Ella Watson is the only woman to be lynched in the nation as a cattle rustler. She and her husband were hanged on July 20, 1889, by prominent cattlemen. History portrays the lynching as a case of “range land justice,” with “Cattle Kate” tarred as both a notorious rustler and a filthy whore. Is this sordid story true?
It was all a lie. She wasn’t a rustler. She wasn’t a whore. She was a 28-year-old immigrant homesteader murdered by her rich and powerful Wyoming cattle-baron neighbors who wanted the land and its precious water rights she’d refused to sell. She was never called “Cattle Kate” until she was dead and they needed an excuse to cover up their crime.
Some people knew the truth from the start. Their voices were drowned out by the all-powerful Wyoming Stock Growers Association. And those who dared speak out—including the eye witnesses to the hangings—either disappeared or mysteriously died. There was no one left to testify against the vigilantes when the case eventually came to trial, so it was dismissed. Her six killers walked away scot-free.
Dozens of books, movies, too, spread her ugly legacy. Now, on the 125th anniversary of her murder, Ella comes alive again in the novel Cattle Kate to tell her heartbreaking story, one central to the western experience.
October 7, 2014
About the Author:
Jana Bommersbach is one of Arizona’s most respected and acclaimed journalists. She has earned numerous national, state and regional awards, including the prestigious Don Bolles Award for investigative reporting for the newspaper series on Winnie Ruth Judd that led to the eponymous book. She lives in Phoenix.