Carolina Belles Shoot ‘Em Down, Sew ‘Em Up
When Kathy Laughlin, Allison Black and Malinda Butson, aka the Carolina Belles, stride into the room at the Single Action Shooting Society’s annual Las Vegas convention, heads turn. “Oohs” and “aahs” are voiced. Camera flashes flicker. And sometimes, jaws drop.
There’s dressing up, and then there’s DRESSING UP.
For Laughlin, Black and Butson, they’re known nationally for the latter. They’re supreme masters of their sewing domain, taking their Victorian Era craft to award-winning levels. They’ve rocked fashion shows, appeared on TV and offered “Belle Academies” on their website. In fact, they joke that they each suffer from OCCD—obsessive compulsive costuming disorder—and it’s incurable.
But the three aren’t just admired for their dazzling style. They’re also recognized for their shooting. Whether toting revolvers, shotguns or rifles, the trio is fast and accurate, hitting such heavy-steel targets as hearts, diamonds, circles, bulls, bears, chickens and tombstones. Occasionally, they’ve captured area competitions.
As much as the Carolina Belles enjoy their guns, they love their garb even more. And, most of all, they cherish their special friendship, forged over the last 10 years.
They come from varied backgrounds. Butson had never shot a gun until she met her husband, Bill, a competitive shooter. Laughlin’s father had a family ranch in Wyoming, so she had shot a little as a young girl but not competitively until she met her husband, Jim. Black has shot guns since she was 6 years old, often hunting with her dad. But when she would attend SASS matches in the Carolinas, she liked the shooting but thought dressing up was “ridiculous.”
That would all change when the three women met around the turn of the millennium. They’d see each other at local club matches in North and South Carolina in cities such as Lenoir, Charlotte, Statesville and Columbia.
But a dramatic turn would occur in Georgia at what’s called a Mule Camp—the Southeast regional championship. Formal outfits were required for the ball, always held after the matches. They couldn’t justify paying hundreds of dollars for gowns, so Butson and Black essentially taught themselves how to sew and made their own. They met in line and hit it off right away. Soon after, they hooked up with Laughlin.
That’s when the three decided to go all out for the next year’s ball. They collaborated on a joint strategy.
“We got together and I said, ‘Girls, if we do this, we have to walk in and slay the place. We have to have dresses that are out of this world,’” Black remembers.
So they labored nearly every Saturday to get ready. They honed their sewing skills. Their outfits were stunning.
After that, the three became almost inseparable. One weekend at a South Carolina match when Bill Butson saw them approaching, he said, “Here come the Carolina Belles.” The name’s stuck ever since.
At SASS events, the Belles are not known by their real names. Instead, they go by the aliases Catawba Kate (Kathy), Tornado Alli (Allison) and Fannie Kikinshoot (Malinda).
“There are a lot of people (who) I don’t know their real names,” Black says.
Laughlin adds, “Oh yeah, we live in this wonderful fantasy world. We’re like kids who never have to stop dressing up.”
And the trio relishes the chance to pass on their knowledge. In 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina roared through, the trio flew to Fredericksburg, Texas, to shoot a 30-minute program in an Old West town for the Outdoor Channel.
Things went much smoother at the 2008 SASS convention in Las Vegas. That’s where they taught a seminar titled “Saloon Girl 101: How to Get in Touch with Your Inner Floozy.” It was packed.
But the Carolina Belles recoil when asked if they consider themselves famous.
“Here we are a 50-plus and two 40-plus aged women who dress like this, and we get our pictures taken like 20-year-old models. We’re moms and grandmothers. It’s so funny when you think about it,” Black says.
“You know, for us, the best part really is that we’ve met the best friends of our lives,” Laughlin says.