Excerpt taken from Wikipedia
Ellen Liddy Watson (July 2, 1861-July 20, 1889) was a female pioneer of Wyoming who became better known as Cattle Kate, an outlaw of the Old West. The “outlaw” characterization is a dubious one, as she was not violent and was never charged with any crime. She was ultimately lynched by agents of powerful cattle ranchers whose interests she had threatened, and her life has become the subject of Old West legend.
Cattle Kate was born Ellen Liddy Watson on July 2, 1861, in Arran Lake, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada. Her father was Thomas Lewis Watson, and her mother was Francis Close Watson. She was called Ella in her youth, and she was the eldest of ten children born to the Watson family, the later four of which were born in Kansas after the family moved there in 1877.
The family settled near Lebanon, Kansas, and began to homestead. At the age of sixteen Ella was courted by a local farmer named William A. Pickell, who was three years older than she. The two were married on November 4, 1879. However, Pickell was abusive, both verbally and physically, and drank heavily. He often would beat Ella with a horsewhip. In January 1883, Ella fled to her parents’ home. Pickell came after her, but was intimidated by her father and fled, having no contact with her afterward. Ella filed for divorce and moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska, fourteen miles (21 km) north of her family’s homestead.
That same year she moved, against her family’s wishes, to Denver, Colorado. One of her brothers lived there, and she stayed with him for a time, then moved on to Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was unusual during that period in American history for a woman to move independently and alone. However, she did so, finding work as both a seamstress and a cook.
Ella later moved on to Rawlins, Wyoming. While in Rawlins she began working as cook and waitress in the premier boarding-house/hostelry in town, the Rawlins House. (It is sometimes alleged that the Rawlins House was a brothel and Ella worked as a prostitute there, but it was not a brothel, and there is no evidence Ella ever worked as a prostitute anywhere. The canard that Ella was a prostitute was circulated later on by the influential cattle barons, in order to discredit her.)
Life with Averell
On February 24, 1886, Ella met a homesteader named James Averell, who was in town on business. The two began a romance, and she moved with him to his homestead near the Sweetwater River country.
He had previously married Sophia Jaeger after his second service in the army was up. The two had a child together, but both Sophia and the infant died from fever in August 1882. Devastated, Averell began homesteading fifteen miles (24 km) north of the homestead he had worked while married to Sophia. He began to frequent the Rawlins House, where he became acquainted with Ella, who then moved to his home.
Jim had built and opened a “road ranch” (a combination eating place and general store) on his homestead property, serving both cowboys and settlers who traveled through headed to Oregon and other locations west. Ella served as the cook, and she was allowed to keep the money she made, fifty cents a meal. In March 1886, Ella’s divorce became final. Ella and Averell applied for a marriage license in Lander, Wyoming, that same year, but it is unclear whether the two ever legally married, as the license was never filed. On June 26, 1886, Averell was appointed postmaster of the community. Ella, however, expressed her desire to have her own ranch, working independently from his.
Confrontations with the cattlemen’s association
Ella filed on a homestead adjacent to Averell’s in August 1886 and built a small two-room cabin. At the time, the Maverick Law stated that unbranded calves found on a property were to be branded with an “M” and became the property of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, a powerful group of cattlemen at the time. The cattlemen’s association limited small ranchers from bidding on cattle at auctions, and insisted that all ranchers, small and large, have a registered brand. The cost for registering a brand was set quite high, to ensure that few smaller ranchers could afford it. Also, a brand had to be “accepted”, and the cattlemen’s association had substantial power inside the committee that either rejected or accepted brands. Essentially, this locked out many smaller ranchers from operating within the scope of the law of the time.
The wealthy cattlemen began to build portable cabins on land, claiming it as homesteads, thus making the land theirs, and after registering it with the county, they would simply move the portable cabins to another location and repeat the same process over again. Averell, being the local justice of the peace, began writing about these acts to a newspaper in Casper, Wyoming. This infuriated the cattlemen.
On March 23, 1888, Ella filed her claim for her homestead, where she had built her cabin two years before. By law, this made the property hers. Between her claim and Averell’s, the two owned 320 acres (1.3 km2). She fenced much of the property and built a livery stable and several corrals. In 1888, under extreme pressure from small ranchers and homesteaders, the governor repealed the Maverick Law, bringing on heavy opposition from the wealthy cattlemen. By now, Ella had been dubbed by local newspapers as “Cattle Kate”.
In the fall of that year, Ella purchased twenty-eight cattle from a man who was driving them from Nebraska to Salt Lake City, Utah. On December 3, 1888, Ella applied for the “WT” brand, but was rejected. On March 16, 1889, likely feeling her own brand would never be accepted, she bought a brand already registered, thus now having a legal operating brand.
That same year she adopted an eleven-year-old boy named Gene Crowder, whose father, a heavy drinker who was unable to properly care for his son, had worked for her previously. Gene and another boy, fourteen-year-old John DeCorey, worked her steadily increasing ranch. By the middle of July 1889, she had forty-one head of cattle, and she hired man named Frank Buchanan to mend fences. Albert John Bothwell, a wealthy cattleman and member of the cattlemen’s association, lived only about a mile from the ranch. Although he had never owned the area of land on which Ella’s ranch was now located, he had used it from time to time in years past. He now greatly resented the presence of her ranch.
Jim Averell had granted Bothwell right-of-way so that Bothwell could irrigate his property. Bothwell began to fence in parts of Ella’s ranch and sent cowboys working for him to harass the couple. On July 20, 1889, a range detective, George Henderson, who was working for Bothwell, accused Ella of rustling cattle from Bothwell and branding them with her own brand. The cattlemen sent riders to arrest Ella. While young Gene Crowder watched, they forced her into a wagon, telling her they were going to Rawlins.
Crowder rode to tell Averell and Buchanan what had happened, finding Buchanan first, and Buchanan rode after the wagon. By the time Buchanan arrived, the group of riders were lynching both Ella and Jim. Buchanan rode in and opened fire on the riders, and a shoot-out followed. At least one of the vigilante riders was wounded, but Buchanan was forced to withdraw, as there were around ten men facing him. He then rode to the ranch, where he was met by employee Ralph Coe and the two teenage boys. By that time, both Jim and Ella were dead.
County sheriff Frank Hadsell and deputy sheriff Phil Watson (no relation to Ella) arrested six men for the hangings. A trial date was set, but prior to the date several witnesses were intimidated and threatened, and several people were killed mysteriously. One of those who disappeared was young Gene Crowder, who was never seen again. Buchanan fled after another shoot-out with unknown suspects, and was seen periodically over the next two to three years, eventually changing his name and disappearing all together. Ralph Coe, who was a nephew to Averell, died the very day of the trial, from poisoning.
Another witness, Dan Fitger, had observed the lynchings, and had seen the riders arrive at the location with Buchanan riding far behind. He also witnessed the shoot-out between Buchanan and the riders, stating that at least one of the vigilante riders was wounded, possibly two. However, he did not come forward until years after the incident, for fear of the cattlemen. At the time of the trial, it was unknown that Fitger had witnessed this. He stated he had been plowing in a field when the incident happened.
In the end, Jim’s and Ella’s possessions were sold off in auction, and their property eventually became the property of members of the cattlemen’s association. This was one of many events that eventually sparked the Johnson County War.
Code of the West
Written by Sandy Seaton
Ella Liddy Watson stood proud at six foot two
Sparkling eyes and willing smile for all she loved to do
But married to a farmer, Kansas neighbor man
She learned the feel of meanness, and soon she packed and ran.
She cooked across the prairies, heart yearning for the West
There’s always work for bakers, and Ella topped the best.
She filed divorce in Denver, then she’s Wyoming bound
She’d heard of work in Rawlins, and free homesteading ground.
Cookin’ at the Rawlins House, ’til Jim Averell came through
He sparked a fire in Ella, he’s a gentleman and true
Down from Sweetwater Valley, owned a farm he’d claimed up there
Ella dreamed of owning land, and all that they could share.
One homestead to a family, that’s strict Wyoming code
A wife can’t file a separate claim, so to Lander off they rode
To marry there in secret, their love known in their heart
They struck out for the valley, to make a brand new start.
Ella staked a homestead out on Horse Creek near her man
There she ran a store and cookhouse, up north of ol’ Cheyenne
She gathered homeless children, who’d found the need to roam
She gave them food and loving, a safe and precious home.
One day in cold mid-winter, a wagon train came by
With 28 old mother cows, their calves had sucked them dry
Starved and nearly staggering, frostbit, worn and beat
A buck apiece changed hands and Ella’s cowherd was complete.
She fed them and she doctored, she kept them all alive
The calves grew sleek and sassy, and the cows began to thrive
The orphaned kids had chores now, feedin’, up at dawn
They nicknamed Ella Cattle Kate, and so their lives went on.
They were settlers, Jim and Ella, just playin’ with a herd
But settlers should be farmers, and soon there spread the word
To cattle baron Bothwell, who owned adjoining land
This greenhorn female sodbuster had burned her cattle brand.
Now cattlemen were angry, in 1889
At farmers and homesteaders, for their cabins were a sign
That days of open rangeland, and water left for cows
Could not survive these families, with their grass-destroying plows.
Bothwell seethed resentment, it struck him to his core
A farmer woman owning cows sparked off a cattle war
He staked out skull and crossbones on Jim and Ella’s land
The couple just ignored his threats, they dug in for a stand.
Bothwell rode from ranch to ranch, mid-summer made his stance
He stirred a mob to back him, and Ella had no chance
He knew she had no papers, on those poor cows she’d bought
So he told a liar’s story, and spun his gruesome plot.
The ranchers all believed him, that Ella rustled beef
For Bothwell said her calves had died, and branded her a thief
Tempers flared in fury, this damn woman must be taught
Cattlemen still ran the land, and rustlers soon were caught.
Albert Bothwell led the charge to Jim and Ella’s store
The pounding hooves and shouting men were one bloodthirsty roar
Ella’s voice was soft yet strong, but still they made her pay
Moaning winds still mark the shame of that hot mindless day.
The ranchers yelled for hanging, their maddened horses raced
The pine was huge and twisted, the ropes were slung in haste
The sun glared though the branches on Ella’s blooded bay
Jim screamed and pleaded with the men to let her ride away.
A woman in a hangman’s noose was not the western way
Though Bothwell led the cowardice, no cowman thought to pray
There in Sweetwater Valley, that rolling land of fate
The legend born that never dies:
THE LYNCHING OF CATTLE KATE
(with permission and courtesy of poet, Sandy Seaton)
Daniel Watson Brumbough, the Great Nephew of Ellen Liddy Watson (aka “Cattle Kate”), investigated his great aunt’s life, and the circumstances surrounding her death. His story is told on this website: “The Lynching Of My Great Aunt”. Daniel also assisted author and composer George Hufsmith in the writing of the book “The Wyoming Lynching Of Cattle Kate 1889″. The Watson Family organized a reunion of Ellen Watson’s nieces and nephews, in Casper Wyoming on July 19-21 1989 – exactly 100 years after Ellen’s death. They toured Ellen’s homestead on the “Pathfinder Ranch” and viewed the display in the Casper historical museume. They also put up a monument at Ellen Watson’s and Jim Averell’s grave site, and actually stood on the rock under the tree, where they were hung.