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Cattle Annie, Little Britches, and the Cimarron Rose

Girls of the Wild West

Shadows of dead men stand by the wall; Watching the fun of the pioneer ball. The wail of fiddles, the dancers sway; Troubles forgotten for a night and a day.

Rose of the Cimarron, Bitter Creek’s girl, Stood watching the dancers glide and whirl. The dance grows wilder: they’re young, don’t you see? “Gosh,” says Red Buck, “so were we!”

We often hear about the Outlaw Gangs of the Wild West – men rampaging through the wide open spaces of the prairies, deserts and Badlands, terrorizing the law-abiding settlers, robbing banks and post offices, holding up pony expresses and steam trains. They cut heroic figures on our movie screens and provide enthusiastic little boys with Halloween costumes. But whether we celebrate or denigrate them, let’s not forget the young women who were caught up in their way of life.

The Doolin Gang, one of the most notorious, was also known as the Wild Bunch Gang, or the Oklahoma Long Riders (for the long leather dusters or ‘chaps’ they wore over their trousers). Bill Doolin and his associates – Tulsa Jack, Dynamite Dick, Arkansas Tom, Bitter Creek, Charley Pierce, Little Bill Raidler, Red Buck, Little Dick West and Ol Yantis – charged across Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri in the 1890s, and seemed unstoppable. Yet, by 1898, every single member of the gang had met a violent death.

One girl who was infatuated by the exploits of the Wild Bunch Gang was Anna Emmaline McDoulet. From a poor family in Oklahoma, she followed the antics of the Gang by reading dime novels. She shared her enthusiasm with her friend, Jennie Stevenson. The two were determined to join an outlaw gang, and chased after the Wild Bunch until they were accepted by the violent group at the tender ages of thirteen and fifteen.

Cattle Annie and Little Britches

The two became valued members in the gang, evading the attentions of law enforcement officers and warning the gang of their whereabouts. Anna was known as Cattle Annie, and Jennie acquired the nickname Little Britches. They were excellent horsewomen and markswomen. They dressed in men’s clothing, and became known for their daring pursuits throughout the region. The pair sold whisky to the Osage and Pawnee tribes and engaged in horse theft, operating either together or alone.

Little Britches was married twice while she was involved with the gang, but left both husbands to rejoin the gang. Both girls were still teenagers when the gang fell apart in 1895. They’d witnessed most of the men being killed or apprehended and thrown in prison.

They were more slippery, and it took marshals several attempts to capture them. Cattle Annie evaded one trap by escaping out a window. Little Britches was captured in 1895, but got away by tearing off her dress, grabbing the marshal’s horse and galloping away. She was finally caught, but only after physically attacking a marshal and shooting him in the leg. They were both finally arrested, tried and sentenced in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

There are reports that, after their release, both women went on to marry, raise families and lead normal, law-abiding lives, but it’s difficult to verify these reports.

Rose Dunn

The story of Rose Dunn is more poetic, but no less exploitative. Her family had a ranch north of Ingalls, Oklahoma, scene of the biggest shoot-out with the Doolin Gang, in which five marshals were killed, and most of the Gang escaped. It was rumored that the Doolins had stayed at the Dunn Ranch, and that one of them, Bitter Creek Newcomb, had fallen in love with Rose, who was fifteen at the time.

After the shoot-out, the Gang went into hiding, but Bitter Creek came back to collect ‘his girl.’ The story goes that Rose’s brothers weren’t as taken with her beau, ambushed him and shot him. They threw his body into their wagon and rode into town to collect the reward of $5,000. Apparently, on the way, Bitter Creek moaned, so they shot him again!

Some sources say that Rose had actually lured Bitter Creek into the trap and betrayed him. But others are more romantically-minded, and paint a picture of tragic love. One of these was Grover Leonard, the Cowboy Poet of Oklahoma, who wrote the poem above. In the poem, he talks about Bitter Creek’s girl, ‘the Cimarron Rose’, and about the ‘shadows’ of slain outlaws, whose ghosts haunted the lives of the honest pioneers. The Cimarron is a major river running through northern Oklahoma Territory.

Whatever the truth to these stories, it seems that vulnerable girls were exploited by violent men, a recurring theme throughout history.

If you’re interested in interpretations of these stories, you can look up these films and albums:

  • The Wild Bunch was featured in an episode of the 1950s television series, Stories of the Century, starring and narrated by Jim Davis.
  • The gang was the inspiration for the album Desperado (1973) by the Eagles and the songs ‘Doolin-Dalton’ and ‘Bitter Creek’ on that album.
  • A movie starring Randolph Scott, The Doolins of Oklahoma, portrayed Doolin as a Robin Hood type character.

 

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