How do you survive in a world that is uncompromisingly male-biased? A landscape, so convention dictates, where women are born to serve men. Kitty LeRoy, born in 1850 in Michigan, never heard the question and certainly didn’t wait to find out the answer.

Born to live
Kitty LeRoy

This was a woman in a hurry, her ultimate purpose being to enjoy life. And gender wasn’t going to get in the way. Extrovert Kitty went in search of excitement and adventure as soon as she could walk; unafraid of anyone or anything, she was always game to try something new – a girl who loved to show off. By the age of ten she was performing on stage in Bay City, Michigan. By her twenty first birthday she was the center of attention at the local gaming saloons, reveling in a game of Faro with the male clientele.

How to get a man’s attention

Casino owners soon had her dealing, holding sway over men that flocked to her table, eager to play, win or lose with a woman just as competitive as they were. She often dressed like a man or, if the mood took her, like a gypsy. And Kitty knew full well her effect on men. No known photographs exist of her, but by all accounts she was a beauty who liked to stoke the embers of male desire.

And challenge a man

It’s not surprising that some men didn’t know when to stop. One persistent admirer discovered Kitty was no observer of convention. Here was a woman quite prepared to challenge a man to a duel, to dress like him, and willing to shoot in anger to make her point. Small comfort to this unfortunate individual that Kitty, overcome with remorse, married him before he breathed his last.

How to mean business
If the boot were on the other foot, the apple might be on the other head perhaps

Warning signs of a woman to be taken seriously were always clearly visible. Kitty never came to the gaming table without a Bowie knife and revolver from her considerable collection, and her first husband could have testified to her proficiency in their use. He was the only man, so history recounts, prepared to stand stock still, with an apple on his head, while his wife galloped past on horseback and shot it off. She never missed.

In search of a real man

Unsurprisingly his nerve eventually broke. Never one to show weakness, Kitty couldn’t abide it in others, so she went in search of ‘real’ men. In Deadwood, South Dakota, one of the most insalubrious towns in the Old West, she found them. They flocked to The Mint Gambling Saloon that she opened with kindred spirits Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok – including those on the wrong side of the law: men like train robber Sam Bass.

And luck runs out

In this intoxicating, wild landscape, Kitty thrived. However, the girl who first got married at the tender age of fifteen, discovered thirteen years later that all men have their limits. Husband number five, Samuel Curley, loved her deeply and shared her love of gambling.
But he didn’t want to share her. Smarting from one infidelity too many, Samuel left her. And then he discovered Kitty’s first marriage had never been annulled. Bigamy was more than his male pride could cope with. In June 1877, in The Lone Star Saloon, he shot her in a fit of passion and then turned the gun on himself. When you play as hard and fast as Kitty, eventually your luck runs out.

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