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Old West Legends IconOLD WEST LEGENDS

Cattle Kate - Mystery of a Lynching

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Cattle Kate

Cattle Kate This image is available for photographic prints HERE!

 

"Witnesses were murdered or disappeared mysteriously or were bought off. The three Cheyenne papers, dominated by incredibly wealthy cattle interests, trumped up the ridiculous stories everyone knows today about Ellen being a dirty whore and rustler, and Jim her accomplice, pimp and murderous paramour."

--  George W. Hufsmith in The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate, 1889

 

 

 

Ellen Watson, dubbed by local newspapers in the late 1880ís, as "Cattle Kate,Ē has long been thought of as an outlaw. Watson and her husband, James Averell were hanged by vigilantes near the Sweetwater River in Wyoming on July 20, 1889 for the accused crime of cattle rustling. However, there is a mystery surrounding the hangings and it appears that their deaths were unjustified, perpetrated by powerful land and cattle owners of the time.

 

Ellen Liddy Watson was born on July 2, 1861 to Thomas Lewis Watson and Frances Close Watson near Arran Lake, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada. Ella, as she was called, was the oldest of ten children, six of which were also born in Canada before the family moved to Kansas in 1877. Settling near Lebanon in Smith County, Kansas, Thomas homesteaded the land.

 

Before long, Ella, as she was called, met a young man by the name of William A Pickell who lived on a neighboring farm. On November 24, 1879, the 18-year-old Ella and 21-year-old William were married. But within just a few short months Ella found that her husband was both a heavy drinker and an abusive man. Often, he would verbally abuse her then escalate the violence to physical blows and striking her with a horsewhip. By January 1883, she could take it no longer and fled to her parentís home. Later, she moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska, 14 miles north of her parentís farm to put even more distance between herself and her estranged husband. On February 14, 1884, she filed for divorce.

 

Against her parentís wishes, Ella moved to Denver, Colorado after filing for divorce. Seeking better opportunities, she lived with a brother for a short time, but didnít stay long. Ella then moved again, first to Cheyenne, Wyoming, then to Rawlins, Wyoming in late 1885 or early 1886. She found employment at a boarding house called the "Rawlins HouseĒ as a cook and domestic for about two years. Watson has often been misidentified as a prostitute because the Rawlins House was erroneously thought to have been a brothel.

 

On February 24, 1886, she met a handsome young man named James Averell, who was in Rawlins to file a claim on his homestead 60 miles east of Rawlins near the Sweetwater River. Immediately, the two fell for each other and began to court.

 

James Averell was born on March 20, 1851 to John and Sarah Ann Averell in Renfrew County, Ontario Canada. The youngest of seven children, his father died shortly after his birth. At the age of 20, Averell, now in the U.S., joined the military and was initially assigned to Fort Douglas, Utah and later transferred to Fort Fred Steele, Wyoming, 15 miles east of Rawlins. In 1876 he was discharged but he soon re-enlisted, this time assigned to Fort McKinley, Wyoming, near Buffalo.

 

In Buffalo he shot and killed a man by the name of Charlie Johnson, a mean hombre with a reputation for fighting and creating trouble whenever he was drinking. Averell claimed that Johnson had threatened him many times with a knife and on this particular occasion, James shot the man in the leg and again in the back when the shot to the leg swung the huge man around. James was held in jail at Rawlins for a time while two grand juries were convened, but he was never convicted and was eventually released.

 

Averell established a homestead on Cherry Creek at the north base of Ferris Mountain and married a young woman by the name of Sophia Jaeger on February 23, 1882. On August 23, 1882, Sophia gave birth to a three-month premature baby boy who lived for only a short time. Soon thereafter, Sophia took sick with what was called "child bed feverĒ at the time and she also died. The homestead carried too many sad memories for Averell so he sold it and established another about fifteen miles north, between Horse Creek and the Sweetwater River.

 

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James Averell

James Averell. This image is available for photographic prints HERE!

 

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