The West’s First Female Gunfight

When the Legend Becomes the Truth Print the Legend

The Nude Duel that Will Not Die by Bob Boze Bell

There is a persistent myth that the first gunfight in the West between women occurred in Denver in 1875. The story goes that when two madams, Mattie Silks and Kate Fulton, had a shootout with Derringers. To make the story even more colorful the two ladies stripped naked to the waist so their cumbersome clothing wouldn’t hinder them.

Mattie, never a prostitute herself, was known as the “Queen of Denver’s Red Light District.”  She became a madam at the age of 18. She fell for a married man named Cortez Thomson, a handsome young peacock who had ridden with Quantrill’s Raiders during the Civil War.  A speedy foot racer, he was also a notorious womanizer and one night in 1875, a prostitute named Kate Fulton, accused Mattie of stealing Cort, a rounder she considered, “her man.” Bystanders encouraged them to “shoot it out like men” so they grabbed Derringers and fired away.  Both missed but one of the bullets hit and wounded the man they were fighting over.  They proceeded to resort to fisticuffs and Kate wound up with a broken nose and eventually left town.

This is a myth that just won’t die. The truth is not nearly as colorful. There was a footrace, won by Cort, followed by a drunken celebration party. That eventually turned into a brawl after Kate and Mattie, for unknown reasons, started fist fighting. Cort stepped between them and punched Kate in the face, knocking her to the ground. While she was down somebody kicked her in the face, breaking her nose. As the disheveled brawlers were staggering back to their carriages, a shot rang out and Cort was grazed in the neck. That was the end of the brawl.

When the legend interferes with the truth, print the legend. A Denver newspaper still commemorates this event as a gunfight between two topless ladies.

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