Frontier Reporter Dirt asks...
Doc Holliday and friends

Question by Frontier Reporter, Early Spring 1877:

Now there's a mighty fine-looking lady, all dressed in blue silk. I'll bet my readers would like a few fashion tips. Oh, Miss, Miss! Could you tell us: do you shop here at The Flat?

Lottie Deno answers:

Look, I mind my own business and I suggest you do the same. (With a toss of her head, Lottie Deno hurries off down the street.)

(A woman standing nearby was listening. Now she steps forward, whispering:)

She acts just like a high-class lady, doesn't she? Talks like a lady, walks like a lady, dresses like a lady. Don't be fooled by her cool manner. That woman is no lady. She's a lady gambler. That's right. She makes her living by playing cards and taking people's money. She calls herself Lottie Deno. We call her the Poker Queen.

photo of Lottie DenoShe's a mysterious one, too. Her past is a deep, dark secret. Some say she was educated in the best schools on the East Coast and comes from a wealthy family. Who knows what her real name is. In San Antonio, she went by Carlotta Thompkins. Here she calls herself Lottie Deno. We hear she got that second name from a man she cheated at cards. He told her she should change her name to "Lotsa Dinero" [which means "lots of money"]. Apparently, "Miss Dinero" or "Deno" as she decided to rename herself, has gambled her way here from San Antonio up through the fort towns. They say she is looking for her boyfriend who had to flee San Antonio because he killed a man.

All we really do know about Lottie Deno is that she arrived here alone one evening about two years ago on the Jacksboro stage. She was riding up top of the coach with the driver! She rented a cabin on the edge of town. There she lives like a hermit, receiving no callers, male or female. She goes out only to shop or to gamble. But when she does go out, she always carries her pistol. At night, you can find her at the Bee Hive Saloon, playing poker. photo of antique poker cards, chips and diceFolks say she's good at cards, that she's more than a match for the best of the professional gamblers who pass through here, like Smoky Joe and Monte Bill, who follow the buffalo hunters and the men trailing cattle to Dodge. Miss Deno bets high and wins big. Pity the poor cowboy who finds himself across the poker table from this enchanting redhead with the sparkling black eyes. She will soon relieve him of any silver he might have jingling in his pocket.

It's true that she's not so bad as some of the saucy girls who work in those saloons. She lives fairly respectably, always keeping the peace. She's run up a debt or two but who here hasn't? I've never been in the Bee Hive but Deputy Sheriff Herron has. He says he's watched her in there and that liquor has never touched her lips. But imagine a woman making a living in a such a wretched place! All those wild men drinking, cursing, smoking, and fighting. True, she has to make a living, but like that?

No, we could never receive a woman with that kind of reputation into polite society, even if she does put an honorable face on it. That's why we townspeople had to do what we did. We just couldn't invite a woman of her sort to come to one of our dances. That sort of a thing just isn't done here.

Lottie Deno was a woman of mystery whose true name may never be known. She was born in Warsaw, Kentucky in 1844. Her father, a wealthy plantation owner, loved to race horses and gamble. He took Lottie, his oldest child, to gambling casinos around the world. After he died in the Civil War, the young woman was sent to Detroit, where her mother hoped she might meet a suitable husband.

steamboatInstead, Lottie, along with her nanny, a 7-foot-tall black woman, met up with Johnny Golden, one of her father's former jockeys. The three sailed the Mississippi River, becoming expert in the riverboat gambling parlors. After they split up, Lottie met and fell in love with Frank Thurmond. But Frank took off for West Texas. Some say he killed a man in a card game. Lottie followed him, gambling her way from town to town.

At Fort Griffin, Johnny Golden, the jockey-gambler, came back into Lottie Deno's life—but not for long. He found his former sweetheart dealing cards at the Beehive Saloon. One day later, he was shot dead on the street behind the saloon.

Lottie followed Frank to New Mexico, where they eventually became respected citizens. She gave up gambling and helped establish an Episcopal church in the small town of Deming. She died in 1934 and was buried next to Frank.

Credits: Character dialogue by Lisa Waller Rogers; top painting by Charles Shaw; photo of Lottie Deno, Marvin Hunter Collection, Frontier Times Museum; stagecoach from painitng of Fort Mason by Melvin Warren, courtesy of Mrs. Melvin Warren; period playing cards, dice, and chips from Fort McKavett SHS.

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