Cattle Kate

Cattle Kate

Cattle Kate is the only woman ever lynched as a cattle rustler. History called it “range land justice” when she was strung up in Wyoming Territory on July 20, 1889, ...

About The Author

Jana Bommersbach

Jana Bommersbach is one of Arizona's most respected and acclaimed journalists. She has earned numerous national, state and regional awards, ...

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Chapter One

I Can’t Believe This

I never thought I’d die like this.

There’s a bucketful of ways I could go. Snake bite. Thrown by Goldie. Shot by a cowboy. Trampled by a steer. Freeze to death. Drown in the river. Come down sick. Maybe an Indian attack, but this is already 1889 and I think the fight has been beat out of them.

I never thought I’d be hanging here at the end of a rope.

Not strung up like a side of beef. Not twisting and bucking and bumping into my Jimmy as he hangs by his own rope. His sad eyes begging forgiveness, like this was his fault.

Not lynched in a lonely canyon in Wyoming Territory on a pretty Saturday afternoon when I should be getting supper ready.

I’m still not believing it. This can’t be happening. This can’t be the end already. I know they’ll come to their senses and cut us down. They have to!

No, I am not going to die like this. Not after I just turned twenty-nine.

I’m going to die proper. An old lady, tucked under a quilt in bed with my people all around me. Jimmy’s wrinkled hand holding mine. Years and years of happy memories. My feet tired from all the dancing I did.

I intend to have a full life. I’ve worked hard for it. I’ve risked so much for it. I have too many plans. All my dreams!

I’m going to have children.

I’m going to be a happy grandma. I’m going to reveal I’m Jimmy’s wife. I’m going to prove up my claim.

I’m going to become a citizen.

I’m going to celebrate when we’re finally a state. I’m going to see Gene grow up.

I’m going to dance at the fandango.

I haven’t even been to the Opera House yet. I saved the beautiful hair comb Jimmy gave me, and a woman can’t have something so dear and never get to wear it.

I will die listening to my cattle bellowin’, like they had a complaint, which is the way a cow always sounds. I will die with the feel of their wirehair hides. I will die smelling their musty scent that town folks can’t stand. I will die satisfied, because to me that is the sound and feel and smell of freedom.

When I die, our Homestead Certificates will be proudly framed on the living room wall, telling the world this land is ours and we worked five long, hard years to earn it.

Ma and Pa will be buried back in Kansas by the time I die. I’ll fill in Ma’s Bible with their dates, just like I’ve done with all our losses over my lifetime. Oh God, I can’t die before my Ma. She already lost seven children. It would kill her to lose me, too.

They say that when you die, your life flashes before you in an instant, but I had it going into the future instead. I thought about all those things the seconds after that man finally got a rope around my neck.

And that’s when it got through my thick skull: Ella Watson, you might really die out here today.

Oh, my God, I’m being strangled by a cowboy’s rope!

If I had ever imagined this, the rope would come from some deranged bandito or dirty lowlife—someone who’d take my life like he was stealin’ eggs from the henhouse. Who could imagine it would be these men?

That man sat at my roadhouse dinner table braggin’ about my pies. That one got his mail from Jimmy every week. That one had me sign a petition for a new county. That one praised my sturdy corral.

Now here they are, these pillars of the community—liquored up, hootin’—pretending they’re going to let me and Jimmy die. They’re trying to scare us—alright, I’m scared. And mad. And more than done with this nonsense.

Sure, they’re cattlemen and we’re homesteaders and that’s like oil and water. But somebody has to stand up to them. My Jimmy and me are standuppers.

But now it’s getting us killed!

If they think I’ll go peaceful-like, they’re getting the surprise of their lives. I’m kicking and swirling and jumping and screaming like the Texas Rangers will hear me and ride in any minute. I’m kicking so hard, I just kicked off the beautiful beaded moccasins I got this morning—they went flying, and now my

feet are in their stockings and I’m kicking still.

“This is what cattle rustlers get in Wyoming Territory.”

Just heard those words, but this isn’t about rustling. We all know what’s really going on here. And any second now, some- body is going to get his head on straight and put an end to this.

I’m certain we’ll be saved.

By the end of this day, I’ll be back in my kitchen. I’m making an extra special supper tonight. You bet I am! I’ve got to make up for all the pain and suffering we’ve been through this afternoon. My Jimmy deserves a great big, juicy steak. I’ve got fresh peas from the garden and I’ll stew them in real cream. I’ll make his favorite pie. Rhubarb.

I’m going to eat like a pig until I bust my skirt button. I deserve it.

It’s not every day a woman has to fight off a lynch mob that doesn’t have the sense God gave a goose.

No, I didn’t live this life to end up lynched by a vigilante mob. So STOP IT, RIGHT NOW!

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