.
Now sporting the nickname Poker Alice our heroine adopted what she felt was a “more ladylike” .38 caliber pistol instead, but continued her habit of smoking cigars. She began traveling throughout other Western territories as well, winning some large pots and losing a few others, distracting male opponents with her Southern charm and supposed beauty and also engaging in periodic gunplay to defend herself from overly amorous admirers or fellow gamblers accusing her of cheating.
Poker Alice never gambled on Sundays, however, and was known to head east to New York City for magnificent shopping sprees after winning her many four-digit poker pots (in 1800’s dollars).
Poker Alice began attracting big crowds in saloons and gambling halls from Silver City, Nevada to Deadwood, South Dakota, and even worked as a dealer at Bob “I shot Jesse James” Ford’s casino.
She reveled in her celebrity status, regaling her fans with tales of poker games, monumental shopping sprees back east and gunplay with some of the dangerous characters in the odd circles in which she traveled. In 1890, while playing cards at Bedrock Tom’s Saloon Alice used her .38 to save the life of fellow gambler Warren Tubbs, who went on to become her second husband.
The couple settled in Sturgis, SD, went straight and raised seven children. In 1910, after 20 years of marriage, Warren Tubbs passed away and Alice once again hit the saloons and casinos. She amassed enough winnings to open Poker Alice’s Palace between Sturgis and Fort Meade, with gambling downstairs and a brothel upstairs and drinking on both floors.
Her final gunfight took place in 1913 when she killed one soldier from Fort Meade and wounded others when their carousing in her Palace got out of hand. Alice buried a third husband, George Huckert, who ran her sheep ranch for her, and was in and out of trouble with the law until her death in 1930.
LOTTIE DENO – Equally comfortable dealing faro, playing poker or shooting a pistol Charlotte “Lottie” Deno was one of the most famous female gamblers of the old west, along with Poker Alice. Lottie didn’t engage in nearly as many gunfights as Poker Alice did, but she didn’t have to, since she was very skilled at maneuvering lovesick men into doing some of her killing for her. Even her no-good husband Johnny Golden was bumped off by two of Lottie’s male conquests.
Lottie, who said she learned card-playing from her father, was a former southern belle who came west after the Confederacy fell. She spent three years in San Antonio dealing faro and playing poker in, among other places, the iconic vaudeville saloon of Jack Harris, where Texas Ben Thompson and King Fisher were killed the same night in 1884.
Fellow gambler Frank Thurmond began a romance with Lottie but when he proposed marriage she fled town since at that time the husband who abandoned her was not yet dead.
After gambling her way through Jacksboro, San Angelo and Fort Concho, 1876 saw Lottie settle down in the tough Texas town of Fort Griffin. Now in the most famous period of her career Lottie, called “Lotta Dinero” because of the thousands of dollars she won at poker, is verified to have wiped out Doc Holliday himself in a card game one night. Doc was smitten with Lottie and lingered in Fort Griffin because of her, but he could never beat her at cards or charm her into returning his romantic interest.
Pat Garrett, still in his buffalo hunting period, also lost to Deno during this time. After the death of Lottie’s husband Johnny her old flame Frank Thurmond came into her life again and the two left Fort Griffin together in 1878 in an elopement.
Lottie Thurmond and her husband gambled and partied in Silver City, New Mexico for a few years, where on one memorable night Lottie won $9,000 in 1800’s money. In 1881 the Thurmonds moved to Deming, NM, where they invested their winnings in a home plus mining and ranching interests.
Frank died of throat cancer in 1908, and Lottie never remarried, finally passing away in 1934 at age 89. The couple had no children. Lottie was the model for the fictional female gambler Faro Nell in Alfred Henry Lewis’ series of Wolfville Tales published from 1897 to 1908.
FOR SIX MORE NEGLECTED WESTERN FIGURES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/06/18/six-neglected-wild-west-figures/
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