Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Lottie Deno: A Gambling Southern Belle

by | September 7, 2012 | 3 comments

A lady gambler who was also one of the founding members of her Episcopal church, the woman who went by the name Lottie Deno was an unexpected sight at the Post-Civil War Texas gaming tables of San Antonio, Fort Worth, and, perhaps the most notorious town of its day, Fort Griffin Flat.  Where did this gorgeous, red-haired, southern belle come from and, perhaps more importantly, how did she end up winning money from the likes of  Doc Holiday, earning the respect of her patrons for her skill, and keeping her reputation as a lady in tact? 

 Lottie Deno was born Carlotta J. Thompson in 1844 to a devout Episcopalian family who owned a farm in Warsaw, Kentucky. Her father, an inveterate gambler who frequented the gaming tables of New Orleans when he was there on business, believed his daughter should have some skills in this world and, having no sons, taught her the games of chance that he enjoyed. Carlotta was an excellent pupil and accompanied her father to New Orleans on several occasions.

 After Carlotta’s father was killed in the Civil War, relatives sent Carlotta to Detroit, where her father had business acquaintances, in hopes she would find and marry a wealthy man who could take over her father’s enterprises. Accompanying Carlotta on this trip was her companion, Mary Poindexter, their former slave who, at over six feet tall, also acted as bodyguard to her young charge.

 Unfortunately, the youthful Carlotta fell for a business connection of her father’s that her family found unsuitable largely, it seemed, because Johnny Golden was both a gambler and Jewish. With money running out, Johnny convinced Carlotta to run away with him and gamble on the riverboats that trolled the Mississippi River even during the height of the war. Accompanied by the ever vigilant Mary Poindexter, Carlotta joined her love on the riverboats.

 While a lady gambler was unusual during this time, gamblers were not. During the mid to late 1800’s, in fact, gambling was seen as a profession, much like being a trader on Wall Street is today. Skill was respected and, though it was not necessarily admitted, almost every gambler had his (or her) little tricks. Those that gambled with professional gamblers invariably understood this (much like the public who trade on Wall Street today know that, with high speed trading, the odds are at least slightly rigged against them) but prided themselves on being able to tell when the cheat occurred before they bet the hand, though we know that wasn’t always the case.

 For reasons not revealed, Johnny and Lottie decided to split up in 1863 and rendezvous later in San Antonio. Gambling her way through New Orleans, Carlotta and Mary arrived in San Antonio in 1865. Johnny would not show up for five more years. Even though she was a woman, and perhaps due to both her skill and nerve, Carlotta got a job dealing cards at the University Club in San Antonio, owned by the Thurmond family of Georgia.  Carlotta soon fell deeply in love with the owner’s part Cherokee son, Frank Thurmond, and he with her.


By all accounts the lady gambler was a popular attraction in San Antonio. She dressed in the latest, tasteful, fashions, displayed refined manners, and forbid cussing, smoking, or drinking at her table. She carried herself like the lady she had been born and her demeanor dispelled any suspicions as to cheating. The men lined up to play at the “Angel of San Antonio’s” table, where Mary Poindexter sat on a stool behind her mistress to keep an eye on things. She continued to send money back home, supposedly telling her mother she had met and married a wealthy cattle rancher.

 Gambler’s, however, did encounter work hazards, usually in the form of an inebriated patron who felt he had been cheated. Such was the case with Frank Thurmond. Finding himself in a brawl, he pulled a Bowie knife he had on a string down his back and killed his attacker. Perhaps knowing that Frank would get off on grounds of self-defense, the man’s family put a bounty on his head and Frank fled, leaving Carlotta behind, but not for long.

 Carlotta set out to find Frank, gambling her way across Texas in towns such as Fort Concho, Denison, and Fort Worth before finally locating Frank under the assumed name of Mike Fogerty at the Bee Hive Saloon in Fort Griffin (known as the Flat) where he was once again dealing cards.  She arrived in Fort Griffin Flat, a notorious town which claimed it “had a man for breakfast every morning”, riding in next to the driver atop a stage coach looking every inch a lady of means.


Faro Game

She immediately got a job at the Bee Hive dealing cards and running a faro game where the likes of Doc Holiday played. In fact, it was reported that Big-nosed Kate Elder, the paramour of Doc Holiday, got into a fight with Carlotta, in which they both pulled guns, when Kate felt Doc was spending too much time at the lovely lady’s table. Doc stepped between them and cooled tempers. Carlotta had already given her heart to Frank and, by every account, was not a promiscuous woman, despite appearances to the contrary. It did appear that Doc Holiday enjoyed playing at Carlotta’s table, even if he didn’t win, as it is reported he once lost as much as $3,000 to the lady.

 Indeed, there are many tales about Carlotta’s time in Fort Griffin as she ran games with some of the most desperate men in Texas at her table. In Edgar Rye’s 1909 book, The Quirt and the Spur, he relates” She always appeared well-dressed and walked with the air of a perfect lady. And strange to relate she was present during many a rough house, saw the flash of deadly six-shooters and heard the oaths of the men in desperate conflict, but it did not drive her from the scene, though when the smoke cleared away, there were dead men lying in pools of blood near the card tables.” 

 On one occasion, when men were lying dead at her table after an altercation, the sheriff stated he would not have cared to stay during the fracas as she had done. She responded, “Perhaps not, sheriff, but you are not a desperate woman.”

 Fort Griffin Flat is also where Carlotta got her name of Lottie Deno. As the legend goes, she won every hand from everyone at the table who dared to play that night and, as she counted her winnings from the final hand, a cowboy from the back yelled out. “Honey, with winnings like them, you oughter call yourself Lotta Dinero.” Seizing an opportunity to protect her identity so those back home would not learn of her exploits, Carlotta christened herself Lottie Deno.

 By an odd turn of events, Johnny Golden, her first love, arrived in Fort Griffin Flat (as it was known) and laid claim to Lottie as his wife, which she vehemently denied. She was in love with Frank, now.  On the day he arrived and was turned down by Lottie, Golden got arrested on some infraction of the law. On his way to the guard house it was claimed by the officers that a friend of Johnny’s tried to intervene, shots flew, and Johnny fell dead.  It is said Lottie paid for his funeral but didn’t attend, grieving behind closed curtains.

 For unknown reasons, Frank thought it best to leave Fort Griffin Flat and Lottie followed about a month later, the couple relocating to Kingston, New Mexico where Frank and Lottie opened up a gambling room in the back of the Victorio Hotel. Later Lottie opened up a restaurant in Silver City, New Mexico, the town where they were finally married in 1880 and Lottie, at thirty-six, took the name of Charlotte Thurmond. At some point during this time, Frank had another occasion to use his Bowie knife to kill a man. That seemed like the last straw and they both gave up gambling, settling down in Deming, New Mexico.

 Frank took up mining, got involved in some land sales, and eventually became a vice-president of the Deming National Bank. They both became upstanding citizens of the town with Lottie being a founding member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church of Deming to which she purportedly gave $40,000 toward a new building. Frank died in 1908 and Lottie in 1934. They are buried together.

 According to the Texas State Historical Association website, “Frank and Lottie were immortalized as Faro Nell and Cherokee Hall in a series known as the Wolfville books, written by Alfred Henry Lewis. Lottie was also the prototype for Miss Kitty in the television series “Gunsmoke” and for Laura Denbo in Leon Oris’s movie Gunfight at the OK Corral (Paramount, 1957).”

 A true legend of the Wild West, Lottie Deno chose to use her gifts of intelligence, skill, and beauty to survive in a man’s world while still carrying herself like a lady, worthy of respect. I thought it funny though that an Amazon reviewer of Cynthia Rose’s book on Lottie titled Lottie Deno: Gambling Queen of Hearts, apparently thought Lottie’s life was fiction describing the book’s “plot” as “entirely predictable,” perhaps not realizing that Lottie was real and the prototype, not the stereotype, for several female western characters. For me, Lottie gives admirable testimony to the pragmatism and resilience of the women who tamed the West. How about you?

 For more about Lottie Deno as well as a picture of the beauty check out http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-lottiedeno.html

 Anne Carrole writes about cowboys who have grit, integrity and little romance on their mind and the women who love them. You can check out her contemporary romance, Re-ride at the Rodeo, at The Wild Rose Press. Or find her at  www.facebook.com/annecarrole, www.facebook.com/lovewesternromances or www.annecarrole.com

 On Line sources:



 Publication sources:

The quirt and the spur by Edgar Rye

Tales of Bad Men, Bad Women and Bad Places: Four Centuries of Texas Outlawry  by C.F. Eckhardt

 Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia; in the public domain


  1. Susan Macatee

    I love to hear true stories of women who bucked stereotypes of ‘a woman’s place’. I’ve used women I’ve researched as models for my historical heroines. How funny that the reviewer called her story predictable!

    • Anne Carrole

      I agree Susan. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Ally Broadfield

    I agree with Susan. It’s great confirmation of strong female characters in the romance genre that strong women who went against the norm really did exist.



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