Cassie Waters: Businesswoman of the Old West

The clichéd “Old West” conjures memories of cowboys, Indians, gunfights and dance-hall girls. While these stereotypes are predominantly the product of western folklore, behind every myth is a modicum of truth. The reality embedded within that myth is likely less glamorous than the romanticized Western, but it’s often no less interesting. Cody, Wyoming, a small town founded by William F. Cody in the 19th century, is a prime example of the authentic West, ripe with its own cast of characters, from Buffalo Bill to its own “Miss Kitty.”

Cassie Waters was considered a respectable businesswoman, one who even today is remembered for her kind nature rather than the nature of her business.

Nameless, Shameless

A sign advertising Cassie and her “Nameless, Shameless Women” still hangs in the building that used to house her business. Upon examination of her life, however, she could not be categorized as either nameless or shameless.

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In the early 1900s, Waters and her father migrated to Cody. While she quickly found love, her happy ending was cut short a few years later with the unexpected death of her husband. As a means to support herself, Waters changed her name to Cassie Lebeau and opened a brothel near the town lim-its in 1912.

By the mid-20th century, construction of a new school near her business forced Waters to relocate. She re-opened on the edge of town and had continued success until her passing in 1952. Her legacy, however, still lives on. Shortly after her death, the business was transformed into a popular bar and restaurant that still operates today and is proud of its
less-than-reputable roots.

Respect In Unusual Places

Waters was widely known for her skills as a businesswoman. She employed a group of women, including a rumored politician’s wife, in order to cater to her diverse customer base. It was her kind heart, however, that won the respect of local politicians and businessmen.

In order to show their gratitude, Waters received several presents throughout her life. One in particular stands out as a testament to her true identity. In her early years, a prominent community member, rumored to be either a politician or her doctor, gave Waters an embellished Hopkins & Allen XL3 double-action revolver. The .32-caliber firearm, serial number 3982, was personalized with gold inlay and inscribed mother-of-pearl grips. The inscriptions read “To my Friend Cassie” and “Every Inch a Lady.”

The firearm provided Waters with a means to protect her ladies, but the inscription implies that she was more than her profession. While her business is preserved as a restaurant and the firearm is displayed at the Cody Firearms Museum down the street, Waters’ legacy is not widely known outside of Cody. Recorded Western histories largely have ignored Waters and other ladies of similar occupation—women who challenged fictionalized stereotypes and preconceived notions of gender roles in the Old West.

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This article originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.