Monday, November 10, 2008

Belle Starr

Big Nose Kate

Wild Women of the West

Whether she was addressed as Madam or Ma’am, SeƱorita or Squaw, a woman needed guts to live out West. The “weaker sex” encountered savage, brutal and obnoxious obstacles (and these were just the men!) not to mention Mother Nature and a plague or two, or three. In spite of these barriers, or maybe because of them, the American frontier attracted legions of non-conforming women—mavericks, loners, eccentrics, and adventurers.
Some of these women we’ve learned about through history, others remain nameless to us. Those listed are just a few of many women rebels.
Belle Starr became one of the first famous women criminals. Once married to Cole Younger, she was friends with Jesse James. She was a felon, to the end, and horse thieving was her game. At the age of forty, she was shot and killed in 1889 while making her way back to an outlaw stronghold in the Choctaw Nation. Records state that no one was ever accused or convicted of the killing her and that her death went unresolved.
Cattle Kate was born Ella Watson. She was a prostitute who was hung by vigilantes after being accused of stealing cattle in Wyoming; an act which spurred the Johnson County War. She probably wasn’t a thief, but most likely took some cattle for payment for her services. Even though married in 1886, she continued her trade. She claimed a homestead right next to her husband’s (James Averell). Both homesteads were located right in the middle of land belonging to a big cattleman named Albert J. Bothwell. There were many disputes between Cattle Kate, her husband and Bothwell that led to Bothwell pulling Cattle Kate and her husband out of their homes and lynching them.
Mary Catherine Haroney later became known as Big Nose Kate. Hungarian by birth, her father was a prominent doctor. At the age of 14 she was orphaned and placed in a series of foster homes. By 1875, she’d changed her name to Kate Elder. She worked in Dodge City as a dance hall girl and prostitute. She was tough, stubborn, and with a temper to match. Although she spent several years with Doc Holliday, she said she worked the “business,” because she liked it, belonging to no man and no house.
In 1744, Catherine Gouger Goodman was captured as a child by Shawnee Indians and remained in their captivity for five years until some French-Canadians bargained for her release. She lived in Canada for two years and worked to pay off the ransom the French-Canadian trappers paid to the Indians. Later she was recognized as the first white woman settler in Ross County, Ohio.
Elizabeth Simpson Bradshaw, a widow with five children, the youngest only six years old, walked across the American Prairie pushing all her family possessions in a handmade, wooden handcart. Enduring many tribulations, Elizabeth, with all of her children still alive, arrived at her destination, Salt Lake Valley. There in the West, she made her home, reared her children and was eventually honored by her posterity.
These women reached out and took their freedom to the extreme, going places and doing things that even their mothers would probably thought disgraceful. Yet, in their lifetimes these women became legend reinforced through press dime-novels and the Hollywood motion picture industry.

Loretta C. Rogers


Kathy Otten said...

Hi Loretta,

I was doing research for my WIP about a U.S. Deputy Marshal in Indian Territory. The hotel in which my characters spend a few nights is in McAlester, and known as the Elk House. Evidently Belle Starr was a gifted pianist and used to play on the piano when she stayed there. The piano now belongs to a direct descendant of Ed Sittel, who owned the Elk House when Belle stayed there.

Paty Jager said...

This is why I love writing western historical. You can make the heroine as tough and independent as you want and still stay within the realm of accuracy.

Great post, Loretta!

Susan Macatee said...

I love hearing stories of strong women in our past. I primarily set my romances during the American Civil War period and in my research, have found women, whether they served at the war front or held down the fort at home, had to be strong. That's the way I write my heroines.
Great post!

Anne Carrole said...

I love reading about these women of the old west. They give me inspiration for my own heroines. Another one you might want to look up is Sarah Bowman also known as the Great Western. Like all these ladies she was quite a character!

Celia Yeary said...

Yes, they had to be strong to survive. I have a book titled TEXAS TEARS AND TEXAS SUNSHINE--names of old quilt patterns. The small print contains photos and memories written by real Texas pioneers. None of them were just housewives--One rode with her husband--a Texas Ranger--and lived in the Ranger camp for months. The other stories are just as interesting. Thanks, Loretta--very good. Celia Yeary

Tanya Hanson said...

Fantastic post, Loretta! I learn so much here. Belle Starr is featured in one of my favorite movies, The Long Riders (yeah, I know they were all bad guys but I love that movie) and Big Nose kate in Tombstone.

I love the account of the woman with the five kids and the pushcart. ALl that...and corsets, long skirts, and your period once a month. Wow.

Linda LaRoque said...

What a wonderful and informative post, Loretta. Women had a tough life in those days, it's a wonder so few survived. Just the thought of complications during delivering a baby, heck, just a major headache and having no way to get relief is daunting.


CJ Parker said...

Loved this blog. I've always been a lover of the old west. When asked if I could change time, what era would I have loved to go back to, I said the old west. My grandmother nicknamed me Calamity Jane when I was a kid. I was always in some kind of trouble. LOL One of my pen names is C. J. Parker, in honor of my grandmother. For TWRP I'm Charlotte Parker, and my first book with them is a time travel set in the old west. 1876 Deadwood. Don't have a release date yet.

Lauri said...

Great post, Loretta.

These women were true pioneers, and the backbone of the American West. Today's trials seem insignificant to some of the things they faced.

Garda said...

Great article, Lorretta! I love reading about the Women of the West, those in "all" trades. First time I've checked this site. Very impressive!