Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pistols, Petticoats, and Poker

     I first read about Lottie Deno in the pages of a Texas history book, Ida Lasater Huckabay’s Ninety-Four Years in Jack County, 1854-1948 (privately published by the author in 1948). Lottie Deno, Huckabay explained, was one of the most successful gamblers at Fort Griffin during the Old West days of Lone Star State. Lottie, whose real name was unknown, was also regarded as strange and very reserved. Somewhere along the way she earned the nickname Mystic Maud. 
     Jan Devereaux, recipient of awards from both the Western Outlaw-Lawmen History Association and the National Association for Outlaw and Lawman History Association, carefully backtracked the legendary Lottie Deno’s life, sifting through the folklore until she could reconstruct a true portrait of the lady gambler. Even the oft-published photograph identified as being that of Lottie Deno, Ms. Devereaux learned, was actually of someone else. 
     Lottie Deno is said to have been the inspiration for the character Miss Kitty Russell, the red-headed saloon keeper portrayed by actress Amanda Blake in the long-running TV series Gunsmoke. “We never say it, but Kitty is a prostitute, pure and simple,” said Norman McDowell, the show’s creator. Jan Devereaux found evidence where Lottie Deno was charged with “keeping a disorderly house.” Like Miss Kitty, Lottie Deno was described as having dark red hair.
     In Silver City, New Mexico, in 1880, Lottie Deno, at age 35, wedded Frank Thurmond. The marriage license records giving her name as Carlotta J. Thompkins. 
     Despite these discoveries much of the colorful Old West character’s life is shrouded in mystery. Jan Devereaux’s research unfolds in a book entitled Pistols, Petticoats, & Poker: The Real Lottie Deno: No Lies or Alibis. This well-documented, 277-page volume includes more than 100 photographs. It's available from the publisher’s website, High-LonesomeBooks.com

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