WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HATTIE MAY?
Jerry Bowen, Feb. 20, 2001
Cherry Creek was booming. The mines were doing well and the town was fast becoming known as the entertainment capitol of Eastern Nevada. It had plenty of houses of entertainment, social get-togethers, dances and celebrations and within a year would have the fastest racetrack in the West that drew people from hundreds of miles around. It was a happy party town . . .well, for most anyway.
Hattie May was one of the exceptions.
She came to Cherry, as they called the town then, in January of 1882. She was pretty, well educated, and only 18 years old. But she went to work as a dance hall girl at a local house of entertainment about a half block south of the Carlson Hall. It was to be one of two of the worst decisions of her life.
On April 1, 1882 a small article appeared in the White Pine News:
“Hattie May, a girl of the town, was found in her room yesterday about 12-1/2 o’clock, with a small pistol wound in her left temple. No one heard her fire the shot, and it is unknown how long after the shooting she lay before the fact became known. She lived but a few minutes after the physicians arrived. The unfortunate woman arrived here a few months ago. She was a Carson girl. She left a letter explaining the cause that led her to commit the fatal deed, chief among which was a despondency and a desire to end this life she was leading.”
What happened to Hattie? Why would a young 18 year old girl with her whole life ahead of her take her life?
Well, she was sick, worked as a dance hall girl, was very deep in debt and apparently supplemented her income as a prostitute. On top of that she may have been recently rejected by someone she loved.
A letter to her Mother and Sisters found near her body provides some answers and how she committed her final fatal act:
Creek, March, 1862
Mother and Sisters,
at last come to the conclusion that I am good for nothing in this
world, and am about to end my miserable existence by taking a dose of
been sick since I came here. I really did intend to send you some
money, but all my good intentions slip through and I am awfully in
debt now; but I am not going to try to pay them. I can’t bear the
thought of living long enough to do that.
I am so
thoroughly disgusted with myself. I missed my calling when I became a
mind; I have taken the final leap now. I can go no further. Good bye.
Forgive and forget me. I was nothing but trouble to poor dear momma,
anyway. I was a sad mistake, and you all can think of me as better
off, though I am not sure I will be - that remains to be seen - but at
least you know here I am.
dear Em and Sue. Forgive me for making you all so much trouble; I
couldn’t help it. I hope you all live in peace now, and Em and Sue
never do as I did for God’s sake.
Another letter to an Ernest Harris provides more clues to her final act of desperation in this sad tale of Hattie May:
probably not be surprised when you receive the intelligence of my suicide,
as I told you before I left that I was apt to do it, not at any time, but
should resort to everything else first.
Well, I have
tried everything, and am now tired and disgusted; have been sick ever since
I have been in Cherry, and am head over heels in debt; but that don’t
worry about me, for the dead owe no debts.
I would like
once more to see you, but I could not live on that hope.
forgive and forget me and think me better off.
My dear, you
will find enclosed a letter for mamma and Sue. Please deliver it; also had
your picture, which you wished returned. I could not send any of mine, as I
had none taken. Mr. Hyde has one - I guess you can have it if Sue can get
it for you - that is, if you want it.
once more, my own dear Ernest. We may meet again, sometime, but not on
Julia James, who owned the boarding house where Hattie lived testified at the Coroner’s Inquest. She identified Hattie May’s last name as Mefford and that she had known her since she was a small child. Julia had been caring for the ailing girl and made sure she took the medicine the doctor prescribed. A note to Julia from Hattie showed that she had also taken poison in her final act of desperation.
Julia summoned Doctor J. D. Campbell when she saw the blood on Hattie’s forehead and the gun in her hand. The poor girl was still breathing but the combination of poison and the gunshot finally did its work and Hattie passed away.
When the facts about Hattie were made known, the entire town turned out for her funeral, including the folks who would have nothing to do with her while she was alive. She was buried with ceremony in the cemetery on the hill.
Today there is no way of knowing where in the rocky Cherry Creek burial ground Hattie lies, the marker has long since crumbled to dust. I find nothing in all the research that White Pine County historian, June Shaputis, has done on the Cherry Creek Cemeteries that give a clue to the location of her grave.
Perhaps someday someone will come across a record or a forgotten reference relating to her burial, but, for now, the question remains, “Whatever happened to Hattie May?”
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