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The Sad Tale of Kitty Leroy

Updated on July 17, 2011

Old Deadwood Vintage Post Card View

Kitty Leroy was a gambler, saloon owner, trick shooter and a prostitute in the Old West. The place of her birth has been contested. Some say Michigan, others Texas. But she was born in 1850 and died violently in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1878. However, whether she could be considered a proper lady or not is questionable.

By the age of 10 she was dancing professionally and by 14 had graduated to hoofing in dance halls and saloons. She was also a crack shot who was able to shoot apples off people's heads while galloping past on horseback. Her skills with weapons and gambling became legendary.

It was said she was an attractive young woman, who was married by 15. But Kitty was promiscuous and a notorious flirt. So the marriage was doomed from the start. She drifted west seeking a more exciting life and briefly settled in Dallas, Texas.

By the age of 20 she was married again and had gained a measure of fame as one of the most popular dancing attractions in town. However, she soon wearied of show business and took to working as a Faro dealer, which she discovered she had a natural talent for. She was noted for never going to the faro tables without several knives and revolvers. Adding to her mystique she was also known for dressing in men's clothing, or at times like a Gypsy.

Still, Kitty had the wanderlust and she and her second husband soon headed to California where they hoped to open a saloon. But before they reached their destination, Kitty took off with another man, marrying for a third time.

This marriage was also extremely short-lived, because she shot him in a gunfight. According to unconfirmed reports the two became embroiled in an argument. It is said Kitty attacked him but he wouldn’t hit her because she was a woman. She made it abundantly clear that wasn’t a problem. She donned men's clothing and challenged him again. When she drew her gun…he didn’t. But, he didn’t die right away. Knowing he didn’t have long to live anyway, she married him.

Eventually, she ended up in Deadwood in 1876, arriving by wagon train along with the likes of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. There, she worked as a prostitute for a while to get a grub stake. When she had earned enough money she opened the Mint Gambling Saloon and married for a fourth time to a successful German prospector. However, when his money ran out she lost interest in him and they began arguing often. She hit him over the head with a bottle one night and threw him out.

Her business was successful. In addition to gambling, Kitty sometimes worked as a prostitute but mostly managed her own girls. On June 11, 1877, Leroy married a fifth time, this time to prospector and gambler Samuel R. Curley. This marriage, as her others, was soon to end as well.

Curley was an extremely jealous man and Kitty’s penchant for flirtation and clandestine affairs didn’t help matters any. One affair with her latest ex-husband was to end in tragedy.

On the night of December 7, 1878, Curley shot and killed his wife in the Lone Star Saloon, then shot and killed himself.

A journalist would later say of the 28 year-old, she "had five husbands, seven revolvers, a dozen Bowie knives and always went armed to the teeth."

She obviously had a daughter somewhere as newspapers of the time indicate her estate was left to her.


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