Monthly Archives: February 2015

Hot off the Press: Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona

8630-WILD-cvr Here’s the thing. Being an avid researcher of prostitution history in the West (circa 1860 to1940, give or take a decade), it just seems like I never tire of researching the lives of wanton women. There was a time, some years ago after I’d published Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls and Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains with the University of New Mexico Press, that I thought I was over them. I decidedly filed my research into one of my many filing cabinets, closed the drawers, and willingly turned towards focusing on the other aspects of history which make the West so intriguing and famous. Alas, the ladies wouldn’t have it. For as much as I fell in love with the likes of Laura Bell McDaniel, Pearl DeVere, Elinore Knott, Silver City Millie, Chicago Jo, Dora Topham and so many others, I simply couldn’t quit them. In fact, these and other racy madams who ran fine business houses and helped shape the West began chasing me. At first they appeared in small ways, their names popping up as I was actually researching something else NOT related to prostitution. Now and then I would run across a picture of one of my favorites that I’d never seen before, or perhaps even one I’d never met. Stories began coming my way in the form of other articles, books, news items, a colleague or some other channel, stories that made me stop what I was doing to take a harder look. In time these wicked women, many of whom were not wicked at all, metaphorically nudged me in the side with their parasols often enough that I was forced to reckon with them. When I moved to Arizona I had initially zeroed in on my family history here, but also Prescott’s fine history. What with the heroics of Bucky O’Neill, Joseph Walker, the rodeo history, gold discoveries, nearby Jerome, tons of ghost towns and more, I figured I would find plenty to research and write about. I did, too, but after a very short while it occurred to me that there was probably a reason I chose to work at Sharlot Hall Museum, located one block away from the old red light district on Granite Street. I found myself walking along Granite Street often, puzzling over the back alleys and imagining what it all must have looked like back in the day. Next thing I knew, I was researching and preparing presentations about Prescott’s wonderfully diverse prostitution history. Different because unlike so many other towns, Prescott was much  more permissive towards the town harlots. Interesting because everybody seemed to have a fond memory of the girls who worked on Granite and also above the bars along Whiskey Row. Intriguing because one of the town’s best known madams, Gabe Wiley (wrongly tagged as a “Black Widow), fought corporate film makers and set a precedence for privacy rights in the film industry. Then I found Lida Winchell, whose amazing and ultimately sad story actually began in the famed Cripple Creek District where I lived for 20 years. Finding Lida was the final doing for me. I finally saw that my efforts to ignore my girls would always be in vain, because they will find me wherever I go. After making it my duty for the last two or so decades to keep learning their stories, I cannot rest. There are, after all, so many women with a great story to tell. And so many whose names, reputations and lives have been drug through the mud. Half-lies have been told about them, assumptions have been made, and they have been labeled worse than the Devil himself – usually by someone who ought to know better. Like Hollywood, for instance. Anyway, the lesson I have learned is that I wrongly fought against doing something I truly enjoy. I am bound to keep the promise I made to the girls of the night that I would keep their memories alive by sharing their tales. I am pleased to say that even as I researched and wrote Wild Women of Prescott, the ladies did not disappoint. Their stories are some of the most interesting I have read about to date, and I hope you enjoy reading about them too. The book is due out March 30, and you can pre-order a copy at The History Press. Just click on this link.