Little Britches (born as Jennie Stevenson in 1879; date of death unknown) was a female outlaw in the American Old West, most associated with Anna Emmaline McDoulet or Cattle Kate (1882-1978). Their exploits are known in part through the fictional 1981 film, Cattle Annie and Little Britches, starring Diane Lane as Little Britches.
Jennie Stevens, as she was mostly known, was born in Barton County in southwestern Missouri, to a farm couple, Daniel and Lucy Stevenson. Future U.S. President Harry S. Truman was born in 1884 in Lamar, the seat of Barton County, some five years after the birth of Little Britches. Jennie had one known sister, Victoria Estella Stevenson. Apparently, Jennie dropped the "son" from her maiden name; her second husband was named "Stephens", not "Stevens." For a time she was hence Jennie Stevenson Stephens. The Stevenson family lived during part of the 1880s in Seneca in Newton County, also in southwestern Missouri on the eastern border of Indian Territory, which in 1909 became the eastern portion of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The Stevensons then moved into the Creek Nation at Sinnett in Pawnee County in the northern Indian Territory. Little Britches, like her friend Cattle Annie, became enchanted with popular accounts of the Bill Doolin gang, stories available through such dime novelists as Ned Buntline, who became particularly known for his promotion of Buffalo Bill Cody as a western hero and showman.
A short life of crime
Little Britches ran off to join the Doolin gang, but she lost her horse and was compelled to return home to receive a strong rebuke from her father. Determined nevertheless to pursue a life of crime, which she viewed with excitement, Jennie, at fifteen or sixteen in March 1895, married a horse dealer, a deaf-mute named Benjamin Midkiff. They established housekeeping in a hotel in Perry in Noble County in northern Oklahoma, but when Midkiff found her unfaithful, he returned Jennie to her father after only six weeks of marriage. Within a day of returning home, she began riding along the Arkansas River in search of adventure with the outlaw element.
Soon she apparently married again, but she left Robert Stephens, after six months. At a community dance Jennie and Annie met members of the Doolin gang, later known as the Wild Bunch, whose members had a hideout in the Creek Nation Cave on the Cimarron River near Ingalls in Payne County, east of Stillwater, Oklahoma. There was a shootout in Ingalls in 1893, which took the lives of three marshals.All eleven members of the Wild Bunch met a violent end in a gun battle with law-enforcement officers.
With their masculine dress, Little Britches and Cattle Annie were able to evade law enforcement officers. They quickly learned how to ride and shoot and soon garnered area newspaper headlines. They sold whisky to the Pawnee and Osage tribes and engaged in horse theft. Sometimes they operated together; at other times, alone. Frequently they were able to alert the other outlaws when law-enforcement officers were nearby.
Jennie Stevens was arrested in mid-August 1895, but quickly escaped after Sheriff Frank Lake took her to a restaurant in the town of Pawnee in northern Oklahoma. Though a guard had been posted at the door of the establishment, newspaper accounts claim that Little Britches thrust out the back door, ripped off her dress, stole the waiting horse of a deputy marshal, and rode off into the night. U.S. Marshals Bill Tilghman and Steve Burke quickly tracked down both Annie and Little Britches. Though Burke caught Cattle Annie fairly easily as she was climbing from a window, Tilghman had a more difficult task in apprehending Little Britches, who fired unsuccessfully with a Winchester at Tilghman and Burke. Tilghman then shot her horse, and as the animal dropped to the ground, Little Britches was taken into custody and jailed but only after she had tried to discharge a pistol and then to attack Tilghman physically.
Trial and imprisonment
The trial of the two women for horse theft and selling alcohol to the Indians was held in the court of U.S. District Judge Andrew G. Curtain Bierer in Guthrie in Logan County, the capital of the then Oklahoma Territory.
Cattle Annie received a one-year sentence and was dispatched in 1895 to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Framingham, Massachusetts. Because of poor health, Cattle Annie was paroled but remained in Framingham. In 1898, she was employed by Mrs. Mary Daniels in nearby Sherborn. Annie returned to Oklahoma and had two children before she was divorced from Earl Frost. She married a second time, to Whitmore R. Roach, a painting contractor in Oklahoma City, and died in 1978 at the age of nearly ninety-six.
Under the name Jennie Midkiff, Little Britches was incarcerated for two months in the Guthrie jail as a material witness in a murder trial. This particular confinement occurred because she had witnessed a shooting while working as a domestic in a home. Little Britches's own two-year prison sentence for selling whisky to the Indians and horse theft began in 1895. Like Cattle Annie, she was sent to the reformatory in Framingham. With good behavior, she was released in October 1896 and returned to her parents. Her final years remain a mystery though some stories claim that she married, reared a family, and led an exemplary life thereafter in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Little Britches and Cattle Annie thwarted the law for only two years in the Indian and Oklahoma territories, but their escapades proved a real challenge to law enforcement officers and the judicial system.
The late actress Gloria Winters was cast as Little Britches in a 1954 episode of the syndicated Stories of the Century, a western anthology series starring and narrated by Jim Davis. In the story line, Little Britches became smitten with an outlaw named Dave Ridley, played by James Best, rather than Bill Doolin. In this account, which does not cover Cattle Annie, Little Britches is shown at the conclusion of the episode leaving the Framingham reformatory and anonymously performing charitable deeds in a New York City slum.
In the film, directed by Lamont Johnson, Diane Lane is joined in her portrayal of Little Britches by Amanda Plummer as Cattle Annie, Burt Lancaster as an historically inaccurate and much older Bill Doolin, Rod Steiger as Marshal Bill Tilghman, Scott Glenn as William M. "Bill" Dalton, and Buck Taylor as the outlaw Dynamite Dick, presumably Dan Clifton, or "Dynamite Dan." Bill Doolin was shot to death at the age of thirty-eight by Marshal Heck Thomas acting in the line of duty; yet, Lancaster was sixty-seven when he played the Doolin role in this film.
- Cattle Annie & Little Britches, taken from Lee Paul [http://www.theoutlaws.com]. ranchdivaoutfitters.com. Retrieved on December 27, 2012.
- Harry S. Truman Birthplace State Historic Site: Lamar, Missouri. mostateparks.com. Retrieved on December 28, 2012.
- Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters, p. 325. University of Oklahoma Press at Norman, Oklahoma (1979); ISBN=978-0-8061-2335-6. Retrieved on December 27, 2012.
- Anna Emmaline "Cattle Annie" McDoulet Roach. findagrave.com. Retrieved on December 28, 2012.
- Stories of the Century: "Little Britches", June 17, 1954. Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved on September 16, 2012.
- Cattle Annie and Little Britches. Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved on December 27, 2012.