Stories of Old West outlaws pervade our culture, but they are primarily focused on men. New York Times bestselling author Chris Enss prefers to tell the stories of the Old West’s most egregious female outlaws, gamblers, soiled doves and other wicked women who are less widely known.
Enss will discuss the topic of “Women Behaving Badly” from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Western Heritage Center, 156C S. Montezuma St., Prescott.
For more than 20 years, Enss has been writing about women of the Old West with over 40 published books on women including Kate Horony, Dora Dufran, Madame Mustache, and Laura Bullion.
“So often, we think about women in two categories in that particular era,” Enss said. “They’re either Miss Kitty from Dodge City or Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. We don’t really think that women did much more.”
Women who “behaved badly,” as Enss puts it, accomplished a lot on the frontier and built wealth through their non-typical means, such as prostitution.
“They did a number of things for good, but they also made their mark in behaving badly as well,” Enss said. “That’s what I wanted to bring to the forefront … that women really broke ground too, being badly behaved.”
Enss is the current executive director of the Will Rogers Medallion Award program, the co-chair of the Historical Commission in Nevada County, California, and a licensed private investigator.
“I’m a private investigator, so I love the deep dive on anything,” Enss said. “Sometimes you don’t know that your next story is going to come from doing research on something else.”
In her book, “Iron Women: The Ladies Who Helped Build the Railroad,” Enss discusses a woman train-robber.
“Within my book about the amazing accomplishments that women did to be able to build the American railroads, there’s a chapter in there about a bad woman, a woman who behaved badly, who made history being one of the first women to rob a train,” she said. “Her name is Laura Bullion. I’m going to be writing a book about her too, a stand-alone book on her. When you’re working on a book about women railroaders, you happen onto, ‘Wow, this woman robbed trains with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? I’ve never heard of her before.’”
Enss’ work has been honored with nine Will Rogers Medallion awards, two Elmer Kelton book awards, an Oklahoma Center for the Book Award, and two Western Writers of America Spur Finalist awards. Her most recent works include “According to Kate: The Legendary Life of Big Nose Kate Elder, Love of Doc Holliday,” “No Place for a Woman: The Struggle for Suffrage in the Old West,” “Iron Women: The Ladies Who Helped Build the Railroad” and “The Widowed Ones: Beyond the Battle of the Little Bighorn.”
Tickets are available at Western Heritage Center, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, or by calling 928-910-2307.
For more information about Chris Enss’ work, visit chrisenss.com.