There is a fellow on WordPress that has a dream. His name is Balladeer (aka the Blackwater Kid) and he loves westerns so much, Silverado, in particular, he has fashioned a new holiday called Frontierado, held every August 5th. He is an encyclopedia of information on the Wild West and in celebration of his holiday, he has been developing western sagas for his friends. I, being one his friends. He takes me out of my cave and transplants me into the Old West. Here is my saga, my nickname is so apt:
Cactus Cathy, the legendary gun-toting reporter and gambler of the old west, continues to be a role model and symbol of empowerment for generations of American women. Very little about her early life is known except that she was born in London, England, just like the legendary bounty hunter Lady London. Not even Cactus Cathy’s full last name is known, because by the time of her first great acclaim she would only identify herself as “Cathy W”, a moniker she stuck with until the end of her life.
Cathy W burst onto the American stage in the 1870′s as a colorful and mesmerizingly beautiful riverboat gambler, playing poker and dealing Faro up and down the Mississippi River. Rumors often circulated that Cathy had been a very successful card player in New York City’s illicit gambling halls and had been forced to flee west after breaking the bank of too many of the shady money men behind those establishments. Still other whispers about the tempting but tough woman held that she had broken the hearts of too many figures in the New York underworld and sought a friendlier home riding up and down the Mississippi.
Cathy W was content at the time with trying her luck at the card tables, ending up incredibly wealthy some nights and with her head barely above water on others. All the while she was pursued by millionaires and adventurers from around the world who found themselves drawn to the beautiful and mysterious siren. Her longest romance of the period was with fellow gambler Cary Grant, the Delta Devil (as in Mississippi River Delta), who often found himself so exhausted from bedroom antics with Cathy that he was easily victimized by her at the card table the next day.
One night in 1873 a trio of armed men with New York accents attempted to shoot Cathy W in the card room. The lethal lady pulled out a concealed revolver and in a running fight that sent all the other gamblers ducking for cover, Cathy killed all three of her attackers. The newspapers had a field day with the story, and the law came sniffing around, but since Cathy was clearly acting in self-defense she came through the uproar just fine, still refusing to fill in the gaps of her mysterious past.
In early 1874 a similar incident occurred, with five armed men from back east boarding a riverboat on which Cathy W was a feature gambler. In exchanges of gunfire in the card room and on the quarterdeck Cathy once again killed all of her attackers and some of her male admirers dumped the bodies over the side. The unpleasant attention from this incident did not die down like on the previous occassion, and Cathy was soon persona non gratis, barred from all the riverboats plying the Mississippi by owners worried that sooner or later a bystander would get hurt in the crossfire and potential business would be driven away.
Cathy W found her way to Galveston, TX, where she made a small fortune at the card tables before the local gamblers refused to play against her anymore. Moving on to the Texas mainland the voluptuous lady gambler eventually found herself in Dallas, TX. While gambling at saloons in the then-small city Cathy began a romance with Dr John Henry Holliday, a Dallas dentist who spent more and more time card-playing and less and less at his avocation. Many of his patients disliked his tubercular cough and never came back for a second visit. The man who would gain notoriety as “Doc” Holliday was discovering the lifestyle he would indulge in for the remainder of his life.
Cathy was the cause of the first verifiable gunfight Doc Holliday ever took part in. During a raucous New Year’s Eve celebration at Austin’s Saloon, Doc and the saloon’s owner spent the early hours of January 1st, 1875 fighting over the beauteous C.W. One thing led to another, shots were exchanged, but nobody was hurt, and both Doc and Austin were released later that day.
Soon Cathy’s wanderlust kicked in and she parted amiably with Doc and roamed into the gambling establishments of the western part of Texas, making a name for herself with her looks and her skill at cards at each stop along the way. Because this lissome lass cleaned up in games against some of the toughest men and women in western Texas, from El Paso to Waco and Lubbock, she soon aquired her well-known nickname. She was called “Cactus Cathy” because it was said that nothing thrived in west Texas except cacti and Cathy W. (Later this line would be revived and applied to John Nance Garner, Speaker of the House and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first Vice President. Garner was called Cactus Jack in his early years as a lawyer in the same part of Texas that Cactus Cathy had made her name)
In 1877 Cactus Cathy found herself in Fort Griffin, TX, ruling the card tables and indulging in an affair with a fellow gambler named Wyatt Earp. Who should wander into town one day but Doc Holliday, Cathy’s old flame, and in an often-forgotten but far-reaching addition to the history of the American west, Cactus Cathy was the person who first introduced these two legends. Cathy spent weeks tearing up the saloons in Fort Griffin and sleeping with both gambler/gunfighters at once.
Cactus Cathy spent 1878 shooting and playing her way across New Mexico Territory relishing winning streaks, suffering through losing streaks and blowing away the occassional miscreant. She also had an on-again off -again romance with the gunfighter called Dirty Clint Eastwood as the two crossed paths throughout the territory. Eventually Cathy’s reputation reached the usual point where she was having a hard time getting into a poker game, and even using an assumed name didn’t help because stories about her legendary sex appeal had preceded her throughout the west.
By mid 1879 Cactus Cathy was playing poker and dealing Faro at the saloons and gambling halls of Tombstone, Arizona, a boom town that sprang up around the silver mines in the area. Cathy soon cleaned up by winning out against the amateur and professional gamblers who passed through Tombstone. This time Cathy decided to quit the card tables and invest in another way of life before another inevitable losing streak could hit. Saying to herself “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper” Cactus Cathy bought Tombstone’s largest newspaper and renamed it The Tombstone Cactus.
Cathy soon proved to have a real knack for the newspaper business. Writing many feature stories plus the editorials she turned The Cactus into a riveting, gritty chronicle of real life in a frontier boomtown, making it a refreshing antidote to the sensationalizing approach of other newspapers and the Dime Novels of the day. She also realized the local market was limited and therefore having her paper distributed to other areas was a must. Soon The Cactus was being read in Tucson, Santa Fe and all points in between. Cathy’s riveting interviews with gunfighters like Luke Short, Mysterious Dave Mather and Bat Masterson got picked up by other papers (often with no remuneration to her unfortunately) and ran in major cities across the country. All three gunmen professed their love for the famous beauty, who had added “The Tombstone Temptress” to her list of nicknames, but Cathy always claimed she had an affair with only one of them, coyly refusing to reveal which one it was.
As time went by Cactus Cathy began a crusade against the local criminals, led by the notorious Clanton Family and their patriarch, N.H. Clanton, better known as “Old Man Clanton”. In addition to his sons (headed by Ike Clanton) andthe McLaury Brothers the gang boasted criminal operatives like Johnny Ringo, Curly Bill Brocius, Pony Deal, Buckskin Frank and Billy the Kid Claiborne (not to be confused with the more popular Billy the Kid of New Mexico fame). In stark contrast to the way other news outlets glorified western outlaws Cactus Cathy covered them like a true crime reporter, sparing no details.
The Clanton organization began to lean on Cathy W to try to kill her exposes. On a few memorable occassions the gang’s gunmen marched en masse on the offices of The Cactus to confiscate the latest editions and the printing press. Cactus Cathy and her assistant editor Clem Johnson barricaded themselves in the (fortunately stone and brick) building that served as the paper’s headquarters as well as Cathy’s residence. Clem had served in the Union Army during the Civil War and combined with Cactus Cathy’s expertise in gunplay the two always managed to drive away the Clanton gunsels.
Next the Clanton Family tried to prevent the other editions of The Cactus from reaching other cities. After roughing up the riders delivering the ”exported” editions didn’t work, Johnny Ringo, Curly Bill and Buckskin Frank took to shooting them down. Cactus Cathy countered this by hiring armed gunmen she called “Truth Riders” to deliver the papers and ensure that events in Tombstone were known far and wide. Many Truth Riders were killed in action by the Clanton organization, making Cactus Cathy’s Truth Riders the most romantic figures of the west since the Pony Express riders. Even notorious gunmen like Juniper Johnny Depp and Kid Crimson were proud to serve in the corps of the beautiful Cathy W. As a personal, live-in bodyguard to help watch her back against the sprawling Clanton faction Cactus Cathy hired retired lawman John Wayne, known as the Duke throughout the length and breadth of the west. Despite the difference in their ages, the Duke and Cathy began an affair, but kept things casual, and Wayne tactfully looked the other way when his young lover indulged herself with men more her own age.
By now the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday had set themselves up in Tombstone. Despite a renewed fling with Wyatt and dalliances with another Earp brother or two Cactus Cathy was just as blunt in her coverage of the Earps and Doc as she was in her coverage of the Clanton Family. While most news outlets fell into the trap of depicting the conflict between the two factions as a ”good guys vs the bad guys” battle, Cathy W accurately chronicled it as a gang war between two criminal organizations. The upstart Earp faction with their growing prostitution and gambling empire were encroaching upon the Clanton Family’s established rustling, protection and gambling dynasty.
Cactus Cathy’s more factual coverage of the war’s highlights, including the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the shooting of Morgan Earp and the gangland-style revenge killings that followed it, is now the accepted version of events, though in the 1880′s it was overshadowed by the more sensationalized stories about the conflict. The Cactus also covered the actual ending of the war, which, despite Dime Novel and cinematic accounts, was a victory for the Clanton Family. The Earps, Doc Holliday and their minions were driven from the Arizona Territory, leaving Cactus Cathy and her paper as the only rival force to Clanton hegemony.
The Cactus threw its full support behind the territory’s newly appointed Governor James “Sparrow Jimmy” Stewart, a former congressman who had made an early name for himself by shooting the Philadelphia criminal turned Wild West outlaw “Liberty Bell” Vance. Stewart tried to clean up all of Arizona Territory, including the Clanton organization, and found The Cactus to be his only trustworthy ally in his crusade. The Clantons stepped up their pressure on Cathy and her newspaper and things in Tombstone became so contentious that not a week went by without a gunfight between Cactus Cathy, the Duke and some of the Clanton gunmen. It has long been rumored that Cactus Cathy herself killed the Clantons’ most effective enforcer Johnny Ringo as a warning to the Clantons to back off. No satisfactory explanation for Ringo’s death has ever been put forward and if Cactus Cathy was his killer, she was much too shrewd to admit it in public.
In any event, the killing of John Ringo made the Clantons keep a more respectful distance, but their Cold War (a term originally coined by Cathy W, no matter what you read in the history books) with The Cactus continued. When Doc Holliday was arrested in Colorado the Clantons used their influence to try to have Doc extradicted to the Arizona Territory, where they could deal with their old foe once and for all. In the newspaper war that unfolded around the question of Doc’s extradition, Cactus Cathy and her paper were squarely in the camp opposed to extradition. With Governor Stewart’s help, the anti-extradition forces prevailed, but at an awful cost.
The Clanton organization retaliated by reputedly assassinating “Sparrow Jimmy” Stewart, though the killing has never been solved. When Anthony Wiener, a notoriously corrupt puppet of the Clantons, was appointed the new territorial governor Cactus Cathy vowed to bring him down. Asking him pointed questions at press conferences and endlessly reporting on his illegal practices Cathy kept the pressure on. Wiener paniced and disobeyed his Clanton masters by having John Wayne, the legendary shootist who was still Cactus Cathy’s right-hand man, killed by several armed men. Wiener clumsily left himself exposed in all this and after burying the Duke Cathy lost no time in tying Wiener to the killing. The disgraced politician would be apprehended trying to sneak out of Arizona Territory disguised as a woman, adding to his shame. With Wiener’s public downfall and Cactus Cathy’s revelation of the Clanton family’s influence over Arizona politicians, the Clanton organization collapsed over the next few years, leaving Cathy and her newspaper triumphant.
For having succeeded where the Earps and Doc Holliday had failed, Cactus Cathy was now a nationwide heroine and her paper was being distributed in several states and territories. The Cactus no longer needed armed Truth Riders to carry it far and wide, so Cathy established what she called “Truth Writers” to syndicate news stories across the country, greatly influencing the way the Associated Press and United Press International would conduct themselves.
With her newspaper now such a success, Cactus Cathy left Clem to handle the day-to-day business and traveled the country acting as the paper’s Reporter-In-Chief as well as its publisher and goodwill ambassador. Among her famous exploits were:
** Interviewing sister female reporter Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Jane Cochran) about her recent deportation from Mexico for covering the way the dictator Porfirio Diaz was suppressing freedom in that nation
** Having a fling with Joseph “Little Joe” Cartwright while in Virginia City, Nevada to establish distribution of The Cactus throughout that state. Eventually Cathy would dump Joe, refusing to discuss the matter beyond saying she “didn’t trust that family”.
** Interviewing female bounty hunter Lady London, plus the notorious outlaw Buckshot Bryant, refusing to name the sources who had put her in touch with the renowned fugitive.
** Covering the funeral of the legendary bounty hunter the Blackwater Kid and helping his widow, Raquel Tejada Welch Larraby, publish the Kid’s controversial translations of the comedies of Aristophanes as well as his unfinished epic poem about the Navajo war god Nayanazgeni. Cathy also scandalized people in some circles by beginning an affair with Sheriff Paden of Silverado, an old friend of the Blackwater Kid who had also served as one of his pallbearers.
** Obtaining the first interview with Six-Gun Sara after her pardon by President Grover Cleveland. Six-Gun Sara’s devotion to the cause of Native Americans inspired Cactus Cathy to throw her newspaper’s editorial might behind the cause.
** Helping to turn public opinion against the Pennybottom family by reporting on their hounding of Doc Robyn and her husband Kid Equus throughout the west.
In the mid 1890′s Cactus Cathy was in San Francisco interviewing Brisco County Jr and his partner Lord Bowler and found herself being romanced by the famous international mercenary Bradley Cooper, who had served as an officer in armed conflicts throughout the world. After six weeks of torrid passion Cooper proposed marriage, and, caught up in the romance of it all, Cathy accepted. On an evening when Bradley escorted Cactus Cathy to supposedly ”meet his parents”, the Tombstone Temptress realized that her mysterious past had at last caught up with her. Bradley Cooper was being paid to betray her into the hands of the Brooklyn Mob and its head, Roger “The Red Hand” Corman. When Cathy was a teen runaway making a fortune in the illicit gambling establishments of New York she had caught the eye of the powerful Corman, several years her senior. He wanted her as his bride, but Cathy wanted nothing to do with the immoral blackguard and, when he tried to use his thugs to intimidate her, shot a few to death and fled New York, settling in on the gambling boats of the Mississippi River.
Roger had since succeeded his father to the Brooklyn Mob’s throne, and was determined to kill Cathy for rejecting him and causing him to lose face in the New York underworld. Corman expounded on all this as he sat between two of his gunmen who stood holding shotguns on Cactus Cathy. Roger stated Cathy’s success and her exploits had proven she would have made an ideal queen of the New York crime scene if she had only married him years ago. Finally ending his bitter and vituperative harangue, Corman ordered his gunmen to blow Cactus Cathy away. A repentant Bradley Cooper shoved Cathy out of the way and took the shotgun blasts himself while simultaneously handing Cathy his six-gun. Ducking behind furniture, Cactus Cathy soon shot down both gunmen and, when Corman himself produced a Derringer, shot him to death as well.
Brisco County Jr and Lord Bowler came bursting in, having finished off the other thugs Corman had brought with him and who had been guarding the rented house. Frisco Liz, the female Pinkerton Detective (and the daughter of Doc Albany and her husband Casino Bill) had telegraphed Brisco and Bowler to let them know about Corman’s presence in San Francisco. The canny detective had also deduced the connection between Roger and Cactus Cathy and had conveyed the info to Brisco and his partner. Cathy discovered Bradley Cooper was still holding on to life, and told Cathy that he had genuinely fallen in love with her and couldn’t bear to be the cause of her death, which caused his change of heart at the last minute. Cooper died in her arms a few moments later.
All of this came out in the sensational trial that followed. Cactus Cathy was found not guilty and after her acquittal began a romance with Bradley Cooper’s older brother Gary, who had once been a western lawman before making a fortune as a land speculator and railroad owner. Cooper had fallen in love with her while following the trial and a few years later the two were married. Under Cathy’s influence Cooper, nicknamed “Coop” by his wife, became a philanthropist and the couple devoted their declining years to financing various charities.
Gary Cooper died in 1923. Cactus Cathy lived until 1927, luckily passing away without seeing how the Great Depression of the 1930′s adversely affected her newspaper empire, which barely survived. Female reporter Ida Tarbell cited Cactus Cathy as her idol and her greatest personal influence and Cathy is still remembered as a female Johnny Appleseed of journalistic integrity (as opposed to a Paul Bunyan of Doctor-Patient confidentiality) whose influence on the news business was felt for decades. Actresses like Faith Hill and Famke Janssen portrayed Cactus Cathy on the big screen, Jennifer Garner played her on the long-running tv series about the legendary lady and Paige Davis portrayed her in the Broadway musical Cactus Cathy.
The Blackwater Kid