Little Britches (outlaw)

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Jennie Stevens, or Little Britches
Born 1879
Barton County, Missouri, USA
Died Unknown
Unknown
Residence

Indian Territory

Oklahoma Territory
Occupation American outlaw
Spouse(s)

Divorced from Benjamin Midkiff and Robert Stephens

Possible third husband unknown
Parents Daniel and Lucy Stevenson

Little Britches (born Jennie Stevenson in 1879; date and place of death unknown) was an outlaw in the American Old West associated with Cattle Annie. Their exploits are fictionalized in the 1981 film, Cattle Annie and Little Britches, directed by Lamont Johnson and starring Diane Lane as Little Britches.

Background[edit]

Jennie Stevens, as she was mostly known, was born in Barton County in southwestern Missouri, to a farm couple, Daniel and Lucy Stevenson.[1] Her one known sister was Victoria Estella Stevenson. Apparently she dropped the "son" from her maiden name; her second husband was apparently named "Stephens", not "Stevens." For a time she was hence Jennie Stevenson Stephens. The Stevenson family lived during part of the 1880s in Seneca in Newton County, also in southwestern Missouri on the eastern border of Oklahoma, then Indian Territory. The Stevensons then moved into the Creek Nation at Sinnett in Pawnee County in the northern Indian Territory. Like her friend Cattle Annie (born Anna Emmaline McDoulet), Little Britches followed stories of the Bill Doolin gang written by such dime novelists as Ned Buntline.[1]

Enchantment with crime[edit]

Little Britches joined the Doolin gang but she lost her horse and returned home to the stern rebuke of her father. Determined nevertheless to pursue a life of crime, in March 1895, she married a deaf-mute and a horse dealer, Benjamin Midkiff. They established housekeeping in a hotel in Perry in Noble County in northern Oklahoma,. When Midkiff found her unfaithful, he returned the teenager to her father after the two had been together for only six weeks. Within a day of returning home, she began riding along the Arkansas River in search of outlaw adventure.[1]

Soon she apparently married Robert Stephens, but the union lasted only six months. At a community dance Jennie and Annie met the Doolin gang, later called the Wild Bunch, not the Butch Cassidy gang of the same name. These outlaws, all eleven of whom met violent deaths, maintained a hideaway in the Creek Nation Cave, located on the Cimarron River in Payne County near Ingalls east of Stillwater, Oklahoma. At a shootout in Ingalls in 1893, three marshals were killed.[1]

Excellent horsewomen and markswomen who dressed in men's clothing, Little Britches and Cattle Annie evaded law enforcement and became known for their daring pursuits throughout the region. The pair sold whisky to the Osage and Pawnee tribes and engaged in horse theft. Operating either together or alone, they alerted other outlaws about the location of law-enforcement officers.[1]

In mid-August 1895, Jennie Stevens was captured, but she soon escaped from a restaurant in Pawnee, Oklahoma Territory, while she was in the custody of Sheriff Frank Lake. Journalist accounts maintain that she left through the back door of the establishment despite the presence of a guard. She tore off her dress, grabbed the horse of a deputy marshal, and galloped away into the night. U.S. Marshals Bill Tilghman and his deputy, Steve Burke, quickly tracked down Annie and Little Britches. Though Burke caught Cattle Annie as she was climbing from a window, Tilghman had more difficulty in the apprehension of Little Britches, who fired with a Winchester rifle at both lawmen. Tilghman then shot the horse of Little Britches; as the animal fell to the ground, Little Britches was taken into custody and jailed but only after she had tried to shoot Tilghman with a pistol and then to attack him physically.[1][2]

The Oklahoma Journal of History and Culture contends that Tilghman likely had nothing to do with the apprehension of Little Britches. Newspapers credited both captures to Lake, Burke, and Frank Canton, another deputy marshal. The publication contends that neither girl had been involved with the Doolins or any other outlaw gang.[3]

Imprisonment[edit]

The trial of the two young women for horse theft and the sale of alcohol to the Indians was held before U.S. District Judge Andrew Gregg Curtin Bierer, Sr. (1862-1951)[4] at his court in Guthrie in Logan County, capital of the Oklahoma Territory.[1]

Cattle Annie received a one-year sentence and was dispatched in 1895 to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Framingham in Middlesex County, in northeastern Massachusetts. Because of poor health, Cattle Annie was paroled but remained in Framingham for some time thereafter,[1] but she returned to Oklahoma and had two sons before she was divorced from Earl Frost. She then married Whitmore R. Roach, a painting contractor in Oklahoma City. Cattle Annie died in 1978 at the age of nearly ninety-six, having spent her last working years as a bookkeeper and an active member of a Baptist Church.[5]

Under the name Jennie Midkiff, from her first husband of six weeks, Little Britches was incarcerated for two months in the Guthrie jail as a material witness in a murder trial. She had witnessed a shooting while working as a domestic. Little Britches' two-year prison sentence for horse theft and selling whisky to the Indians began in 1895. She too was sentenced to the reformatory in Framingham. She was released in October 1896, under terms of good behavior, and returned to her parents. Her final years are unknown though some stories circulated that she married for a third time, reared a family, and led an exemplary life thereafter in Tulsa.[1]

Little Britches and Cattle Annie thwarted the law for only two years in the Indian and Oklahoma territories, but their escapades proved a challenge to law enforcement and the judicial system. It is unknown if Little Britches was "rehabilitated" through her confinement in Framingham, one of the few prisons then available for female inmates.[1]

Portrayals in television and film[edit]

Actress Gloria Winters of the Sky King aviation adventure television series, portrayed Little Britches in a 1954 episode of the syndicated Stories of the Century, a western anthology series starring and narrated by Jim Davis. In this story, Little Britches became smitten with an outlaw named Dave Ridley, played by James Best, rather than Bill Doolin. Little Britches is shown at the conclusion of the episode leaving the Framingham reformatory and anonymously working in a soup kitchen in a slum section of New York City.[6]

In the film Cattle Annie and Little Britches, Diane Lane portrays Little Britches and Amanda Plummer in her film debut is Cattle Annie, Burt Lancaster is an historically inaccurate and much older Bill Doolin, Rod Steiger is Marshal Tilghman, Scott Glenn is Bill Dalton, and Buck Taylor (known as the young blacksmith-turned-deputy on CBS's Gunsmoke) plays Dynamite Dick, a fictional character conflating elements of several real people. Bill Doolin was shot to death at the age of thirty-eight by Marshal Heck Thomas; Lancaster was sixty-seven when he played Doolin in the film.[7]

Other uses of Little Britches[edit]

Little Britches the outlaw should not be confused with the childhood autobiography by Ralph Moody entitled, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers, the story of a boy growing up on a ranch near Littleton, Colorado.[8] Nor should Little Britches the outlaw be confused with the National Little Britches Rodeo Association, which bills itself as the "oldest, continuing junior rodeo association in the nation," directed toward the interests of western-minded youth.[9] The National Little Britches Rodeo Finals are held annually in late July at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo.[10]

"Little Britches" is used across the United States as the proper name of numerous business, including day-care centers, pediatric clinics, clothing stores, bakeries, boutiques, and even an employment agency for nannies.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Cattle Annie & Little Britches, taken from Lee Paul [http://www.theoutlaws.com]". ranchdivaoutfitters.com. Retrieved December 27, 2012. 
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters, p. 325. University of Oklahoma Press at Norman, Oklahoma (1979); ISBN=978-0-8061-2335-6. Retrieved December 27, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Cattle Annie". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Obituary of Andrew Gregg Curtin, Jr. (1899-1956), with reference to his father as a federal judge". usgennet.org. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Anna Emmaline "Cattle Annie" McDoulet Roach". findagrave.com. Retrieved December 28, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Stories of the Century: "Little Britches", June 17, 1954". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 16, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Cattle Annie and Little Britches". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved December 27, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers, ISBN=978-0803281783". Bison Books, 1991. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Where Legend Begins". National Little Britches Rodeo Association. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  10. ^ "National Little Britches Rodeo Finals". colorado.com. Retrieved August 18, 2013.