Tuesday, October 6, 2015

They Wore Pants, Carried a Gun or Rode Like A Cowboy: CATTLE ANNIE and LITTLE BRITCHES

They were the newspaper writers dream come true and the inspiration for numerous 'penny dreadfuls' and dime novellas. Often ignored for their more violent, gun toting brethren, these women are an important chapter in the history of the westward expansion.
The challenges of the west often meant that some aspects of ‘civilization’ tended to fall under the onslaught of necessity.  It was not unusual for frontier women, from the era of Daniel Boone and beyond to have mastery in firearms that would have shocked people in eastern cities. The further west people moved the more flexible were the social structures defining gender roles. Hunting, riding, chopping wood, and a host of activities that their more rarefied sisters back would have seen as unladylike by Victorian standards were commonplace.    

Wearing men’s clothes was not a fashion statement as much as a safer alternative when forced to do certain work.  There was, to the western woman, a practical streak.  There was also, historic precedence, because in every nearly every conflict of the American nation there were women who donned male attire, signed up or joined in, and fought the enemy as defined in that moment. In the American Revolution, the Civil War, and in the American Frontier women dressed as men to either pass as a man or as a means to do the task of a man forbidden them as a woman.

In Oklahoma, there were several of these stories.  They are delightful in the sense that some adopted the costume but never tried to hide their identities, some hid their gender and their companions, by mutual consent, accepted them for what they presented themselves as and some even pulled the wool over everybody’s eyes in their masquerade.  They cannot be labeled with any common word s they were soldiers, outlaws, and cowhands.  There are probably more of them, hidden from history and family alike, and one can imagine that may still bring a chuckle to the ghosts of these women who shook free of social constraints to establish their unique place in history on their own terms.
These 'desperadoes' were active for only a short couple of years but they captured the imagination of people.  Their youth is often the most striking aspect of their story. "Cattle Annie" was Anna Emmaline McDoulet Roach who was born in 1882 in Douglas, Kansas and who died in 1978 in Oklahoma City. She was sent to Farmington Correctional Institution in Massachusetts in 1895.   She married and settled down to a long-lived and very law abiding life.  

"Little Britches" was born Jennie Stevenson in 1879 in Barton, Missouri (where Wyatt Earp had lived with his first wife who died). She preferred to wear men's clothes and that, combined with her more diminutive stature, earned her the nickname.  In 1895 she married a deaf-mute named Ben Midkoff but soon left to hook up with Frank Wilson.  Selling whiskey to the Indians in Osage Nation they were arrested in Perry and brought to the local regional court in Pawnee by U.S. Deputy Marshall Frank Canton. No information has been found for what happened to her and no death information has been located by most researchers.

Rose Dunn aka "Rose of the Cimarron", along with "Cattle Annie", "Little Britches", Jessie Finley (Finley), and Flora Quick Mundis aka Tom King would fill dramatically the void left by the mysterious murder of Belle Starr in 1889 near Eufaula.  A fascinating page of truly unique history...found in Oklahoma...on the fringes of "Hell."

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