Colorful caravan visits Hat Creek
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
The most colorful caravan to come up the Cheyenne-Deadwood trail so far is here today. It is the gambling establishment of Lurline Monte Verde. At least a dozen of her counting dealers, spindlemen, bartenders and bouncers are accompanying her on this trip. She is traveling in a yellow omnibus that has been remodeled into a comfortable home on wheels, with a bed, alcohol stove for light cooking, curtained windows and a shelf for books. When she tired of riding inside, she rides on top with the driver. Lurline's maid and her staff travel in the next wagon. Behind it follows a sort of commissary and baggage wagon. The fourth wagon carries a large tent and gambling paraphernalia.
Lurline is the most beautiful, charming and sophisticated traveler so far to chance the trip to Deadwood Gulch. She is in her early 30s, always carefully groomed and never loses her sloe-eyed smile. Her background is as interesting as the lady herself. A graduate of the Missouri Female Seminary, she was the once-famous Confederate spy Belle Siddons. After the war she spent several years as a lobbyist at the Missouri state capitol where she met and married an army surgeon, Newton Hallett. He taught her how to deal monte, vingt-et-un or black jack. They often gambled for entertainment at the gaming tables in Metamoros, Mexico.
Hallett died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1869. After his death she was a tutor for the Sioux at the Red Cloud Agency for a while, then she operated as a gambler in Ellsworth and Fort Hays, Kan. Later she was in New Orleans dealing monte and black jack in a St. Charles Street gambling house.
In Denver until just a few months ago she had her gambling tent set up on Blake Street across from Ed Chases's Palace. Her tented casino-of-chance had been so popular and highly profitable that the sporting crowd wondered why steeley-eyed Ed Chase, the gambling czar of Denver, did not crush her as he had other competitors. There she was known as Madame Vestal, (one of her many aliases).
Lurline had been concerned about so many men leaving the front range boom towns near Denver and heading for the Black Hills. She decided to pull up stakes and head for Deadwood Gulch. Her timing was a little bad when she arrived in Cheyenne during January 1876. Bad weather and Indian depredations on travelers necessitated a delay until late July to begin the trip north of Cheyenne. In the meanwhile she was dealing in Cheyenne and even performing at the Bella Union Theater as a seriocomic singer where she was "the favorite of the public."
(Information sources: Shady Ladies of the West, by Ronald Dean Miller; Road Agents and Train Robbers, by Harry Sinclair Drago; "Canyon Springs Robbery," periodical Frontier Times, Vol. 42 No. 1, by Agnes Wright Spring.)
Wild Bill Killed in Deadwood
Freighters coming back from the Black Hills say that Wild Bill Hickok was killed in Deadwood August 2nd. He was shot from the back by jack McCall, a two-bit gambler, town-bummer, and driver of the overland mail stage from Deadwood to Wild Birch.
While he had been in Deadwood gulch, Wild bill had busted himself locating a claim and renewing old friendships and acquaintances in the saloons. Once it was known that he was in town old friends soon looked him up. Among them was "California Joe", who spoke with him at length about Custer's death, neither man could believe that their old friend was gone. California Joe hadn't changed much since Wild Bill had last seen him. Joe's hair and beard were still matted and he still had a great sense of humor. Wild bill, California Joe and Colorado Charlie were often seen together on the streets and in the saloons of Deadwood.
Charlie Shingle, owner of the Number Three Saloon, was an old friend of Wild Bill's. Wild Bill spent much of his time there or in Carl Mann's Number Ten Saloon where there was always a game going. It was there he was killed. Hickok's last claim to fame was the hand of cards he was holding at that time - a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights - ever since known as the "Dead Man's Hand".
Hickok, who had killed around 40 people, mostly in the line of duty as marshal, was buried in Deadwood after being there less than 3 weeks. His long-time friend, Charlie Utter paid for the burial and the headboard.
Hickok had served as a scout for the Union Army during the Civil War and for Gen. Custer after the war. His fame as U. S. marshal spread from his efforts in controlling outlaws in Hays City and Abilene, Kansas. In 1872-'73 he had toured with Buffalo Bill's troupe. He had also been an army wagonmaster and drove stage coach on the Santa Fe Trail.
General Custer, shortly before his death in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, said of Wild bill: "He was a plainsman in every sense of the word, yet unlike any other of his class. Whether on foot or on horseback he was one of the most perfect types of physical manhood I ever saw. His manner was entirely free from bluster or bravado. He never spoke of himself unless requested to do so. His influence among the frontiersmen was unbounded: his word was law. Wild Bill was anything but a quarrelsome man, yet none but himself could enumerate the many conflicts in which he had been engaged."
(Note: Since Hunton had not had the opportunity to return Wild bill's cane, he kept it for sometime then gave it to the Wyoming State Historical society Museum where it was put on displAy in 1921.)
(Information sources: John Hunton's Diary 1876-'77. Lusk Herald, may 28, 1936. The Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage & Express Routes by Agnes Wright Spring. They Called HIm Wild Bill by Joseph G. Rosea. Cheyenne Daily Leader AugUst 26, 1876.)