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Like a Phoenix, Queen of the Utes Rose from the Ashes … Literally

John had Abigail. Romeo had Juliet. Chief Ouray had Chipeta.

Chief Ouray and Chipeta

Chief Ouray and Chipeta

Unless you live in Colorado or are a student of history, you’ve probably never heard of her. She was the second wife of the Ute chief, but she came to be so much more.

Dubbed “Queen of the Utes” by a reporter contemptuous of Indians, a poet turned the slam into an homage. And well-deserved it was.

When Chipeta was only an infant, a band of renegades attacked her Kiowa village. She was the sole survivor. Friendly Utes found her crawling through the smoking remains and adopted her. Many years later, when Chief Ouray’s first wife died, Chipeta became the caretaker for his son. Ouray was impressed with the girl’s keen mind, compassion, and poise. Eventually the two married and were inseparable from then on.

Chipeta traveled everywhere with Ouray, which was highly unusual for Ute culture. But he valued her counsel. She was a true confidante and friend, and one of his biggest supporters as he tried to navigate the treacherous road of negotiations with the US government.

Ouray’s overriding goal was peace with the whites. Just like in all the movies, there were hot-headed braves and opportunistic tribal leaders who hated him for “selling out”. There were some Ute bands that wouldn’t speak with him, but they welcomed his wife. Where Ouray could not go, the soft-spoken, perceptive Chipeta would hold councils and share the information with her husband as he sought to save his people, albeit on smaller and smaller pieces of land.

In 1879, an uprising at the White River Res resulted in the deaths of 11 white men, including the Indian agent, Nathan Meeker. Meeker’s wife and daughter and several others were taken captive at the massacre, enraging the government. Tradition says Chipeta housed and cared for the girls, and then, along with Ouray, negotiated their release.

This event, coupled with another deadly skirmish between Utes and soldiers, resulted in the Ute Removal Act. The entire tribe was relocated to scrub and sand in Utah. Ouray died there in 1880.

Chipeta met tribal leaders and government officials alike. They all honored and respected her. She traveled to Washington, D.C. with Ouray to negotiate a peace treaty with the government. She dined with Kit Carson and his family, and rode in a train with President Taft. Yet, for most of her life she lived confined to a government reservation, subsisting on poverty-level subsidies. Still, she always spoke up for her people, never let her conditions break her, and stubbornly believed in peace.

Chipeta died in Utah in 1924. Upon her death, Colorado petitioned to have her and Chief Ouray exhumed and reinterred in Montrose. Perhaps now the Queen of the Utes finally has her peace.

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Don’t miss my new book, Hearts in Defiance, coming out in September 2014!
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Virginia Taught Her to Smile; Texas Taught Her to Fight

The past and the present

The past and the present

I love the stories of women who, on the verge of losing everything, look defeat squarely in the eye and knock the snot out of it.

When Sarah Cockrell’s husband Alexander died in 1858, he left her with three small children and a few struggling businesses. Oh, and a mountain of debt.

At the time of his death, Alexander owned a sawmill, gristmill, office building, and a ferry business in Dallas. Recognizing Sarah’s business acumen, and since he couldn’t read or write, he let her handle his books, as well as his correspondence. Upon Alexander’s passing, Sarah did not wring her hands and think about running back to Virginia. She jumped in, wrestled his debt to the ground and emerged with a sound company.

Sarah is remembered in Texas, though, for the construction of an iron suspension bridge across the Trinity River. The Texas state legislature  OKed her idea for the venture in 1860, but it took her 12 years and the end of the Civil War to bring it about. In 1872, the bridge opened up Dallas to several major roads and ushered in a pretty energetic economic boom. Ironically, while her bridge company did well and the city blossomed, Sarah never sat on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company. It wasn’t customary. She owned the majority of stock and could have sat at the head of the table, but methinks a few men on the board didn’t like the competition.

And they had reason to fear this little lady. She was just getting rolling. The bridge deal was good to Sarah and by the 1880’s she was dabbling in real estate, becoming a regular Donald Trump.  In 1889 she handled fifty-three separate land deals and in both 1890 and 1891 more than twenty.1 By 1892, the belle from Virginia owned a quarter of downtown Dallas.

There are plaques and charities and buildings named for Sarah. Who remembers the men on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company, hmmm?

1 Texas State Historical Association

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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A Teenage Girl and a Handsome Bandit. The Stuff of Legends and Regrets.

Do you remember your first boyfriend? Was he, perhaps, a bit of a bad influence? Did you follow him into escapades that now leave you wondering in horror, what was I thinking? Cheer up. He probably never shot it out with US Marshals.

Rose Dunn, youngest of ten, was born in Oklahoma and received a formal education from a convent. In the meantime, two of her brothers went astray of the law and started hanging around some pretty tough characters. Sometime in 1892, they brought George “Bittercreek” Newcomb home. Newcomb was a known outlaw who rode with the likes of Bill Doolin and the Wild Bunch. Perhaps this bandit mystique was part of his charm. Either way, at the impressionable age of 14, Rose was in love.

Rose, sometime in the 1920's

Rose, sometime in the 1920’s

Happily at the beck-and-call of the 29-year-old Newcomb, Rose rode with him when she could, often fetched supplies and groceries from town for the gang, and, after a particularly violent shoot-out in ‘93, lovingly nursed his wounds. As story-tellers have a practice of doing, she was dubbed Rose of the Cimarron. Legend says she managed to get a gun and two belts of ammo to Newcomb as US Marshals were shooting at him, thus enabling him and companion Charley Pierce to escape. The marshals didn’t mention Rose in their reports, however. Admittedly, it would have been more than a little annoying, arguably embarrassing, to confess a fugitive got away because his fifteen-year-old girlfriend interfered.

Regardless, this shoot-out resulted in the deaths of three lawmen, raising the bounty on Newcomb and Pierce to the serious sum of $5,000 each. A price worthy of Jesse James.

Now, while Rose was traveling her outlaw path, ironically her brothers flipped sides and turned into bounty hunters. They weren’t half-bad either. One might even say they were ruthless.

In 1895, Newcomb, accompanied by Pierce, swung by the Dunn family home in Norman, OK to see Rose. It was a fateful decision. Her brothers happened to be there as well. They shot Newcomb and Pierce as the two men dismounted. Why not? The reward said dead or alive.

Whether Rose set him up, which her brothers denied, or Newcomb’s death broke her wild ways, Rose turned over a new leaf. A few years later, she married Charles Albert Noble, a sober, respected man of the community who held political aspirations. Though she would outlive Albert and marry once more, Rose never again crossed the law.

In fact, she spent the rest of her life trying to prove she was not A Lady in Defiance, only a misguided girl who had a little growing up to do. Still, for years after Newcomb’s death, it was not an uncommon site to see Rose riding her favorite horse hell-bent-for-leather across the sandbars of the Cimarron River.

Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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John Hancock: Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof…Because of His Dolly

By Heather Frey Blanton

 

Dorothy Hancock

Dorothy Hancock

The biggest, baddest, most bold signature on the Declaration of Independence belongs to John Hancock. Said signature is the icon for fearless rebellion and raw treason. Did you know that when Hancock put his name to that paper, he was a newlywed?

No wonder he was feeling froggy.

So who was the lady who stoked the fires of revolution and made John think he was ten feet tall and bulletproof?

Dorothy “Dolly” Quincy was the youngest daughter of Judge Edmund Quincy. Born to a life of privilege and wealth, she was blessed with brains and beauty. She seems to have had numerous pretty sisters and cousins, too. Like flowers for bees, the Quincy home attracted many young men, including Samuel and John Adams, and the wealthy John Hancock. John had recently inherited his uncle’s holdings and was using his newly acquired fortune to establish a path in politics.

An ardent patriot, he found that the Quincy family shared his love of liberty. Dorothy eagerly desired to see the British head back across the pond and leave the colonists alone. It didn’t help that in 1775 an arrest order was issued for her new beau John. The British thought to take him into custody while they commandeered the ammunition supplies at Lexington. Dorothy was in Lexington visiting Lydia Hancock, John’s aunt, and actually witnessed the Battle of Lexington.

Fearing for her safety, John forbade his fiancée to return to Boston. Supposedly her response was something meek and acquiescent, like, “Recollect, Mr. Hancock, I am not under your authority yet. I shall go to my father’s to-morrow.” The fact that this story survives speaks, I think, volumes about the woman. It is rather apropos she heard” the shot heard round the world.”

In any event, Aunt Lydia talked her out of going. The writing was on the wall. Revolution had exploded and America was at war with the largest military power on the planet. John sent Dorothy and his Aunt to stay with the Rev. Thaddeus Burr in Fairfield while he and the other founding fathers decided how to respond to the battles of Lexington and Concord. That summer, in the midst of such deeply important strategizing, he made time to marry Dorothy. The two rebels headed off immediately to Philadelphia.

A year later, as president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence and officially made himself an enemy of the Crown. Dorothy never second-guessed him. She never asked him to back off. She never asked him to value his fortune or family over the cause of liberty. This country had to be free and they had pledged their lives to it.

Married nearly twenty years, the couple had two children. One died in infancy, the other by the age of eight. Dorothy was by John’s side when he passed away in 1793. She re-married several years later to a friend of the family.

Perhaps she never carried secret intelligence or manned a cannon, but Dorothy Hancock was a loyal wife and valued confidante to her husband. She supported the cause of liberty with boundless passion, and carried herself with admirable dignity, even in in the face of tragedy. Sometimes, keeping your head up and your fist raised is a matter of slow, defiant slogging.

Here’s to another Lady in Defiance.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Molly Goodnight — Another Rose in Texas

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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 molly_charles“When the ranch is in peace, no other life is more perfect.”

― Charles Goodnight

The Palo Duro Canyon in the panhandle of Texas is 10 miles wide, 1500 feet deep and almost 100 miles long. And in the 1870’s, it was about as remote as the moon. At least for a white gal from TN.

Yet, Mary Ann “Molly” Dyer Goodnight willingly followed her husband from their ranch in CO to the harsh, unforgiving frontier. Neither she nor Charles could conceive of the fame and legend their JA Ranch would build. Molly Goodnight was a force of nature, as tough as a Texas twister, as indomitable as the landscape, and Charles was all the better for her tenacity.

An orphan who had spent years raising her siblings, Molly met Charles in Fort Belknap, Texas, in 1864 where she was working as a school teacher. After they married, they ran a ranch together in Colorado, but a combination of unstable economics and bad weather drove them out of business. Returning to Texas, Goodnight struck up a friendship with the wealthy Irishman John Adair. Adair agreed to back Goodnight in a new ranch and in 1877 the JA Ranch was born.

At its peak in 1883, the operation encompassed over a million acres and ran 100,000+ head of cattle. While the ranch provided very little in the way of neighbors (much less female neighbors), Molly was not an idle woman. She was the JA’s doctor, tailor, letter writer, teacher, and even spiritual adviser. She had a soft heart for animals as well and kept three chickens as pets.

Even when the money rolled in and life could have been easier, Molly never stopped looking for challenges or caring about others. She rode the high plains rescuing buffalo calves left behind by hunters. Goodnight indulged his wife and let her start her own herd for their preservation. She even crossed some of the buffalo with cattle and coined the phrase “cattalo.” A pretty savvy cattlewoman in her own right, Molly ran a herd separate from her husband’s under the Flying T brand. Somehow, amongst all this, she found time to run a real school in the bunkhouse for the ranch hands’ children.

In the late 1880’s, the couple moved to northeast Armstrong County to start a new ranch, but they discovered other interests as well. Both were active church members, generous philanthropists, and had quite the passion for educating children. In 1898 they established Goodnight College, a school for boys.

The Goodnights never had any children of their own. Perhaps that’s why Molly felt the need to adopt her community. She believed Texas had given her a beautiful life, it was, therefore, only right to give something back.

A true Texas Lady, she was.

Who Really Wore the Leather Breeches in The Boone Family? Hmmm?

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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rebecca_boone

 

“In order that she may be able to give her hand with dignity, she must be able to stand alone.”

–Margaret Fuller

 

Rebecca Bryan should have known she’d have her hands full with Daniel Boone. According to an account from 1852, the two first met when Daniel was out “shining the eyes” of deer, a process similar to modern-day spotlighting. Only thing was, when Daniel drew down on a pair of shining eyes, they happened to belong to the young, pretty, and very human Rebecca. Mercifully, Daniel missed the shot and, after courting for three years, married her in 1756. Some scholars say they met at a wedding. Knowing what was to come for the Boones, I’d be inclined to believe the hunting story.

Over the next 24 years of their marriage, Becky would be pregnant on average every two to four years, giving birth to 10 children. Because of Daniel’s famous (and probably downright annoying) need to explore, she would relocate her home at least six different times. And due to his wanderlust, she also had to run these homes alone, sometimes for months on end. Perhaps that’s why she headed deep into the wilderness whenever Daniel asked. She loved him. Simple as that.

Because of his predilection for remote areas (or a disdain for neighbors) Becky came to epitomize the famous pioneer spirit. She was known and respected as an accomplished midwife, leather tanner, doctor-of-sorts, marksman, seamstress, you name it, she could do it. And did without much grumbling.

For over a decade, Daniel supported his family in North Carolina by hunting and trapping. The endeavor took him away from home for months and months. It was on one of these trips he discovered the magical land of Kentucky.

Smitten with the area, in 1773, Daniel moved there with his family and fifty or so other settlers. Blood was boiling amongst the Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees over white encroachment. Eager to send a clear message, the Indians captured the Boone’s oldest son James and another boy. The two, just teenagers, were tortured to death, slowly, in a most horrific manner for the show of it.

Kentucky, though, had her hooks in Daniel. After a brief retreat to Virginia, The Boone’s returned and he set about helping settle the frontier, and building a country. He also served as a captain in the Colonial Army and a state representative for the Virginia House. Daniel could conquer challenges and seize the day because he knew Becky had his back.

By all accounts, she rarely complained about her hard life. I believe that’s because she had a heart overflowing with love. Many of the Boone’s children stayed close to the couple, living either with them or nearby. Adopted children and numerous grandchildren abounded. At one point, Becky presided over a household of twenty people! She didn’t have time to whine. She was too busy living.

Becky gave birth to her last child at the age of 40. In 1799, she moved with Daniel and several of their children to Missouri and enjoyed many peaceful years there. She went to her final rest at the age of 74. And a well-deserved rest it was.

Beware The Waspish Sting of a Patriot Woman’s Pen

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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mercy

“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.”
William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

If I asked you to name American writers who stirred hearts and passions during the American Revolution, most likely you’d mention Thomas Pain or Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson. Surely, each man made his invaluable contribution to the fight for independence.

Lesser known, though, is the crisp, satirical wit of Mercy Otis Warren. Her plays pricked the pride of pompous Tories and entertained the likes of John and Abigail Adams.

Mercy was a determined woman and I believe she exemplified the kind who struck fear in Cornwallis’ heart. Born to a somewhat wealthy family in England, her father didn’t care to educate her. To most, this would have been a high barrier. To Mercy, it was merely an inconvenience. Focused and self-disciplined, she learned to read by sitting in on her brother’s lessons when she could, and going through his text books on her own. Her perseverance prompted more familial support and an education was provided.

Mercy was quite intelligent, clearly, and a mind like hers was always inquiring. Her family moved to Massachusetts in 1754 and when she married James Warren, found herself surrounded by pro-American voices. Her husband and her brother both were passionately in support of the colonies throwing off the yolk of a tyrant king. Her home was a popular meeting spot for the local revolutionaries and Mercy became lifetime friends with several of our Founding Fathers and their wives.

But standing around serving tea wasn’t all she wanted to do. Mercy knew there was a reason for her quick wit and sharp tongue. So did her husband. She married a remarkably open-minded man who appreciated that she was a gifted writer. James often sent her works to friends, and even submitted some for publication. Mercy’s first play, The Adulateur, was published anonymously in 1772. It unabashedly criticized the lieutenant governors attacks on personal freedoms in Boston. This was the first of several plays that had the indignant Tories throwing their tea cups across the room.

After the war, Mercy wrote a comprehensive history of the Revolution, a book of valuable insights even today. In it, however, she slighted John Adams, or so that is how he took it. His response? He chastised by Mercy by telling her, “History is not the Providence of Ladies.”

It was for this Lady in Defiance.

Ah, Keep Your Skirt on…While You Ride, Rope, Shoot, Brand, Bust a Bronc…

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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buckley

Eastern Montana is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and lonely places in the US. It is not an area for the faint of heart. The weather, the wide-open spaces, the solitude…it’s the kind of place that makes you or breaks you.

Which is why the story of May, Myrtle, and Mabel Buckley is all the more remarkable.

When Franklin and Susannah Buckley started having children, surely they hoped for boys. After all, farming in the Dakotas and ranching in Montana was man’s work. But the Buckley daughters were born for this land. Franklin was smart enough to know it…or perhaps his precocious, fearless, ambitious daughters gave him no choice. They bloomed on those prairies like a wildflowers after a snowy winter. They took to the saddle as if they’d been born to it. Their father’s ranch hands taught the girls to ride, rope, shoot, brand, round up, even break broncs, and called them, with affection, the Red Yearlings.

Confident in his daughters’ abilities, Franklin turned his 160-acre ranch in Terry, Montana over to the girls. This freed him up to manage the farm in North Dakota, other business ventures, and serve as a state representative. Papa was also confident that men would be men, especially where his three pretty daughters were concerned. Hence, he did not leave them unattended. The girls’ mother stayed close, keeping a watchful eye on her lovely Red Yearlings.

In 1914, neighbor and friend Evelyn Cameron photographed the girls working and playing on the ranch. Cameron wrote an article about Montana cowgirls and featured the feisty ranching sisters doing what they did best. While this article spread their fame to Europe, the girls had already been fielding invitations from Wild West shows and even President Roosevelt. Turned’em all down flat. May, Myrtle, and Mabel were ranchers. The profession was no game to them. The most play-acting they did was posing for the now famous and very collectible Cameron photos.

And I’d like to point out, they did all this in skirts. Oh, there was a brief scandal whereby the girls tried wearing split skirts. Apparently, Montana was not ready for culottes. The lady photographer was threatened with arrest over in Miles City for wearing the things. So the girls went back to skirts, wearing said culottes when nobody was looking.

May, the oldest of the sisters, never married. The more reserved of the three, she nursed her mother for years after a stroke, then died at only 50 years of age.

Myrtle, the middle sister, was a handful. One could guess she occasionally had bouts of the “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” syndrome. She eloped with a ranch hand and had two children with him. The marriage failed and Myrtle late married rancher and neighbor George Straugh. That one stuck.

Mabel married Milton Gile and lived to a ripe old age.

Maybe they didn’t lead fairy tale lives, but the Buckley Sisters sure can inspire us to think past the prince and glass slipper and enjoy the lives we’re given.

Mollie Fly–The Woman at the OK Corral

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Mollie Fly

Mollie Fly

Not much is known about Mollie. You’ve probably never heard of her. But you know her husband. C.S. “Buck” Fly was THE photographer in Tombstone when the shoot-out at the OK Corral went down.

Mary “Mollie” McKie moved with her family to San Francisco sometime in the 1850’s, when she was around 8 or 10. The boisterous town may well be what fostered her desire for adventure, but a good upbringing kept her from falling into vice. In Defiance of the times, she took up the male-dominated hobby of photography. She also took up a husband, Samuel D. Goodrich. Apparently he wasn’t a good fit and, in a day when divorce was rare, Mollie showed him the door after only two years.

Soon, she met the dashing and adventurous Camillus Sidney “Buck” Fly, a young man who had grown up in the Napa Valley. He also loved capturing still life. We don’t know how they met. It’s a shame because they made a lasting impression on each other. We do know they married in Sept. of ‘79 and by December had arrived in the silver boomtown of Tombstone, AZ.

Within a year, they had gone from working in a tent to owning a 12-room boardinghouse that also housed the famous photography studio (the door of which was within spitting distance to the OK Corral). Buck spent a great deal of time riding the range, snapping beautiful photographs of the landscapes, as well as capturing historically valuable pictures of the Indian campaigns. A tiny gal known for her spunk, Mollie accepted the long absences and kept things humming at home. She ran the boardinghouse, took portraits for customers, and raised a daughter. Sometime in the early 1880’s, a young girl by the name of Kitty appeared on the census as a member of their household. It is not known whether she was Fly’s daughter or a simply a child they adopted, but Mollie loved her and took care of her like she was blood.

Part of that care included removing Kitty and herself from a bad situation when Fly’s drinking spiraled out of control. In ’87, Mollie divorced him and the famous photographer left Tombstone. Soldiering on, she kept the studio and boardinghouse running, but there is clear evidence she was nursing a broken heart. Mollie never remarried. She was at Fly’s side in Bisbee, AZ in 1901 when he breathed his last. She then arranged to have him buried in Tombstone, and bought him a nice, well, tombstone.

Mollie was Fly Gallery until 1912. Feeling her age, she retired to Los Angeles and died there in 1925. Prior to her death, she donated all of Fly’s negatives to the Smithsonian, well aware of the contribution her husband had made to history by chronicling the West.


Queen of the Klondike…A Great Ride While it Lasted

One of the few pretty faces in the Klondike.

One of the few pretty faces in the Klondike.

By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton

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Freedom. A true lady in Defiance cries out for it. Refuses to live without it. Pursues it at any cost. Society, propriety—even common sense won’t stop her from wrapping her slender fingers around it.

In the end, she may only have her memories of it, but at least she tasted it. For a time, Kate lived free.

Kathleen Eloise Rockwell (1873-1957) came from an unstable home, growing up in at least four different states. Perhaps the shifting sand beneath her feet contributed to her headstrong ways and desire for adventure. Dubbed a tomboy by the neighborhood kids, Katie played better with the boys than with the frilly little girls. She was a bit sassy and, arguably, incorrigible—at least according to the boarding school that kicked her out.

In the early1890’s, Kate’s mother divorced her father and the two girls wound up in New York City. The young girl got involved with the theater scene and learned to sing and dance, but eventually even the Big Apple wasn’t big enough for the free spirit. The siren call of the Alaska Gold Rush reached her ears and Kate headed off for the Klondike.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, however, denied her entry. Because she was a woman. Alone. On the frontier.

Can’t you hear the wheels turning in her head? Kate lived to circumvent rules and live her life on her terms.

So she dressed up like a boy and waltzed right into the Klondike. (Well, actually she took a boat.) I can see her waving at the RCMP as she sailed by.

Now, it’s one thing to try to make it on the Great White Way. Lots of competition and all that. Kate had a suspicion that in Alaska she could be a big fish in a little pond. I mean, really, how many pretty girls could there be willing to face the wild frontier? Sub-zero temperatures, knee-deep spring mud, lawless towns. Sounded like her kind of party. Kate just wanted to sing and dance. It didn’t matter if the audience was comprised of desperately hungry, cold, mud-encrusted miners who hadn’t seen a woman, much less a pretty one, in months.

She intended to mesmerize them and had a grand plan. For her “Flame Dance” she came on stage wearing an elaborate gown covered in red sequins and trailing an enormous cape. She took off the cape to reveal a cane that was attached to more than 200 yards of red chiffon. Kate leaped and twirled with the shimmering, floating fabric, spellbinding the hapless men. At the end she would dramatically drop to the floor, as did the men’s jaws.

Yeah. She was a big hit. For three years, she was the belle of the ball. Parisian gowns, gold jewelry, men falling at her feet. They called her Klondike Kate and Queen of the Yukon.

But the gold eventually petered out and Kate drifted around, along with a few different husbands. She ran a movie theater, even coached starlets in the 1940’s. Time and age catch us all, though. Kate slowed down then finally finished the ride in Oregon in 1957.

By no means an angel, Kate was a woman who defied conventionality, shook her fist at the lack of social mobility for women, and cut her own path through life.

I tip my hat to this trailblazer.

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