Lottie Deno, Lady Gambler

Lottie_DenoHere’s another interesting character from the old west. Lady gambler, Lottie Deno, was born Carlotta Thompkins on April 21, 1844 on a Kentucky plantation.

Her parents were very well-to-do and Lottie didn’t want for anything. At her birth, she was assigned a nanny from among the slaves—Mary Poindexter. She was a giant of a woman—7 ft. tall—and she accompanied Lottie everywhere she went. Nobody messed with big Mary. The nanny once fell on a rattlesnake to keep it from biting Lottie. Mary had to have a finger amputated from that incident. She also once threw a man overboard from a ferry because he got a little too close to her charge.

Lottie’s father taught her to play cards and she became an expert. When he was killed in the Civil War, Lottie played cards to support her mother and younger sister. For a while, Lottie worked on the riverboats and gambling houses along the Mississippi. She was a vivacious redhead with sparkling brown eyes and could charm the pants off any man—and his wallet too. LOL

lottie denoIn 1865 Lottie arrived in San Antonio and a year later was offered a job dealing cards at the University Club. She fell in love several times but stayed single until later meeting a half-Cherokee gambler named Frank Thurmond.

Lottie rode into the rough town of Fort Griffin, Texas on a stagecoach. She sat out in the open right on the very top where she could see everything. She caused quite a stir. It didn’t take long to get a job at the Bee Hive Saloon. One night she and Doc Holliday played cards all night long and by morning she’d won thirty thousand dollars of Doc’s money. She also played with legendary Wyatt Earp and many other notables of the old West.

It was in Fort Griffin where Lottie got the Deno part of her name. One of the gamblers who’d lost to her hollered out, “Honey, the way you play your name should be Lotta Dinero.”

She separated herself from the violent population of Ft. Griffin by taking a shanty on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. She only left it only to visit the local mercantile and to go to work. But Lottie lost her heart to Frank Thurmond and after he killed a man in a card game and had to run, she followed him to Silver City, New Mexico where they married and opened two saloons, a restaurant and a hotel.

frankThurmondLottie got involved in charity work, feeding newly released prisoners and giving them a place to stay.

She and Frank eventually moved on to Deming, New Mexico where they got out of the gambling business and settled down to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Frank became vice president of the Deming National Bank and helped found the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

In 1908, after forty years of marriage, Frank passed away. Lottie outlived him by 26 years until she, too, died and was buried next to Frank. Those who knew her said she maintained her laugh and good cheer to the end.

She and Frank became models for characters in a series of books by Alfred Henry Lewis. Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke fame owed everything about her characterization to Lottie Deno.


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About LindaBroday

I'm a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of western historical romance. I love stories of the old West and the people who once lived there. I haunt libraries and museums and can hang out in them for hours. To tell all the stories that are in my head would take a lifetime.


Lottie Deno, Lady Gambler — 4 Comments

  1. The old west is full of colorful characters, but this one take the cake! Not only was she strikingly beautiful, but what a brave soul she was to put herself smack in the middle of what was truly a man’s world. I always loved Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke and thought her and Matt Dillon needed to marry. Thanks for posting this fascinating story!

    • Hi Jan……Lottie Deno was truly a fascinating woman. She was certainly fearless. Had to be to live that kind of life. The driving force was that she could face anything except being poor and she darn sure that never happened. I really admire that and I admire her.

      Miss Kitty had the same toughness except she held back her feelings for Matt Dillon. She should’ve gone after what she wanted. Matt needed a good shaking up. On the other hand……it would’ve ruined the show. It definitely wouldn’t have been the same if they’d married. I’ll bet they got tons of letters from fans though trying to get them to make that happen.

  2. Great post Linda, love reading about Lottie Deno. You have some great stories of people from our past.

    • Hi Quilt Lady……I’m glad you enjoyed Lottie. She was a very fascinating woman who did things we only dream of doing but don’t have the courage. Our past is filled with thousands of people who have done remarkable things. That’s why I love history. I want KNOW these people!

      Have a great day!