Lady Moon was a ‘profane, hard-drinking woman,’ but her name lives on in northern Colorado

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The gate to Lady Moon Ranch near Red Feather Lakes in the mountains west of Fort Collins, July 13, 2023.

In southeast Fort Collins, there’s a Lady Moon Drive. And up by Red Feather Lakes, there’s Lady Moon trail. At least one Coloradan noticed the signs and asked CPR for help answering a question.

Courtesy of Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.
Lady Moon.

“Who on earth would this lady be? The name Lady Moon is kind of intriguing. It's like, is it the lady part or the moon part? Is she a futurist, a gypsy type? You know, moon, that kind of conjures that idea,” said Terri Marcotte, an Aurora resident who’s lived in Colorado for 30 years.

It turns out Lady Moon was a real person who lived in the Fort Collins area around the turn of the 20th century. She wasn’t a gypsy or a mystic. But nonetheless, she was a very colorful character. She was a flashy dresser, known for the giant plume in her hat. She was a big animal lover and owned racehorses. She took her favorite horse, Moses, on overseas trips. People said you could always hear her coming because of the huge pack of dogs that followed her everywhere.

“Everyone would've known her or known of her. She was certainly someone who was a big personality in a small town,” said Sarah Frahm, the archive assistant at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

Lady Moon, born Catherine Lawder, was a fixture in the area when Fort Collins was just a dusty little frontier town. She had a ranch in Livermore, about 30 minutes outside of the modern city limits. An old barn still stands on the property today.

It can be difficult to sort fact from fiction when it comes to Lady Moon. But it’s easy to see why people liked to talk about her. Lawder came to the U.S. as an Irish orphan in her teens. She ended up in Colorado and married a gold miner. She did the camp’s wash to help make ends meet. 

Then, she met Lord Cecil Moon, an English aristocrat who was traveling in the U.S. She got divorced – a very scandalous thing to do back then – and married Cecil Moon. That’s when she became a lady.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Old saddles at Lady Moon Ranch.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
In the hay loft of the barn at Lady Moon Ranch.

A local historian conducted a series of oral histories in the 1970s to preserve the last living memories of the area’s frontier days. Lady Moon came up frequently. Earl Miller, born in 1903, lived in the old mining town of Elkhorn, another spot outside of Fort Collins. Lady Moon had a ranch there, too. Miller knew her well.

“Kate was a loud-spoken, profane, hard-drinking woman. But she had a big heart,” Miller said.  “I never seen anything about her that looked like a lady to me. But that was her title. But her name's Catherine, so I called her Kate.”

Another local, Ruth Margrave, stayed at one of her ranches when she was a child. Lady Moon made a big impression on her.

Courtesy of The Senior Voice.
A newspaper clipping in The Senior Voice of Catherine "Lady" Moon in the late 1800s.

“She came out, she got dinner herself, but she got it in a lovely pink satin evening gown with a train on it … some boy came to the door and told her that a calf had gotten out of a certain corral. And old Lady Moon flew out there with her pink train, dragging behind her into the corral, caught the calf for 'em.

Lady Moon inspired a lot of gossip – and a lot of writers. There’s a big pile of newspaper clippings and other odds and ends about her at the museum’s archives. She was also featured in several books and a play. It’s rumored the popular radio show, Our Gal Sunday, was based on her life, but nobody knows for sure.

Ultimately, she divorced Lord Moon. Her fortunes took a tumble after that. Toward the end of her life, she was mostly known for drinking and bootlegging. It seems she was largely shunned by polite society by the time she died in 1926. So why did the city choose to commemorate her?

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Turkeys at Lady Moon Ranch.

“She might have been a complicated person and might have been an outsized personality for the area. But she's a pioneer woman and she moved out here at the age of 18. Her parents died when she was 12. So she did a lot of hard work on her own and it helps tell the full story of Fort Collins,” Frahm said.

Marcotte, who kickstarted CPR’s investigation into Lady Moon, was even more intrigued by her after hearing her story.

“Her story really speaks to the type of women who were successful in the mountain communities. It takes a very strong person, someone who's willing to stand out,” Marcotte said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Mouser. Lady Moon Ranch.

Whatever you might think of her legacy, her name lives on in the area. 

Fort Collins’ Lady Moon Park is a peaceful little neighborhood spot with a small pond and a fountain. Zack McKee was there fishing on a Friday afternoon. He said he loves it there, and frequently brings his kids. But did he know who Lady Moon was?

“Have no idea. I don't know what the road's for, I don't know what the park's for …,” McKee said. “There’s so many cool pieces of Fort Collins history, [that] you just don’t know about.” 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The updated barn roof at Lady Moon Ranch near Red Feather Lakes in the mountains west of Fort Collins, July 13, 2023.