Carlotta Thompkins Thurmond
Carlotta Thompkins Thurmond “Lottie Deno”
1844 - 1934
Generally considered the inspiration for Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke and Laura Denbo in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, her prowess at the faro table and her tough-as-nails personality cemented her reputation as the archetypal "virtuous gambler."
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.
Born in Warsaw, Kentucky, on April 21, 1844, her early life, particularly her relationship with her father, had a great impact on her. She was born to a wealthy family and spent many of her early years traveling with her father to gambling houses in New Orleans and throughout Europe.
When her father was killed after enlisting in the Confederate Army in the Civil War, her mother sent her to Detroit to stay with family friends. But fate—and a natural ability at gambling—had other plans for her. Rather than settling down, she instead connected with a jockey she knew from horse racing, a man named Johnny Golden. Together, the couple (along with her longtime nanny) traveled on riverboats up and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, gambling to make a living. She excelled at faro, a popular variation of poker that was common in gambling halls at the time. Parting with Golden, she moved to San Antonio, where she became interested in Frank Thurmond, the owner of a gambling house where she worked.
On a journey with Frank through the gambling halls of the southwest, her life turned legendary. Her prowess at the faro table and her tough-as-nails personality cemented her reputation as the archetypal “virtuous gambler.” She’s generally considered 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. Traveling 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, she began calling herself “Lottie Deno”—a play on a made-up phrase “lotta dinero” created from 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. Texas Tech University Press, 1999.
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 Holliday: 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. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011.