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Carbon County Outlaws: Cattle Kate

The Outlaw saga continues! Carbon County had its share of Outlaws, whether they took up residence in Rawlins or the surrounding area, or just passed through trying to elude the long arm of the law. Some folk started out as decent, law abiding citizens, and turned to the life of crime. Some, were "branded" as Outlaws or undesirables, and they were hunted down and lynched or shot and killed.

Women were not exempt from receiving the title of Outlaw. And, they were treated no less favorably when and if caught. One such "lady" was Ella Watson, a.k.a. "Cattle Kate". There is much controversy surrounding her story, but there is no controversy to her demise. She was hung from a tree...lynched, actually.. in the Sweetwater Valley in Northern Carbon County. Many different accounts paint many different pictures of the scenario that led to the infamous Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate.


A Photo of Cattle Kate on Horseback
Questions surround the lynching of Ella, and her husband Jim Averell. The controversy stems from these two arguements:

1). Ella was a prostitute working for Jim Averell on a Hog Ranch, and the "decent" folk didn't take to kindly to it, so they drummed up some accusations against the pair and said they were "guilty" of rustling cattle.

2). The "real" dispute was over land and water rights...and Jim and Ella were homesteaders, and some politically powerful cattlemen wanted them "off" of the land they wanted to occupy, and hence...lynched them both to get rid of them

Cattle Kate and Jim Averell and son
The news of the lynching took to the newspapers in 1889, and proclaimed that Ella Watson was a prostitute, and Jim Averell was her pimp, and that both were cattle rustlers and both deserved to be hung. Then, the rumors began flaring up in small newspapers..questions that to this day remain unanswered: Perhaps Ella and Jim were decent people...homesteaders, that were rousted out of their homes and taken out and lynched merely because some greedy cattlemen wanted their land and water rights. Perhaps it was all over politics. Perhaps the real question was not rustling, but was over who would control the land and water rights and own huge chunks of land. The Cattlemen had been using the land and the water free for many years, and the homesteaders were seen as an invasion into their territory, and were therefore undesireable and needed to be ridded of in order for the cattlemen to continue to use the land and water free.

Ella Watson and Jim Averell
Strangely enough, "witnesses" to the abduction and hanging of the couple mysteriously "disappeared" or suddenly took ill and died. So, the cattlemen were never convicted of any crime or murder, as no one was around to testify otherwise to what they said. Sounds like history hasn't changed much in 100 years, huh? And so, the controversy remains alive to this day. It is still debated, and perhaps the truth about the incident will never be known.
I would recommend you read: "The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate" by George Hufsmith. It is an excellant book and leaves the question open for you to decide on your own. Happy reading!

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