Lida Winchell, From Rags to Riches to Rags

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Excerpted from the book Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona by Jan MacKell Collins

   In Prescott, Arizona, madam Lydia Carlton has often been confused with Lida Winchell (also known as Lotta, Lydia and Lyda), who has her own interesting story to tell. Both women are credited with running the fanciest of bordellos in town. Going by various descriptions, both women reigned over the same pleasure palace. Over time both women were alternatively known as Lotta, Lyda and Lydia. Lida Winchell’s last names also included Farrell, also spelled Farrow, and Duff. Her frequent change of names may be why she has been associated with the more enigmatic Ms. Carlton.

   Lida Winchell’s name was Eliza Jane Crumley when she was born October 6, 1876 in Georgia to Charles and Sarah Crumley. By 1880 the Crumleys were in Kansas, along with Charles’ very large family. His father, Benjamin, as well as some of  his older brothers, worked as farmers in Kingman. Charles also worked as a farmer. Being the only Crumley son who was married at the time, he lived in a separate house with Sarah, Eliza Jane and another daughter, Josephine, who was but nine months old.

   The family stayed in Kansas through at least 1885, where Charles and Sarah had three more children. In about 1890 they migrating with the rest of the family to Pueblo, Colorado. Three years later Eliza was going by her nickname, Lida, and working as a domestic servant for Elmer Ringer. Her parents lived across town at 1404 Evans. Lida was still in Pueblo is late as 1899, when she was listed as renting furnished rooms at 1-2 South Union Avenue. Lida’s house was in close proximity to Pueblo’s red light district, although there is no evidence that Lida practiced prostitution there. There is every chance, however, that Lida was influenced in her decision to turn to prostitution by her uncles Sherman, Grant and Newton Crumley.

   In about 1894 the three Crumley boys moved to the booming Cripple Creek District, located roughly 50 miles from Pueblo. In its time, the District was in the midst of one of the most famous gold booms in the United States. By 1898 Cripple Creek’s gold production had surpassed that of the famous California gold rush, and generated over thirty millionaires to boot. It was the perfect place to make a little money.

   Sherman Crumley especially made a big splash during a tumultuous labor war which took place in the District in 1894. Young Crumley was pinpointed as one of several men who kidnapped,  tarred and feathered of Adjutant General Thomas J. Tarsney in Colorado Springs. Tarsney was on his way to Cripple Creek to lobby on behalf of the striking miners.

   Later, Sherman married prostitute Nell Taylor and helped form a gang who specialized in robbing stages, trains and wealthy men. Lida’s uncle worked at various saloons in Cripple Creek and would watch for men spending large sums of money. Upon finding a potential victim, Grant would quietly notify his cohorts, who would later rob the unsuspecting prey once he had left the establishment. Grant also was known for his relationship with one of Cripple Creek’s notorious prostitutes, Grace Carlyle.

   The Crumley boys’ illicit activities occurred in the Cripple Creek District’s formative years. By 1901, Grant was running the roulette wheel at the prestigious Newport Saloon in Cripple Creek. One night Sam Strong, one of the town’s newly-made millionaires, accused Crumley of running a crooked roulette wheel. The man pulled a gun on Crumley, who reciprocated by pulling a shotgun and shooting the man in the head. Strong died a few hours later.

    Crumley was eventually acquitted, but the incident made national headlines. The Crumley boys soon moved on to Nevada in about 1903. Today they, along with their descendants, are credited with running some of Nevada’s earliest casinos and introducing celebrity entertainment to the gambling industry. Newton’s son, also named Newt, later graduated from the University of Nevada in 1932 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps.

    Lida’s obituary revealed she had been living in the Cripple Creek District city of Victor prior to migrating to Arizona. In all likelihood, she spent at least some time with her notorious uncles before leaving town. It is unknown for sure, however, how much time Lida spent in the Cripple Creek District before departing for Prescott, where she is thought to have arrived just before the great fire of 1900.

   The first mention of Lida in Prescott was in the Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner, which reported she had departed for Albuquerque in July of 1901. In fact, Lida may have merely gone on a scouting mission for employees for soon she had one of the fanciest parlor houses on South Granite Street. Lida “liked the frontier life of Prescott, and here she remained.”

   By the early 1900’s, “Lida’s Place” at the corner of Granite and Goodwin Streets was one of the most popular party places in Prescott. Her large property included not just a parlor house, but also a saloon, a separate building which served as a kitchen and a water closet in back. Cheaper “cribs” were located next to the parlor house, as well as a small bordello on the other side. Lida quickly became known as ” the proprietress of the most extensive gambling and drinking emporium in the Southwest.” 

   Lida’s friends and admirers later attested to her grand bordello. At any given time she had fourteen well-dressed women working for her. In the large house was a parlor where the girls could chat with customers before getting down to business. It was widely known that the clients were expected to buy drinks for themselves and their lady of the evening. For each drink purchased, the girl received a “bar chip”. Later, the girl would cash in her chips to Lida, who received a percentage from the profit. The price for sex was two dollars. 

   For over ten glorious years, Lida reigned supreme in the red light district. She also made a lot of money staking prospectors. At Lida’s, “a man could find a stake for a new mining claim when all other channels were closed. Lida was like that. She took money from  men…and then gave it back to those whose luck had hit a bad streak.” 

   Lida also loved diamonds. At one point, it was said she “had more diamonds than most banks had money in their vaults.” Within a few short years she had amassed a “fortune estimated at one time at several hundred thousands of dollars—mostly in diamonds.” Once, a man borrowed $100 in gold from her to invest in mining. The gentleman struck it rich within two months and paid Lida back, with a most generous bonus. Lida used the money to purchase a $10,000 diamond from a wealthy gambler she knew. In fact, her extravagant love for the precious stone earned her the nickname “Diamond Lida”.

   In 1907 Lida married. Her chosen mate was Walter Farrow, whom she wed on April 2 in Prescott. There is no record of their living together, and Walter Farrow does not appear to have ever lived in town. As with so many other madams and prostitutes, Lida’s husband was apparently “ceremonial.” The marriage did not last. When the 1910 census was taken, Lida (whose name was spelled Lotta by the census taker) listed herself as single at her place at 212 South Granite Street. She had fourteen girls in her employ, each identified by the census as prostitutes.

Lida Winchell’s Employees in 1910

Edith Roberts, age 23, born in Missouri 1887, single

Irene Carson, age 26, born 1884 in Germany, immigrated 1885, single

Annie Shipley, age 28, born 1882 in Texas, single

Grace Wilbur, age 20, born 1890 in Missouri, divorced

Laura Gordon, age 28, born 1882 in California, single, father born France, mother born Ireland

Mamie Brooks, age 31, born 1879 in Kentucky, single

Bessie Rorabaugh, age 31, born 1879 in Ohio, single

Blanch Dune, age 34, born 1876 in Belgium, single

Browney Garcia, age 24, born 1886 in California, single

Helen Everett, age 28, born 1882 in Canada, single

Dolly Everett, age 26, born 1884 Canada, single, sister of Helen Everett

Lizzie Smith, age 36, born in Colorado 1874, single

Daisy Ford, age 28, born 1881 in California, single

Jospehine Gardner, age 26, born 1884 in Texas, single

   Of the last two women, at least a little is known about Josephine Gardner. In June of 1913 she married Sylvester B. Durfee, a rancher from Castle Creek. For whatever reason, the union lasted only a few days before Josie unaccountably returned to the red light district. The following November, in the early hours of November 18, she attempted suicide by taking several tablets of bichloride of mercury. Prostitutes occupying nearby rooms “were startled by agonizing cries coming from the girl’s chamber.” Upon entering the room, the women found Josie “rolling in agony upon the floor.” A doctor was summoned, pumped the poison from Josie’s stomach and used several antidotes.

   Little else was known about Josie, including how long she had been “on the line”. It was noted that her marriage apparently “would not permit reform at such a late date,” also that she refused to give a reason for the suicide attempt. The newspaper held little hope for her recovery, although nothing more was reported about her and there is no record of her death. She also never returned to Durfee, who married in 1914 and again in 1917, and fathered several children. What became of Josie remains unknown, although some 1919 news articles identified a woman by her name who was working as a professional singer.

   Daisy Ford is also notable since she was working in Victor, Colorado’s red light district as of the June, 1900 census. It is entirely possible that Lida knew Daisy when she was in Victor, and equally possible that Daisy followed Lida to Prescott.

   Although she considered herself single when the census was taken in April, Lida did not file for divorce from Walter Farrow until July. She was legally single and still in business when she was arrested, along with other denizens of the red light district, in June of 1912. Like the others Lida’s case was dismissed, but her name made the papers once more in 1913. That time, city officials who were confining ladies of the red light district to the west side of Block 13 on South Granite Street pointedly made an exception for “Lida’s Place”  because it was located just out of the district. At the time, in fact, Lida’s Place practically sat right in the middle of Goodwin Street some yards from the intersection of South Granite Street.

   In spite of the city’s generous gesture, Lida decided to retire in 1913. Her savings amounted to some $400,000 in cash and her beloved diamonds. And besides, she had found a love in her life. By the time the city directory was published in 1913, Lida had married bartender Lawrence Duff, who worked for the Birch Brothers Saloon. Larry, as he was best known, was no stranger to the red light district. Newspaper accounts of the day show that he sold two automobiles: one to fellow bartender Leonard Topp in 1913, and one to Topp’s girlfriend, Gabe Darley, in 1914.

   By 1916, the Duffs had moved from the red light district to a house at 146 North Granite Street. Duff continued working for Birch Brothers, where he was arrested in August for “bootlegging” and again in 1918 for violating the Prohibition amendment. In the latter case, he served some time in jail but was paroled, taking up a new vocation as an electrician in 1919. 

   Even as her husband continued working on Whiskey Row, there is nothing to indicate Lida continued working as a madam. By 1920 the couple had relocated further away from the red light district. With Lida’s money, they moved to a new home on Washington Avenue, an elite neighborhood in Whipple Heights in what was then the outskirts of town. Larry Duff went to work for the city’s water department as a meter reader, while Lida settled into life as a domestic housewife.

   From all appearances, the Duffs lived a quietly humble life for the next several years. Notably, Larry Duff built up a record in town “the nation’s Number One baseball fan”, an accolade he received for faithfully attending the World Series games each year. There is little doubt that it was Lida’s wealth which financed her husband’s annual trips to Chicago, Boston, New York and wherever else the games were taking place. (13)

   At home, Duff also worked his way up at his job. By 1923 he was foreman of the water department. And in 1934, the couple built an all new home next to their old one. But all was not bliss in the Duff household. In about 1935, after twenty two years of marriage, Larry and Lida Duff divorced. In October, Larry remarried to Miss Tillie Grates of California.

   For the next few years Lida disappears from record. There is little doubt she was deeply hurt, knowing that Larry Duff and his new wife now occupied the home Lida herself had paid for. Her wealth squandered on her marriage and World Series games, she was forced to return to her old haunts in the former red light district, renting a small room on South Granite Street—less than half a block away from her once luxurious bordello.

   Later, Lida was forced to move again when the city, seeking to beautify the now dilapidated red light district, tore down the building she was living in to build Jefferson Park. Her last home was another room on Goodwin Street, in the same neighborhood, in full view of the vacant lot where Lida’s Place once stood.

   Larry Duff also suffered setbacks. In 1937 he was asked to resign from the water company for failure to care for a new sewer plant. Duff was forced to go back to his former vocation, bartending. Then in June of 1938, he contracted pneumonia and died.

In the end, his estate was worth a paltry $1,500.00, an amount that included the house on Washington Avenue and $100.00 worth of jewelry and other items. The new Mrs. Duff got everything. Not only that, but she also began courting a man named Percy Bigger, whom she would later marry.

   In the meantime, Lida’s return to the old red light district was worsened by those who saw her as nothing more than a “white-haired, enfeebled old woman.” Although she still had a few friends from the old days, to many residents Lida was “a pitiful figure in tattered clothing that shuffled through the streets selling pencils and handwoven [sic] shawls. As they bought her wares, they often had wondered why she was called “Diamond” Lida. In her wrinkled and care-burdened face were the deep etchings of privation and hunger.” Quite a sad description, considering Lida was only 63 years old.

   On the night of April 4, 1939, Lida took her customary stroll down Whiskey Row. There, she ran into some old friends who were going to a party at a miner’s cabin on Little Copper Creek, roughly ten miles outside of Prescott. Lida went too. Early the next morning a hitchhiker “found her wandering aimlessly and in a stupor” on the road to Little Copper Creek. She was trying to get into an “old automobile” on the side of the road. The stranger helped her into the vehicle and went on his way. That was the last time anyone saw Lida alive.

   The following day, Lida’s body was found in the front seat of the car. It was guessed that she had succumbed to “natural causes, exposure and liquor.” News of her death included a small tribute to her, memorializing her as “a character from days-gone-by; days when Prescott was a booming mining city where men made fortunes on rich ore claims and lost them on the spin of a wheel, the turn of a card and for the smile of a pretty girl.”  Lida’s sister Josephine was notified in Pueblo. She visited Prescott just long enough to arrange for the cremation of Lida’s body and instructed the ashes to be sent to her.

   Lida may have been remembered by some as the bell of the ball in her day, but there were others who harbored a different memory and, unfortunately, acted on it. In the days following the lady’s death, certain old-timers suddenly remembered why she had once been known as “Diamond” Lida. Stories soon began circulating about how Lida had once walked the streets with hundreds of thousands of dollars in glittering gems adorning her clothes, fingers, arms and neck. Some remembered seeing her buy diamonds “as big as your thumb” from gamblers and wealthy travelers.” 

   The stories grew in leaps and bounds, including the ludicrous rumor that she was even driven to murder when she saw a piece of jewelry she wanted to have. City officials didn’t help when they revealed a diary found on Lida’s body telling of her life, loves and career but also giving intimate details of her diamond purchases. In all, according to the book, Lida had bought 342 diamonds in all, the largest gem being fifteen karats. A handful of scavengers concluded that the woman’s fondness for diamonds was like a drug habit she could not break. Surely she had held onto each precious stone even as she lived in poverty.

   Soon, a horde of “eager diamond-searchers” converged on the site of Lida’s Place. Only crumbling foundations and piles of wood remained but the scavengers, armed with digging tools, worked tirelessly in their quest to find Lida’s “hidden” fortune. Another bunch descended upon the shack Lida had called her last home and were only prevented from destroying the building by local officials. Even places Lida was slightly rumored to have lived, many of which were now just vacant lots, were upturned in the frenzy, which lasted about three days. For at least a few years, the legend of Lida’s diamonds continued. No hidden cache was ever found.

   In 1976, workers were grading the site of Lida’s Place to make way for a new junior high school when a longtime resident happened by. “What’s that going to be?” he queried. One of the construction workers answered they were going to build a playground. “Hell,” replied the elderly man, “that’s all it ever was.”


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