There is just no end to interesting stories about Denison’s past. I recently found an undated story written by former Denison Herald editor Claud Easterly that related how W.E. Koop of Wichita, Kan. had spent a day in Denison looking into shady chapters in the town’s past. Needless to say, he went home with some good stories.

There is just no end to interesting stories about Denison’s past. I recently found an undated story written by former Denison Herald editor Claud Easterly that related how W.E. Koop of Wichita, Kan. had spent a day in Denison looking into shady chapters in the town’s past. Needless to say, he went home with some good stories.


Koop’s hobby was delving into history of the early Southwest, especially tracing stories of the "bad guys" whose trails led to Denison in frontier days. In real life Koop was an industrial engineer for Boeing Aircraft Co., in Wichita and devoted his vacation to his hobby of doing research.


He had plans to write a book on colorful nicknames that were identified with frontier characters. Since it was the bad guys who had the most colorful nicknames, it was the rough and tough element that interested Koop most.


While traveling around reading old newspapers and delving into the newspapers’ morgues (file cabinets) he told Easterly he had developed an almost first-person acquaintance with many of the frontier’s toughest characters.


Koop browsed through The Denison Herald’s files and through the early editions of The Denison Daily News, first newspaper published here, as well as the Sunday Gazetteer. During that one day in Denison he picked up the trails of several that he had followed at other places. He was impressed by the similarities of Denison and Wichita in their early days. Both were railheads that attracted cowboys who drove cattle across the wild country.


He said he had read somewhere that Denison and Wichita were referred to as "sister cities of the frontier." He also had heard Wichita referred to as the northern headquarters for the bad guys and Denison as their southern headquarters. Many of these guys operated in and out of the Indian Territory.


Many of the names that Koop had been following were found in those early pages of The Denison Daily News. He said he was surprised that Denison was linked with so many of the shady characters on the frontier.


One particularly rough man and woman arrived in Newton, Kan. during the roughest part of the cattle trail history. The woman operated a bawdy house and her friend operated a saloon and gambling joint that was "as unsavory as they came," according to Koop.


In his research Koop had learned that they went down in frontier lore with "The Saloon Massacre" that took place in the Newton saloon. Five men were killed and six were wounded in a free-for-all shootout.


They later married and left Newton and Koop had lost their trail until he thumbed through The Denison Daily News that day. "Low and behold!" he said, "I’ve found them living as respectable people here in Denison." The husband was working in a book store, and his wife was running a hat shop. While reading he found that they had left Denison, but there was no indication where they went. He wondered if they stayed respectable.


When I was reading about the Newton couple the names of Rowdy Joe and Rowdy Kate came to mind, so I did a little digging and found a story in the Frontier Times magazine about a couple from Wichita in the 1870s named Joe Lowe — "Rowdy Joe" or "Red Joe" as he was known — and his wife, Kate, better known as "Rowdy Kate. She was described as a "fine limbed, powerful woman who was the only one who could handle the cowboys when they got too much of the cordials served over Joe’s bar."


The article placed Joe and Kate first in Wichita where they ran a saloon and dance hall with all "accessories" in full operation. The place burned to the ground and Joe and Kate disappeared. Then they showed up several years later in Denison. Joe was described as an immaculately dressed man with a big diamond blazing on his shirtfront and smoking a cigar. Kate, in full evening dress, wore blazing diamonds and sat in the corner presiding over a faro game.


Next they showed up in Luling, Texas when that place was the terminal of the Galveston, Houston and San Antonio railway. Joe was doing what they did best, operating the first dance house and saloon in Luling known as one of the "bad" towns. From Luling, he went on to Denver, Colo., where Joe was killed in what was called "a cold blooded murder by an ex-policeman who gave an unarmed Joe no chance for his life." When Joe tried to hide behind the lunch counter opposite the bar, the man followed and repeatedly fired bullets into his body.


It was said that when one of the cowboys got too loud and waved a pistol in the air, Kate tried to pacify him, and if she failed, she threw him bodily out the front door, and he didn’t come back. After Joe was killed, Rowdy Kate disappeared, never to be heard of again.


Koop said many of the characters that came to his attention wound up at the end of a rope or were killed in a gun battle like Rowdy Joe. He said he wasn’t overly concerned with famous frontier names, but with the lesser lights who succeeded in living up to their action-packed nicknames. Besides the two "Rowdys," he mentioned dozens of Rattlesnake Bills, Buckskin Bills, Wild Bills and even a Wild Goose Bill.


Here he found traces of several characters that he didn’t know ever came this way. These included Rock Jack Norton, who was on the side of the law, working with Wild Bill Hickok at Abilene at one time and was involved in a gun fight with one of Denison’s tough guys.


Another was Hurricane Bill, a successful horse thief who favored Denison with some of his attention.


Koop was impressed with the color he found in The Denison Daily News. He said he had only found one other town where the pioneer history was more dramatically recorded in the local newspaper and that was Las Vegas, NM.


Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.