Please welcome our honored guest poster for today, Jean Henry Mead. Jean is the author of 19 books, half of them novels, as well as a national award-winning photojournalist. She writes Wyoming historical novels as well as the Logan & Cafferty mystery-suspense series, Hamilton Kids’ mysteries and nonfiction history and interview books.
Jean began her career as a news reporter and has served as a news, magazine, and small press editor. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad.
I came across 1889 microfilmed newspaper articles about hanging victims “Ella” Watson and James Averell while researching a centennial history of central Wyoming. Surprised by the contradictory reports about the deaths of the young Sweetwater Valley couple, I decided to learn more about t hem. But it was 25 years before I had enough accurate information to write the novel that had haunted me all those years.
The six wealthy cattlemen responsible for the murders of Ellen Watson-Averell and her husband James claimed the lynchings were justified. However, when they came to trial, all the witnesses had disappeared or were found dead, so the case was thrown out of court.
A Cheyenne newspaper, controlled by cattle interests, railed against all homesteaders, whom they said were rustling the wealthy cattlemen’s stock, so vigilante law was justified. The paper failed to mention that the cattlemen had been grazing for years on government land, without paying for it. The Rawlins, Wyoming, newspaper countered that James Averell was well thought of and considered a good citizen. Averell had been appointed postmaster and justice of the peace by Thomas Moonlight, the territorial governor. The cattlemen, led by Albert J. Bothwell, claimed that the couple was running a rural bawdy house and accepting rustled calves as payment for Ellen’s services.
James and Ellen kept their marriage secret so that Ellen wouldn’t lose her homestead land, which had been legally filed on in Bothwell’s hay meadow.(Married women were not allowed to own Desert Land homestead land in those days.) Ellen had worked as a cook for two years at the Rawlins House and was known as a kind and caring young woman. But the couple made the mistake of filing separate homesteads on Albert Bothwell’s ranch, land the cattleman had been grazing for years without paying it for it. James had written letters to the editor of the Casper weekly newspaper, complaining that cattlemen were gobbling up homestead land for 75 miles along the Sweetwater River. That led to the Averell’s deaths.
Because I didn’t want to end the book with the hangings, I decided to add a fictional character, Susan Cameron, a young woman from Missouri. Susan is a composite of some 200,000 single women homesteaders who attempted to prove up on their own land. Some were successful, some not. Susan filed for land next to the Averells, placing her own life in danger along with her veterinarian friend, Michael O’Brien, and three boys whom the Averells had taken under their wings.
After their deaths, Ellen was vilified and called “Cattle Kate.” News of the hangings spread worldwide and the murder of a woman in Wyoming Territory was publicly condemned, yet Ellen’s own father believed the lies spread about her and forbade his family to speak her name again.
A number of films have been produced and books have been written about the outlaw, “Cattle Kate.” I’ve even read poems and heard cowboy songs about her. The truth didn’t surface until George W. Hufsmith was commissioned to write an opera about the hangings and spent the next 20 years researching the subject. Thanks to George’s research and that of my own, I was able to complete my novel, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy, and I dedicated the book to his memory.
No Escape can be purchased on Kindle and in print.
Jean’s website: www.jeanhenrymead.com
Her blog sites: http://mysteriouspeople.blogspot.com/