While the life of Kate Slaughterback is being showcased in the DCPA Theatre Company’s world premiere Rattlesnake Kate, the woman herself had a brief touch of fame before falling into obscurity. Even Colorado natives don’t know her incredulous story.
Thankfully, the City of Greeley, Colorado and its Greeley History Museum have preserved her legend so that a musical theatre graduate from the University of Northern Colorado could share it.
“I stumbled into [the Greeley] history museum one day and came across the story about this woman who famously killed 140 rattlesnakes in the 1920s,” said composer Neyla Pekarek. “It was something that stuck with me. I became obsessed with her. She was a woman who lived outside of the box of what it meant to be feminine. I just felt really inspired by her gall.”
In partnership with the City of Greeley and the Greeley History Museum, the history of Kate Slaughterback now sets the stage for the debut of an all-new musical. Among its collection, the museum has two interviews with Ernie Adamson, adopted son of Kate Slaughterback. The audio recordings conducted by Peggy Ford, Coordinator of Research and Education with the City of Greeley Museums have been transcribed by Marian Ruge. Reprinted with permission of the City of Greeley Museums.
Ernie Adamson -EA
Peggy Ford -PF
FIRST AUDIO FILE
PF: Who were her heroes or heroines? Did she talk much about characters in Western life in literature, such a Buffalo Bill or anything that you recall?
EA: Very little. Famous horses, like Midnight that was a bucking horse. Racehorses, if she would hear about them that was great.
PF: Anything pertaining to animals she was very interested in talking about.
EA: Very interested. I can remember talking some about Amelia Earhart, when she flew around the world. Little things like that. Didn’t have many people that she thought were great.
PF: What about her opinion of herself?
EA: I really don’t know. It’s hard to say really. She always stood up for herself. Nobody kicked her around or gave her a bad time. She was a pretty rugged gal. I don’t think there was anything that she couldn’t do. She done all kinds of farming. She was a graduate in taxidermy. Everything she did by herself.
PF: She had a lot of pride in her own capabilities, probably. Maybe she was born a bit out of her age. She probably would have done much better, maybe, in this age, a little more liberated time. She was obviously a very liberated person for her time. That must have caused her to feel maybe somewhat like a loner.
EA: I suppose. Yes, maybe. I know she never did take anything; she always had to do everything on her own. Very seldom asked even anybody to [stops]. I can remember a couple or three different times going for coal with a team and wagon into Hudson, rather than have somebody get it for her. From where we lived out there, we had a little strip mine thing going; it was almost up here to Greeley. She’d take off really early in the morning and she’d get back really late at night with a load of coal on the wagon. That was a long trip with horses, but she would do it.
SECOND AUDIO FILE
We’re now standing in front of the house that Kate lived in until her death. It’s located on the south side of the road. Mr. Adamson is going to go ahead and tell me a little a bit about this particular house.
EA: I’m not real sure who she bought it from, but we moved it in. Pulled it with trucks down this highway. I was along. We didn’t have it too well organized; I was on top the house holding up the wires.
PF: Oh, no. You went underneath them!
EA: We made it all right. Then she did quite a bit of work on it. Moving over these old rough roads shook the fireplace chimney down pretty well. She rebuilt that. I’m sure she put the siding on. Done quite a little work on it. She done a bunch of work inside it, too. She lived here the last, about 20 years.
PF: The little Quonset hut would have been off to the left, off to the east. You said, after Kate died and things were sold, someone purchased the Quonset hut, is that right? [Noise of truck going past on the road] Wow. We are into the dust, now, aren’t we?
EA: These old roads are dry. I guess that was a milk truck. [Laughs]
PF: I guess so. Here comes another one.
EA: Shall we go in? Do you want to look it over a little more?
PF: Sure. Do you think we’ll find any rattlesnakes inside?
EA: No, I’m sure they’re pretty well gone now. Once in a while you still see one, but I think they’re pretty well moved out.
714 8th St., Greeley CO 80631
Feb 4-Mar 13, 2022 • Wolf Theatre
All materials reused with permission of the City of Greeley Museums.