Women Of the Wild West

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Cattle Kate 

 

Cattle Kate is showcased by Tamara Messner

Ellen Liddy Watson was pioneer woman of Wyoming who became known as “Cattle Kate” an outlaw of the Wild West.  Although there are many versions of Ellen Watson that are accounted through stories of her life, right up to her lynching and hanging, a common thread in all accounts is that she became legend because of her courage to flea an abusive husband and thrive on her own. 

Born in 1860 in Ontario, Canada she was the eldest of ten surviving children.  She helped around the house and was schooled in a one room school house until 1877 when the family moved to Lebanon, Kansas.  Shortly after their arrival she found work as a house keeper in nearby Smith Centre.  While working for H.R Stone she met her husband, William A Pickell, a labourer whom she married in 1879.  The relentless beatings began soon after marriage.  Ellen stood about 5ft 8inches and weighed approx. 170lbs, she was strong but never strong enough to withstand the torture.  She would often flee and be dragged back by William.  By January 1883, she was able to make it back to her family home where at the end of the shotgun her father warned William to stay away and never touch his daughter again.  Intimidated by her father William fled, never to be seen of again.  She would soon take a job at the Royal Hotel and file for divorce.

 In 1886 she met James Averell, fell in love and applied for marriage licence 100 miles (160 km) away, in Lander, Wyoming the license listed her as "Ellen Liddy Andrews”.  It’s unclear whether the two were legally married or why the deception but was kept a secret. This allowed Watson to apply for land through the Homestead Act of 1862, which permitted single women, but not married women, to buy 160 acres of land, provided they improved it within five years. In August 1886 Watson filed squatter's rights to the land adjacent to Averell's. In May 1888, she filed her homestead claim to the same piece of land. To meet the requirements of the Homestead Act, Watson had a small cabin and corral constructed on her property.

To earn extra money, Watson cooked and mended clothing for cowboys. The fact that men frequently visited her cabin, "may have led to rumors" that she was actually a prostitute, which was far from the truth. 

With her savings she fenced her property and began to buy cattle.  Her 60 acres would prove too small to graze her cattle so she, like many other ranchers used the public land to move and feed her herd.  She would begin to clash with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, a group of wealthy cattlemen who were buying a monopoly of Wyoming land, forcing small cattle operations to sell out or die out. 

The documented clashes with WSGA are well worth reading into and are thought to be the sole reason that she was labelled outlaw when in fact she was simply trying to fight for her piece of land, life and right to earn her way.  She was held in very high regard in her community and the mystery about the day she died and those involved is part of corruption seen in many tales of strong women that followed her brave foot steps, like Karen Silkwood, Norma Rae and Rosa Parks.

The day she and Averell were lynched and hanged was portrayed as the day good men brought down prostitute, cattle rustler “Cattle Kate” and her partner in crime James Averell.  The Cheyenne Daily Sun called the act a “lawless but justifiable deed”, further stating that “the cattlemen have been forced to this and more hangings will follow unless there is less thieving”.  The paper, controlled by the WSGA was used as a tool to glorify the violence and spur on the disappearance and mysterious deaths of anyone who would say otherwise about Ellen and James.