She peered through the window of Lottie Dearborn’s Lone
Pine boarding house as a group of men saddled up their
horses and hollered out at the sight of a familiar face.
“Beveridge Ross Spear, you’d better not be taking Warren
and that gang of his to Burgess. He’s taking that paid
gang of loafers up there armed with guns. Warren plans
to take the mine away from me. I know what I’m talking
about. I’ve got to beat them to the mine.”
Beveridge looked intently at her and simply
replied, “This is my livelihood, Mrs. Wells. I never
heard such a tale. They made the arrangement and I must
keep my word. I’m sorry, Mrs. Wells, I must be on
She ran out to saddle her own bald faced sorrel and took
off in a gallop. The loud splash made when she reached
the irrigation canal behind Mt. Whitney station (on the
Carson & Colorado R.R.) startled the nine men and their
horses. “Good morning, Mr. Spear,” she said politely,
and continued on.
High on the southern slope of New York Butte near the
Long John Mine, Kate sat astride her horse and watched
as the nine men on their horses entered the canyon three
miles below. The Long John Mine was hers now, and she
was determined to keep it. The Long John was a big
producer with mules regularly sent down the mountain
carrying three sacks of 80 pound bags of gold ore, each
worth $2,800. The ore was panned without crushing and
came in sizes of kernels of corn or wheat that contained
nearly an ounce and a half of gold.
of USGS 1913 (Ballarat) topographic map
showing the area where the Battle of Burgess
Gold fever had struck everyone in the Owens Valley and
surrounding hills and the Long John was a prize amongst
the mines. Kate was the lucky one who managed to obtain
what some said was a fraudulent title to the claim,
following her divorce from the 300 pound giant of a man
known as Fat Wells. Fat had hired Beveridge Ross Spear
to lead his lawyer, Warren, up to the location,
determined to get his claim back. In return for his
efforts, Warren looked forward to a good share of gold
for his efforts.
Kate soon spied the nine men reaching the hotel and
crude boarding tents that made up the Burgess Camp. She
continued to follow, keeping a hundred yards or so above
them. The hotel stood near the mouth of the gulch that
leads up the mountain to the Long John mine. Kate nudged
her horse and took off in a run to block the way. Her
husband’s attorney, Warren, dismounted his horse and
moved towards her announcing, “We are here for peace.”
But his actions said otherwise as he grabbed her
sorrel’s bridle and tried to turn him in the other
direction back down the gulch. Kate maintained her horse
and spun back around, in a struggle with Warren who
insisted the horse go down to clear the way for them to
continue on. Kate and horse managed to hold ground
through it all. She grabbed her revolver and shoved it
down at Warren. Warren instinctively caught her wrist
and pushed the gun up and away with one hand; the other
hand still forcing Kate’s horse down the gulch.
“Don’t shoot, Kate! Don’t shoot!” a third man shouted
as he jumped out from behind a boulder, a rifle in his
hand. This was Kate’s brother, Archie Taylor. Archie
dropped his own rifle and plunged his body into Warren.
A fourth man, Kate’s son, Virgil Robinson, jumped out
from another rock leveling his rifle. Virgil didn’t
shoot, but the seven men who had accompanied Warren and
Beveridge up the mountain grabbed their six shooters,
aimed and fired.
The group of nine horses and twelve people had grown to
include several spectators, all standing in a hundred
foot circle in the bottom of the narrow gulch. Among
them a miner named Charley Bago was shot in the upper
right arm just as he ran towards shelter behind a tent.
Albert Sianz was struck on the hobnail sole of his right
shoe. Slim Wilson fell behind a rock. Beveridge Spear
charged down the gulch on his horse. Meanwhile at the
Long John mine, a quarter mile up the gulch, a heavy
guard and more gun play greeted the original nine
horseman and sent them into retreat down the mountain to
Kate eventually returned to Lone Pine with Ben Redfield
acting as her body guard. Charges were filed against
Warren and his group. The following day she and Ben
returned to the mine. As the two of them reached a blind
spot in the narrows the voice of Kate’s ex-husband Fat
could be heard shouting, “Caught yah with my wife!” and
Redfield found himself at the end of a shotgun barrel.
“Don’t shoot!” yelled Kate, as she ran her horse between
the two men. Redfield rolled over the side of his horse
for protection. Fat Wells fired one shot, missing Kate,
but sending her horse to its death on the trail
with a loud brawl. Kate mounted Redfield’s horse and
scurried back to Lone Pine to file attempted murder
charges against Fat.
The two week long trial, wrought with contention,
bitterness and several near fights, was presided over by
Justice of the Peace A.M. Bonner. Lawyer Peter Forbes
got into a scuffle with a bystander not involved with
the original shootings at the Long John. “I’d punch your
nose if you didn’t wear glasses,” W. K. Miller Jr.
announced. In return, Forbes threw his glasses from his
face and on to the floor. “They’re off!” he answered.
Forbes leaned forward to the tune of Judge Bonner’s
gavel pounding for order. Miller backed off, “I wouldn’t
fight an old man.” In his Irish accent, Forbes simply
replied, “Ah, young mohn…you do have a bit of sense.”
Fat Wilson’s lawyer, Warren, advised his attorneys in
his attempted murder trial. Nobody was injured and Kate
J. Wells maintained her title to the Long John mine.
Kate Wells earned the nickname, Shotgun Kate, for
her defiant ride to the mountain ahead of the men who
were after her. Shotgun Kate was never forgotten as the
woman who saved her mining claim at the Battle of
Shotgun Kate followed mule packers, Carmen and Henry
Olivas for two years as they hauled her high grade ore
down the rugged road to the Lone Pine railway station.
Kate carried her shotgun to ward off hijacking bandits.
Kate J. Wells herself, was packed over the Inyo crest to
the salt tram station and loaded on the salt tram to
Swansea. Kate and a miner named Smalley had been loading
timber at the mine, when a mule whirled around with logs
on his back, caught her on the side of the head and
broke her neck. The year was 1918.
All that's left today at the Burgess Mine is
an adopt a cabin (maintained by users) and
magnificent views of Owens and Saline
This story was adapted from Beveridge Ross Spear’s
eyewitness rendition written for the Saga of Inyo
County published by the Southern Inyo AARP in
remembrance of the Inyo County 1976 Bicentennial. The
story of her death comes from The Mule Men: A
History of Stock Packing in the Sierra Nevada by
Louise A. Jackson. A picture of her grave can be found