This post is a treat for me too, because I only recently heard about a local ‘legend’: Lady Moon. I found one photo of her, just a headshot and not particularly becoming, so I took it upon myself to imagine what she might have looked like in her heyday (a word originating in the 16th century, meaning a period of the person’s greatest success or popularity).
Catherine “Katie” Gratton Lawder was an Irish girl born on a English ship in 1865. Orphaned at 12, she came out to Iowa to live with her aunt, and moved to this area with neighbors when she was just 18. She had black hair and blue eyes, and it is said she was boisterous and ill-mannered. She quickly found work as a maid and waitress at a local lodge, married a miner many years her senior, Frank Gartman, but divorced him (with no hard feelings between them) to marry Cecil Moon. Cecil was a ‘remittance man’, one of many Englishmen who were sent out West by their families to finish ‘sowing their oats’. Katie nursed him back to health after he had fallen ill learning the tools of the trade at Roxby Ashley Grange, a school for ranching. Cecil Moon inherited an aristocratic title ten years later, in 1898. He took her back to England to meet his family, but you can guess the family was not prepared to accept her. What chance did she have, a working class girl from Ireland, with no connections?
Even after Cecil divorced her, she insisted the locals continue to call her Lady Moon, but she was considered ‘controversial’ because she dyed her hair an odd shade of red and dressed rather flamboyantly. It was said the townswomen, seeing her come their way, would cross to the other side of the street to avoid her. I imagine her reputation was peppered with exaggerations of her financial prowess, having had control of her husband’s money (which he freely gave in an attempt to keep himself it from burning a hole in his pocket). The couple accrued several thousand acres together and Katie managed to have much of the property secured in her own name. Maybe this kind of power, in the hands of a woman, an Irish woman, and a Catholic no less, was enough to scare any man, and provided the ingredients for an excellent batch of gossip stew. Or the fact that she consumed large amounts of liquor, or that she kept numerous animals of all sorts, many of which kept her company in her house. Lady Moon died of cancer in Denver in 1924, but was not forgotten.
In 1952 Homer Croy completed a book loosely based on her life, The Lady From Colorado, which was later performed as an opera, by Robert Ward, and debuted in the Central City Opera House in 1964.
One story leads to another! After this post was read by my friend Pat, a fellow picture book enthusiast, Pat commented that the composer of said opera is her husband’s uncle! So I am now including the following video-tribute link so you can hear and learn a little about Robert Ward too! Yes Pat, how serendipitous!