c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article have been excerpted from Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930 (University of New Mexico Press, 2004).
When the Pikes Peak Gold Rush hit in 1859, the new boom created a stir all over what was then Colorado Territory. Hundreds of prospectors and merchants were making their way to the gold fields on the western slope of Colorado. The trails south of Denver included Ute Pass, an ancient Indian trail that skirted the base of Pikes Peak near today’s Colorado Springs. The beginning of the trail was marked by Colorado City, a thriving supply town that included ramshackle houses, churches, a school, hotels and saloons. The first tavern was opened in 1860 by John George.
In 1861 Colorado City was made the capitol of Colorado Territory. But the title was short-lived, and within a decade, Colorado City became the black sheep of El Paso County as 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 and nice hotels. Liquor, and bawdy houses, were prohibited 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 near what is now the 2500 block of Colorado Avenue.
Through the years, the number of Colorado City saloons steadily grew, from four taverns in 1884 to twenty-three saloons in 1888, plus a number of women practicing the world’s oldest profession. By the 1890’s, these women had been relegated to Washington Avenue, known these days as Cucharras Street, located one block south of the city’s main drag.
Today, the best-known madam of Colorado City remains Laura Bell McDaniel, “Queen of the Colorado City Tenderloin”. Largely due to her reputation for running classy brothels with utmost taste, Laura Bell had little to fear from most of her competitors. Only one woman, in fact, appears to have come closest to achieving the fame and success of Laura Bell McDaniel. Her name was Mamie Majors.
Although she may have arrived in Colorado City as early as 1897, Mamie does not appear in the 1900 census, nor does she appear in city directories until about 1901. Where she had been before coming to Colorado City is unknown, but Mamie apparently brought the know-how of her profession with her. Within a short time, Mamie reigned right up alongside Laura Bell as one of the most prominent madams in town. Similarities between the women are striking indeed. Both ruled over their respective kingdoms with grace and finesse. Both madams also paid their monthly fines to the city on time, subscribed to newspapers and donated to schools, churches and other charities.
Most unfortunately, Mamie chose the most inopportune time to make her debut in Colorado City. Police chief George Birdsall, the newest addition to City Hall in 1900, was making it his business to crack down on gambling, drinking and prostitution. Upon taking his station, Birdsall found the shady ladies of Colorado City were running amuck, with more and more girls showing up to ply their trade.
The year 1901 found Mamie rooming with several other women at 615 Washington Avenue, a brothel owned and operated by Nellie White. Prostitutes within the house included musician Nellie Thomas, and prostitutes Millie Arnold, Edith Baker, Laura Smith, Zoe Wallace and Fredy Bowers. An African-American cook, Lou Riley or Reilly, kept the girls well-nourished.
Lou remained as an employee of both Mamie and Nellie White through 1903. The two madams seem to have run the brothel together and were destined to maintain a business relationship for many years-even after Mamie opened her own brothel in 1902. The new place, at 617 South 6th Street, was smaller. Mamie’s employees there were Katie Stephens and Emma West. Shortly after the move, Nellie White’s brothel burned and she moved back in with Mamie.
By 1903, Mamie and Nellie’s business was blooming. Emma West remained an employee, alongside prostitutes Blanche Freeman and Mary Stevens. Two musicians, James Tennison and William Robison, played regularly for the house. Emma Jones worked as a cook. Nellie remained with Mamie through June of 1903, when she was taken to court for prostitution. In a rare show of mercy, the court dismissed her case. And, a subsequent $50 fine for Mamie hardly phased the illustrious madam.
Mamie’s brothel teemed with success even after she moved to 617 Washington. Mamie had purchased the brothel from Laura White, another prominent madam. When Mamie Majors took over, the place became known as The White Elephant and The Mansions – the latter being the same name Laura Bell McDaniels had used for her own elegant parlor house. Did the twosome partner up? Possibly, since Mamie and Laura Bell remained neighbors for the rest of their time in Colorado City.
By June of 1905, Colorado City authorities had enough. City officials were no longer satisfied with the monthly “bribes” the madams paid, and raided the red-light district. Mamie Majors was targeted and arrested on June 22, along with madams Annie Wilson and Mamie Swift. Saloon owners Byron Hames and Otto Fehringer came to the rescue, posting a $1500 bond for the three women.
Charges were levied against all three women, but it was Mamie Majors whom city authorities sought to make an example. Her case came up on July 17 and caused quite a stir in Colorado City. The wealthy madam lost little time in hiring not one, but three attorneys to handle her case: former Cripple Creek judge Samuel Kinsley, Arthur Cornforth and William D. Lombard, whose clients included Laura Bell McDaniel. No doubt Mamie had every confidence in the world when she reappeared in court with the three attorneys on her arm.
In fact, Mamie’s antics seem to have been quite bold, for even while she was awaiting trial, her business continued at 617 Washington. But despite Mamie’s pleas in court and testimony of her many good deeds, the District Attorney painted a picture of a destitute, hardened and horrible woman who was getting what she deserved. Ultimately, Mamie was found guilty, but the determined madam was undaunted and used every power she had to fight the charge. A motion for a new trial was filed on July 31.
Unfortunately for Mamie, the cards were stacked against her. Witnesses for the prosecution consisted of Police Chief Birdsall, city detective John Rowan, Police Magistrate and former mayor J.D. Faulkner, and police officers Leroy Gilliland and Ed Rettinger. Also called to testify against Mamie were Anna Rook, who had worked for Mamie in 1903, and Ioma Williams. When Ioma took the stand, she stated, “I live at 617 Washington with Miss Majors. I refuse to answer to what kind of a house she kept there, as it might degrade me.”
Apparently Mamie’s other employees were not called to testify, but further evidence showed Mamie had averaged one court visit per month in the previous eighteen months. Although it was established that Nellie White owned the house and paid the bills there, Mamie continued to be prosecuted for her actions. On August 3, the motion for a new trial was overruled. Judge L.W. Cunningham sentenced Mamie to six months in El Paso County Jail, plus court costs.
Mamie appealed Cunningham’s decision to the state supreme court. In the meantime, she took over Anna Wilson’s bordello at 621 Washington in January of 1906, after Anna was convicted of selling beer to a minor. Mamie’s employees were Ethel Gray, Clara Stillwell, and musician Fred Wright. Given the size of the two-story, four-square home, Mamie likely employed several other women as well.
The move certainly did not fool authorities, nor did Mamie’s refusal to quit the profession. In September of 1906, the original judgment against Mamie was upheld. Still determined to clear her name, Mamie moved next door to her brothel, where she appears to have been the sole occupant. Next, she enlisted her influential friends to secure a governors’ pardon. On September 20, 1906, The Colorado City Iris printed a copy of a letter from Governor Henry A. Buchtel to Reverend Frank W. Hullinger of Colorado City. Buchtel’s published letter was a reply to one he had received from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Colorado City, a letter he called “discourteous.”
The note read in part, “Senator Cornforth came with a bundle of letters from your most prominent people, asking for the pardon of Mamie Majors, but I did not pardon her at all.” Buchtel’s letter went on to include excerpts from letters written by Byron Hames, Judge Orr, and several other prominent citizens. Each letter requested that Mamie be released from serving her upcoming jail time. Hames’ letter stated in part, “Having known Miss Mamie Majors for twenty years and found her always upright and honorable in her business dealings, we would consider it a great favor if you would pardon her from the charge that is now against her.” Judge Orr’s letter stated she had ceased business. Most interesting were letters from J.D. Faulkner and Officer Rettinger, since they had initially testified against Mamie. All of the letters made Mamie Majors appear more innocent than a June bride.
Governor Buchtel reiterated in his published letter, “Now in the face of all this, I did not pardon Mamie Majors. Please fix that in your mind. I would like to say it over and over about 10,000 times, I DID NOT PARDON MAMIE MAJORS.” The good governors’ name was at last cleared in the eyes of Colorado City’s do-gooders. But what the Colorado City Iris failed to mention until a few days later was that Buchtel had reduced Mamie’s sentence from six months to thirty days. The newspaper further emphasized that Senator Arthur Cornforth had informed Buchtel that Mamie was not even in jail. Upon discovering this, the governor insisted she immediately be incarcerated.
After serving her thirty days, Mamie returned to her wicked ways. She moved back to 615 Washington, and the 1905-6 directory lists Lola Siggars and Margaret Scott as employees. In the wake of her scandalous court case, many of Mamie’s employees had parted ways with her, but she still retained friendships with many of her former girls. Even after employee Carrie Briscoe married Burt Wells in 1902, Mamie paid for shipment of Carrie’s body when she died of tuberculosis in November 1906.
Mamie continued to rebuild her business while weathering mass meetings of the W.C.T.U., a slew of new ordinances, and Mayor Ira Foote—the next official to vow to clean up Colorado City. In January of 1909, the red-light district suffered a series of devastating fires that burned down many brothels, including Mamie’s. In April, the Iris noted that despite a short-lived reformation, both Laura Bell McDaniel and Mamie Majors were at it again. “No sooner had the new officers held up the hands and taken the oath of office to support the laws of the land,” blasted the newspaper, “than Laura Bell, the oldest and most influential sinner of them all, started a brick building said to cost $10,000. Mamie Majors, once sentenced to six months in the county jail and pardoned by Governor Buchtel, on the pleas that she had reformed, fitted up the old ‘City Hotel’ and opened up the house in full blast.”
The city directory for 1909 lists Mamie at 626 Washington. By May, Mamie and her cohorts had reverted to paying their customary $25.00 in monthly fines. From September 1909 through February 1910, Mamie paid an average of $41.00 per month in fines, all for keeping a bawdy or disorderly house. Mamie next relocated to 710 Washington. In 1913, Mamie and inmates Marie Fitzgerald and Jennie Johnson (formerly a domestic servant for Laura Bell McDaniel) were fined again.
The last act of benevolence committed by Mamie Majors happened in December of 1909, when retired madam Blanche Burton’s died after her dress caught on fire. Mamie was with Blanche as she died, and paid for her funeral expenses.
Mamie remained in business through at least 1916 when Colorado City succeeded in declaring liquor unlawful within city limits. With the demise of the saloons and gambling houses, the pressure to cease business was even greater on prostitutes. Eventually Mamie gave in to the law and like so many others, disappeared without a trace. Her competitor, Laura Bell McDaniel, died in 1918. Today, one of Mamie’s brothels at 2616 West Cucharras is an apartment house for seniors, and one of the few brothels in Colorado City to remain in its original condition.