This page will convey some basic information about one of Carbon County's most famous personalities, Cattle Kate. I hope you learns something about this interesting character.
Ella Watson, now known as 'Cattle Kate', is one of those mysterious, colorful characters for which the west is so famous. Her fame came from the mystery surrounding her death. It is well known that she was hung along with her husband, Jim Averell near the Sweetwater River in Wyoming on July 20, 1889. What history has never settled is why she died, because she was deeply involved in the rustling and selling of cattle or if land grabbers were trying to get hold of her land and she had resisted, which seemed very much in keeping with her personality. Ella did not like to be told what to do, or to be strong-armed into anything.
Ella was born to Thomas Lewis Watson and Frances (Close) Watson on July 2, 1861 and named Ellen Liddy Watson. She was born near Arran Lake in Arran Township, Bruce County, Ontario, Canada, the oldest of ten children. She and six other brothers and sisters were born in Canada but after her family moved to Kansas in 1877, the other three children were born there. She had always been an unsettled girl and young woman and at the age of 18, got married to William A. Pickell on November 24, 1879. The marriage did not last long because of harsh treatment by her husband. About the time she filed for divorce from Pickell, she headed for better opportunities in the west. She first went to Denver, probably to spend some time with her brother who lived there. She later moved on to Cheyenne and finally to Rawlins, Wyoming where she worked at the 'Rawlins House'. It is perhaps here where she was identified as a prostitute because this establishment was erroneously thought to be brothel and also because some that wrote of her life in later years perhaps confused her with a know prostitute by the name of Ella Wilson. Ella Watson worked as a cook and domestic at the Rawlins House for about two years.
James Averell was born on March 20, 1851 to John and Sarah Ann Averell in Renfrew, Horton Township, Renfrew County, Ontario Canada (only about 150 miles from where Ella was born). He was the youngest of seven children. Little is know of Jim's early years but he at one point left his mother (his father had died soon after his birth) in Canada and went to live with his sister Sarah and family in Wisconsin. At the age of 20, Averell joined the military possibly because of the influence of a relative, General William Woods Averell. He was assigned to to Fort Douglas, Utah initially but eventually was transferred to Fort Steele, located about 15 miles east of Rawlins, Wyoming. In 1876 he was discharged but apparently did not like civilian life and soon thereafter re-enlisted and this time was assigned to Fort McKinley which was near Buffalo, Wyoming. He purchased a house in Buffalo during this time and lived there when possible but this is also where he got into trouble when he shot and killed a man named Charlie Johnson who had a reputation for drinking and fighting and getting mean when he drank. It was Jim Averll's story that he had been threatened on many occasions and one night after he had been threated by a knife wielding Johnson, shot the man in the leg and also in the back when the shot in the leg swung the huge man around. Jim had to return to Rawlins for trial for this crime since it was the county seat at that time, even though it was some 300 miles away. While Jim was in jail in Rawlins, an outlaw by the name of 'Big Nose' George Parrott was lynched by a mob for the murder of two lawmen some two years previous. Although he was held for some time and two grand juries were proposed, he was never convicted of this crime and was eventually released. Jim had traveled through the Sweetwater River Valley many times in his life and at this time, he established a homestead on Cherry Creek at the north base of Ferris Mountain. Jim became infatuated with a young woman by the name of Sophia Jaeger and actively courted her. Although her father was adamantly opposed to the marriage and told his daughter not to return 'except in a pine box' if she were to marry, the couple were married on February 23, 1882. Soon after they returned to Wyoming and to Jim's homestead, and on August 23, 1882 Sophia gave birth to a 3 month premature baby boy. The baby lived only a short time and died due to the nature of the birth and both Jim and Sophia were heartbroken. Soon thereafter, Sophia took sick with what was called at the time 'child bed fever' and soon died as well. This homestead carried too many sad memories for Jim so he sold it and established another some 15 miles north of the first, between Horse Creek and the Sweetwater River.
This time, Jim decided he needed to have another form of income so he allowed room for a general store and tavern in one of his buildings since he was located in close proximity to the Oregon and Mormon trails. He also was appointed postmaster and a notary public, all of which helped him to earn enough money to keep his homestead established and flourishing. At some point in time, while in Rawlins on business, Jim met Ella Watson and they soon became quite fond of each other. Jim convinced Ella that she should move with him to his homestead in the the Sweetwater River Valley and shortly after Ella moved to the homestead, on May 11, 1886 the couple traveled to Lander to obtain a marriage license. It is unclear at this point in time if the couple was ever actually married as the completed application was never returned but this is perhaps unimportant as they could have become 'common law' at any rate. It is speculated that the reason they went to Lander to obtain the license is so Ella could file another homestead, in addition to the homestead that Jim already had. There was only one claim per family so they needed to keep their possible marriage a secret in order to file another claim.
On the morning of July 20, 1889 a group of six local ranchers, A. J. Bothwell, John Durbin, Robert Conner, E.F. McLean, Tom Sun and a man named Galbrath apparently convinced that Ella and Jim had been rustling cattle went to their ranches and gathered them up, claiming they had warrants for their arrests. They were taken into a canyon near the Sweetwater River and hung from a tree which had a rock under it from which the people could be pushed to their deaths with a rope around their necks. Frank Buchanan, who heard of the possible lynchings and who followed the party, opened fire on them while in the process of stringing up the pair. He claimed he fired 12 shots and saw one man fall, thinking it was perhaps Durbin but when fire was returned, he left the area. He happened upon Ralph Cole, Jim's nephew who was working for Jim at the time and told him that they were all hung. Ralph, who later testified at the inquest, said that Jim had left the ranch about 11:00 a.m., headed for Casper. Eugene Crowder came to the ranch and told Ralph that Jim was under arrest and that he needed to go gather up the horses that Jim had turned loose. It was on this mission that he ran into Buchanan. He continued on to the Bothwell ranch to see if he could learn anything of the possible arrests but nobody was at the ranch. He then proceeded on to Ranch Creek in hopes of locating a justice. Ralph also testified that the bodies of Jim and Ella were returned to Jim's Ranch about 3:00 a.m. on July 23, 1889 by E. Joseph Healy who was a juror on the inquest panel. He and Jess Lockwood would later bury the pair on Jim's Ranch. It was noted on the inquest papers which were signed by the Carbon County Coroner J.A. Bennett that the bodies were not fit to be exhumed and that they were hung by parties unknown even though there were several witnesses and the names of the possible perpetrators was know at that point in time. At the time of their deaths, Jim was 38 and Ella was 27.
After their deaths, George W. Durant was appointed administrator of both their estates. He went about the business of accounting for and selling all personal as well as real property which would be later turned over the the government since the land was not yet legally theirs. He also filed suit against A.J. Bothwell and John Durbin for the return of 41 head of cattle which were on Ella's property the morning of her death but which came up missing after her fence was torn down. There was never a ruling in this law suit and all Ella's property except for a few meager items of jewelry and a sewing machine were sold at auction for $322.75. Ella's land was officially designated as the West Half of the SouthWest Quarter of Section 22 and the South Half of the SouthEast Quarter, both in Township 30 North, Range 85 West. Jim's was described as the West Half of the NorthWest Quarter of Section 26 and the North Half of the NorthEast Quarter of Section 27, both in Township 30 North, Range 85 West. Jim's property was also sold at auction, his bringing in $657.90.
Another of the mysteries surrounding this event is the fact that 12 hours after the hangings, deputies from Casper arrived at the scene and promptly arrested those they believed to be responsible. As it turned out, they were taken before a Grand Jury but never convicted because no witnesses appeared, although several had been available. One witness, a young boy, was killed mysteriously shortly before he was to testify and the others disappeared, never to be heard from again. So goes the accounts of one of the most famous Wyoming women, Ella Watson, better known as Cattle Kate. It will probably never be known exactly what happened and therefore the allure of the story persists! It is, at the same time a very sad chapter in our history that two young people with their lives still before them were hung with no legal process whatsoever. They were tried, convicted and executed in a lonely canyon on a hot summer day in Wyoming!
Click on the button below to go look at a site created by the grand-nephew of Cattle Kate. He has a great deal of her personal history and it is obvious he has done a great deal of research on this woman. As any relative would be, he is a little biased about what kind of person she was but if you are interested in finding out more, this is certainly the place to go look!
In conclusion, I must inform you that this article was written to inform and perhaps pique a curiosity in you to delve further into this woman's life. It is not meant as a historical reference of her life or even this event. Many things about her life and this incident are contested and my treatise on the subject is for your enjoyment alone. If you have information or facts which I am unaware, please send me an e-mail but I would appreciate it if you kept it in a respectful tone. I have received a couple e-mails from individuals that were less than civil before making any effort to find out who I am or what my intentions are with this page. I want this page to be as accurate as it possible can be given the limited space I have.