Kate Barlow didn’t actually kiss Stanley’s great-grandfather. That would have been really cool, but she only kissed the men she killed. Instead, she robbed him and left him stranded in the middle of the desert.
The narrator first introduces Katherine Barlow through a story Stanley heard about his great-grandfather. This story explains how the notorious outlaw Katherine Barlow crossed paths with Stanley’s great-grandfather, robbed him, and left him stranded. Such stories about Katherine Barlow present the villainous side to her character but do not reveal the history behind why she became an outlaw.
A special prize was given every year to Miss Katherine Barlow for her fabulous spiced peaches. No one else even tried to make spiced peaches, because they knew none could be as delicious as hers . . . It was said that Green Lake was “heaven on earth” and that Miss Katherine’s spiced peaches were “food for the angels.”
After Stanley discovers Katherine Barlow’s lipstick container while digging, the narrator flashes back to Green Lake over 100 years ago. In this flashback, readers see a much sweeter, softer side of Katherine Barlow as a character who made the town’s best spiced peaches. Not only are Katherine Barlow’s spiced peaches labeled “food for the angels,” but she is clearly a trusted member of society, revealing a very different side to the outlaw.
Katherine Barlow was the town’s only school teacher. She taught in an old one-room schoolhouse . . . She was a wonderful teacher, full of knowledge and full of life. The children loved her . . . She taught classes in the evening for adults, and many of the adults loved her as well. She was very pretty.
The narrator describes Katherine Barlow’s talents as a teacher as well as the high regard her students and townspeople held for her. From these lines readers might infer that Katherine received a lot of attention from the men in town. Katherine Barlow’s role as an adored and beautiful teacher who made the best spiced peaches around challenges the villainous outlaw stories that Stanley has heard.
Trout had always gotten everything he ever wanted. He found it hard to believe that Miss Katherine had turned him down. He pointed his finger at her and said, “No one ever says ‘No’ to Charles Walker!” “I believe I just did,” said Katherine Barlow.
Katherine Barlow proves her independent and strong personality when she turns down Trout Walker’s invitation on his boat. Even Trout Walker feels surprised by her strong will. Through this section of the novel, the narrator displays Katherine Barlow’s intelligence as she sees right through Trout Walker’s bravado and family wealth. Katherine Barlow’s character has depth, and she values more important qualities.
The only person who wasn’t happy with it was Miss Katherine. She’d run out of things needing to be fixed. She sat at her desk one afternoon, listening to the pitter-patter of the rain on the roof. No water leaked into the classroom, except for a few drops that came from her eyes.
Here, the narrator reveals how Katherine feels upon realizing that nothing needs repair in her classroom, a fact that means her time with Sam has come to an end. Sam, a kind and gentle man from town, had been helping fix up the school. Sam, known for his onions, is one of the only black men in town. Katherine has fallen in love with Sam, a fact that flies in the face of the social norms of the time. Katherine’s feelings for Sam demonstrate her genuine heart, as she loves him for who he is, looking past color or social class.
“It ain’t against the law for you to kiss him,” the sheriff explained. “Just for him to kiss you.” “We’re all equal under the eyes of God,” she declared. The sheriff laughed. “Then if Sam and I are equal, why won’t you kiss me?” He laughed again . . . Miss Katherine jerked her hand free.
The townspeople feel outraged that Sam, a black man, kissed Katherine Barlow, a white woman, and they plan to punish Sam for his “crime.” Disregarding her own reputation and safety, Katherine Barlow stands up to them and tries to stop them from their racist attacks, an act that demonstrates courage and independence. In these lines, Katherine Barlow shows her true and fair character as she speaks from the heart of the equality of all people in God’s eyes. The sheriff proves his own ugly nature in his response to her insightful and caring words.
Three days after Sam’s death, Miss Katherine shot the sheriff while he was sitting in his chair drinking a cup of coffee. Then she carefully applied a fresh coat of red lipstick and gave him the kiss he had asked for. For the next twenty years Kissin’ Kate Barlow was one of the most feared outlaws in all the West.
Katherine Barlow’s fair and rational nature changes when townspeople kill her beloved Sam simply because of his race and love for her. Here, the narrator reveals the aftermath of the hate crime against Sam, made plain by the shooting of his donkey as well: Something snaps in Katherine Barlow. She chooses to get revenge on the sheriff and the town in her own way. Katherine Barlow’s strong-willed but good-natured character morphs into the feared outlaw known as Kissin’ Kate Barlow.
After twenty years, Kate Barlow returned to Green Lake. It was a place where nobody would ever find her—a ghost town on a ghost lake . . . She lived in the cabin. Sometimes she could hear Sam’s voice echoing across the emptiness. “Onions! Sweet fresh onions.” She knew she was crazy. She knew she’d been crazy for the last twenty years.
The narrator circles back to Katherine Barlow’s story, explaining how she returns to a dried-up Green Lake after twenty years, still feeling the profound effects of her lost love. Despite the many years gone by, Katherine Barlow still desperately mourns for Sam and recognizes that she somewhat lost her mind after he was murdered. She even imagines his presence comforting her in her loneliness.
“Go ahead and kill me, Trout,” said Kate. “But I sure hope you like to dig. ’Cause you’re going to be digging for a long time. It’s a big vast wasteland out there. You, and your children, and their children, can dig for the next hundred years and you’ll never find it.”
When Trout and Linda Walker find Katherine Barlow at the cabin at a dried-up Green Lake, they threaten to kill her if she doesn’t show them where she’s buried her loot from twenty years as an outlaw. Here, Katherine Barlow demonstrates her strong-willed and nothing-to-lose personality as she refuses to help them, swearing they will be digging for years since she does not fear death. Her words almost resonate as a curse called down upon Trout’s family for generations to come.
The lizard landed on Kate’s bare ankle. Its sharp black teeth bit into her leg. Its white tongue lapped up the droplets of blood that leaked out of the wound. Kate smiled. There was nothing they could do to her anymore. “Start digging,” she said . . . Kate Barlow died laughing.
Katherine Barlow’s death matches the outlaw side of her character. She seemingly invites the deadly lizard to end her life, echoing an earlier statement about wishing she had died twenty years prior. In her final moments, not only does Katherine escape her grief for Sam, but she leaves the Walkers wanting for her loot. Laughing as she dies, Katherine Barlow reveals complete satisfaction in finally getting revenge on Trout Walker.