LouIsa: Iron Dove of the Frontier
By Will Edwinson
Sam Houston, in addition to being a Statesman and a warrior for Texas sovereignty, also championed Indian rights. He accompanied several delegations of the Cherokee nation to Washington D.C. on behalf of his native friends.
He even lived for a time among them. First, as a boy from age fifteen to age nineteen, and again later, when he separated from his wife Eliza. During this later sojourn he married the powerfully beautiful Tiana Rogers, a Cherokee woman, though he was still technically and legally married to Eliza. From this marriage came a son, Samuel.
Samuel Houston married Elizabeth Waughtel with whom he had twelve children. It is alleged that LouIsa (pronounced with a long i sound) Houston-Earp was one of those children, but there is some discrepancy about that. Some claim that her father was a Richard Houston, rather than Samuel, but for the purposes of this story, we will attribute her paternity to Samuel Houston.
Because little has been written about LouIsa, literary license has been employed in the development of this story. This is not an official biography of LouIsa Houston–authorized or other wise—nor is it intended to be. Some of this story is based on actual facts of history, some is conjured up from my own imagination. It is left up to the reader to decide what is fiction based on history, and what is history based on fiction.
Not much is known about LouIsa, except what I could glean from talking to her great grandniece, and from reading letters written by LouIsa to friends and relatives that her niece shared with me. I have portrayed LouIsa as I imagine her to be after getting to know her through those interviews and letters.
Some of the incidents portrayed in this story are from my reading of I Married Wyatt Earp—The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp by Glen G. Boyer, and describing them in my own words. My concept of her is a mix of a well-educated genteel woman with a colorful and feisty side to her personality, and a woman of quiet strength.
When necessary, she could get down and dirty and fight as adeptly as the best gutter rats, but also, when necessary, she could don a party dress and be perfectly comfortable with Vassar graduates.
LouIsa was in real life married to Morgan Earp for a few short years until he was murdered in Tombstone, Arizona, one night while playing billiards in one of the town pool halls. My research has not revealed with any degree of certainty how LouIsa actually met Morgan; so again, I have employed literary license to my portrayal of how this meeting might have taken place.
Tombstone, Arizona, March 18, 1882.
The pistol roared, the assailant heard Morgan cry out, “What the hell…?” and then saw him fall face down on the pool table.
“We finally got you, you law dawg son of a bitch.” Pete Spencer stood trembling outside the poolroom, the smoking gun still in his hand as he uttered the words quietly to himself.
Before he made his escape, he glanced through the window at the stunned crowd. His action had caught them completely off guard. Not one of them suspected what he might be up to when he quietly removed himself from the poolroom earlier that evening.
With two people on each side of his collapsed body, they carefully lifted Morgan off the pool table and laid him on his back on the floor.
“Go fetch LouIsa,” one of them said. Another said, “Better get Wyatt and Virgil too, and the Doc. I don’t think Morgan has much of a chance of makin’ it, but he’s still alive and needs a doc.”
Louisa was cradling Morgan’s head in her lap when Wyatt entered the room. He knelt beside his brother; his vision blurred from the tears that welled in his eyes. He blinked to fight them back; his gut wrenched. When his eyes finally focused, he looked around the room.
“Who did this?” he asked. “Did anyone see who did the actual shooting?”
One man spoke up and said, “I didn’t actually see the shootin’, but I did see Pete Spencer leave the poolroom about a half hour before Morgan was shot.”
“Come to think about it,” said another, I saw the little weasel sneak out of here m’self.”
“But none of you actually saw Spencer fire the shot,” Wyatt said. It was more of a statement than a question. They all agreed, none could swear to seeing the shooting.
Wyatt looked at LouIsa. He agonized at the pain he saw in her eyes, and the tortured expression on her face. He sensed she was in another time, another place. He reached out and lightly touched her shoulder.
LouIsa looked up at him. Again, he saw her pain. “Come, LouIsa,” he said, “I’ll have someone escort you home.
She heard nothing of what he said. She was aware only of her own thoughts. She continued to hug her husband and rub his face softly with her hand, her mind engulfed in her own private thoughts.
Why, Morgan, why? You said you would hang up your guns if I accompanied you to Tombstone. Why couldn’t you have stayed out of the law business like you promised? If you had stuck to prospecting or gambling, this would never have happened. But when you saw the lawlessness that was here, I guess I should’ve known better than to think that you could let it stand without trying to do something about it. And then worst of all, my darling, you forgot the last thing I told you before you walked out of the house tonight. ‘Don’t turn your back on anyone.’
She nestled him closer to her bosom. Morgan had been unconscious the whole time and knew nothing of what she had been thinking. She heard a gurgle come from his throat and felt him give one last desperate gasp for air. She realized he had just died in her lap.
She loved this man who lay in her lap more than life itself. She had only longed to devote herself to living for one man building a life with him and raising a family in a little cabin with flowers and a white picket fence. Her health had prevented her from having a family, and now the rest of her dream had just been shattered by an assassin’s bullet.
LouIsa was part Cherokee Indian, and it was now that she needed the inner strength that her Cherokee grandmother had instilled in her. She never let LouIsa forget that part of her heritage as she taught her the ways of her people. Cherokee life was hard; their women had to be strong.
LouIsa broke into a soft wailing of the mourning song of her Cherokee people, and as she mourned her husband’s death, she relived the last several years.
Florence, Kansas – 1876
At age twenty-one, LouIsa displayed wisdom beyond her years. Educated at Eastern finishing schools, she learned the ways of “ladyship” and studied piano under the tutorship of masters, becoming proficient with the classical works of Mozart, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, and many others.
Her father taught her how to ride and shoot on their Montana cattle ranch, and she learned to fight as a member of the Warrior Society of the Cherokee tribe of her grandmother. Some Indian tribes allowed females to become members of their prestigious warrior societies after they passed the same stringent tests required of the braves.
LouIsa proved herself a worthy asset to the society. There were few braves in the tribe who could equal her skills. Her stature was tall and slim with long legs that allowed her to run and swim with the best of the male warriors. Her keen mind put her on an even par with her male counterparts in developing the strategies needed to outwit their enemies in battle.
She displayed premier skills with the lance, bow, and rifle. Her ability to handle a six shooter ranked almost as high as that of the best gunfighter of the day. Yet, with all these hardened skills, LouIsa was also a very soft and genteel woman with a heart as big as the Montana prairie where she had grown up. She had spent the last year as a Harvey Girl in Florence, Kansas where she put to use some of the training she acquired at the finishing schools. . . .
Wichita, Kansas, 1877
LouIsa, entertainer extraordinaire was halfway through the1st movement of a piano concerto that she was playing at the Cattlemen’s Saloon in Wichita when she saw him approach the bar. He was big and ugly.
“A bottle of whiskey,” he yelled at the bartender.
All eyes focused on Bart Ricklin. He looked mean and sullen, and there was no mistaking he was liquored up.
LouIsa stopped playing.
Bart focused his gaze on her. “So you’re the little squaw lady I been hearin’ about that plays them fancy high brow tunes. People’re a talkin’ about you all across the state of Kansas, Lady. I must say you’re purtyer’n even I imagined. I always wanted to taste me some squaw meat, and by damn tonight I aim to have me some – high class stuff to boot.”
This statement brought some of the local cowboys to their feet, hands on their gun butts. Drunk as he was, the rowdy was still fast. His sidepiece cleared leather, and he fired a shot at their feet before they could blink.
“Any of you fellers thinkin’ of tryin’ to interfere with me and this little lady havin’ us some fun?”
His cold mean eyes bore right through them. They all backed down and took their seats.He uttered a mean laugh. “That’s more like it,” he barked. “Bunch o’ lily livered cowards.”
He holstered his pistol and turned his attention back to LouIsa only to find himself staring down the barrel of her pistol. She had seized the opportunity of his temporary distraction with the cowboys to retrieve her small .38 “LouIsa Special” she kept hidden beside her on the piano bench under her full skirt.
Her father Samuel Houston had it custom made for her by the Colt Company. It was on a smaller frame than most .38’s, and many a foe were lulled into thinking it was less menacing than it really was. Bart Ricklin made that same mistake.
Bart laughed at the sight of it. “You aimin’ to stop me with that little pea shooter?” he asked.
He reached out and snatched a bottle of whiskey from the bar and pulled a long horn from it. He felt the whiskey spray, and the glass sting his face, before he heard the shot. He looked at her with incredulousness.
“You daughter of a bitch,” he roared. “You shot me.” He growled like a mad dog and lunged toward her; . . .
Dodge City, Kansas
LouIsa sat facing the saloon owner across his desk. She was pitching him for a job playing piano in his saloon.
“You can’t be serious, Miss Houston. Classical music in a frontier saloon? I don’t think so. This is Dodge City, Kansas, ma’am. The men who frequent my place are a bunch of hell raisers. Why. . .they’d shoot you in the first ten minutes, then proceed to shoot hell out of my saloon. I’m sorry, Miss Houston, but I don’t think a classical person is what I need. Now if you can sing and play honky tonk pi ana, maybe we can do some business.”
LouIsa smiled inwardly. I can do that, she thought. Once the boys get to know me and get comfortable with me, that will be the time to introduce them to the classics. She stretched her hand out across the desk.
“You’ve got a deal, Mr. Lewis. When do I start?”
“How about tonight?” he asked.
LouIsa shook her head no. “I need a couple of days to get settled in,” she said. “Today is Thursday. How about my starting on Saturday?”
“Saturday’s a pretty rough crowd, Miss Houston. Wouldn’t you rather ease into this a bit
“I don’t think that will be necessary, Mr. Lewis. I can handle them.” Her thoughts drifted back to Wichita. She remembered her altercation with Bart Ricklin, She hoped she wouldn’t have to resort to that sort of thing again.
Three months had passed since LouIsa had started playing at the Trail’s End Saloon. Those three months fostered both ups and downs for the fancy shootin’, rough ridin’, high brow Minnesota born, Montana raised maiden. She started off playing honky tonk pi-ana for the cowboys, but after a while, eased them into the classics. They balked at first, but after listening to her spell- binding spiritual artistry at the piano, they were soon hooked on her music.
Word spread all up and down the cattle trail about the high class lady that played high brow music in what had always been known as the roughest saloon in Dodge City, and cowpunchers were actually enjoying it.
In contrast to this adoration by the cowboys, LouIsa had her detractors. The Women’s Christian Temperance League was livid that this “cheap saloon girl” attracted so many men to her lair. Not only were the so called rough cowboys frequenting the Trail’s End, but so were the local farmers, ranchers, and merchants.
Tillie Johnston called the meeting of the Temperance League to order. “Ladies,” she said, “it’s time we did something about that hussy of a ‘whore lady’ over at the Trail’s End Saloon. It’s an absolute disgrace the way she has beguiled the men in this valley, and the cowboys all up and down the cattle trail. I, for one, aim to put a stop to it.”
Bart Ricklin sat his horse watching the cattle and buffalo graze co mingled on the Kansas prairie. A gentle breeze blew across the warm night, rustling the grass. Conditions were just right for a prairie fire and a stampede.
The bigger buffalo, just by their sheer size, would help to scatter the cattle. It would take days to gather them up, leaving the town virtually empty of men. With most of the men drawn out of town on the roundup, he would use that opportunity to get LouIsa. . .
The Sunday afternoon was bright and sunny. LouIsa and Morgan had Tillie and George Johnston’s parlor to themselves. She was still a guest in the Johnston’s home while Mrs. Bailey’s new boarding house was being rebuilt.
“LouIsa,” Morgan said, “I’ve been pondering something for a long time, and I think it’s about time I broached the subject with you.”
“My, it sounds mysterious, Morgan.” She had a pretty good idea of what he was leading up to, because she had been thinking about it, also.
“Not mysterious, sweet, but serious.”
She smiled, that same smile that set his urges racing every time it graced her face.
“Well, how much longer do you plan to keep me in suspense? Come on, out with it.” She sensed that he was a little nervous, and she enjoyed teasing him.
“Well, I want this to be right, LouIsa. . .I mean. . .Oh, hell, woman, I want to marry you. Will you marry me?”
She reached out and cradled his face in her hands. She pulled him closer and then she gave him a gentle kiss.
“I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to ask me. Of course I’ll marry you!”
“I’ve been thinking about something else, too, Lou. Dodge is growing and is becoming a wilder town than it used to be. I’m concerned for your safety working at the Palace. How would you feel about quitting your job there after we’re married?”
“I don’t know about that,” she answered. “Ed Lewis would be disappointed, and I do enjoy what I do there. It warms my heart to bring a little culture to crusty trail riders.”
Morgan opened his mouth to speak . . .
Charles awoke with a start. It was three a.m., and he had a powerful feeling of foreboding.
Something was terribly wrong. Then he heard the eerie roar. He knew the sound. He got out of bed and looked out the window of their upstairs bedroom; he saw his worst fear confirmed. A prairie fire was racing toward the barns.
Montana was known for dry lightning storms, and this must have been what happened earlier last night. Lightning had set the prairie grass ablaze. He and Ellie had been so caught up in their lovemaking they hadn’t heard the thunder.
“Ellie,” he shouted, as he shook his wife to wake her.
She looked at him through still sleepy eyes. “Is something the matter?” she asked.
“Prairie fire, and it’s headed this way. You go wake the girls and get them out of the house. I’ll go get the animals out of the barn.”
Ellie sprang awake instantly. “Oh, Charles, what about the cattle on the range? Do you think they’re all right?”
“I don’t know, Ellie. Right now, I have to get the horses and cows out of that barn in case the fire reaches there. We can’t work this ranch without horses.”
He scrambled into his pants and was out the door. Ellie threw on a robe and dashed toward the girls’ room.
MORE EXCERPTS FROM CHAPTER TEN
Charles stood dejected as he perused the scene. He had managed to save the horses and cows from the barn. The fire had missed the house, but the barn was gone as was Ellie’s chicken coop and most of her chickens. He hadn’t yet been out to review the range, but he feared the worst.
They stood looking at the scene; it could only be described as grim. Their nostrils burned from the smell of charred grass and stench of burnt flesh. Most of Charles’ cattle had been grazing on forest grasses. The winds had come from the northwest and had driven the fire into the forest. It had finally burned itself out after two days, but the cattle in their panicked state, were trapped in the thicket of trees and died where they stood.
Charles turned a gaze toward Ellie. She saw the pain in his eyes and felt that pain deep in her own bosom. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Oh, Charles, those poor cows. How they must have suffered,” she said.
“I really don’t think they suffered all that much, Ellie. It’s my guess the fire and heat were so intense that the oxygen was consumed and they suffocated without much pain.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said. “But what about you? I can see the pain in your eyes, and on your face. Everything you’ve worked so hard all your life to build up is gone.”
“Not everything, Ellie. I’ve still got you and the girls. Cows can be replaced.”
Ellie was overcome with emotion. She began to sob uncontrollably. They had dismounted when they’d first arrived at the scene; now, she dropped the reins of her horse, reached over and threw her arms around her husband.
“I love you, Charles Haggerty, with every part of my being. Promise me you won’t ever lose your boyish optimism.”
Charles felt tears burning at the back of his own eyes. “Don’t cry, El. We’ll make it. As long as I’ve got you and the girls, nothing can get me down.”
Mr. Sumner sat at his desk looking over his half spectacles as Charles explained his situation. “. . . So you see, Mr. Sumner, that’s where I am. The fire got a hundred of my hundred fifty cows and calves. At thirty dollars a head, I had plenty of calves to pay off the note with money to spare.
“With the loss of those hundred calves, I’m going to be short by twenty‑five hundred dollars of being able to pay the note.”
Mr. Sumner clasped his hands in front of him as they rested on the desk. He was a man in his sixties with thinning grey hair, and he wore his half spectacles low on his nose. They gave him a very stern and ominous look.
“What do you propose to do, young man, if you can’t meet your obligation?”
“Well, sir, I was hoping that with the good record I’ve already established at this bank by keeping my interest payments current, and paying some on the principal according to our agreement, that perhaps we could negotiate a new loan so I could start over.
“With the fifty head of calves I have left, I can pay fifteen hundred on the note. I still have fifty brood cows, so I’m further ahead than I was seven years ago when you loaned me the first five thousand.
“What I would like to do, sir, instead of paying the fifteen hundred against the note, is to extend the present four thousand dollar note for another five years on the same terms as the first one. That way I won’t be operating so close to the vest. I’m sure I can pay out in five years this time.”
Mr. Sumner still had his hands clasped together in front of him. He drummed the tips of his fingers together.
“My boy,” he said. “What you are proposing puts the bank at great risk. I’ve got my depositors and stockholders to consider.”
“But, sir, I’ve never missed a payment according to our agreement, and I’ve got one of the best spreads in the valley. If I hadn’t had this fire, I could have paid you off with money to spare.”
“I know that, son, but that’s just it. You have no cushion now. If you have another disaster, you couldn’t dig your way out of it, and we would have to foreclose. You might lose everything if we had to do that.
“I think it’s best that you sell out now while you still have something. Your place joins Amos Potter’s place, and he told me just the other day that if you couldn’t pay your note, he would pay it off for you and pay you an additional two thousand dollars for your remaining interest in the ranch.”
“My place is worth ten thousand dollars if it’s worth a dime, sir,” Charles responded.
“That very well may be the case, my boy, if you’re not facing a debt foreclosure. My advice to you would be to give Amos Potter’s offer serious consideration.”
Charles stood up and stretched his hand across the desk to Mr. Sumner. “Thank you very much, sir. My note isn’t due until the first of November. That gives me three months to come up with another solution. If I can’t, then maybe Mr. Potter and I can talk.”
“He may not be so generous by then,” Mr. Sumner offered.
“That’s a chance I’ll just have to take, sir. My future, as well as my wife’s and daughters’, futures are at stake here. Good day, sir.”
After Charles left the banker’s office, Mr. Sumner wrestled with his private thoughts: Oh, my, what have I done to that boy and his family? I’ve always liked him, and I know if given half a chance he can make that little place of his successful. LouIsa stood at a teller cage making a deposit when Charles walked out of Mr. Sumner’s office.
“Charlie,” she yelled out. He turned and looked at her, but didn’t stop or speak. He walked on outside to the sidewalk.