Jean Henry Mead’s newest historical novel, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy, has just been released. Jean is a national award-winning photojournalist and author of the Logan and Cafferty mystery/suspense series as well as Wyoming historical novels, children’s mysteries and nonfiction books. She began her career as a news reporter and worked as a freelance photojournalist. Jean also served as a news, magazine and small press editor. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad and she’s published 19 books.
No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy
By Jean Henry Mead
I began writing No Escape in my mind more than 20 years ago while I was researching a centennial history of central Wyoming. Reading old microfilmed newspapers, I was surprised by the contradictory reports about the hangings of a young Sweetwater Valley couple accused of running a bawdy house (called a “hog ranch) and accepting cattle in exchange for their services.
The six wealthy cattlemen responsible for the murders of Ellen Watson-Averell and her husband James claimed the murders were justified. But when they came to trial, all the witnesses had disappeared or were found dead. Therefore, the case was thrown out of court.
A Cheyenne newspaper, controlled by cattle interests, railed against homesteaders, whom they said were rustling the poor cattlemen’s stock, so vigilante law was a last resort. The Rawlins newspaper, however, said that James Averell was well thought of and considered a good citizen. Averell had been appointed postmaster and justice of the peace by Thomas Moonlight, the Wyoming territorial governor.
James’s wife, Ellen, had worked as a cook for two years at the Rawlins House and was known as kind and caring young woman. But the couple made the mistake of filing homesteads on Albert Bothwell’s hay meadow, land the cattleman had been grazing for years without paying it for it. And James wrote letters to the editor of the Casper Weekly Mail complaining that cattlemen were gobbling up homestead land for 75 miles along the Sweetwater River.
Because I didn’t want to end the book with the hangings (I hate sad endings), I decided to add another character, Susan Cameron, a young woman from Missouri. Susan is a composite of some 200,000 single women homesteaders who attempted to prove up on their own land. Some were successful, some not. Susan filed for land next to the Averells, placing her own life in danger along with her veterinarian friend, Michael O’Brien, and three boys whom the Averells had taken under their wings.
After their deaths, Ellen was vilified and called “Cattle Kate.” News of the hangings spread worldwide and the murder of a woman in Wyoming Territory was publicly condemned, yet Ellen’s own father believed the lies spread about her and forbade his family to speak her name again.
A number of films have been produced and books have been written about the outlaw, “Cattle Kate.” I’ve even read poems and heard cowboy songs about her. The truth didn’t surface until George W. Hufsmith was commissioned to write an opera about the hangings and spent the next 20 years researching the subject. Thanks to George’s research and that of my own, I was able to complete my novel, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy.
No Escape can be purchased on Kindle and in print.
Jean’s website: www.jeanhenrymead.com
Her blogsites: http://mysteriouspeople.blogspot.com/