||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (December 2012)|
|Ellen "Ella" Liddy Watson or Cattle Kate|
"Cattle Kate" Watson
|Born||July 2, 1861
Arran Lake, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada
|Died||July 20, 1889
Natrona County, Wyoming
|Other names||Ella Watson, Cattle Kate, Mrs. James Averell|
|Known for||lynched for political reasons|
Ellen Liddy Watson (July 2, 1861 – July 20, 1889) was a female pioneer of Wyoming who became better known as Cattle Kate, a post-claimed outlaw of the Old West. The "outlaw" characterization is a dubious one, as she was not violent and was never charged with any crime during her life. Accused of cattle rustling, she was ultimately lynched by agents of powerful cattle ranchers as an example to what happens to those that opposed them and whose interests she had threatened. Her life has become the subject of an 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 near Lebanon, Kansas after the family moved there to homestead in 1877.
At the age of sixteen, Ella was courted by a local farmer named William A. Pickell, who was three years older. The two were married on November 4, 1879. However, Pickell was verbally and physically abusive and drank heavily. He would often beat Ella with a horsewhip. In January 1883, Ella fled to back 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 to join one of her brothers lived there. She then moved on to Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was unusual during that period in American history for a woman to move independently and alone, but she found work as a seamstress and a cook.
Ella later moved on to Rawlins, Wyoming where she began working as cook and waitress in the premier boarding-house in town, the Rawlins House. It has been alleged that the Rawlins House was a brothel and Ella worked as a prostitute, but there is no evidence of either. The story was circulated in newspaper articles by influential cattle barons, in order to discredit her.
Life with Averell
Averell's first wife, was Sophia Jaeger. He had married her February 23, 1882 in Winnebago County, Wisconsin after his second enlistment. In August of that year, the two had a child, but the premature infant died shortly after birth, and Sophia later died of puerperal fever on September 9, 1882. Devastated, Averell began homesteading on the Sweetwater River, fifteen miles (24 km) north of his original homestead. He then began to frequent the Rawlins House, where he became acquainted with Ella and she eventually movied in with him.
Averell had built and opened a "road ranch" (a combination eating place and general store) on his property, serving both cowboys and settlers who traveled through to Oregon and other locations west. Ella served as the cook, and she was allowed to keep the money she made at fifty cents a meal. In March 1886, Ella's divorce became final and she and Averell applied for a marriage license in Lander, Wyoming. It is unclear whether the two were 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 WSGA
Ella filed a homestead claim adjacent to Averell's in August 1886 and built a small two-room cabin. At the time, the Maverick Law stated that unbranded calves were to be branded with an "M" and became the property of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. The cattlemen's associations limited small ranchers from bidding at auctions, and insisted that all ranchers, small and large, have a registered brand. The cost for registering a brand was quite high, to ensure that few small ranchers could afford it. Also, a brand had to be "accepted", and the cattlemen's associations had substantial power inside the committee that either rejected or accepted brands, this locking out smaller ranchers.
The wealthy cattlemen began to build portable cabins on unclaimed land, declaring it a homestead, registering it, thus making it theirs, and then move the portable cabin to another location and repeat the same process. Averell, being the local justice of the peace, began writing about these acts to a newspaper in Casper, Wyoming.
On March 23, 1888, Ella filed her claim for her homestead, where she had built her cabin two years before. This made the property hers. Between her claim and Averell's, the two now owned 320 acres (1.29 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 1888, Ella purchased 28 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, she bought a brand already registered.
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 him. Gene and another boy, fourteen-year-old John DeCorey, helped her work her steadily increasing ranch. By July 1889, she had forty-one head of cattle, and she hired a man named Frank Buchanan to mend fences.
But Albert John Bothwell, a wealthy cattleman and member of the cattlemen's association, lived only about a mile away. Jim Averell had granted Bothwell right-of-way through his land so that Bothwell could irrigate his property. Although he had never owned their land, Bothwell had used it from time to time in years past and now greatly resented the presence of their property.
Bothwell began to fence in parts of Ella's ranch and sent his cowboys to harass the couple. On July 20, 1889, a range detective, George Henderson, 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 for help, told Buchanan, who immediately rode after the wagon. By the time Buchanan arrived, the riders were in the process of lynching both Ella and Jim. Buchanan rode in and opened fire. At least one of them was wounded, but Buchanan was forced to withdraw, as the odds were ten to one. Buchanan then rode back to the ranch, where he was met by Ralph Coe and the two boys. By that time, both Jim and Ella were dead.
Aftermath of killings
County Sheriff Frank Hadsell and Deputy Sheriff Phil Watson (no relation to Ella) arrested six men for lynching. Though a trial date was set, several witnesses were intimidated and threatened, and several others were mysteriously killed. One of those who disappeared was young Gene Crowder, who was never seen again. Buchanan fled after another shoot-out with unknown suspects. Though he was seen periodically over the next two or three years, he eventually changed his name and disappeared altogether. Ralph Cole, who was a nephew to Averell, died on the very day of the trial from poisoning.
Another witness, Dan Fitger, had observed the lynchings, and had seen the riders arrive 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 later, for fear of the cattlemen. At the time of the trial, he stated he had been plowing in a field when the incident happened.
In the end, the Averell's possessions were sold off at auction, and their property eventually claimed by members of the cattlemen's association. This was one of many events that eventually sparked the Johnson County War.
Watson's relatives erected a marker in 1989 at her grave site to commemorate her death.
- In the 1950s syndicated television series, Stories of the Century, starring and narrated by Jim Davis, the actress Jean Parker appeared as "Cattle Kate", and James Seay portrayed her companion, Jim Averell.
- In the 1980 feature film Heaven's Gate, Averell is portrayed by Kris Kristofferson and Watson by Isabelle Huppert. The movie's characters, however, bear little resemblance to their historical models; Watson, for example, is depicted as making no secret of her occupation as brothel madam, having a thick French accent, and having no direct involvement in ranch work herself. (Averell's name is changed to "Averill" and he is depicted as a Harvard-educated county marshal, rather than a rancher.)
- In the 2002 fictionalized television movie The Johnson County War, Watson and Averell were referred to as "Queeny" and "Avery", respectively.
- Witness to a Lynching, a 1972 episode of Alias Smith and Jones, was based on the Averell-Watson hanging.
- The Lynching of My Great Aunt; family Bible sourced.[dead link]
- Hufsnmith, George W. (1993). The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate, 1889. Glendo, WY: High Plains Press. ISBN 0931271169. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
- "The Lynching of my great Aunt". Daniel W. Brumbaugh. Watsonkin.com website. 1998. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
- Dueling%20Newspapers.html "Dueling Newspapers: Versions of the Watson-Averell Lynching, 1889". Tom Rea. Tom Rea website. 2009. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
- Find a Grave: Ellen Liddy "Ella" Watson Retrieved September 18, 2012.