Category Archives: Arizona History

What’s in a Name? Yavapai County (Arizona) Ghost Towns Vary From Whimsical to Wondrous

C 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Copperoplis. Fool’s Gulch. Gold Bar. These were just some of the monikers the pioneers of Yavapai County, Arizona assigned to their settlements. More than a few figured these places would blossom into large metropolises one day, while others simply conjured up a quick name to identify where they were. Either way, the pioneers brought high hopes—and sometimes not much more—when they blazed a trail into this region.

As one of the four original counties established in Arizona in 1865, Yavapai was home early on to thousands of soldiers, ranchers, prospectors and capitalists. Although the county’s current boundaries were established in 1891, close to 200 settlements remain within the 8,100 or so acres that comprise Yavapai today. They range from ranches to stations to whistle stops, with a good smattering of incorporated towns and cities in between. Prescott remains the county seat, with other places like Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Dewey and at least part of Sedona holding their own with large populations. Still others, such as Crown King, Cleator and Jerome sport smaller populations while retaining their historic charm. Scattered in between these places are the remains of towns and camps whose usefulness has ceased for living inhabitants.

The earliest settlements were often named after local landmarks. Anvil Rock Station comes to mind, as does Black Canyon City, Fair Oaks, Glen Oaks and Rock Springs. When the military began exploring the area, their forts and camps were often named in honor of their officers and scouts: Camp McPherson (after General James McPherson) and Fort Whipple (after Lieutenant Emil Whipple), for instance.

More pioneers were honored as ranchers began establishing spreads in the region. The ranches of George Banghart, Theodore Boggs, King Woolsey, James Storm and others became known as settlements, often because a post office was established there or sometimes because one could buy supplies, hear the latest news or even spend the night on the way to somewhere else.

Later, as prospectors discovered gold, copper and other precious metals here, the mines they staked often blossomed into towns. Blue Bell was named after a mine, as were Bueno, Catoctin, Columbia, Congress, Constellation, Hillside, McCabe, Richinbar and Senator, just to name a few. Interestingly, the camp of Crown Point and its mine were both named for a mine at Gold Hill, Nevada.

Stage roads eventually popped up between many towns, but the long distances created a need for such rest stops as the American Ranch, Cienega, Cordes, Gilbert, Goddards and many others. Railroads began connecting the towns beginning in the 1870’s. Places like Abra, Botkin, Clearwater, Hawkins and numerous other stations were established along the tracks. Some, such as the whistlestop of Fields, were named for railroad men.

And then there are those names whose origins seem comical or even puzzling. Was Alexandra so named for co-founder T.M. Alexander, or was it named for his wife, whose name would have been Alexandra Alexander? Arizona City almost certainly hoped to bloom into something bigger when it was founded. Big Bug and Bumble Bee were indeed named for local insects. Cornville was meant to be called Cohnville after a local family; there’s no corn there. Fort Misery was jokingly so–named by its builder, Al Francis. Bagdad wasn’t named for the capital of Iraq but because some kid allegedly asked his father to “Hand me the bag, Dad.” And Skull Valley is actually named for a local landmark, not someone’s displaced head as the name implies.

No matter the name, the intrigue remains the same. Yavapai County’s towns remain as interesting to history buffs now as they did to their founders 150 years ago.

Here’s to the Ladies of Prescott Who Rode Fast Horses

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Frontier Gazette.

When it was first recorded in 1884, the term “cowgirl” referred to a female rancher or even a rancher’s daughter. In time, this single word also came to mean a female cowpuncher, and soon also applied to the resolute and hardy women who rode the rodeo circuit. In the Victorian west, a woman riding rodeo must have seemed appalling to some. But those in the game knew that gals coming from ranching backgrounds, where they worked with horses and cattle daily, were tough gals indeed.

In time, rodeo women became celebrities in their own right. They were vindicated heroes to other women, and men found them both pretty and impressive. During the 1880’s, during a surge of determined western estrogen, more and more women entered the arena at fairs, round ups and shows. Seven gals in particular watched as Prescott, Arizona held its first-ever rodeo in 1888. The following year, when promoters decided to add a women’s “contest”, they were elated.

Those first seven female contestants in 1889 were all locals, who had been born and raised on area ranches. They were “Mesdames T. Atto, Celia Book, D.W. Thorne and Misses Mollie Baker, Minnie Bargeman, Mary Boblett and Lizzie Dillon.” The women would perform in a single competition. A beautiful saddle would go to the winner; her runner-up would receive a fine bridle.

The event took place at the “Driving Park” in the afternoon of the rodeo’s last day. It was Friday, and crowds made their way to see this novel attraction. A cowboy tournament was scheduled too, but the “ladies riding” proved far more appealing. “Greater interest was manifested in the latter than in any of the previous days’ sports of the track,” noted the Prescott Journal-Miner, “every available vehicle and animal in the town being pressed into service to carry passengers, business of all kinds being closed for the afternoon.”

No doubt some betting money was exchanged as the cowgirls took their places. Seven judges—George Augustine, Orick Jackson, Frank Kuehne, Juan Leibas, George L. Merritt, James Rourke and Jeff Young—assembled to watch the contest. How it all went was not recorded by local papers, but the crowd was surely amazed and amused all at the same time. Lizzie Dillon won the saddle and Mary Boblett, a cousin to then-budding historian Sharlot Hall, received the bridle.

They say that despite it’s success, no other “ladies riding” contests took place at Prescott until the 1920’s. Lizzie Dillon married Tom Turner in 1891 and settled down. Likewise for Mary Boblett, who married Amos Hall in 1890, and Minnie Bargeman, who married that same year. Notably, lots of women back then competed no more than once, settling into domestic life with a satisfied smirk on their faces. Others, however, pursued rodeo as a career and did quite well.

But it was not forgotten that those seven brazen and talented women had busted right into the rodeo industry, and their courage inspired others. Soon, trick riders—including amazing women who dove horses into water from high in the air—were all the rage. It could be said that trick shooter Annie Oakley was truly one of America’s first sweethearts. And, their gussied up and colorful outfits inspired men to start adding shiny buttons and polished accouterments to their outfits, too.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performances, circuses and other events featuring equestrian performances were soon featuring women like Mabel Strickland (pictured) and Tad Lucas, dubbed “Rodeo’s First Lady”. During the early 1900’s, heads turned when Fannie Sperry rode “slick”, the same as the men did. Slick riding consisted of tying the stirrups together under the horse’s belly and sticking your feet in for better balance in the saddle. It could also be dangerous, since it was harder for the rider to kick free if the horse went down.

Prescott’s rodeo cowgirls of 1889 may be in the past, but plenty of other ladies have saddled up in the time since. These include such champions as three-time winner Shirley Davis during the 1960’s, rodeo veteran Alexa Allred during the 70’s, Rose Webb in the 80’s, Twila Haller during the 90’s and most recently, Sheri Sinor-Estrada. These and many others have been recipients of cash prizes and shiny buckles, and there will be more.

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 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 or on audio at

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.


Flagstaff’s Flag Has Flown for 160 Over Years

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Jan recently published her newest book, Good Time Girls of Arizona and New Mexico: A Red-Light History of the American Southwest, which includes a chapter about Flagstaff’s demimonde. It can be purchased at 

This year marks the 164th anniversary of Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s expedition in Arizona. In 1855 the road surveyor camped on a hillside roughly midway between New Mexico and California. Above camp towered what are now known as the San Francisco Peaks. Beale’s men trimmed and scaled a tall Ponderosa Pine, and flew the United States flag from the top. In the years following, the area was landmarked with this “flagstaff”.

Flagstaff remained a stopping point along Beale’s route for some twenty years before anyone thought to actually settle there. This was Thomas F. McMillan, who built a cabin at the base of Mars Hill in about 1876—and some say that this was also when the U.S. flag was really raised for the first time. Be it a flag or McMillan’s settlement, something did the trick, for soon the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad announced it would eventually be cutting through the flat area below the San Francisco Peaks. Enterprising pioneers lost little time in scurrying to accommodate railroad workers.

Soon Old Town, as it was later called, sprang up on the southeast slope of today’s Observatory Hill. The numerous business houses included twenty one saloons along the rough main street. There was also at least one “dance house in which the proprietor has a large platform erected which he has furnished with several pistols and guns. When a valiant gets a little troublesome he picks him off at a single shot and that is the end of the creature.”

Yes, early Flagstaff was as rough and tumble as any other western town. Within a few years, however, positive growth was evidenced by the railroad industry, a post office and the shipping of timber, sheep and cattle. Miners were present too, and by 1886 the town had become the largest city on the A & P Railroad between Albuquerque and California. Anything and everything was available at Flagstaff.

Although historian Sharlot Hall of Prescott once called Flagstaff “a third rate mining camp”, Flagstaff soon shed its mining camp status. Throughout the 1890’s, upwards of 100 trains passed through Flagstaff daily to points in every direction. In 1896 the famed Lowell Observatory was built there, and the Northern Arizona Normal School (today’s Northern Arizona University) was established in 1899. So was the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, which premiered at Babbitt’s Opera House. The Babbitts and their CO Bar Ranch, as well as their trading companies, department store and numerous other businesses, have been known in the Flagstaff area and beyond for generations.

During the early 1900’s, Arizona continued experiencing business growth, including a good-sized red light district. The district got even larger in 1908 with the mayoral election of  Benjamin Doney, who followed through on his plans to lift the hefty laws imposed on the bawdy houses, saloons and gambling dens. He also expanded the red light district to a ten block area. Business licenses for bordellos were in fact lowered even as respectable businesses were required to pay more. Doney’s actions were appalling to certain citizens, state legislators and reformists, and by 1910 he was out. The red light district closed altogether following the gory and unsolved murder of Madam May Prescott in 1916.

Two years after Route 66 was completed in 1926, Flagstaff was incorporated as a city. Then in 1930, planet Pluto was discovered from Lowell Observatory. The discovery rocked the astronomical world and Flagstaff became famous all over the globe. In 1955 the United States Naval Observatory established a station at Flagstaff, and the Clark Telescope was used to map the moon during the Apollo expeditions of the 1960’s. Today the city even has its own asteroids, 2118 Flagstaff and 6582 Flagsymphony. And in 2001, Flagstaff was named the first ever “International Dark Sky City” by the International Dark Sky Association.

Back on Earth, Flagstaff waned a wee bit for a few decades. But revitalization efforts that began in 1987 have resulted in an artistic blend of old with new. In the downtown area especially, historic preservation efforts still stand out with such historic structures as the Hotel Weatherford and the Hotel Monte Vista, not to mention numerous other shops, taverns, businesses and restaurants. The historic Depot, the Museum Club, San Francisco Street—all reflect on Flagstaff’s colorful and alluring past.

Good Time Girls of Arizona & New Mexico: A Red Light History of the Southwest

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

As part of the new Good Time Girls series in historical prostitution, I am please once again to announce that my new book, Good Time Girls of Arizona and New Mexico has arrived!

It is no secret that I absolutely love writing about shady ladies of the past. Their bravery, dilligence and determination to survive make many of them heroes in my book. Here we have women bearing raw and untamed lands, oppressive heat, little water and a host of unknowns to settle in the southwest during a time when most “respectful” women dared not cross the overland trails. Oppressive too was the society in which these ladies lives, overcoming public shaming and shunning to make their way in a man’s world. Their stories naturally range from tragic to triumphant; all of them should be remembered as human beings, sisters, wives, daughters and mothers.

Expanding on the research I did for Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains (University of New Mexico Press, 2009 – out of print) and Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona (The History Press, 2015), this tome is a closer look at some of the ladies I wanted to know more about. Included here are chapters on Jennie Bauters, Big Bertha (of Williams, AZ), Sarah Bowman, Lizzie McGrath, Sadie Orchard, May Prescott, Jennie Scott, Silver City Millie and Dona Tules—all madams who were astute businesswomen and wielded much power and profit during their time. Also included are lesser known women such as the Sammie Dean of Jerome, AZ and the fierce Bronco Sue Yonkers. I visited ladies of the camp, wanton women on the Santa Fe Trail, and plenty of other women who dared to work in the prostitution industry and defied the laws, societies and men who tried to suppress them.

For those of you wishing to order the book, you can do so at this link:


Good Girls Gone Bad: An Overview of Prostitution in the West

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in True West magazine.

There is no better way to liven up a conversation than to bring up the intriguing subject of prostitution history in the West. After all, talking about sex is interesting. The thought of someone paying for it brings up a facet that diverts from societal and cultural ideals about how and when sex should be employed. It also brings forth a slew of questions, from how business was conducted to how the industry maintained a business relationship with governments big and small. In between are enough bawdy stories to make a sailor blush.

Writers about prostitution have covered pretty much every aspect of this naughtiest of subjects. Their offerings have ranged from official documents classifying prostitution as a crime to news articles both serious and lighthearted, with lots of gray area in between. Many history books have served well to give the reader some excellent insight into the red light underworld. Unfortunately, even the most scholarly history can easily be romanticized as a number of B-grade movies and television shows will attest. 

Although prostitution in the West could indeed be gritty and dangerous, it was not always so. The industry’s fascinating timeline dates to the days of mountain man rendezvous, when certain Native Americans offered their wives and daughters for sex with their Anglo “guests”. Most tribes regarded sex as a very healthy and integral part of life. The Assiniboine Indians of the Great Northern Plains commonly lent out their daughters for sex, always in trade for goods. The more the girls brought, the greater the respect for them and their families. Extreme promiscuity, however, was largely frowned upon among by all Native Americans.

One of the earliest cultured women to make their presence known in the west was Santa Fe’s celebrated courtesan, Madam Gertrude Tules. Known by many other names, Gertrude first appeared in New Mexico in 1815. In 1822 she married Manuel Antonio Sisneros and set about alternating her time as a mother with honing her gambling skills. She began playing cards professionally in about 1825, traveling to outlying camps and even paying fines as she continuously won at the tables. By 1841 Gertrude was single again and romancing powerful and intelligent men who could assist in her career even as she opened her first brothel. 

Gertrude served an elite group of customers that included churchmen, army officers and politicians. Her presence at social affairs was often noted by the papers but in time descriptions of her fluctuated. “An old woman with false hair and teeth,” commented pioneer wife Susan Shelby Magoffin. “Young and blooming as ever,” reported the Santa Fe Republican. Beauty was, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.

By the time of her death, in 1852, Madam T had amassed a considerable amount of wealth in property, jewelry, winnings, brothel proceeds and debts owed to her by other gamblers. By then, more and more predominantly male settlers were coming West. The need for female companionship grew. Exploring, mining and surviving in the early camps of the Rocky Mountains was harsh and lonely. In some places men pined for women to the extent they would pay just to view or touch female undergarments, whether or not a woman was wearing them. Any man bringing his wife to the frontier was considered rude if he declined to bring his mate to social functions and permit her to dance with other men.

Many of the few but brave women making their way from the east were looking for riches via the skin trade. At the very least, they probably hoped some lucky miner would strike it rich and marry them. As pioneers began settling the west beginning in the late 1840’s, a series of mining camps, boomtowns, whistlestops, towns and cities began springing up. Almost without exception, these places became home to at least one or two soiled doves, if not a full on roaring red light district.

A number of red light districts evolved into the social centers of their communities. Places like Butte Montana, Cripple Creek Colorado, Cheyenne Wyoming, Albuquerque New Mexico and many more supported large populations of prostitutes who actually contributed heavily to city economies in the way of business licenses, fees and fines. Within the industry, the true professionals learned how to handle customers, what to charge and how to avoid drug abuse, violence, pregnancy and social diseases.

As the industry grew, so did the number of women who approached prostitution as a true business profession. It was a limited success; prostitutes working above the bars or in the seedier whorehouses rarely made enough to retire and often ended their lives by suicide, overdose or illnesses associated with in living in squalid places on the primitive frontier. Gonorrhea, Syphilis and Chlamydia, potentially fatal maladies, ran rampant during the 1800’s. An 1865 hospital report in Idaho City, Idaho stated that one out of every seven patients was suffering from venereal disease. Botched abortions and murder rounded out the number of women who died while working as prostitutes.

Madams who had more control over their businesses fared better, but not much. Witness the legendary Pearl DeVere, who arrived in Cripple Creek in 1894 and soon was running the most successful parlor house on Myers Avenue. By the time the first of two devastating fires in1896 burned her brothel to the ground, the divine Ms. DeVere had enough clout to borrow money from a New York investor and build an even better pleasure palace. Six months later, she overdosed on morphine following one of her Saturday night soirees.

Madam “Belgian Jennie” Banters of Jerome, Arizona ran several brothels. One of her places included a lavish waiting room where “a trim maid in spangled short skirt and a revealing bodice” brought drinks to clients. Jennie was allegedly extremely wealthy when she moved to Goldroad, south of Kingman. In 1905 her ex-lover broke down her door and shot her. Jennie ran into the street, but the man chased her down and shot her twice more. He left long enough to reload his gun but soon returned. “Observing that she was not yet dead,” reported the Mohave County Miner, “he moved her head so that he could get a better shot, and then deliberately fired the pistol.” Jennie’s killer was hanged for the murder in 1907.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were women like Denver’s Mattie Silks who stated, “I went into the sporting life for business reasons and for no other. It was a way for a woman in those days to make money and I made it.” Mattie ran a number of brothels in Illinois and Kansas before coming to Colorado with a “portable boarding house for young ladies”. During her career Mattie owned several brothels, married at least twice, kept a lover and regularly paid fines for running houses of prostitution. She also had a reputation for excellent service and often sheltered the homeless. Once, she netted a cool $38,000 running a bordello for three months in Dawson City, Alaska. Mattie spent her wealth well, having only a few thousand dollars left when she died in 1929.

Laura Evens of Salida Colorado, was also known for her civic duties, even as she admitted to being a party girl. “I was pretty young when I first became a sporting woman,” she later recalled, “and loved to sing and dance and get drunk and have a good time.” Her carefree attitude aside, Laura would pay young boys in cash to run her errands, admonishing them to tell their mothers, “You earned the money in honest work for a stranger.” She also sheltered abused wives and secretly paid the wages of men recovering from injuries on the job. “I doubt if anybody will ever know how many people Laura helped,” said a Salida politician in later years. “She was an entire Department of Social Services long before there was such a thing.” When Laura died in 1953 at the age of 90, she was buried in a lavender casket.

No matter their good deeds, all prostitutes suffered blatant hypocrisy at the hands of local government. Cities accepted monthly fines, fees, payoffs and taxes from their red light ladies even as authorities continually staged raids and arrests. In 1908 Dora Topham, the leading madam of Ogden Utah, was actually hired by Salt Lake City officials to operate a “legal” red light district. The idea appealed to Dora, who viewed prostitution with a realistic eye. “I know, and you know, that prostitution has existed since the earliest ages,” she explained, “and if you are honest with yourselves, you will admit that it will continue to exist, no matter what may be said or done from the pulpit or through the exertions of women’s clubs.”

Dora truly considered herself a “reformer”, explaining to her prospective employees “the awful shame, degradation, and misery that is invariably the final result of seamy life in the underworld.” Only if the girl was absolutely determined to pursue the prostitution path would Dora hire her. Per Salt Lake City’s approval, Dora oversaw construction of the “Stockade”, a city block surrounded by a high wall with several cribs, six parlor houses, a dancehall, saloons, a cigar store and even a small jail cell. Up to one hundred fifty women could work in the Stockade at any one time.

Unfortunately, the Stockade failed for numerous reasons. Prostitutes around town refused to sell their properties or move into the Stockade under the watchful eyes of authorities, requiring Dora to hire girls from out of town. Employees felt stifled by the stringent rules and regulations. Customers were hesitant to be seen entering the premises. Rules were broken. Raids were still staged to appease county, state and federal laws. There were public outcries. Ultimately, in 1911, Dora was accused of working as a madam by the same officials who had in fact hired her to do so. Dora had enough. She closed all of her brothels, changed her name, and quietly moved to San Francisco.

Authorities took a different approach with madam Laura Bell McDaniel of Colorado City, Colorado. Raised in Missouri, Laura Bell married and divorced before landing in Salida, Colorado as a single mother. After her second husband shot a man to death in front of her, Laura Bell left him and moved to Colorado City. She opened her first brothel in 1888. Most extraordinary was her relationship with her family, who lived nearby. The “Queen of the Colorado City Tenderloin” weathered two fires, sent her daughter to school, ran several bordellos and hobnobbed with the powerful businessmen of nearby Colorado Springs. When she refused to shut down in 1917,  authorities framed her for purchasing stolen liquor. She was acquitted, but died the next day in a mysterious car accident witnessed only by men from the District Attorney’s office in Colorado Springs.

Three major factors contributed to the end of frontier prostitution in about 1918. The first was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, formed as more and more wives came West and discovered what their men had been doing in the new land. Second were numerous military posts who were tiring of their soldiers falling victim to drunkenness, fights, social disease and other maladies associated with prostitution. “Our health tests have proven that if a potential recruit spends twelve hours in Billings, he’s unfit for military service,” a military officer warned Montana officials in 1918. “I am talking about your line of cribs where naked women lean over window sills and entice young boys in for fifty cents or a dollar. Close that south-side line in twenty four hours or the military will move in and do it for you.” Finally, national Prohibition in 1919 served to take all the fun out of partying and greatly reduced the red light districts. Prostitution as it was known in the West is truly a bygone era.

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.”


Victoria Behan: The Forgotten Life of an Embittered Wife

C 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in True West magazine.

“I have been nearly driven to distraction!” So said Victoria Zaff Behan of her well known husband, John Harris Behan. This was in 1875 when, after six years of a more-than-rocky marriage, the lady decided to call it quits.

Victoria had already seen her share of struggles. She hardly knew her father, if at all. Her mother, Harriet Zaff, was a German immigrant. Harriet was living in Missouri when she gave birth to her first child, Benjamin, in about 1847. A daughter, Catherine, was born in 1849. In 1850 Harriet and her brood, sans a husband, were living with Leopold and Catharine Zaff in Jefferson, Indiana.

Harriet’s ramblings next took her to California. Victoria’s birth in 1852 was followed by that of her sister, Louisa, in 1854. By 1860 Harriet and her daughters were living at the gold mining camp of Little York in Nevada County, while Benjamin stayed behind with the Zaffs in Indiana.

How Harriet made her way among the miners of Little York remains a mystery. The census identifies her as a widow, but clues are scant as to the identity of her husband. He may have been Godfrey Zaff, a fellow German who was living in a Sacramento boarding house in 1850. The census that year indicates Zaff was married and labored as a “cutter of garments”. He died in April of 1860 at Nevada City, roughly seven miles from Little York.

Five months later, Harriet Zaff married John Bourke at Red Dog, located just a mile or so from Little York. Bourke was one of thousands of Irish immigrants who had joined the 49ers flocking to California’s goldfields. A son, John, was born to the Bourkes in 1862. The family next spent time in Mohave County, Arizona Territory before relocating to the budding city of Prescott in the winter of 1864.  

In Prescott, Bourke quickly found work managing the Quartz Rock Saloon. Between 1864 and 1867 he also joined the Arizona Pioneer and Historical Society, served as Yavapai County Sheriff and was ultimately elected County Recorder. For the first time, Victoria experienced a stable family life. She attended school, enjoyed her stepfather’s fine reputation in town, and became acquainted with Deputy Sheriff Johnny Behan.

John Harris Behan was born in 1844 to Irish immigrants in Missouri. He had been to California and joined the Union during the Civil War before serving as a clerk to the First Arizona Legislative Assembly at Prescott. In 1866 Bourke appointed him deputy sheriff and he quickly became popular. A September 1867 edition of the Arizona Miner, Prescott’s newspaper, kindly commented on Behan’s impending journey to visit family in Missouri. “We wish you a pleasant trip, Johnny,” the paper said, “and hope you will soon return in company with a better half.”

Behan’s “better half” would turn out to be Victoria Zaff. A couple of career mistakes aside, Johnny seemed a good prospect for marriage. He had a great job and was well liked. Besides, there was one more good reason to marry him: Victoria was pregnant. The couple wisely exchanged vows in far-away San Francisco in March of 1869. Their daughter, Henrietta, was born the following June. The couple no doubt hoped nobody would do the math. They didn’t, at least publicly.

The family Behan became a respected presence in Prescott. In January of 1870 the Arizona Miner noted the couple was building a stylish home on Capitol Hill, “one of the prettiest spots on the townsite.” Then in July of 1871 a second child, Albert Price, was born. Over the next two years, Johnny was elected Sheriff and appointed to the Seventh  Arizona Territorial Legislature.

Gradually, however, Behan began spending more and more time away from home. In time Victoria became aware that her husband favored Prescott’s Whiskey Row and its adjoining red light district. After awhile there was no sense in Behan keeping his habits a secret; Victoria later claimed she knew all along that her husband “openly and notoriously visited houses of ill fame and prostitution.”

The marriage crumbled further when Behan lost his re-election campaign for Sheriff in 1874. On those occasions when he actually managed to make it home from Whiskey Row, Victoria remembered their terrible fights. During those times, Victoria claimed, Johnny would approach her in “a threatening and menacing manner calling me names such as whore and other epithets of like character and by falsely charging me with having had criminal intercourse with other men, threatened to turn me out of the house, quarreling with, and abusing me, swearing and threatening to inflict upon me personal violence.”

Perhaps it was such an argument in December of 1874 that sent Johnny into the arms of prostitute Sada Mansfield. There, according to Victoria, Johnny “did consort, cohabit and have sexual intercourse with the said [woman]…openly and notoriously causing great scandal…all of which came to the knowledge of this plaintiff.”

The Arizona Weekly Miner yielded no clues to the Behan’s failing marriage in the coming months, reporting instead on Johnny’s prospecting efforts in Mohave County and daughter Henrietta making the honor roll at school. But Behan’s discrepancies were outed on May 22, 1875 when Victoria filed for divorce. She was granted one in June and received custody of her children, plus child support—but for Albert only. Naturally, the glaring crossing out of Henrietta’s name on the divorce record led rumors as to why. Now, the ugly little secrets that had been harbored within the Behans’ private circle were on public display for all to see.

Local newspapers declined to comment on the divorce, but Victoria could not have missed the articles about Behan’s continued successes in law enforcement and politics. The newspapers were good to Victoria too, commenting on her charitable efforts and complimenting her family. “We have known [Mrs. Bourke] and her fair daughters to be industrious and an ornament to our good society,” praised the Weekly Miner in December of 1876.

The Behan’s separate lives were forced to come together once more when Henrietta succumbed to scarlet fever in March of 1877. Albert was also afflicted but escaped with a hearing impairment. From then on, Behan remained much a part of Albert’s life. During an excursion in 1879, “Mr. Behan took his little son Albert with him, and will in a short time place him under the care of an eminent physician in San Francisco for the purpose of having him treated for a slight deafness, occasioned by a severe sickness two years ago,” confirmed the Weekly Arizona Miner.

Victoria continued rebuilding her reputation. Memories of her scandalous divorce were fading, and in June of 1879 Lily Fremont, daughter of Governor John C. Fremont, noted in her diary that “Mrs. Behan, Mrs. Luke and Mrs. Rodenburg called.” Clearly, Victoria was moving on with her life. Behan, meanwhile, was rescued from an angry mob of Chinese men in late 1879 by constable Virgil Earp. It was perhaps this embarrassing incident that inspired him to open a saloon at Tip Top, a budding mining community in the nearby Bradshaw Mountains.

Behan was still at Tip Top when the census was taken on June 1, 1880, as was the notorious Ms. Mansfield with whom he had cavorted in Prescott. As for Victoria, she and Albert were still living with Harriet Bourke in Prescott. Victoria may have been blissfully unaware that her ex was pursuing a new love interest, Josephine Sarah Marcus. She most certainly knew of the affair, however, when Behan moved to Tombstone in 1881. If Behan told his ex-wife about his additional plans for another visit to San Francisco, he probably left out that he was going there to give an engagement ring to Marcus and convince her to join him in Arizona.

It is hard to say whether Victoria would have let Albert go live with his father in Tombstone had she known of Behan’s plan. Behan and son arrived in town in September of 1881 and awaited Josephine’s arrival in December. Soon, she was spending time at Behan’s Grand Hotel, caring for Albert when his father was away. “I came to love him as my own,” Josephine later said of Albert. “He was the only child I ever had in any sense of the word.”

Next, Behan and his new flame made plans to procure a house where they could live with Albert. It is likely that Victoria was unaware of the plan, or that the new “Mrs. Behan” had taken her nine-year-old son to his hearing specialist appointment in San Francisco. Allegedly though, that is what Josephine did. Upon returning to Tombstone, however, she found Johnny (possibly in bed) with another woman.

Josephine Marcus’ ensuing break up with Behan landed her in the arms of his political adversary, lawman Wyatt Earp. In August 1881, newspapers noted that Victoria had taken a trip to Mohave County, “visiting her sisters, cousins and aunts.” It is entirely possible she also retrieved Albert, for there is no mention of him being in Tombstone during the famed shoot-out at the O.K. Corral a few months later.

Albert would have arrived in Prescott in time to attend his mother’s wedding to Charles Randall on September 15. Randall was a hardware merchant who was, from all appearances, much better suited for Victoria. Heartbreak came, however, when the Randalls tried for children of their own. A daughter was stillborn in April of 1884 and another baby also died in November. A son, Owen Miner, was born in 1885 but lived just over a year. Victoria overcame her grief by focusing on Albert, who was sent to a California college in 1888.

In 1889 the Randalls were living at the Congress Mine when Victoria died suddenly on May 16 from “an attack of acute rheumatism.” The lady would have appreciated her epitaph in the Prescott Courier which read in part, “She was a good, true woman and friends, of which she had a great many, will be greatly grieved over her loss.” Pallbearers at her funeral included Yavapai County Sheriff “Buckey” O’Neill and former Prescott mayor Morris Goldwater.

Charles Randall remained at Congress, where he was elected postmaster in 1891. He eventually remarried and returned to Prescott. As for Albert, Victoria’s only surviving child maintained relationships with his family up to their deaths. He also pursued a career in law enforcement, an endeavor his parents surely would have been proud of. Between 1894 and 1922, Albert worked for the United States Customs Houses in Nogales, Yuma and Ajo. Beginning in 1897, his job included working as an undersheriff in those towns. He was still employed as such in 1912, when his father died in Tucson.

From 1918 to 1922, Albert achieved notoriety as a United States Marshal at Ajo. In 1927, according to Josephine and others, Albert visited she and Wyatt Earp at their Los Angeles home. During the visit Albert warned Wyatt that Billy Breakenridge, a former deputy sheriff under Johnny Behan, was writing a book with the intention of making Wyatt look bad (the tome, Helldorado, was published in 1928). “It seems a bit strange as I think of it,” Josephine later commented, “that the son of Sheriff Behan should show this interest in the reputation of his father’s political enemy. But the character of the two men—Wyatt Earp and the sheriff’s son—answers that, and the friendly gesture on the part of the younger man is a compliment to both.”

Ten years later, Josephine visited Albert at Tucson on the way to Tombstone for a “research trip”. With her were Harold and Vinneola Earp Ackerman who, with Mabel Earp Cason, planned to write a manuscript about Wyatt. Neither Breakenridge, the Ackermans, nor Cason interviewed Albert. If they had, he might have mentioned Victoria—although Josephine would have probably prevented such information from appearing in any public works.

With the deaths of Victoria’s sister Louisa in 1934 and Charles Randall 1942, fewer people remained who personally knew Victoria Zaff Behan. Alone with no immediate family, Albert Behan retired to the Arizona Pioneers’ Home in Prescott. When he died in 1949, his death certificate listed his parents as “unknown”. Even Albert Behan took the secret of his parents’ scandalous divorce to the grave.