from my post over at https://cowboykisses.blogspot.com
Sometimes when I do research, I discover fascinating individuals who led gloriously exciting lives and then retired in peace, children and grandchildren sitting at their feet. The happily ever after. The ending we’d all like. Truth is, though, sometimes a hero has her moment early on and from there it’s not a very pretty spiral downward.
This is my impression of the life of Apache warrior woman Dahteste (pronounced ta-DOT-say).
Born around 1860 she chose her path as a warrior. The Apache let you do that. A fairly open-minded society, you could be a warrior, a homemaker, a medicine man, whatever, as long as you worked at it and could deliver. Dahteste was known for her beauty, but she was also clearly respected for her fighting, riding, hunting, and shooting skills. She was fast and she was mean. No man challenged her light-heartedly. And she proved her worth repeatedly on raids with the Apache. In fact, she rode with Cochise (you might remember him. He led an uprising against the U.S. government that started in 1861 and didn’t end until ’72). Remarkably, Dahteste was barely a teenager! Her fighting didn’t end, however, with Cochise’s acceptance of a peace treaty. She continued it by riding with Geronimo. Who knows how many “white-eyes” lost their lives to her rifle?
Geronimo surrendered in 1886. Dahteste over the years had picked up quite a bit of English, had even served as a cavalry scout for a time, so she negotiated the great chief’s surrender. Her reward? She was arrested and shipped to a prison in Florida where she stayed for eight years. Then she was moved to the military prison at Fort Sill, OK where she was a guest for nineteen years. During her time as a resident of the US Army’s military prison system, she survived pneumonia and tuberculosis. I suspect she survived much more than that.
During this time she divorced her husband Ahnandia (one of Geronimo’s original warriors) and within a few years married fellow inmate and former Army scout Coonie. The couple was released in 1919 and moved to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico.
Dahteste, reports say, never spoke English again and wore only beautiful beaded native clothing. She left her long black hair down and unbraided, but always brushed. She was a proud Apache woman who walked with her chin up.
Though she did, indeed, retire with children and grandchildren around her feet, none of them were hers by blood, and she was not generally known to smile much. I hope she spent her final years enjoying peace and happiness, but I don’t get that sense. I think Dahteste was a survivor and she did so with more grim determination than optimism.
The thing about history that makes me crazy is that we can’t know, short of letters or diaries, what made a person tick. I try hard to read between the lines when I study someone so that I may question with boldness common assumptions. So is the case with “Cattle Kate”, the first woman lynched in Wyoming. Her life story was defined for us by greedy cattle barons and dutifully reported by a cowardly, boot-licking press. According to these men, Ella was a prostitute, a cattle thief, and a fornicator. She traded sex for cows and had no compunctions about doing a little cattle rustling on the side.
More likely, she was a woman with a brain in her head and a fire in her eye.
At 18 Ella married an abusive drunk who beat her with a horse whip. She put it up with it for four years, then left the loser and filed for divorce. Truly a rare thing in 1883. Strong-willed and stubborn, Ella stayed with her family only a few months then moved out on her own. Maybe she’d had enough of the men in her life trying to run things for her? Life took her from Nebraska, to Denver, to, finally, fatefully, Wyoming. She made her living alternately as a seamstress and cook. There is no evidence she ever worked as a prostitute at any time in her life.
She met Jim Averill while she was cooking at the Rawlins House. Jim had a road ranch on his homestead, catering to travelers and cowboys. Ella worked as his cook and was paid for her time. She eventually bought her own land, started her own ranch, and acquired her own legally registered brand. She and Jim did apply for a marriage license in 1886, but never filed it. It was common knowledge they had a relationship, but the intricacies of it were known only to them. Ella also took in two young boys who came from abusive homes and they worked her ranch for her.
Ella’s ranching activities brought her into direct conflict with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. For nearly two years, she and Jim were threatened, harassed and watched incessantly by riders from the WSGA. Not interested in backing down, Jim wrote fiery letters to the newspapers, decrying the greed and tyranny of the cattle barons. The cattle barons were appalled by these two cheeky colonials and determined to make an example of them for all the other up-start ranchers.
On July 20, 1889, Ella and Jim were accused of rustling cattle from a neighbor’s ranch. Riders took the couple to a gulch and hung them from a stunted pine, not more than two feet off the ground. Evidence suggests they didn’t go down (or up) without one whale of a fight.
At the time of her death, Ella had 41 head of cattle, a little over 300 acres, and a tenacious fighting spirit that burnt bright right up to the last second of her life. If there is any justice here, it is that we remember her to this day, not the cowards who hung her.