Cattle Kate: A Novel
by Jana Bommersbach

Poison Pen Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-464-20304-6.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 10/28/2014

Fiction: Mystery; Fiction: Historical

Lonely land, Wyoming toward the end of the 1800s, lonely and rough. It's a land full of stories. There are the ranchers claiming mile after mile to hold their ever-growing herds. Brave, wild men, almost always astride their almost-as-wild horses. And then there are the lonely homesteaders, not seeking miles but scant acres to build a home and raise a crop. There are not, however, many women.

Journalist Jana Bommersbach tells of two. There's the mild but stalwart Emma Watson, who leaves behind her Kansas family to seek her own land in Wyoming Territory. Plain and forthright, she works in a boarding house, making her legendary pies and saving and planning. Diligence pays off, she finally claims her 160 acres on Horse Creek. A good woman.

Then there's Cattle Kate. She's the opposite of Emma Watson—a floozy, and worse, she's a cattle thief. She's only getting what's coming to her when they string her up. A bad, bad woman.

But wait. These aren't two women—no, they are the same one. Emma sank into oblivion while Cattle Kate, who never really existed, entered the lore of the Territory until journalist Bommersbach, through meticulous research, made her discovery. Indeed, Emma was hanged; the charge was cattle rustling but the truth is that she refused to yield her few acres to the mighty ranchers. They wanted the water in Horse Creek. They would have the water in Horse Creek, no matter what it took to get it.

Bommersbach determined to tell the story as just that—a story, and has turned her research into a novel told mostly in the first person by Emma herself. While not interrupting the tale's flow, the extensive research shows through. Toward the end of the book are careful notes on each chapter, almost as fascinating as the story itself. The author also offers an extensive bibliography. Someone less interested in history and research can gallop through the book without their intrusion. For a history buff, the notes are as enticing as the novel.

This is a fine and well-told story. American history, western history needs more heroines, and Emma Watson certainly qualifies. Cattle Kate? I'm glad she's not exactly real.

Journalist Jana Bommersbach is the author of three previous books. Her work ranges from the true story of a notorious murderess to a children's book about a squirrel. She has won many prizes, including the Distinguished Service Award of the Arizona Press Club for lifetime achievement. She lives and continues to work in Phoenix. Visit her website.

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