During the years following the Civil War a number of infamous gamblers, outlaws, and killers roamed the “wild west” seeking their fortunes, often by stealing it from others. An area known as “The Flat,” located west of Fort Worth, Texas, soon earned a reputation as one of the most lawless places in the state. In 1870 the commander of nearby Fort Griffin declared martial law and rousted a few of the more troublesome characters out of his jurisdiction. You may recall where Pat Garrett, Doc Holliday, and Wyatt Earp relocated. I’m not sure what happened to Big Nose Kate, John Wesley Hardin, or John Selman. But I can tell you what happened to beautiful Lottie Deno, professional gambler, and the inspiration for “Miss Kitty” on Gunsmoke. She won lots more money, married the man of her dreams, moved to New Mexico, and often visited Caddo, Oklahoma.
Lottie’s real name was Carlotta J. Thompkins, but she was also known at various times as Charlotte Tompkins, “Mystic Maud,” and Charlotte or Carlotta Thurmond. The first half of her life was exciting and dramatic, the stuff of legends and movies. A number of books and websites will tell you she won thousands of dollars in a card game with Doc Holliday. You can read about her encounters with the law over some of her more “questionable” activities. You can read about her cool demeanor when surrounded by violence. What you can’t read about is what brought her to Caddo. For that story we need the highlights of her life and one more character.
Carlotta was born in Kentucky on April 21, 1844. Her father was a wealthy plantation owner who loved to gamble and race horses. He also loved to travel and took his eldest daughter with him to fine gambling casinos where her remarkable card skills quickly became evident. Her nanny, Mary Poindexter, always accompanied them and sometimes had the added duty of protecting Carlotta from unhappy gamblers who lost money to the teenager. At six-feet-seven Mary was more than capable of doing so.
Unfortunately Carlotta’s father was killed early in the Civil War, leaving her mother and sister to manage the family plantation. For a time Carlotta helped, but then she was sent to live with friends in Detroit where it was hoped she might meet a suitable husband. Instead she took up with another gambler, Johnny Golden. They made a good income and Carlotta sent money home to support her mother and sister. But after a while they parted company. Carlotta settled in New Orleans, but her mother died and she became restless and set her sights on new territory. She moved to San Antonio, Texas, where, with her usual aplomb, she managed to become a house gambler at the University Club. She also fell in love with the club’s owner, Frank Thurmond.
One of Frank’s biographers noted that Frank would later be known for two constant companions: his razor-sharp Bowie knife and Carlotta. According to Texas history the main characters in our story then played a game of hide and seek for few years. Frank stabbed a man during a fight, left town, and headed west. Johnny showed up and claimed Carlotta was his wife. Carlotta ditched Johnny and her nanny, and traveled west to find Frank. Johnny left to follow Carlotta, but not before killing a man in San Antonio. He caught up with her at Fort Griffin where he was killed the next day.
In 1877 Carlotta joined Frank in New Mexico where they ran a small gambling room and a restaurant in Silver City, the town where they finally married on December 2, 1880. Later they settled in Deming, where they remained until their deaths. There is speculation as to their motivation, but it was in Deming that Frank and Lottie reinvented their lives. Frank dabbled in mining, land deals, and other enterprises, eventually becoming vice-president of the Deming National Bank. Lottie earned a respectable position in the community and was known for her kindness and generosity. She became a founding member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Deming. Frank died in 1908 and Lottie in 1934. Much has been written about them since then, but what has always been overlooked were their numerous and often lengthy visits to Caddo, Indian Territory:
Legendary outlaw and gambler Frank Thurmond began his life as an ordinary boy with a family. His parents, James and Mary (Stake, Stoke) Thurmond were married in Georgia in 1837 and can be found on the 1850 census in Mississippi with their children, Julia, Harrison, Franklin, Sarah, Louvinia, and Mary. Like many families of the time, they eventually moved west to Texas and the Territory.
Julia Thurmond Sims Grayson was well-known to the residents of Caddo. As a young woman she ran the Sims Hotel and later the St. James, and was involved in numerous civic affairs. She outlasted two husbands and was the mother of Julia Sims Hancock, J. H. Sims, Emma Sims Low, Fannie Sims Hampton, and C. H. Grayson. She lived to be ninety-six.
It seems evident from reading the newspapers that Julia and her brother Frank remained close in spite of his career or the distance between their homes.
Silver City Enterprise (NM)
November 26, 1886
Mr. and Mrs. Ed Walters, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Thurmond, and Miss Sims arrived in Deming last Sunday from the Indian Territory. (Miss Sims was Julia Thurmond Sims’ daughter, also named Julia.)
The Caddo Herald
June 15, 1894
Mrs. Thurmond of Deming, New Mexico, is visiting her sisters (in-law), Mrs. Grayson and Lawrence.
June 22, 1894
Mesdames Thurmond, Lawrence, Grayson, and Hancock went fishing this week. (Odd to think of the notorious gambler enjoying a day of fishing.)
June 29, 1900
Mrs. F. R. Grayson, Mrs. Ed Walters, and little Carrol Low, have gone to Deming, New Mexico to visit relatives.
January 9, 1903
Mr. Frank Thurmond of Deming, New Mexico was in Caddo this week visiting relatives. He left for home yesterday, accompanied by his niece Miss Mary Allen, who will make her future home with him. Miss Mary has many admiring friends in Caddo who are grieved to have her leave, though they wish her happiness in her new home.
Dallas Morning News
March 5, 1903
Young Couple Married at Parlors of the Hotel Worth
Special to the News
Fort Worth, Tex. March 4- J. V. Hardin of South McAlester, I. T. and Miss Mary Allen of Deming, N. M. were married in the parlors of the Hotel Worth this morning by Rev. J. M. Burrow of Henrietta. The bride is the niece of Frank Thurmond of New Mexico, a well-known cattleman, who was present with his wife. The groom is a prominent lumber merchant of the Indian Territory. Several friends from Caddo and other points in the Indian Territory witnessed the ceremony. The newly married couple left for California and will be at home at South McAlester.
March 6, 1903
At Fort Worth, Wednesday morning (March 4, 1903) at 10 o’clock, Mr. J. V. Hardin and Miss Mary Allen were married. Both parties are well known society young people of Caddo and the names of friends is legion. Mr. Hardin came to Caddo two years ago and has proven himself to be a most exemplary young man; has had charge of the lumber yard of Rockwell Bros. & Company, and has made many friends. Miss Allen has lived nearly all her life in and near Caddo. She is connected with our best families and has always been a most popular young lady. The marriage is the result of a long courtship and when Miss Allen went to visit her uncle’s family at Deming, New Mexico some months ago it was thought the day was not far distant.
The Caddo Herald
April 3, 1903
Mrs. C. A. Hancock yesterday afternoon gave a reception at her beautiful home in honor of Mesdames Frank Thurmond of Deming, N. M., Ben Hampton, of Chickasha, I. T., and J. Vaughan Hardin, of Caddo. A large number of ladies of Caddo were present and enjoyed the occasion greatly. Seasonable refreshments were served.
June 5, 1908
Silver City Enterprise
Frank Thurmond, one of the pioneer and most highly respected citizens of southern New Mexico, passed away at his home in Deming Wednesday night, June 3, after a lingering illness from an incurable malady of the throat. He was operated upon recently in the hopes that the disease might be checked, but it had progressed too far. Funeral services will be held from the family home in Deming this afternoon. He is survived by a wife.
Mr. Thurmond was 70 years of age and had resided in this section of the country for the last thirty-three years. He was a resident of Silver City in the later seventies and also for a period of about three years in the early nineties. All who knew him in Sliver City speak highly of his noble and manly character and loveable qualities of mind and heart. His death is sincerely mourned by a host of old time friends in this section.
February 16, 1934
Funeral services were held Sunday afternoon at 2:30 for Mrs. Charlotta Thurmond, beloved pioneer, who died last Friday at Deming hospital. Until a few days before her death, Mrs. Thurmond had maintained her usual good health and cheerful spirit.
Deceased would have been 90 years of age next April.
Interment was in Mountain View Cemetery, Rev. Wm. Sickels officiating at the grave, as Rev. Ross R. Calvin did at St. Luke’s’ Episcopal Church.
Mrs. Thurmond was a native of Kentucky, but had resided in New Mexico since 1878 and in Deming since 1881.
Presidents, generals, outlaws, and lady gamblers- it seems that everyone eventually visited Caddo.
Note: I continue to gather bits and pieces of information about the Thurmond family. If you have a connection to them I would appreciate hearing from you.
Mary E. Maurer is an avid Caddo historian.