|Birth: ||Jul. 2, 1860|
|Death: ||Jul. 20, 1889|
Ellen Liddy "Ella" Watson was the first of ten children born to Thomas and Frances Close Watson. Her father came with his family from Scotland to Ohio as a boy, later moved to Bruce County, Ontario, Canada, where Ella was born, and then to Smith County, Kansas. In 1879, when Ella was eighteen, she married a local farmer, William A. Pickell, but the marriage lasted only two years. After her divorce, she worked near her family's home for a few years, then moved to Denver, Cheyenne and finally to Rawlins, Wyoming. In 1888, she filed a claim for 160 acres of land east of Steamboat Rock in southwestern Natrona County. Her claim was adjacent to land owned by rancher James Averell, who also operated a saloon and general store on the Sweetwater River northeast of Independence Rock. She reportedly did some work for Averell while making improvements to her own property.
Accounts differ as to the actual reasons for, and details of, the apprehension and lynching of Watson and Averell on July 20, 1889. According to eyewitnesses John L. DeCorey and Gene Crowder, young men who worked for Watson, and Frank Buchanan, a cowboy friend of Averell's, this is what occurred:
On the afternoon of July 20, 1889, Ernest McLean came upon Ella Watson and DeCorey, as they were leaving Watson's place to buy items from the Indians. After seeing them, he turned around and went back the way he had come. A short time later, rancher Tom Sun arrived in a buggy, accompanied by McLean, Robert Connor, Albert J. Bothwell, John H. Durbin and Robert M. Galbraith. They all returned to Watson's place, where Crowder was trying to catch a pony.
DeCorey and Crowder watched as John Durbin took down the fence of Watson's pasture and drove the cattle out, while McLean and Connor kept Watson from going into her house. The men forced Watson to get in the buggy, and told her they were going to Rawlins. They headed instead to James Averell's place. DeCorey and Crowder followed. When Crowder tried to ride around the cattle and get ahead, he was restrained by Bothwell. He and Durbin stayed with the cattle while the others went ahead to Averell's.
The party met James Averell, who was starting to Casper, inside his second gate, forced him into the buggy with Watson and returned to where Durbin, Crowder and the cattle were. As they began to leave, DeCorey tried to follow, but Bothwell told him to go back to the house. DeCorey and Crowder went back to the Averell ranch and reported that Watson and Averell had been taken. Returning to Watson's place, DeCorey rounded up the released stock and returned them to her pasture.
Frank Buchanan, hearing DeCorey and Crowder report the incident at Averell's ranch, followed the party on horseback. Buchanan came upon the lynching and fired at the men, wounding John Durbin in the hip. When he was fired upon in return, Buchanan retreated, returned to Averell's and reported the lynching to DeCorey, Crowder and Ralph E. Cole, Averell's nephew. He then left with the intention of going to Casper, but got lost and arrived at the ranch of E. J. "Tex" Healy early on the morning of Sunday, July 21.
According to various newspaper accounts, Healy rode to Casper to report the lynching and swear out warrants for the arrest of those involved. Sheriff Philip Watson and seven men, including Arthur Post, rode out to the site of the lynching, arriving early Tuesday, July 23. According to Post, they cut the bodies down and took them to the Healy ranch. Coroner Emery impaneled a jury, which reached a verdict that Watson and Averell "died at the hands of John Durbin, Tom Sun, J. R. [sic] Bothwell, Sam Johnson and a man named McLean." The bodies of Watson and Averell were placed in one box and buried "at the ranch." Which ranch is unclear in Post's report.
Sheriff Watson and the posse then went to the Sun ranch and apprehended Tom Sun, who admitted his involvement and named the other men. Then they rode to Bothwell's, where Albert J. Bothwell, who also admitted his involvement, was also arrested. At this point Post left the party and returned to Casper.
Sheriff Bennett of Rawlins brought Sun, Bothwell, McLean and Connor to Rawlins; Robert M. Galbraith was arrested in Rawlins and John H. Durbin was arrested in Cheyenne. All were released after posting bond of $5,000 each. A grand jury was impaneled in Rawlins, but adjourned on October 24, 1889 without issuing indictments in the case, because no witnesses were present. Ralph Cole had died, and Frank Buchanan, John DeCorey and Gene Crowder could not be found. It was presumed that the latter three were induced to leave the state.
Many of the newspaper reports of the Watson and Averell lynching were embellished, inflammatory or just plain made up. Although it was widely reported by some that Ella Watson was a prostitute and lived with James Averell, and that Averell and Watson were cattle rustlers, these claims were refuted by the testimony of DeCorey, who lived with and worked for Watson. Averell was a former postmaster and justice of the peace, and reported to be a big-hearted, generous man, obliging and sociable. Watson did not live with him, but on her own place a short distance away. According to Buchanan, Averell never owned any cattle and there were none in his pasture at the time, and Watson had only a small bunch that she had come by honestly.
Rather than cattle rustling, the likely cause of the incident was conflict between the large stockmen in the area, who hoped to control vast areas of land, and the small settlers who were staking claims and fencing pastures. James Averell and Ella Watson had held firm to their claims when Bothwell offered to buy them out. Averell, in particular, had prevailed in land disputes with Connor, Durbin and Bothwell. The Laramie Boomerang, on August 1, 1889, wrote "As more detailed particulars are received of the hanging of James Averill [sic] and Ella Watson and the circumstances attending the affair become better understood, it is becoming more and more apparent that the strangling of the couple was one of the most bare-faced outrages over committed in the territory." And on August 15, "The opinion on the Sweetwater is that these land troubles were the direct cause of the lynching. When forty-one head of cattle freshly branded were found at the Watson woman's place the opportunity was seized to charge the couple with cattle stealing and get them out of the way. It was a trumped up excuse to hang them."
Newspaper accounts of the lynching misidentified Ella Watson as the probably fictitious Mrs. Kate Maxwell who had, earlier in the year, reportedly raided a gambling house in Bessemer, Wyoming. Maxwell's nickname of "Cattle Kate" has since been associated with Watson.
In 1989, Ella Watson's relatives gathered in Casper to commemorate her death and erect a marker at her grave site on what is now the Pathfinder Ranch.
Thomas Lewis Watson (1836 - 1921)
Frances Close Watson (1841 - 1924)
William Adelburt Pickell (1858 - 1918)
Ellen Liddy Watson (1860 - 1889)
John C. Watson (1863 - 1934)*
Mary E. Watson (1874 - 1961)*
Thomas Watson (1882 - 1968)*
Bertha Watson Freestad (1884 - 1964)*
Created by: Barb Walker
Record added: Aug 20, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 57378038