Cactus Kate Deserts a Cabin for Big City

“Well, suh, podner, that’s the way it happened. Created a character to amuse folks, then she got the upper hand. I just had to skip town to get away from her.”

That’s how Mrs. Lillian Thompson explained her visit here with her sister, Mrs. Anna Smith, of 2655 N. Mozart st. yesterday. Mrs. Thompson returned to civilization after living the last six years in a wild west mountain cabin with only an occasional coyote as company.

Character Outgrew Her

Lillian Thompson
Lillian Thompson holding a photo of herself as Cactus Kate

The character that outgrew her is that of Cactus Kate, a cigar smoking sure shot, who rode down from the mountains into the San Bernadino valley on her old gray mare, Lightnin’, into Pioneertown Cal.

“I–or rather, Cactus Kate– handled wildcats and rattle-snakes, hunted coyotes, smoked big black cigars, and became a sure shot with a gun. Haven’t smoked a cigar since I’ve been here–or shot a gun,” she said.

“For years, only one person knew who Cactus Kate really was,” explained Mrs. Thompson, “and that was my husband, Arent.” Thompson owns the bowling alley in Pioneertown, a village of 15 folks, 4 miles south of Yucca Valley and 30 miles north of swank Palm Springs.

No Autos Allowed

The bowling alley, said Mrs. Thompson, is one of seven buildings in town and houses the postoffice. The town is the only one in the United States where no cars are allowed on the main street–called Mane st., she said.

“We didn’t even have a post-office until three years ago,” she added. “Then my husband just applied for one to put Pioneertown on the map.”

Cactus Kate came into being about eight years ago as a stunt to amuse the townspeople and attract tourists. She replaced Diamond Lil as a character played by Mrs. Thompson because Diamond Lil did not fit the area.

“I just let her disappear,” said Mrs. Thompson. “In her —– came someone to go with the desert–Cactus Kate–on a horse I bought at an auction for $5 because he was too old for horsemeat. I named him Lightnin’.”

Wore Men’s Shoes

Cactus Kate dressed in long sleeved calico dresses, threw a black shawl around her shoulders on cool days, hobbled around in men’s shoes, and took to the mountains six years ago.

“I lived there all alone,” said Mrs. Thompson, “30 miles up in the mountains. I soon found I had lived that way so long I couldn’t be any other way out west. So I came to Chicago and wired my husband where I was.”

Mrs. Thompson now has a job in a television manufacturing concern. Occasionally, she becomes nostalgic and plays a record of a song written about her, “Cactus Kate,” by Bruce Cranston, of Los Angeles.

“But I just had to get away,” she said. “After all, Cactus Kate is 75–and I am only 60.”

Sept. 6, 1953 - Chicago Tribune