Carlotta Thompkins "Lottie Deno" Thurmond lived a life of legend, and in so doing, likely became the inspiration for the Miss Kitty character in the popular TV series Gunsmoke.
Carlotta was born in Warsaw, Kentucky on April 21, 1844. Her early life, and particularly her relationship with her father, seems to have had a great impact on her. She was born to a wealthy family, and many of her early years were spent traveling with her father as a child to gambling houses in New Orleans and throughout Europe.
When her father was killed after enlisting in the Confederate Army in the Civil War, Carlotta’s mother send her to Detroit to stay with family friends. But fate—and Carlotta's natural ability at gambling—had other plans for her. Rather than settling down, Carlotta instead connected with a jockey she knew from horse racing, a man named Johnny Golden. Together, the couple (along with Carlotta's longtime nanny) traveled on riverboats up and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, gambling to make a living. Carlotta excelled at faro, a popular variation of poker that was common in gambling halls at the time. After Carlotta and Golden parted, she moved to San Antonio, where she became interested in the owner of a gambling house where she worked, Frank Thurmond.
Carlotta and Frank later left San Antonio on a journey through the gambling halls of the southwest, and it is during this time that Carlotta's life turned legendary. Her prowess at the faro table and her tough-as-nails personality cemented her reputation as the archetypal "virtuous gambler." Indeed, it's generally believed that Carlotta was the inspiration for the Miss Kitty character in Gunsmoke as well as the Laura Denbo character in the movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Her journey took her from San Antonio to Fort Concho, Jacksboro, San Angelo, Denisson, Fort Worth, and finally to Fort Griffin in 1877. This period in her life is rife with stories, though some appear apocryphal. She may have brushed with historical greatness in the form of Doc Holiday, even beating him at several games.
Around this time, Carlotta began calling herself "Lottie Deno"—a play on a made-up phrase "lotta dinero" ("dinero" is the Spanish word for "money").
In 1876, Frank left Texas for New Mexico, and Lottie followed him a year later. She apparently left without much notice, leaving a note in her cabin to sell her furniture and give the proceeds to the poor.
Lottie joined Frank in Kingston and ran a small gambling hall in the Victorio Hotel. Later they moved to Silver City, where they married on December 2, 1880. There, they entered the restaurant business, purchasing the Broadway Restaurant. Frank also invested in mining interests. The couple seemed to be leaving their gambling lives behind. Two years later, in 1882, they moved to Deming. Perhaps tired of feeling they were outsiders to proper society, both became active members of the community. Frank became Vice President of the Deming National Bank, and Lottie helped found St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. She became known as "Aunt Lottie" in Deming.
Lottie Deno died on February 9, 1934 in Deming.
Barton, Barbara. Pistol Packin’ Preachers: Circuit Riders of Texas. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2005.
Eckhardt, Charley F. Tales of Badmen, Bad Women, and Bad Places: Four Centuries of Texas Outlawry.
Goldthwaite, Carmen. Texas Dames: Sassy and Savvy Women Throughout Lone Star History. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2012.
Melzer, Richard, Ph.D. Buried Treasures: Famous and Unusual Gravesites in New Mexico History. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press, 2007.
Roberts, Gary L. Doc Holiday: The Life and Legend. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2006.
Rose, Cynthia. Lottie Deno: Gambling Queen of Hearts. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 1994.
Williamson, G. R. Frontier Gambling: The Games, The Gamblers and the Great Gambling Halls of the Old West. n.p, Indian Head Publications, 2001.