Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Chapter 4

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following is excerpted from Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930 (University of New Mexico Press, 2003). Click here to order: https://www.unmpress.com/books/brothels-bordellos-and-bad-girls/9780826333438

Chapter Four: How Colorado City Came to Be

All About Rahab

Of Jerico’s Rahab, we’ve read the report

That she made her living with amorous sport,

She concealed on her roof both of Joshua’s spies—

(Is it possible they became clientele guys?)

Down a rope of red drapes, they fled from her shack;

Then to their camp, they sneaked their way back.

To Joshua they said: “We got some good dope;

But we cut a deal that you’ll honor, we hop.

You see, there’s this bimbo who hid us at night;

Please keep her household safe from the fight.

She’ll hang a red curtain right on her wall;

Our boys must not mess with that whorelady’s hall!”

So her signal was honored—fortuitous drape!

And Joshua’s rowdies went elsewhere to rape.

Now that is the reason, to this very day

Crimson curtains are hung where hookers do play.

~ Charles F. Anderson

The Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859 created a stir not just in Denver, but in other parts of the state as well. Hundreds of prospectors and merchants were making their way to the gold fields on the western slope of Colorado, often encountering angry Native Americans in their quests. The trails south of Denver included Ute Pass, an ancient Indian trail that skirted the base of Pikes Peak near today’s Colorado Springs. Prospectors J.B. Kennedy, Dr. J.L. Shank and D. M. Slaughter, the first men to stake claims in South Park, were later killed by Indians near Kenosha Pass. Even as late as 1869, Major James B. Thompson noted 200 Utes who had a winter hunting camp near today’s Cripple Creek. Throughout the winter of 1874-75, Ute leader Ouray camped near Florissant with 600 other Utes.

Despite a few skirmishes with Indians, however, white settlers continued migrating into the Pikes Peak Region. The trail from Colorado City actually began at the opening to several canyons comprising Ute Pass, and it wasn’t long before a town formed to furnish supplies for travelers heading West via the pass. When it was first established in 1859, Colorado City was every bit a notoriously rough western town. Long before Colorado Springs came along with its anti-liquor laws and elite citizenship, Colorado City sprouted as a thriving supply town. The place was a virtual melting pot for easterners who swarmed the state in search of gold. All the required elements were present: ramshackle houses, churches, a school, hotels and saloons. The first tavern was opened in 1860 by John George. Accordingly, Colorado City’s population grew to include enterprising merchants, faithful families, hopeful miners—and prostitutes. There is no doubt that the soiled doves who flocked to Colorado City saw golden opportunities. Trains and freighters stopped daily on their way to the gold fields, initially bringing lots of single and lonely men. In those early days, the business was hardly regulated and these women had the freedom to work and live where they chose.

In 1861 Colorado City was made the capitol of Colorado Territory. A series of courthouses were built in an effort to turn Colorado City from a blue collar, transient town to a first class city. The most notable of these was a courthouse located inside of what was known as Doc Garvin’s cabin. The tiny, one-story log cabin was originally located at 2608 West Colorado Avenue, but has been moved several times in the last century. Colorado City aspired to become the state capitol, but its efforts were in vain. Visiting politicians were less than impressed with the rough and wild city. The capitol was moved to Denver, and in 1873 the new, elite, and ostentatious city of Colorado Springs managed to win the county seat. Founded by Quaker William Jackson Palmer, Colorado Springs sought to be the “Saratoga of the West” with fancy homes, nice hotels and a variety of tuberculosis sanitariums that were all the rage among suffering easterners. Furthermore, Palmer’s wife, Queen, talked her husband into outlawing liquor houses within in the city limits. It stood to reason, then, that Colorado City should excel where Colorado Springs did not. A variety of activities, from prize fighting to prostitution to drinking to dancing, went on at all hours around what is now the 2500 block of Colorado Avenue.

In fact, much of Colorado City’s new commerce was generated by Colorado Springs. Although residents and authorities in Colorado Springs frowned on Colorado City, many of the former’s residents were regular patrons of “Old Town”, whose saloons and sporting houses were quickly growing in number. Do-gooders in Colorado Springs tried to blame the Colorado Midland Railroad for bringing in undesirables and encouraging the saloons, parlor houses and Chinese opium dens in Colorado City. But the fact was, Colorado City already had these elements long before the railroad came through in the 1880’s. Plus, the town was sandwiched between Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, so passage through Colorado City was absolutely necessary in order to access Ute Pass.

In an effort to mask the activities of Colorado Springs and Colorado City’s more prominent citizens, tunnels were built from the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad tracks south of Washington (now Cucharras Street) which led to the gambling houses and brothels of Colorado City. Later, tunnels were also built from the north side of Colorado Avenue to the south side, so visitors to the casinos and bordellos could avoid being seen. From south side gambling houses like Jacob Schmidt’s at 2611 W. Colorado, the Argyle Block and Geising & Perbula’s Saloon, patrons like “Eat ‘Em Up Jake” could slip out the back way and through a tunnel or a discreet hallway to the bordellos across the alley.

Oddly, the first 25 years of Colorado City’s growth are rather obscure. The 1879 city directory shows a mere 99 entries, perhaps due to the transient population. By 1880 Colorado Springs was fairly booming, but Colorado City was still not much more than a village with a few streets and no visible red-light district. That’s not to say that some women did not ply their trade in the city limits, especially in 1884 when the population surged to 400 souls. That year, there were four known saloons operated by Henry Coby, Al Green, John Keller and Charlie Roberts.

By 1886, saloon owners included N. Byron Hames with his Hoffman House, Alfred Green, Dave Rees of the Windsor Café, John Keller whose Ash Saloon also served as a general store, Charles Roberts, John Rohman, Jack Wade and Larry Watts. In all, there were twelve to sixteen saloons. There were also two justice’s of the peace who were apparently trying to gain some sort of order in rowdy little Old Town. One of the earliest attempts to close down gambling was noted in the November 26, 1887 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, which unaccountably reported, “The gambling houses of Colorado City have re-opened and are now running full blast.”

Apparently, city authorities had already attempted unsuccessfully to shut gambling down. With all those saloons, more than a few prostitutes were surely present as well. One of the first prostitutes on record at Colorado City was probably Mrs. Isabelle Semple, who resided on Washington Avenue in 1886. Isabelle died in 1901. A more famous early madam was Minnie Smith, a.k.a. Lou Eaton, a sometime gambler and madam who was well known throughout Colorado including Buena Vista, Creede and Denver’s Market Street, where she was known as both Lou Eaton and Dirty Alice. In Colorado City Minnie purchased a large old two story house on the south side of Colorado Avenue. She was in her mid-thirties at the time and described as “a slender little woman, not good looking and a vixen when aroused.” Vixen was right; Minnie was well-known for her terrible temper and was in trouble a lot during her short stay in Colorado City. Once she was brought in on charges of nearly beating a lawyer to death with the butt of a gun, and early magazines sported engravings of her horsewhipping a man she caught cheating at cards.

By 1888, the number of saloons in Colorado City had grown to twenty-three, and included those run by such notable operators as T.R. Lorimer, Henry Coby, Byron Hames and Alfred Green. A glassworks factory at Wheeler and 25th Street manufactured local liquor bottles. The population had swelled to fifteen hundred, mostly due to industry growth as the Colorado Midland Railroad took root and a number of factories appeared. Nearly thirty years after Colorado City’s inception, the city fathers finally decided it was time to create such necessities as a police department and appointed city positions. Police Magistrate Renssolear Smith oversaw the first of two city halls, which was built at 2902 West Colorado Avenue. By then shootouts, drunken brawls and “good ol’ boy” fights had become common sights, and horse racing up and down Colorado Avenue was a popular pastime.

In the midst of this uproar, a number of single women were living on Colorado Avenue. Many of their occupations are unclear but for that of Mrs. Bell McDaniel, better known as Laura Bell McDaniel. Within a year of her arrival, the enterprising woman had access to twenty-four saloons and only a handful of competitors. Laura Bell’s sisters of the underworld included Miss Belle Barlow, Miss Daisy Bell, Miss Fernie Brooks, Mamie Maddern, Emma Wilson and Hazy Maizie, a laudanum addict. In those early days of rampant prostitution at Colorado City, most of the women seem to have plied their trade along Colorado Avenue. When the Argyle block at 2603-2607 West Colorado was built in 1889, the downstairs was used as a saloon with gaming rooms and retail establishments. Mr. Connell, the original owner, later sold the building and the upstairs was divided into apartments and used by prostitutes.

As late as 1890, women such as Minnie Smith were still conducting business on Colorado Avenue. A number of single women such as Miss Lizzie Thompson, Miss Kate Herzog, Miss Edna Ingraham, Mary Dean, Fannie E. Eubanks, M.J. Duffield, J. Erlinger, Miss M.H. Richards and Daisy Johnson however, began appearing on Washington Avenue one block south of Colorado as well. The 1890 Sanborn Maps do not show any “female boarding” on either Washington or the main drag, Colorado Avenue. A number of saloons on Colorado, however, are depicted as having rooms above them or behind them which might have served as brothels. Most conveniently, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad had by then laid its tracks down Washington Avenue, providing much opportunity for prostitutes to do business with male travelers passing through town.

In addition, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for 1892 show “female boarding”—the early term for female-occupied brothels—in two buildings each on the north and south sides of Washington Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets. Two other notable women on Washington, a physician named Mrs. N. Albrecht and a “colored” woman named Mrs. Conrad Alesatha, are worth mentioning because they too may have had something to do with the red-light district. Other girls, such as Miss Fernie Brooks, were living yet another block south on Grand Avenue.

The new Police Magistrate, J.J. Guth, was by now hearing a series of complaints from citizens about the growing red-light population. In late January 1890, the Colorado City Iris commented on saloon owner Byron Hames, who made a speech on behalf of prostitutes at a mass meeting. In the wake of Hames’ speech, police responded by conducting raids in May. One arrestee was Mamie Maddern, who was operating out of a shack. Police arrested Mamie and several men. One of the men, Fred Thornton, later returned and, according to the newspaper, began to “frolic with Mamie.” Customer Henry Pettis objected to this and shot at Thornton three times, hitting him twice.

In 1891 there were finally enough established brothels in Colorado City to merit a listing in the city directory. The six bordellos were discreetly listed as boarding houses, and the directory also listed 21 saloons. One of the taverns was the Palace at 25th Street and Colorado Avenue which listed Frank James, brother of Jessie James, as a card dealer. Frank was no stranger to the red-light districts of Colorado, having been written up in the Boulder County Herald in 1882 for brandishing a revolver in a Boulder bordello and making threats. After frightening several working girls, James was arrested and hauled to the cooler to rethink his actions. Other notable places in Colorado City included Byron Hames’ Hoffman House at 2508 Colorado Avenue, the Nickel Plate at 2528 Colorado Avenue, the Bucket of Blood located along Fountain Creek at 25th Street, and the Silver State at 2602 Colorado Avenue. Nearly every saloon in Colorado City stayed open twenty-four hours a day and usually had gambling upstairs.

The city authorities were no doubt up in arms over so many saloons and the disgraceful lack of decorum they displayed. Both the saloons and the brothels were quickly escalating out of control. In January of 1891 a girl named Clara who worked for Laura Bell McDaniel attempted suicide by taking eight grams of morphine. The newspaper predicted she would die, although she was being attended to by a physician. Little else was revealed about Clara, except that she had recently migrated from Denver and wore eye glasses.

Later that month, Minnie Smith made a trip to Denver under her pseudonym, Dirty Alice. She was arrested on the 24th for intoxication and released on the condition she would come right back and pay her fine. Instead Minnie disappeared and was thought to have gone to Creede, where she used her money from Colorado City to open a well-known sporting house. Then in May banjo player William Clark of the Crystal Palace went on a drinking spree. When he couldn’t sleep, Clark took some morphine and overdosed. The physician called to his side misdiagnosed his malady as a “brain infection” and administered even more morphine. Clark died at the tender age of thirty.

The Crystal Palace was no doubt a rough place. The dance hall and brothel probably opened in about 1889 when Bob Ford, the killer of Jessie James, was dealing faro there. If the stories of both Bob Ford and Jesse James’s brother Frank James working there at different times are true, they are mighty ironic stories indeed. By May of 1890 it was also known as the Crystal Palace Theater. Later, it was also referred to as simply The Palace. On April 20, 1892, the Colorado City Iris reported on one Ed Andress, proprietor of the Crystal Palace. Andress was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and fined $10 and costs. Unable to pay the entire fine in cash, Andress threw in his watch. He was arrested again the next day for running a disorderly house. This time the fine was $58.05 and Andress lost his license.

Later that year city authorities decided to exercise more control over the red-light district by building a new city hall at 119 South 26th Street, literally around the corner from the district. By then the sporting houses on Washington were so active that the original courthouse, four blocks away, was too far for the frequent police trips. Colorado City authorities realized that the city could make more money from fining brothels each month than it could by closing them. Accordingly, the city assessed fines for a variety of violations regarding prostitution, and began reeling the money in with a vengeance.

Still, arresting sinners proved a difficult job for Colorado City authorities. Many of the early town trustees and officers were saloon owners themselves. To make matters worse, most prostitutes had no problem paying a little ol’ fine if it meant they could stay in business. The surge in prostitution at Colorado City during the 1890’s alarmed city officials, as well as the media. The Colorado Springs Gazette pounced on every chance to report on the goings-on in the district. When Bell Barker died of a morphine overdose in 1893, the paper reported that her Colorado City friends buried her “in good style”, but that Billie Huffman, “the tin horn who was living with her” left the country.

Similar sentiments were expressed about Minnie Smith. After Colorado City, Minnie had gone to Creede and then Cripple Creek. There, she allegedly ran a rooming house that was actually a parlor house over a saloon on Bennett Avenue. Unfortunately, forty-five-year-old Minnie was not distinguished enough for Cripple Creek, and the competition proved too tough for her. When Minnie committed suicide with morphine in Cripple Creek in 1893 or 1894, her body was brought back to Colorado City for burial. Minnie was actually buried in Evergreen Cemetery beside her first husband, Royster Smith. Allegedly Minnie’s grave mate on her other side was Bruce Younger of the Younger Gang. When Bruce sickened and died “an ugly death” in1890, the under world of Colorado City paid for his funeral and gave him the plot next to the Smiths. No records of these burials appear to exist. Minnie also left a considerable estate, but what became of it is unknown.

Drug overdoses, both intentional and accidental, were not at all unusual. In November another Crystal Palace employee, Oscar Bills, died from smoking opium. A Chinaman known as Kim Yonk was arrested in connection with the death because Bills had recently visited his opium den. Around the same time Miss Remee, a “variety artist” at the Crystal Palace, took morphine in a suicide attempt. She was saved, but threatened to do it again. Finally, in January of 1894, a dance hall girl from the Crystal Palace was arrested for robbery and thrown in jail. Authorities had had enough and ordered the place closed, and proprietor C.N. Hamlin was fined $55 for keeping a disorderly house. Hamlin married one of his girls, Mrs. Hazel Levitt, just a few months later.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, better known as the WCTU, was waiting for chances such as the closing of the Crystal Palace. In 1894, the WCTU submitted a petition to impose hours of operation on all saloons, bowling alleys, halls and “other resorts”. Only one-hundred-fifty-two people signed the petition, but city authorities had just begun. A widely publicized raid in 1896 was followed by a series of new ordinances: “Keepers of disorderly houses shall not refuse to admit officers. Officers may break doors and arrest with or without warrant.” Getting caught in the act of prostitution was a $300 fine, with additional punishments for frequenting opium joints, houses of prostitution, or dance halls. Furthermore, music was not even permitted at houses of ill fame or saloons.

The new ordinances went into effect almost immediately, but a raid in February netted only two girls and their visitors. In April of 1896, another police raid netted thirty-three arrests, plus two vagrants who stole a pair of clippers from a local barbershop. But still the girls came, and many stayed. Both Ida Anderson and Mary Franklin moved to Colorado City in 1896, staying as late as 1900 and 1906, respectively. Colorado City reacted to the influx of newcomers by passing even more new ordinances as misdemeanor offenses. They included laws against impersonating an officer, concealing weapons, nudity, indecent dress, cross-dressing, selling lewd or indecent books or pictures, public or private drunkenness, keno tables, faro banks, shuffle boards, playing bagatelle or cards, gambling, possessing gambling devices, and disorderly houses.

Also within the new ordinances houses of ill fame were banned within three miles of the city limits. Houses of prostitution who violated the ordinance were fined $300. Prostitutes were fined $10-50. Dance halls were assessed a $25-$100 fine. A new curfew was also imposed: 9 p.m. from March 1 to August 31 and 8 p.m. from September 1 to February 28 for anyone under the age of fifteen. Saloons, which were also still forbidden to play music, were not allowed to admit minors. Finally, saloons, tippling houses and dram shops were to be closed from midnight to 6 a.m., and all day on Sundays. For a few years the new ordinances seemed to work, although Sanborn Maps indicate the presence of more brothels on Washington Avenue and twenty-two saloons along Colorado Avenue.

Chief of Police George G. Birdsall, who was appointed in 1900, vowed that things would change. One of Birdsall’s first moves was to prohibit gambling in 1901. But by then, the shady ladies of Colorado City were running amuck, aided by such prominent establishments in the district as the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association at the southwest corner of 6th Street and Washington . Throughout the year, more and more girls showed up to ply their trade. Some left, some didn’t. Business flourished as even more saloons and gambling halls opened. Even girls like Georgia Hayden, who had been in Cripple Creek since 1893 and was a favorite of mining millionaire Jimmy Burns, came to try their luck. Among the new girls were veterans like Laura Bell and Mamie Majors. By 1902 there were still twenty-seven saloons and more than thirty combined saloons and gambling halls. In addition, a large number of “dressmakers” and other single women were occupying either side of the red-light district on Washington Avenue. The brothels along Washington included the Union Hotel at 708 Washington, the Central Hotel at the northwest corner of Washington & 6th Street, and eight houses in the 600 block. Prostitution was going strong in Colorado City.

Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Chapter 3

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following chapter is excerpted from Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930, which can be ordered at https://www.unmpress.com/search?keywords=MacKell. 

Chapter Three: In the Beginning There Was Denver

The miner came in ‘59

The prostitute in ‘61

And between the two,

They made the native son!

—old western proverb

The miners in the 1859 Pikes Peak or Bust gold rush arrived in the new West primarily alone, without female companionship. Many had left their families behind, hoping to bring them out later once gold was found and riches were secured. For many a man, Denver, and its surrounding country was a desolate, lonely place. Pioneer Albert Richardson remembered how he and his comrades sorely missed the presence of a lady in their midst. “We were all in the habit of running to our cabin doors in Denver on the arrival of the ladies,” he said, “to gaze upon her as earnestly as at any other natural curiosity.”

In 1860 the ratio of men to women in Colorado was sixteen to one. In California Gulch near Leadville alone, there were two-thousand males and only thirty-six females. South Park boasted an amazing 10,519 men to ninety-one women! Most members of the gentler sex were well admired, respected and obeyed. In their absence the men, desperate for companionship, held dances anyway and designated “female” dance partners by tying ribbons or handkerchiefs on their arms. If by some miracle a woman did attend a dance or other social gathering, she could rely on being treated with the utmost kindness despite wearing out her dance slippers with dozens of partners. Married men were fully expected to permit their wives to attend such social gatherings rather than keeping them at home. To keep other men from feasting their eyes upon the rare and coveted female was considered downright rude.

The prostitutes of the early West were making themselves known, however. Following the gold booms of the West could prove especially successful for the gal who knew how to move quickly and ply her trade. Denver’s very first “white” prostitute was said to be Ada LaMont, a nineteen-year-old beauty who married a young minister and came West with him in about 1858. Lo and behold, midway through the trip the minister disappeared, along with a young lady of questionable character. Ada arrived in Denver alone—but with a whole new outlook on her situation. “As of tomorrow,” she said, “I start the first brothel in this settlement. In the future my name will be Addie LaMont.”

More women of vice were quick to follow. A leader of the demi-monde in 1861 and 1862 was Lizzie Greer, a successful beauty who had many admirers, an expensive wardrobe and plenty of diamonds. In general, however, Denver newspapers and authorities do not appear to have paid much attention to the illegal vice of prostitution in the early days. Their complacent actions were balanced by those in Central City, located due west high in the mining country. Central City was the site of the first real gold boom in Colorado in 1859. Surprisingly, however, the prostitution industry found it hard to flourish there at first. In 1860 a brothel in nearby Nevadaville was cleaned out by irate citizens. Six years later, another den of sin in Central City suffered the same fate.

Indeed, ousted ladies from other parts of Colorado found little shelter in Central City. An 1864 news article in the Miners Register complained heavily of a Madam Wright, who had been operating for some time on respectable Eureka Street directly below the Methodist Church. The wicked woman had recently been arrested for larceny. Most interestingly, however, the Register did concede that it was possible to permit prostitutes to operate in any given city. “Perhaps such creatures should be permitted to live in a community,” admitted the writer, “but they certainly ought to be severely treated for their offenses against morality and law, and compelled to remove to some remote locality where their presence will not be so annoying.” With time, Central City at last fell victim to the same vices as every other mining town in the state, even as newspapers and city authorities threatened to close them down as early as 1868. The proper folks in town were always quick to voice their disapproval of the red-light district and even banned those who patronized brothels or dance halls from other social events. One of these was Pat Casey, a miner who eventually struck it rich. In his wealth, Casey retaliated against the puritans of Central City by loading up his favorite fancy girls each Sunday and driving them past the churches just as services were letting out.

When journalist James Thomson visited Central City in November of 1872, he described in his diary a Saturday night outing: “The prostitutes’ ball at —. Four fellows in four-bedded attic, three with girls at one time. The prize for the best dancer. Girl who had got it four times, refused it 5th. Went and undressed save stockings and garters. Danced wonderfully for five minutes, music playing, hall crowded. Then ‘Here’s the leg that can dance, and here’s the arse that can back it up!’ Redressed and danced with the others till daylight.” After unsuccessfully trying to establish themselves in town, Central City’s naughty girls migrated to Gunnell Hill above town instead.  For years, Central City’s red-light district enjoyed its lofty position while looking down on the city from the end of Pine Street, just a few blocks from the Catholic church. There the girls were free to service miners from both the Galena Mine and the Coeur d’Alene Mine above them. Downtown, places like the Shoo Fly Dance Hall still prospered.

The best remembered of Central City’s shady ladies is Madam Lou Bunch, a three-hundred-pound delight whose presence in town surely could not be missed. But there were others. May Martin was one girl who practiced in Central City. Others included Della or Lizzie Warwick, Mae Temple, the “elegant courtesan” Ruby Lee and Ada Branch, known alternately as the Big Swede. Ada’s house and wardrobe were among the fanciest in town, and Pine Street was alternately known as Big Swede Avenue in 1880. Cora Fish was one of Ada’s employees. Other girls of Central are all but forgotten, with hardly a name to remember them by. A warehouse near downtown, however, is said to still bear graffiti from higher times: “Myrtle crib #13—wow. Sweetheart.”

One of the earliest comments on prostitution first appeared in Denver papers in 1874. An article reported on a local tavern called The Cricket, which was “ablaze last night with festivities. There was a dance from 1 a.m. to sunrise with liquor pouring freely throughout the night.” Prostitutes present at the gathering included Belle Deering, Sadie Bent, Eva Hamilton, Elva Seymour, Kittie Wells, Laura Winnie, Gertie and Cora, Jennie Logan, Emma Marsh, Dutch Nellie, Mormon Ann, Frankie and Annie.

Just two years later, the first truly notorious madam of Denver arrived. Her name was Mattie Silks, and her appearance was so renowned that at least one folk song immediately surfaced about the illustrious prostitute and some of her more famous cohorts:

Mattie Silks and Fanny Ford

Drank theirs from a gourd,

Poker Alice she smoked a cherout;

Lily Langtree, they say,

Had been led astray

By the juice of forbidden fruit 

Mattie was just twenty-nine years old when she arrived in Denver. Born in New York or possibly Indiana, she began her first brothel in Springfield, Illinois in about 1865 at the age of nineteen. Next, Mattie attempted to run a brothel in Olathe, Kansas, but was run out of town. Wisely, she decided to spend her winters working in Kansas City while working the cattle town circuit during the summer months. It was also said Mattie worked as a freighter between Missouri and Colorado before opening up for business in Dodge City, Abilene and Hays City, Kansas. A sign on her parlor house there read, “Men taken in and done for.” After hiring four girls in Kansas, Mattie headed for Colorado and traveled by stagecoach and freighter wagon around the Pikes Peak region, visiting a number of mining camps. Her vehicles contained a “portable boarding house for young ladies”, which was actually no more than a canvas tent attached to a wagon. The bordello did, however, include a canvas bathtub.

By 1873 Mattie was in Georgetown where she operated one of five brothels on Brownell Street. While there, she married Casey or George Silks, a faro dealer from Pueblo. The couple may have had a child together. The two eventually separated, perhaps because Mattie’s lover, a fireman named Cortez D. Thomson, was also living in Mattie’s brothel. When Mattie arrived in Denver in 1877 Cort was still with her, having left behind his wife and daughter in Georgetown. It must have been love, for Mattie was willing to put up with Cort’s drinking and gambling habits. She often gave him money, and it was said that despite two terrible beatings Cort gave Mattie, she loved him too much to leave him. Mattie Silks was certainly not the angel she aspired to be, however. The March 28, 1877 issue of the Rocky Mountain News reported Mattie was fined $12 for drunkenness, which she paid. In August, it was said that Mattie challenged madam Katie Fulton to a duel over Cort. Folklore claims that when the women took their shots, they both missed—save for a bullet that went astray and struck Cort in the neck. He lived, and even pledged to be faithful to Mattie.

The Rocky Mountain News reported a different story: Katie and Mattie had an argument after a footrace in which Cort was victorious and for which Mattie won $2,000. During the argument, Cort punched Katie in the face and knocked her down. Katie’s friend Sam Thatcher was knocked down as well. Then Katie was knocked down again and kicked in the face, which broke her nose. After the fight broke up, Cort took off towards town in his buggy. A carriage soon pulled up beside him and a shot from said carriage hit him in the neck. Katie left town for awhile, but in September returned to Denver, where she had another fight with Mattie. This time, Mattie punched Katie, knocking her down and injuring her nose again.

No doubt Mattie was a feisty little vixen, but it was certainly no trouble for her to set up shop. She was described as blonde with blue eyes, clear skin and a striking resemblance to actress Lily Langtree. Besides her good looks, Mattie quickly gained a good reputation for excellent service and pretty, honest, high-class girls. Under her regime, the girls paid Mattie room and board starting at $5 per week and split their earnings with her. Mattie’s first brothel, which she purchased for $13,000 from Nellie French, was at 501 Holladay Street, now known as Market Street. Mattie’s elite business cards were shaped like an oyster shell—a grand treat for Denver dinner tables in the Victorian era. In addition, Mattie rented or operated in the buildings on either side of her brothel and prospered there as well.

Over the next four years, Mattie’s competition grew steadily. Women like Lizzie Greer slowly fell to the wayside. In fact, the Denver Republican took due notice when Lizzie’s looks and talents began fading. By 1881 Lizzie had lost all of her money and admirers and had turned to alcohol to drown her sorrows. The newspaper noted she had been living for years in back alleys and along river fronts, purchasing liquor when she could and eating out of the garbage bins of local restaurants. She was last noted as being found sleeping in a lumber yard and taken to the County Hospital. The paper commented that her end was not far off. After her death, which probably occurred in January of 1881, the sight of Lizzie’s ghost lingering near the undertaker’s parlor was the subject of Rocky Mountain News stories as late as 1885.

In 1882, there were approximately 480 prostitutes working in Denver. In those times, two room cribs on the row were rented to prostitutes for $15 – $25 a week. White sections of the red-light district were called “dollar houses”, with the parlor houses of Denver costing $5 and up per trick. The black sections—located beyond 21st & Market Street—were called “two bit houses”, reflecting the price paid for time with a prostitute. Thus, a girl had to turn 15 or even as many as 50 tricks per week just to make her board.

There is little doubt that Mattie Silks ruled with an iron fist. Some said she carried an ivory handled pistol with her, concealed in a special pocket of a gown she had replicated from Rubens’ portrait of Marie de Medici. But stagecoach driver Martin Parsons remembered that Mattie “didn’t carry a gun in her clothes…for she didn’t have to. She could control people by her voice, but then, they were spending money, and after all, that’s what she wanted.” Mattie also provided food to those who were down and out. Sometimes she even sheltered them in the tent she had formerly used as a brothel. It seemed as though everyone trusted her. Admirers and even Mattie herself liked to boast—wrongfully—that she was never declared a prostitute in any arrest record or Denver newspaper.

Mattie’s biggest competitor was Leah J. Tehme or Leah Fries, better known as Jennie Rogers. Jennie actually spelled her name “Leeah”, and once she told local police her real surname was Calvington. Born to Mr. and Mrs. James Weaver, Jennie was said to hail from Pittsburgh and may have been married to a doctor at one time. The union proved too dull for Jennie, and she allegedly ran away with a steamboat captain named Rogers. After living in St. Louis for a few years, Jennie arrived just two years after Mattie in 1879. She purchased her first house on Holladay Street for $4,600 in 1880. There, it was said, the chief of police from St. Louis would come to visit, and Jennie even had a portrait of him hanging in her brothel.

In fact, Jennie’s St. Louis paramour did more than pay the occasional visit. A story was widely circulated in later years that the police chief decided to assist Jennie in opening her Denver house of ill fame by blackmailing one of Denver’s leading citizens. Apparently this man’s first wife had pulled a disappearing act, and the gentleman next married into a wealthy Denver family. Jennie’s St. Louis friend and other political adversaries began circulating the rumor that the first wife had been murdered, and even buried the skull of an Indian woman found on the plains in the man’s backyard. Next the St. Louis officer and two other men called at the man’s home posing as investigators, conducted a search, and dug up the skull. The surprised tycoon knew he was innocent, but he also knew that such a scandal could ruin his political career. Accordingly, the man “donated” $17,780 to Jennie for a new house. Jennie’s St. Louis friend disappeared, and the matter was forgotten until it was related years later by someone who remembered the story.

Jennie was a tidy, astute and almost studious looking woman who knew her business. But she also had a temper. In about 1889, Jennie married Jack Wood, a bartender at the Brown Palace Hotel who was fourteen years younger. It was said Jennie shot Wood in Salt Lake City a few months later when she found him in the arms of another woman. When police asked why she did it, she exclaimed, “I shot him because I love him, damn him!”

Jennie maintained a friendship with her competitor, Mattie Silks. When Denver adopted an ordinance requiring prostitutes to wear yellow arm bands, Mattie and Jennie agreed to have their girls dress in yellow from head to toe and parade all over town. The ordinance was repealed. For a short time, Mattie and Jennie enjoyed their spot at the top of Denver’s red-light district.

There were complications in Jennie’s life, however. Even the elite Jennie Rogers, known for her fine dress and excellent horsemanship, could not avoid the occasional brush with the law. In 1880 she was arrested along with madam Eva Lewis for racing their horses through town. The past time seems to have been popular among prostitutes, as two other girls were seen doing the same thing on Boulder’s Pearl Street in 1880. (Incidentally, some say that Pearl Street was actually named for a prostitute. Others say it was named for a respectable woman who was an early pioneer.) In 1881 Jennie made the papers after her horse slipped on some ice and she fell to the street in the middle of the red-light district. Three years later, the classy madam was sentenced to ten days in jail for vagrancy and for taking morphine. The arrest did little to limit Jennie’s ambitions, however. In 1884 she built her own three-story brothel on Market Street with three parlors, a ballroom, a dining room and fifteen suites.

Shortly after Jennie’s new house of pleasure was complete, Cort Thomson, whose ex-wife had just died, and Mattie Silks were united in matrimony in Indiana. When the couple returned to Denver, Mattie found herself with yet another competitor, Belle Barnard (a.k.a. Birnard). Belle had her beginnings as a prostitute in Cheyenne, Wyoming. At the age of twenty-nine she gave birth to a daughter, Grace, whom she later claimed was a niece. By 1885, Belle had a stately, two story brick brothel at 518 Holladay Street. (When the name of Holladay was changed to Market, the address changed to 1952 Market Street.)

Two years after marrying Mattie, Cort received a telegram saying that his daughter, presumably the one left behind in Georgetown, had died during childbirth. Her surviving baby daughter needed looking after. Mattie convinced Cort to adopt the child rather than put her in an orphanage, and it was said Mattie willingly purchased her ranch on the eastern plains at Wray as a suitable place to raise the girl. There are several mysteries surrounding the child that Mattie and Cort took in. Once, when Mattie took in an abused little girl, police arriving to take the girl back to her mother discovered another five-year-old named Theresa Thompson. It was speculated that Theresa may have been a daughter of Mattie and Cort, or even perhaps a child by Casey Silks who was adopted by Cort. Or she could have been Cort’s grand daughter for whom Mattie purchased the ranch at Wray. The ranch served other purposes as well, namely as a place to keep Mattie’s twenty-one race horses.

Throughout the mid-1880’s, Mattie continued to bask in Denver’s limelight. It was said that Mattie once agreed—under pressure from Denver’s Chamber of Commerce and also Cort—to serve as a courtesan to the president of the St. Louis Railroad. Her mission was to convince the tycoon to extend his railroad to Denver. For a month, Mattie and the railroad magnate posed as husband and wife while touring California. Ultimately the endeavor was unsuccessful, although the Chamber did pay off a $5,000 note for Mattie in return for her efforts. In 1887 Mattie purchased two connecting brothels at 1916 and 1922 Market Street for $14,000 as well as other real estate around Denver, including a brothel at 2019 Market Street. She also kept two or three call girls in uptown Denver hotels to run appointments she made for them. Mattie’s girls were well cared for, receiving two meals a day and half of their earnings in return for paying room and board. Mattie’s good business sense saw her through some tough times in Denver; during the winter of 1887-88, one-hundred-seventy-nine women were arrested for prostitution. Much to the dismay of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, many of these women were jailed right along with male prisoners, guarded by male jailers. The W.C.T.U. convinced the city council to secure a matron for its female prisoners. The permanent position went to Sadie Likens, the second matron in the nation.

In about 1889 Jennie Rogers purchased what was to become the infamous House of Mirrors at 1942 Market Street. She also married Jack Wood, the lover she had once shot. Over time, 1942 Market Street became one of the most prominent establishments in Denver’s red-light district. The Circus, a three story brothel that also housed Jim Ryan’s Saloon, was located across from Jennie’s place. Sadie Doyle, one of Jim’s employees, later recalled a night in 1901 when she was thrown in jail. Later that night, after her release, the jail caught fire. Fay Stanley’s Parlor House was just down the street. Other famous red-light establishments of Denver included Ruth Jacobs’ Silver Dollar Hotel, Miss Olga’s and Mamie Darling’s.

There were twenty-seven rooms in all at the House of Mirrors, including a kitchen, ballroom, four parlors, a wine room and sixteen bedrooms. The front parlor was furbished in mirrors from ceiling to floor. A single bathroom, luxurious for the time, serviced the house. Under Jennie’s ownership, suites in the house were said to be well stocked with fancy furniture, commodes, slop jars, rockers, lace curtains and even writing desks. Known for her love of grand  and eccentric things, Jennie also had five stone faces adhered to the facade of the building, including a bust of herself at the top. There has been intense speculation about who the other faces represented, including a story that they depict those involved in the blackmailing of the rich man who gave Jennie the money for her house. But the truth about them will likely never be known. The exterior decor also came complete with fancy scroll work in a variety of mysterious designs.

Another notorious brothel could be found at the Navarre, formerly the Brinker Collegiate Institute for young ladies wanting to learn “customary Christian virtues.” Known as the Hotel Richelieu in 1890, the stately hotel, saloon and gambling hall had fallen into the hands of gamblers Ed Chase and Vaso Chucovich during a poker game. Chase and Chucovich renamed the place the Navarre after a sixteenth-century French king, Henry of Navarre, and added prostitution. Belle Malone and Mary Paxton were among the working girls at the Navarre, which also welcomed visiting girls from nearby brothels if no other girls were available.

Mattie Silks’s troubles with Cort Thomson escalated in 1891, when she caught him with prostitute Lillie Dab of Leadville. Mattie sued for divorce, but then forgave Cort and withdrew the suit. In the uproar, Mattie may have just plain missed out on Jennie Rogers’ plans to sell the House of Mirrors. Madam Ella Wellington got it instead, and with it she automatically became a part of Jennie and Mattie’s elite circle. When the madams and bar owners of Denver cooperated to produce the Denver Red Book in 1892, Ella was a prominent advertiser. The Denver Red Book was published just in time for the grand opening of the ritzy Brown Palace Hotel across the street, which allegedly had an underground rail system or tunnel running to the notorious Navarre.

As the most brazen of directories, the Denver Red Book listed ads for the Arcade Bar on Larimer, Silver State Cigars, Schlitz and the Walhalla Club Rooms. Prostitutes listed therein included Blanche Brown, Belle Birnard and Minnie A. Hall. Belle Birnard advertised fourteen rooms, five parlors, a music and dance hall, plus twelve boarders. Jennie Holmes outdid Belle with twenty-three rooms, three parlors, two ballrooms, a pool room and thirteen boarders. But madam Minnie Hall at 2045 Market Street took the prize with thirty rooms, a music and dance hall, five parlors, a Mikado parlor and twenty boarders. Minnie had purchased her house from Sybil Field. When the only known copy of the Red Book was found on the floor of a streetcar and eventually donated to the Colorado Historical Society, it was noted that two pages were missing. The missing pages might have contained advertising for Mattie Silks and the Navarre, as well as other well known hot spots.

Ella Wellington, Mattie Silks and Jennie Rogers continued to prosper during 1893, despite the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Originally, the Sherman Act was meant to assist the public by requiring the United States Government to purchase silver in order to boost the economy. The plan was simple enough, but did not pan out as well as expected. When Congress repealed the act and the government stopped buying silver, thousands of silver miners—including millionaire H.A.W. Tabor of Leadville and Denver—went broke overnight. As the silver boom towns quickly depleted, hundreds of families flocked to Denver. A good number of destitute women approached Jennie Rogers for work. Jennie put them up in respectable boarding houses, but refused to let them work for her or anyone else. As money allowed, she gradually sent them home to their families instead.

Jennie’s kind act was no doubt overshadowed by the shocking and tragic suicide of Ella Wellington in 1894 at the House Of Mirrors. The former wife of Fred Bouse (or Bowse) of Omaha, Ella had forsaken her confining life as a wife and mother of two adopted children and run off with one Sam Cross. After Cross apparently left her in Salt Lake City, Ella had made her way to Denver in 1889, taken on the name Wellington, and gone into business in the red-light district. After purchasing the House of Mirrors from Jennie Rogers, Ella spared no expense in her advertising and business cards and seemed to be doing quite well.

On the evening of July 27, 1894, Ella was in attendance at her brothel wearing a silk gown and a $2,000 necklace, as well as several ruby and diamond rings. Ella’s regret at leaving her husband became painfully apparent when some old friends of the former couple unexpectedly paid her a visit. Fred was remarried, they said, and was very happy. So were the children. The news was too much for Ella, who began babbling, “I too am happy, O so happy!” Then she abruptly started upstairs, exclaiming, “O I am so happy! So happy that I’ll just blow my goddam brains out!” Upon reaching her bedroom, Ella did just that. Arapahoe County Clerk William R. Prinn happened to be lying in Ella’s bed at the time and later gave his statement to the coroner.

Poor Ella’s story does not end there. After a funeral procession that took every available carriage in town, Ella was buried at Riverside Cemetery. Her most loyal admirer, Frederick N. Sturges, slept on top of her grave for several nights and purchased a plot next to Ella’s. Within three weeks the heartbroken Sturges overdosed on morphine. In his pocket was a picture of Ella with a note written on the back: “Bury this picture of my own dear Ella beside me.”

The death of Ella Wellington seemed to be the beginning of several unlucky incidents in Denver’s red-light district. The most prominent was a series of mysterious murders of prostitutes. Three murders in particular caught the eye of authorities, possibly because of their similarities: a towel had always been stuffed in the victim’s mouth, and there was never a sign of forced entry. Thus, the girls were assumed to have fallen victim to one of their customers.

The first woman to die was Lena Tapper, who was strangled in her home on Market Street in September. Next, twenty-three-year-old Marie Contassot was strangled to death on October 28. Despite the deceased’s swollen  purple face, eyes bugging from their sockets and the presence of a rope nearby, the Coroner listed Marie’s cause of death as unknown. Marie was from France, having come to America with her sister Eugenie some years before. In Denver, Marie worked for Charles Chaloup, a Frenchman who served as her pimp. The number one suspect in Marie’s death, however, was her beau Tony Saunders. Alternately known as Tony Sanders and Antonio Santpietro, Saunders led a double life as both a Denver policeman and a pimp on Market Street. Marie had just moved in with Saunders a week before. After repeated questioning, however, Saunders was released.

Next, police focused on Chaloup and Eugenie. Marie and Eugenie had been due to inherit a large sum of money from a relative in Paris, and Chaloup and Eugenie had just recently returned from a trip to France. Chaloup had also purchased property in Paris. Furthermore, friends and neighbors of Marie claimed her sister and Chaloup had planned to acquire the inheritance and leave Marie with nothing. Eugenie refused to deny or confirm any of the rumors. Chaloup claimed Marie had received $2,000 in property and jewelry from him and produced a signed receipt from her that released him from any further obligations to her. Neither Chaloup or Eugenie were charged with the murder.

Marie Contassot merited burial in Denver’s Riverside Cemetery. After her original interment, Marie’s body was moved to a plot purchased by Eugenie. Her grave was decorated by a large tombstone and a life-sized angel. The heartening inscription read:

“We regret the loss of our sister

All of her family and friends

Pray for her.”

In the wake of Marie Contassot’s murder, Mattie Silks had iron bars installed on the windows of her brothel. By now, the girls of the row were frightened, and Denver newspapers spread panic with headlines declaring “Jack the Ripper” was in town. They also dubbed Market Street “Strangler’s Row.” Despite upgraded security in the red-light district, a third murder happened in November when Kiku Oyama was also found choked to death. After Oyama’s murder, the better-class parlor houses shut down or shortened their business hours for a time. Most of the lower-class, one-room crib girls could not afford to cease business and were forced to remain open. Police began taking a harder look at murders that happened in the red-light district, but there were no more murders immediately after the death of Oyama.

At least two other unsolved murders are documented in Denver’s red-light district. One was the killing of a black prostitute named Nettie Clark in the late 1890’s, but Nettie’s death was probably not associated with the killing sprees of 1894. In 1903 yet another woman, Mabel Brown, was strangled in her home on Market Street. Again the killer was never caught, but by then the murders of 1894 were only a faint memory on fast-moving Market Street.

In about May of 1895, the House of Mirrors came back to Jennie Rogers’s ownership. A couple of years later, Jennie and Mattie Silks were only slightly overshadowed by another Denver prostitute, Verona (a.k.a. Fannie) Baldwin. In 1883 in San Francisco, the British beauty had made big headlines after she shot her millionaire cousin, E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin, in the arm. Verona claimed Lucky had sexually assaulted her while she was teaching school at his expansive ranch. Baldwin survived, about which Verona commented, “I ought to have killed him. Yes, I ought to have killed him at the ranch.”  Verona was just twenty-three years old at the time. Three years after she was acquitted due to Lucky’s refusal to testify, Verona sued her cousin for child support. Afterwards, he successfully committed her to an insane asylum. She fought him, along with the general public, and was released.

In the late 1890’s, Verona arrived in Denver and purchased a house at 2020 Market Street. Her life in Denver appeared to be fairly uneventful, the exception being an 1898 newspaper article which reported that Verona had taken in a young girl calling herself Mary Anderson. Mary, fresh off the train from Wyoming, was seeking employment at various brothels. Escorting her was a strange woman who had approached her at the employment office and talked her into becoming a prostitute. Madam Baldwin, however, upon seeing the girl was truly innocent and a virgin at that, convinced Mary to return home and notified the police to put her on the next train home. This they did, paying for the ticket themselves. Verona was in business in Denver for over twelve years. She eventually retired and died in the 1940’s.

In 1898 Mattie Silks and Cort Thomson followed up a tour to Great Britain with an excursion to Alaska, where Mattie opened a temporary brothel in Dawson City. The endeavor lasted only three months due to Mattie’s aversion to the cold weather, but it was said she netted $38,000 for her efforts. Upon returning to Colorado, Cort continued with his wild ways while Mattie got back to business. In April of 1900, after several weeks of debauchery involving alcohol, opium, and the celebration of his birthday, Cort Thomson died sitting in a rocking chair at the Commercial Hotel in Wray. Mattie was by his side, and she paid for his funeral costs. What became of the child Mattie and Cort were raising is unknown, but most historians say Mattie adopted her. Some speculate the girl was then educated in some far-away school and raised to become a respectable woman.

Jennie Rogers also suffered hardships. Jack Wood had died in 1896, at the age of 38. Competition along Market Street was ever-growing, with prostitutes like Mildred Ackley and Pearl Adams joining the ranks. The year 1902 proved to be even more stressful: Jennie’s beloved dog died and she was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease. To escape her woes and pressure from authorities, she temporarily moved to Chicago where she opened another brothel. There she met a politician named Archibald T. Fitzgerald, a man 20 years her junior whom she married at Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1904. Shortly afterward Jennie returned to Denver for the funeral of prostitute Lizzie Preston, a much-admired colleague who had also been a friend of Mattie Silks. Back in Chicago, she found out Fitzgerald was still married to someone else, left him and came back to Denver for good in 1907.

In Denver Jennie forgave Fitzgerald. She lived at the House of Mirrors but periodically made short excursions with him to Arkansas. She died on October 29, 1909, having willed her estate to her sister and a niece and nephew. She was buried in Denver’s Fairmont Cemetery under the name Leah J. Wood, next to her husband Jack. Fitzgerald contested her will and claimed half of her estate. He eventually settled for $5,000 in cash, jewelry and some property in Illinois.

In 1910 or 1911 Mattie Silks purchased the House of Mirrors for $14,000. Mattie immediately moved in with her longtime housekeeper, Janie Green, and commissioned a local tile worker to inlay her name, “M. Silks”, on the front step. It was like putting a final, victorious stamp on the red-light district. At last, Mattie Silks was the reigning queen of Denver’s tenderloin district.

Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona – Introduction

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following chapter is excerpted from Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona(Arcadia Publishing, 2015.)

As one of the last states to enter the Union, Arizona remained a raw, rather uncivilized territory between 1863 and 1912. The untamed land lent itself to explorers, miners, ranchers, farmers and others who saw an opportunity to prosper. The growing population also included its share of shady ladies, a staple of the economy in nearly every western town. These wanton women prided themselves in being independent, hardy individuals who weren’t afraid to pack their petticoats across rough, barren terrain and set up shop. Their stories range from mild to wild, with plenty of colorful anecdotes in between.

Who were these daring damsels who defied social norms to ply their trade in frontier Arizona? The 1860 United States census, taken just three years before Arizona Territory was formed, listed a number of females who were then part of New Mexico Territory. At the time, New Mexico Territory was quite large. The population, which spanned over today’s Arizona, New Mexico, a portion of Colorado and part of Nevada, included mostly Mexican women who were locally born.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Organic Act which divided Arizona and New Mexico Territories by a north-to-south border that is still in place today. The first Arizona Territorial census was conducted the following year between February and April 1, revealing a population numbering over 4,500 people. Almost 1,100 of them were female adults and children.

Arizona’s military forts, mining camps, whistle stops, and cities grew at an amazing rate. Soldiers of the early frontier forts served as ample clientele for prostitutes during Arizona Territory’s formative years. Later, as mining camps grew into towns and towns bloomed into cities, a bevy of soiled doves flocked into these places and set up more permanent bordellos. In time nearly every town included working girls who conducted business in anything from tents, to tiny one or two-room adobe or stick-built cribs, to rooms above saloons, to posh parlor houses. Prescott, one the earliest, wildest and fastest growing towns in the Territory, was no exception.

The census records of the 1800’s are amongst the best resources used to identify prostitutes, but even these failed to identify every known working girl in Prescott. By 1870 the females of the town numbered a mere 108 versus 560 men. The census reveals little else about the ladies, including their marital status unless they married within that year. In most cases, the occupations of women who worked in the prostitution industry were discreetly left blank. Because the occupations of women who were unemployed or working as housewives were also unidentified in several instances, the true number of females working as prostitutes will never be known.

Not until the 1880 census were more—but not all—women of the underworld in Prescott blatantly identified as prostitutes, “sporting” and “fancy” women, mistresses and madams. The smart prostitute revealed very little about herself and took great pains to disguise her real identity, where she came from and how she made her living. Such details, however, might be revealed in her absence by a room mate, her madam, a nearby business or even the census taker who knew the occupants of the red light district, but was too embarrassed to knock on the doors there. So while girls such as Elizabeth Arbuckle were listed as prostitutes in Prescott during the 1880 census other women, such as madam Ann Hamilton, were only known as “keeping house” and other indiscernible occupations.

Census records also revealed changes in the way the West viewed the prostitution industry over the next 20 years. The 1890 census having burned up in a fire, it was obvious by 1900 that civilization had started its inevitable creep into Arizona Territory. Wives and families, churches and temperance unions were part of the growing groups in the West. Wayward ladies were forced to tone their job descriptions down to some extent. While blatant racism encouraged identifying Japanese and Chinese prostitutes as such, the Anglo women living next to them, or in identified red light districts, claimed to be working as seamstresses, laundresses, milliners and other demure careers that kept them out of the spotlight as working girls.

From 1900 on the bad girls of Prescott became largely unidentifiable, save for the tell-tale neighborhoods they lived in, their skirmishes as reported in newspapers, and the legal documents which singled them out. As the city continued growing, the female population had started catching up to the males by 1910 (2,032 women to 2,711 men). The girls of the row now struggled to prosper while their hometown remained tolerable for the most part. Interestingly, the residents of Prescott seem to have accepted their working girls as they would any other citizen, more so than many other towns in the west. Everybody knew that sex was for sale along Granite Street, just one block west of Montezuma Street’s “Saloon Row”. And very few seemed inclined to do much about it.

Historically speaking, however, loose women have always generated an enigmatic history. In an historically untamed place like Arizona, they are hard to track. Prescott was in fact so accepting of their shady ladies that, unless they got into trouble and landed in the public eye, hard records of them are very scarce. Finding them is further complicated by the time-honored tradition of generating folklore and embellishments over time, with a good sprinkling of misguided attempts to brand many a colorful old hotel, saloon or home as a former whorehouse. And although many of Prescott’s brazen hussies have a solid place in the state’s history, far more have escaped the eyes of historians and quietly faded along a rather dusty trail.

Despite Prescott’s ambivalence towards their wayward girls, being a prostitute was still the naughtiest of naughty deeds. The law, the moral majority and a good number of angry wives rarely lost the opportunity to emphasize the evils of being a bad girl. Their efforts were not unwarranted. Prescott newspapers do have stories of wicked women of the past who were not beyond lying, thieving and even murdering as they danced their way through the demimonde. Some crimes are excusable; certain girls were in the business due to the loss, by death or desertion, of a husband. Those who fought and/or killed were often defending their own honor or fighting for their lives during some domestic dispute. But it is no secret that certain prostitutes were truly a bad lot and drank, drugged, danced, fought, killed, stole and sold their bodies solely to appease their own inner demons.

In time Prescott, along with a number of other communities, officially outlawed prostitution to appease state laws and the moral element. On the side, however, officials continued to quietly tolerate the red-light districts. The prostitution industry evolved into an underground cash cow of sorts. As immoral as they were, women of the lamplight provided company and entertainment for Arizona’s restless soldiers and miners. They were also an excellent source of income for the city coffer, where their fines, high taxes and monthly business fees were deposited on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, required weekly or monthly medical exams were conducted by a city physician whose salary was supplemented by fees from their patients.

Stories also are numerous of illicit ladies in the West who sheltered the homeless, fed the poor, employed the unemployed, contributed to the building of hospitals, schools and churches, and assisted their hometowns with numerous unseen, unappreciated efforts. Arizona was no exception to the kindness of these true “whores with a heart of gold”, as the old saying goes. Thus, even though the Territorial government outlawed prostitution once and for all in 1907, the law was loosely enforced on behalf of the good time girls who made Prescott’s history even more colorful than it already was.

Some feel that history accounts about prostitution somehow reveres the industry’s participants as heroes. Others think that revealing the lives of the industry’s chief participants further shames them. Along those same lines, there is little doubt that many fallen angels preferred to remain unknown, hoping that their misdeeds would fade with their names into history. They did not want to embarrass their families or even friends who may have known them back when they were “good girls.”

Good or bad, the ladies are now long gone, unaware that their humility and courage is often held in esteem by others who enjoy reading about them, and many who sympathize with their plight. The shame is mostly gone too, even if it is often replaced by the romantic notion that all prostitutes’ lives were interesting, even fun. In many cases, they were not. True fans of prostitution history recognize that the vast majority of these women gambled everything, at very high risks, for a chance at surviving in a less than perfect world. Their efforts are memorable, at the very least because they served as an integral staple of the economy of the West. No matter their misdeeds, they deserve a second look as an important part of American history. 

Thanksgiving and My Back Porch

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Every single day I count my blessings for the love of my family and friends, my health, the beautiful planet on which I live, and every positive thing that has been bestowed on me. You know what I’m thankful for today? My back porch.

Most houses have a back porch, or a back room, or even a spare bedroom, that kind of serves as the innards of the house. Here are the lightbulbs that light our house, the seeds for next year’s garden, board games we play with friends and family, the linens, our mushroom and berry gathering baskets, and the fresh water we bring from the spring on the mountain. There is paint back there, and wrapping paper, and shelves for the overstock from our pantry. Flower vases in which we put our beautiful bouquets. And outdoor plants who are patiently waiting out the winter by the sunny windows. The porch holds hidden Christmas gifts, the cleaning supplies, and the laundry area where everything has its place.

Our porch looked pretty sad when we first got here. It was painted light shit-brown with scars from dogs who clawed the doors and chewed the door trim, furniture that scraped the walls as it came through, dirt tracked onto the bare plywood floor by endless footprints, dead flies, spiders, and a lot of cobwebs. Earlier this year we painted it sunny yellow with nautical gray trim and a bright woven rug. I have wind chimes and other what-nots hanging in there, and shelves loaded with boxes and coolers, but also important things like clothespins, candles, and my trusty little red toolbox.

My porch is accessible through a door off the kitchen. It’s a wonderful, century-old door with a window in it from the days before the porch was built on. When you look through the window, you can see our green plants lazing about on the sunny yellow shelf. In winter, we open the door when we do the laundry because it helps warm the house. But we also open it when the woodstove makes the house too hot. In summer, the back door opens to let in the sunshine from our yard. Otherwise it remains closed at this time of year, but just going out there to retrieve cat food or a can of tomatoes gives me a very homey feeling.

I’ve always wanted a back porch. My great-grandparents had one, and that is where my great-grandpa mixed his crock of whiskey eggnog and invited all the grown-ups to have a taste. We had one on back of our old house in Pasadena, and I had a teeny one in the first house I ever rented. My stepmother used to have one off the kitchen, in a wonderful old house she and her family moved deep into the woods outside of Flagstaff. My in-laws have a really cool backroom that is accessed through a secret door. In these places, I and dozens before me have held secret conversations, snuck out for a cigarette or a drink, spent time in solace while idly folding laundry, and peeked out to watch birds and squirrels and random cats from the windows.

Sometimes, even looking for the damn batteries is kind of fun, ratting around and finding some other important item you’ve been looking for in the process. “Dang, so that’s where that is,” you might mutter to yourself. Nobody will hear you. Nobody will hear you going over your shoulda-woulda-coulda list as you organize the shelves. Nobody will really care what you are doing back there as you stash some gift or other secret thing only you know about in a cupboard behind the rag bin. It’s a marvelous place, that back porch of mine. It makes me feel like I have truly come home.

1918: The Year of No Thanksgiving

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Colorado Gambler.

“Thanksgiving Parties Are Forbidden.”

So ran the headline on the front page of the Cripple Creek Times & Victor Daily Record in Colorado, a mere two days before Thanksgiving in 1918. Beneath was this command, issued by the Teller County Board of Health: “Eat your Thanksgiving dinner at home and be thankful that the ‘flu’ is under control. Visiting spreads the epidemic.”

Indeed, a world wide influenza epidemic was at hand. Colorado was no exception to the rule. Statewide, citizens had for months known about the Spanish Flu, which began sweeping the whole world off its feet the previous March. The suspected origin of the dreaded disease was Spain. But because the epidemic began almost simultaneously in America, others suspected Fort Riley Kansas, where soldiers fell ill within two days of burning tons of manure.

Forty eight soldiers would die at Fort Riley as others followed troop movements to Europe to fight in World War I. Within weeks, the flu had reached pandemic proportions. To people around the globe, the severity of the Spanish Flu was comparable to the Black Plague of Europe some centuries before. Onset of the illness was quite sudden. Within a matter of hours, a person could go from the picture of health to being so weak they couldn’t walk. Fevers escalated to 105 degrees and doctors were at a loss as to how prevent pneumonia from developing.

In all, the Influenza Epidemic would take nearly three times the lives that World War I did. An early estimate lay at 27,289 war casualties versus 82,306 flu victims. In the end, the final toll in the United States was somewhere between 500,000 to 675,000, with 20 to 40 million fatalities world wide.

It is no wonder then, that by November the epidemic was taking precedence over everything else in Teller County. The November 8 issue of the Cripple Creek Times & Victor Daily Record reported 12 dead. Two more outbreaks had occurred in the previous 24 hours, and five were reported critically ill at the County Hospital in Cripple Creek. In addition, six new cases of Spanish Flu were reported in Victor & Goldfield.

“WAR IS OVER” screamed the headlines on the following day, but the end of the war hardly seemed important as folks received news of a county-wide quarantine. By ordinance, newcomers to the county were automatically put into quarantine for a minimum of three days. In addition, no one was permitted to enter or leave quarantined houses. Schools closed and children were ordered kept at home. Parties and public congregations, including funerals, were forbidden. Anyone daring to venture out in public was required to wear a gauze mask.

In roughly a years’ time, one funeral director alone recorded 45 deaths from the flu. Among them were the Snowden boys, ages ten and fifteen, who died within a day of each other at the Cripple Creek District town of Elkton that November. Their mother Augusta died just four days later, leaving a single grieving husband and father. The Snowden family’s fate was sadly typical of what many residents of Teller County were experiencing on a day to day basis.

The residents of the Cripple Creek District rallied as best they could. Family was told to stay away for the holidays. The obvious lack of advertising for Thanksgiving supplies in local newspapers told the tale. Dinner plans were cancelled as the healthy did what they could to help the sick. Volunteers left warm meals, coal and wood at the back doors of quarantined families.

News traveled by way of notes and messages shouted over the backyard fence. Local newspapers worked round the clock to keep up with the dead and dying, as well as their guardian angels. “Assist the sick in every way possible” was the motto of the day as daily editions included recipes for tonics and syrups, plus important notices.

“If anyone knows of any family in Victor who are needy during the Thanksgiving festivities,” offered the Cripple Creek Times, ‘they will be taken care of if word is left with Mrs. W.O. Higgins or Mrs. T.C. Wilson at the Wilson Art Shop.” A similar list was available from Mrs. Wilson M. Shafer in Cripple Creek.

The temporary health regulations were strictly enforced. In Colorado Springs, a woman was fined $10 for hosting a musicale and luncheon at her home. In Cripple Creek, only one ill-informed scoundrel dared to ignore the ordinance. In what was surely a blatant move in this crisis, the Gibbs House advertised turkey with all the trimmings Thanksgiving day for seventy five cents. The place was probably fined or ordered shut down.

It was surely a bleak Thanksgiving day that dawned on Colorado residents that year as they awoke to newspapers filled with funeral and death notices. Although the Times-Record indicated the flu was “under control” that Thanksgiving, it would be months before the county returned to normal. Schools remained closed through January and it was some time before the virus finally ran out of steam and died off.

There is no doubt that as households dined on what they could gather for dinner that Thanksgiving day in 1918, the feeling of family tradition was accompanied by one of hope. As they gazed over their offerings, each individual had one and only one prayer in mind. The prayer might have evolved into a word of thanks for being healthy and being alive, plus a wish for the continued health of loved ones and neighbors. It was a sentiment worth keeping in mind, with or without the loss.

Thanksgiving in Frontier Arizona

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette

What was Thanksgiving in pioneer Arizona like? In many ways, the tradition and overall ambience has changed very little—except, imagine having to butcher your own turkey. Stewing your own cranberries. Baking pies and dinner rolls from scratch. Cooking on a wood-burning stove. Hand-washing the dishes. This was very much a part of Arizona’s Thanksgivings of old.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Organic Act to form Arizona Territory in February of 1863. Eight months later, he officially designated Thanksgiving an official holiday. Newcomers to Arizona were only too glad to give thanks in their new, albeit primitive, homes. Although the hard work involved to make any large meal was a part of every day life, the workload doubled at Thanksgiving.

The menu from a 1905 issue of Harper’s Bazaar gives much insight into details of a proper Thanksgiving dinner. The courses consisted of “Oysters on the half-shell with cocktail in pepper shells; Radishes, celery, salted nuts; Clear consommé with tapioca; Filet of flounder with pimentos and olives; dressed cucumbers; Roast turkey; cranberry jelly in small molds; creamed chestnuts; glazed sweet-potato; Cider frappé in turkey sherbet-cups; Quail in bread croustades; dressed lettuce; Blazing mince pie; Cheese with almonds; wafers; Angel parfait in glasses; small cakes; coffee.”

As the popularity of Thanksgiving grew during the 1860’s, a number of church cookbooks, ladies’ clubs and professional cooks offered endless numbers of enticing recipes. Amongst the earliest cookbooks was Isabella Mary Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management, which favored cooking a “modest” turkey for better flavor. Ms. Beeton recommended butchering the bird and letting it hang for four to eight days, depending on the weather, before dressing it. The required ingredients were one “middling-sized” turkey, white paper, forcemeat (an early term for dressing with meat), flour and butter. The recipe read in part, “Carefully pluck the bird, singe it with white paper, and wipe it thoroughly with a cloth; draw it, preserve the liver and gizzard, and be particular not to break the gall-bag, as no washing will remove the bitter taste it imparts where it once touches.”

More instructions followed, including “flattening the breastbone to make it look plump.” When stuffed and sewn, a “sheet of buttered paper” was fastened to the breast before the bird was put “down to a bright fire, at some little distance at first (afterwards draw it nearer).” The recipe cautioned to “keep it well basted the whole of the time it is cooking.” Gravy was made by dredging the turkey with flour, adding butter and basting with it during the last fifteen minutes.

In time, traditional bread stuffing became a favored alternative to forcemeat. An 1894 edition of the Coconino Weekly Sun offered a fairly simple recipe: “Prepare a dressing of bread crumbs, mixed with butter, pepper, salt, thyme and wet with hot water or milk. Add the beaten yolks of two eggs. Mince a dozen oysters and stir into the dressing, and, if you are partial to the taste, wet the bread crumbs with the oyster liquor.”

As the Victorian era arrived, Thanksgiving Pudding became a favorite dish. The instructions from an 1880 recipe were to the point: “Pound 20 crackers fine, add 5 cups milk and let swell. Beat well 14 eggs. Pint sugar. Cup molasses. 2 small nutmegs. 2 TSP ground clove. 3 ground cinnamon. 2 TSP salt. 1/2 TSP soda. Add to crackers. Finally add pint of raisins. Makes two puddings.”

Other dishes came and went, depending on what was most popular at the time. A staple dating to the first Thanksgiving dinner that has never gone away, however, is the pumpkin pie. A 1927 recipe offered simple, from-scratch ingredients and instructions that can still be followed today:

1 cup cooked pumpkin, 2 egg yolks or 1 egg, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1 cup milk. Mix ingredients and pour into unbaked crust. Bake in a hot oven (450 degrees) for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until custard is done. Serve with whipped cream.

No matter the recipe, the primitive pioneers of Arizona were thankful for their Thanksgiving dinners, and especially to the many women who toiled in kitchen to make the tastiest meals possible. And a bit of humor never hurt either, as illustrated in this 1895 poem entitled “Mother Gets the Neck”:

“The sage may read the heaven’s tale

But can he this explain;

Why does she choose that bony part

And let the rest remain!

Aye, roasted, fried it is the same,

She loves to sit and peck

At the curved, tidgy meatless thing:

A turkey’s crinkly neck.”

The Hash Knife Around Holbrook: Chapter One

Chapter One: Beginnings of the Brand

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

This chapter is excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, available in both paperback at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467130936 or on audio at https://www.amazon.com/Hash-Knife-Around-Holbrook-America/dp/B00UTSFP1W/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=.

Most historians agree that Hash Knife history began in 1874 when John Nicholas Simpson registered his first brand, the “Long S”. Simpson moved to Weatherford, Texas from Tennessee in 1866, operating a dry goods store between 1867 and 1872 before turning to ranching. In about 1874, the “Long S” brand was soon replaced by that of a hash knife: a common cooking tool whose brand was difficult to alter.

 

The new Hash Knife brand was certainly in place by 1877 when Simpson and his partner, James Couts, were using it. Tennessee native James Robertson Couts was a farmer when he moved to Weatherford, Texas in 1865. A year later, he used money earned from a cattle drive to California to establish the first bank at Weatherford. By 1872 he was one of the wealthiest men in the region. Couts purchased a half interest in John Nicholas Simpson’s cattle outfit in 1877. About a year later, Simpson and Couts registered the Hash Knife brand in Taylor County, Texas.

 

Thus began a long and illustrious life for the legendary Hash Knife brand. The first ranch headquarters was a dugout above Cedar Creek that would later become Abilene. Simpson made sure Abilene’s first railroad, the Texas & Pacific Railway, would run right by his ranch. He furthermore made sure the town was built directly along the tracks to assure its success. Shortly afterwards, Simpson expanded the brand west to Pecos and Baylor County, and formed the Continental Cattle Company.

 

In Baylor County Simpson did business with the infamous Millett brothers, the area’s own bad boys. The Millett brothers were a rough bunch when John Simpson met them. Citizens of nearby Seymour feared them. Ott Black, who worked for the Milletts and the Hash Knife, called the Millett Ranch “one of the toughest spots this side of hell” and commented that only “a rustler or gunman could get work with them.”

 

Even as he witnessed a bloody shootout at the Millett Ranch while signing the papers, Simpson purchased some land and cattle. He also continued buying smaller outfits around Texas while making even grander plans for a range in Montana.

 

The Hash Knife’s first trip to Montana was most likely dangerous and more than a little exciting. Cowboys on the trip had probably never been out of Texas, making their journey a true eye-opener. Cowboys on the trail relied heavily on nourishing grub and strong coffee to make it through the long workday. In 1882 Jacob “Dutch Jake” Heckman served as the cook on the Continental Land and Cattle Company’s first jaunt from Texas to Montana.

 

The Montana holdings, built along the Little  Missouri River, were located roughly 20 miles from the tiny community of Stoneville. Three years would pass before Ekalaka was founded, shortening the distance from civilization to just 20 miles. The Continental Land and Cattle Company headquarters were built on Box Elder Creek. When the first herds arrived in the summer of 1882, foreman William Lefors arranged for two cabins to serve as headquarters. The foreman used one cabin on the left for his home and office. Cowboys slept and ate their meals in the other cabin.

 

Plenty of other cowboys came and went during the Hash Knife’s time in Montana. Other men who worked for the Montana outfit were Clarence Sisley, Pete Buzman, Johnnie Pannel and Jay Griffen Shelden, who joined the Hash Knife outfit at Box Elder Creek. In 1885 Stoneville was renamed Alzada in honor of his mother, Laura Alzada Flagg. Shelden later married and homesteaded at Alzada, but his wife couldn’t bear the loneliness of ranch life and left him. Shelden died in Belle Fourche in 1912.

 

Some of these men came with the cattle from Texas. Montana cowboys looked upon the Texas cattle as poor stock; worse yet, their keepers appeared equally lanky in stature. Cowboy Walt Colburn noted that Texas cowboys “were a different breed of cowhand for the most part.”

 

Puzzling over whether lanky Texas cattle and cowboys could survive Montana’s cooler altitudes was soon overshadowed by George Axelby a Hash Knife cowboy who came with the herd from Texas but soon turned rogue. Within a short time he was hunting buffalo, fighting with Native Americans and forming a gang with other Hash Knife cowboys-turned-outlaws. Axelby’s actions soon caught the attention of authorities, who battled it out with the gang at Stoneville. There were several casualties. Axelby escaped, only to be killed four months later.

 

In 1884 the Continental Cattle Company combined its holdings with the Mill Iron Cattle Company in Montana and sported the new name of the Continental Land and Cattle Company. The Mill Iron Ranch was located roughly 80 miles from Stoneville, with the Continental Land and Cattle Company somewhere between the two places. The Great Western Cattle Trail from Texas ended at Stoneville, but Hash Knife cattle still needed to be pushed on to one of the two ranches. Still, the Mill Iron Ranch benefited greatly from the Western Trail.

 

There is little doubt that Hash Knife cowboys appreciated a night at the Mill Iron, whose bunkhouse likely offered better lodging than the cabin on Box Elder Creek. Henry Warren, the ever flexible employee of the Hash Knife, was in charge of the Mill Iron operations.

 

During the 1880s, the federal government rationed beef to various Indian reservations in Wyoming, Dakota Territory and Montana. This allowed the Hash Knife to sell their beef at government prices. The largest shipment was likely 2,500 head delivered to Fort Yates, North Dakota in 1883.

 

By 1885, the Continental Land and Cattle Company’s letterhead from the main office in Dallas included both the Hash Knife and Mill Iron brands. A branch office was also located in St. Louis. Principle officers of the company occasionally left their cushy suites in these big cities to visit Hash Knife ranches in Texas, Montana and later, Arizona.

 

The opportunity to expand to other states came when surveyor Edward Kinsley of the Atlanta & Pacific Railroad spied Arizona’s vast lands. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company formed, and the Hash Knife brand moved there with its reputation still under fire.

 

John Simpson’s brother, Ed, was hired as manager of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company before resigning in 1890. Simpson and Couts also hired Henry Warren, a former government freighter and sometime client of James Couts, around 1877. Over time he became a trustee for the Continental Land and Cattle Company, serving as both manager and president of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company in Arizona. Warren stayed with the Aztec until his death in Arizona in 1917.

 

Back in Texas, the Hash Knife continued operations for many years. The Knox Brothers may have owned the ranch before Elmer Stevens and Roy Stevens bought it in the early 1920s, and Lowe Stout was their ranch foreman. During the Great Depression the ranch was turned back to the Knox Brothers, and John D. Mounce lived at the ranch with his family. Later, a Mr. Anderson leased the ranch. As for Stout, he and his wife, Alice Robertson, ranched on Miller Creek for many years.

 

When the Hash Knife in Baylor County decided to build new headquarters overlooking the Brazos River, the old headquarters became home to the Howe family. Aubrey and Midlred Howe Lunsford inherited the house in 1953. According to one source, “It had seen 90 years of service and was pretty well ready for the scrap pile.” The Lunsfords tore it down.

 

Likewise, the Hash Knife also continued operations in Montana for several years. In 1897, the State of Montana accused the Continental Land and Cattle Company of failing to pay enough taxes. Hash Knife cowboys who were witnesses at the trial included Phil DeFrand, Ed Ramsberg, Jim Connley, Frank Castleberry and H.H. Floyd.