The Truth About Ellen Liddy Watson

Ellen Liddy Watson, who was also known as “Cattle Kate,” was hanged to death — lynched — on July 20, 1889, in Natrona County, Wyoming. As reported by Legends of America, Watson was a rumored outlaw, accused of sex work, theft, and rustling cattle, the only woman lynched for cattle rustling in the United States. However, in the years following her death, many of the rumors were determined to be unfounded and the circumstances surrounding Watson’s death were called into question.

A native of Ontario, Canada, Watson and her family moved to the United States in 1877. Over the next eight years, Watson married, divorced, and traveled through several states before settling in Rawlins, Wyoming in 1885. Legends of America reports that Watson worked at an establishment known as the “Rawlins House” for several years. Although the business was rumored to be a brothel, it was later determined to be a boarding house where Watson worked as a cook and a domestic helper.

While living in Rawlins, Watson met and fell in love with Jim Averell. As reported by Cattle Kate, Averell was a land surveyor by trade who had recently started a homestead in Sweetwater Valley. Although the couple wanted to marry, Watson wanted to own her own land, and it was illegal for a family to have more than one homestead. To circumvent the law, Watson and Averell were married by a Justice of the Peace, and Watson used an assumed name to cloak her true identity.

What really happened to Cattle Kate?

Watson eventually purchased a 60-acre homestead close to her husband’s land. However, the purchase enraged at least one of her new neighbors. As reported by Cattle Kate, cattle baron Albert Bothwell was specifically annoyed, because he had been using the recently purchased land as his own.

Bothwell tried to purchase the land from Watson, but she refused to give it up. He was further outraged when Watson bought 26 head of cattle and installed a fence around the land. Cattle Kate reports Bothwell responded by having a “skull and crossbones pinned to Ella’s and Jim’s doors.” Watson, however, was undeterred by the cattle baron’s threats and continued to care for the cattle and work her land.

On July 20, 1889, Bothwell and five others stormed Watson’s homestead, destroyed her fence, and drove her cattle off the land. They then proceeded to capture and then lynch Watson and her husband.

Following the assault, rumors suggested Watson and Averell (pictured above) were cattle rustlers. Cattle Kate reports the couple was also accused of numerous other crimes, including murder. According to legend, they were both outlaws, who were justifiably hanged for the crimes. However, none of those crimes were ever proven and it is widely accepted that the couple was actually killed because Watson unknowingly purchased a piece of land and water rights that were coveted by another rancher. Per True West Magazine, no one called her Cattle Kate until after her murder — age 29.

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