Category Archives: Colorado Ghost Towns

Alnwick, Colorado: The First Connection Between Cripple Creek and Canon City

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

This is the first of several installments with excerpts from articles about the Cripple Creek District of Colorado, as well as Jan’s book, Lost Ghosts Towns of Teller County, Colorado.

 It is surmised that the village of Alnwick, located at the confluence of Four Mile Creek and West Four Mile Creek, was named for the most historic place and castle of the same name in England. A post office opened there on August 11, 1887 in what was then El Paso County. At the time, Alnwick was one of the very few stops for ranchers and farmers wishing to access Canon City from Teller County. There was plenty of water along what was then known as Oil Creek, and the budding hamlet was comfortably nestled along a high-rise bank well out of flash flood danger.

By 1892, with the gold boom going on in the nearby Cripple Creek District, the founders of Alnwick stepped things up a bit and officially platted the town on March 23. Some of the streets were given the names of Collbran, Hagerman and Howbert, likely in hopes that railroad moguls Henry Collbran, J.J. Hagerman and Irving Howbert might build a railroad through there someday. In November, the United States Geological Survey party visited. The Aspen Daily Chronicle gave details:

“Mssrs. W.S. Post, W.L. Wilson, and T.M. Bannon, of the United States Geological Survey, have been at Cripple Creek this week. They compose the surveying party which four the last two months has been engaged in surveying this district for the purpose of making an official topographical map. The survey extends from Pikes Peak on the northeast to Florissant and Lake George on  the Northwest, and almost to Canon City on the south. It will be a valuable and thoroughly reliable map and will comprise nearly 30 miles square, with Cripple Creek in the center. The survey is no almost completed, the last camp of the party now being located at Alnwick.”

   Efforts to make Alnwick the central hub between Cripple Creek and  Canon City were for naught. The post office closed on October 26, 1893. In March of 1894, the town was vacated. A short time later, geologist Charles Whitman Cross noted that the “Alnwick lake beds” were made up of “fine-grained sandstone and conglomerate, the latter containing pebbles representative of the volcanic series to west.” Alnwick Lake was mentioned in passing again in 1906 as Henry Gannett, in his Gazetteer of Colorado, called Alnwick “a village.”

Nothing more was mentioned about Alnwick until 1974, when another report stated the area was “abandoned.” Today Alnwick is comprised of nothing more than the meadow of an historic ranch. The road leading to it is privately owned by a local outfitter.

Image: Alnwick, Colorado as it appeared in 2016. Copyright Jan MacKell Collins.

Rollinsville, the Cleanest Town in Colorado

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

It is fair to call Rollinsville, located roughly five miles from Nederland, “clean” but not in the tidy sense. The town’s founder, John Quincy Adams Rollins, strictly forbade the brothels, dance halls, gambling houses and saloons that were so common in Colorado’s early mining towns. Even so, Rollinsville remains notable as one of the earliest locales in the state, with a history that still shines even today.

Rollins, formerly of New Hampshire, was 44 years old when he was first documented in Colorado as a rancher. But he also liked dabbling in mines and mills, roads, stage lines, and lumber. His earliest investments included the Gold Dirt Mine on South Boulder Creek and the area’s first quartz mill. It was also said he once won $11,000 in a Denver billiard game. Then he discovered a primitive Ute native trail that had already been crossed by American soldiers led by one Captain John Bonesteel in 1862, and newspaperman William Byers in 1866.

Rollins decided that, even at 11,767′ in elevation, the pass was definitely worth looking into further. Later that year Rollins, along with partners Perley Dodge and Frederic C. Weir, were granted permission by the Colorado Territorial legislature to operate a wagon road along the high trail. The pass was named for Rollins, who established Rollinsville with a stage stop in 1868. He also continued investing in a number of mines. Although they were all located some distance from Rollinsville, there was a stamp mill at the town by 1869.

Two years later the Rollinsville post office opened on January 31, 1871. The town was handy for miners needing supplies, and its stage stop was successful enough to merit upgrading Rollins Pass and making it into a toll road. The Rollinsville and Middle Park Wagon Road premiered in 1873. Travelers across the 30-mile route were required to pay $2.50 to access the pass, but it was a boon to trade routes between Middle Park and the Front Range.

For the next year or so, Rollins Pass remained one of the only ways to access Middle Park and the budding mining towns of the northwestern slope. But those traversing the pass and paying for it soon grew tired of Rollins’ monopoly, and besides, Rollins Pass was not an easy road to maintain. A new toll road was built over Berthoud Pass in 1874. The elevation was a little lower, the road was easier to negotiate, and the pass gave access to even more important mining districts. The Rollins Pass Toll Road was soon losing business Berthoud Pass.

Undaunted, John Rollins continued investing in mines and land. By the late 1870’s, he had managed to acquire 300 placer claims and 2,000 acres of farm land. But the population of Rollinsville was a mere 198 souls as of 1887. Enter railroad magnate David Moffat, who tried to tunnel under Rollins Pass to expand his Denver, Utah & Pacific Railroad. But that plan ended in failure; not until 1902 did Moffat incorporate a new railroad, the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, as he contemplated his underground tunnel. It could take years to accomplish, so Moffat decided to build a temporary railroad over Rollins Pass instead.

It wasn’t easy for Moffat to build his railroad over the pass. Thirty-three tunnels had to be blasted out of the rock, and two trestles also were built. The railroad wasn’t complete until 1909, but brought some needed commerce back to Rollinsville. By then several other camps including Antelope, Baltimore, Buckeye, Corona, Gilpin, Gold Dirt, Ladora, Perigo and Tolland (aka Mammoth), were scattered around Rollinsvlle and along the pass before the railroad reached Hot Sulphur Springs. Another notable camp was Arrowhead, later known as Arrow, which did sport a small red-light district where none was available at Rollinsville. One temporary resident of the district was Mona Bell, a young harlot who would later be murdered by her lover in Nevada.

With the railroad in place, Rollinsville was given new life. A 1916 news article reported that miners in search of tungsten, a rare but hardy metal, were finding it around Rollinsville. “Old abandoned buildings, which, for years were considered unsalable, now have signs on them stating that they are for sale at figures which run as high as $2,000 or $3,000,” the paper reported. Rollinsville was again alive and well with “a constant stream of people from Denver and other places” coming and going through town. Some were staying, too, paying around $75 per lot for homesites. Some mining offices even began opening up in town as the tungsten boom survived well into World War I.

By 1928 Moffat’s next project, the long-awaited Moffat Tunnel, premiered. It too brought profit to Rollinsville while it was being built. But there was now no longer a need for the rails across Rollins Pass. Rollinsville eventually downsized to just 53 people by the time the Denver & Salt Lake served the area in the 1930’s. Eventually the railroad, including the Moffat Tunnel, fell out of use.

The last of the 33 tunnels along Rollins Pass collapsed in 1979. Today the pass is a pleasant and challenging four wheel drive road. Rollinsville with its tiny population of 53 people was serving as a shipping point on the Denver & Salt Lake Railway. Eventually the railroad, including the Moffat Tunnel, fell out of use. The last of the 33 tunnels along Rollins Pass collapsed in 1979.

Today Rollins Pass serves as a fun and challenging four wheel drive road. As of 2010, 181 people still called Rollinsville home. The post office still operates and the original stage stop is now a tavern and restaurant, and a small handful of hotels offer unique lodging. Nearby are the remains of the Moffat Tunnel. Rollinsville has definitely seen its ups and downs, but remains a vibrant if small community that has survived for nearly 160 years.

The Ghost Towns We Love to Love: Colorado

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

There’s nothing quite so good as waking up on a sunny morning and having an awesome revelation: “I wanna go 4-wheeling.” Call me ill-behaved, but knowing I’m going foraging out in the mountains is nearly the same as hearing I just won a cruise. Except the only cruise I ever seem inclined to go on is the cruise me and a willing companion take over hundreds of miles of Colorado back roads. For me, there’s nothing better than roaming a countryside without the luxury of pavement, eating out of a cooler, finding ghost towns, and collapsing at the end of the day either at a remote campsite or an historic motor court with plenty of cold drinks on hand.

These days, that last part is definitely a hit or miss situation. You see, I’ve been researching, finding and exploring ghost towns for some 50 years, including some I don’t even remember because I was very little when my parents taught me the value of learning history. The joy of bumping over faded pathways and careening around rock slide corners has always made me very happy. Naturally I’ve seen seen a lot of old towns come and go, but mostly go. And although that is the nature of the beast when a town is abandoned, it makes me sad.

There are places where as recently as 20 years ago, lots of buildings were standing but now there are none. Places where vandalism, theft or new development has reared its ugly head with no respect for our past. Places where the dead were buried by their families as a forever-remembrance, only to be dug up, discarded and disrespected by people who don’t understand. Places that make us sad, but also places that make us happy because they are still standing and well-preserved. Having watched some of my favorite towns fade away, I—and many others—have become a little more secretive about where they are, a little more vague about where we’ve been, and a little more hopeful that our beloved towns might last a little longer.

Fortunately, there are alternatives (read: battle peacefully on behalf of history preservation) to facing imminent destruction. One is to have a caretaker on-site during the months the town is accessible. They do this at Ashcroft, located near Aspen, Colorado. The caretaker lives in what looks to be an original one-room cabin with no more than a bed, some furniture, water and some pegs to hang clothes on. For the right person, it’s the dream job of a lifetime, waking up each morning to the succulent scent of wild flowers, which are protected by law, and looking out the window at the magnificent old two-story hotel with its false front, which is also protected by law. Both laws would likely be violated on a regular basis if it weren’t for the caretaker.

Sometimes the best of both worlds are reached when an old ghost town is revived, or at least lived in, by a few residents. Such is the case with places like Bonanza and Crestone, north of Alamosa. Both have been occupied in recent decades by summer dwellers, but now even a few die-hards are known to stick it out the year through. In some cases, towns are also protected by private owners who are often descendants of historic figures. Such is the case with Greenhorn, an 1840’s circa rest stop that later blossomed into a fur trading center and, even later, a small resort complete with a restaurant and zoo. Descendants of the Fossceco family, residents since 1916, still own the land and have done their best to save the community’s buildings from falling apart.

St. Elmo is another classic example, albeit also a reason why historic preservation laws should be more stringent. Property owners obviously love their little town, with gracious signs asking visitors to stay in the street and avoid trespassing. But although more of the town remains than most other ghost towns, fires in the last few decades have destroyed some of the historic buildings. To make matters worse, newcomers in recent years have threatened the town’s historic fabric by expressing a desire to build modern homes among the old ones. Thank goodness for the St. Elmo General Store, which not only looks after the town but has a lively Facebook page and offers tourists viable ways to enjoy the historic community.

A lesson could easily be learned by observing what they are doing at Turret, another classic ghost town nestled up north of Salida. At Turret, the old town plat has been utilized in the past to sell lots to new owners—with the agreement, however, that all new construction will follow the town’s historic aesthetics . That means no modern architecture, no electricity, and plenty of respect for what made this town what it was. Naturally this has been challenged in the last two decades, with new property owners declaring they can do what they like with their private land. Yet Turret remains as a viable way to preserve history and encourage building to meet historic guidelines.

One place in particular that seems to have stood the test of time is Animas Forks. Located between Lake City and Silverton, Animas Forks has managed to keep many of its buildings, including a landmark two-story home with a beautiful bay window that has been repaired and primitively restored in recent years. Although the town is located a good long way from civilization and lies in the path of some favorite off-road trails, and although hundreds of people walk into the hotel to have their photo taken from the bay window, somehow it has prevailed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ludlow, home of heart-wrenching, emotional strikes in 1914 that took the lives of several men, two women and eleven children. Situated on a remote county road between Walsenburg and Trinidad, the abandoned buildings of Ludlow are largely overshadowed by a beautiful granite monument depicting a miner, his wife and their child. In 2003, the monument was severely damaged when vandals chopped off the heads of the adults, including the woman’s arm. To the descendants of strike victims who still live in the area, the act was like vandalizing a veteran’s memorial wall. Supporters of the monument were able to finds a sculptor to restore the heads around 2005, and those who appreciated what important history Ludlow represents keep a wary eye on the area to this day.

Thankfully History Colorado, the state’s official historical society, has continued to play a large part in the preservation and stabilization of historic places all over the state. Especially over the last two decades, signs pointing out preservation efforts have been a common site at ghost towns across Colorado. Sometimes the signs have obviously been there awhile, but they illustrate two wonderful ideas: the state is working diligently to save historic buildings, and the signs serve to deter vandals no matter how deserted the area appears.

Boggsville, Empire and Iron City are some of these places. Founded in 1866, Boggsville served as the last home of explorer Kit Carson, as well as the county seat of Bent County. Since 1993, the CHS has been working to slowly but surely renovate the buildings at Boggsville, and the project fairly complete with a quiet, scenic complex in its original setting. At Empire, located along Interstate 70 on the way to Blackhawk and Central City, four buildings that include Colorado’s oldest hotel, the Peck House, have been added to state and national registers. A rough and rocky road just before St. Elmo leads to the only remaining building at Iron City, a power plant that went under in about 1917 and was recently restored. A sign explaining the structure’s history ends with a most appropriate statement: “The historical heritage of the state of Colorado can only be preserved by the citizens themselves.”

In my experience as a ghost town hunter, researcher, historian and author, the question begs: how can we educate new generations as to how to treat, respect and learn about the ghost towns we visit? One adage that was coined decades ago never dies and remains the best advice: Take only pictures, leave only footprints. But what if the place is slated for demolition with no archeological digs or documentation planned? One way to find help is to enlist the help of local museums, historical societies, History Colorado and Colorado Preservation Inc., the state’s leading preservation organization. All of these worthy organizations can keep you up to date and get you involved not only in finding ghost towns, but assisting in their preservation.

Most of these institutions use a five-point criteria (significant events, significant persons, unique architectural points, geographic importance, and/or important discoveries related to prehistory or history) to determine historically significant properties all over the state of Colorado. And, Colorado Preservation Inc. accepts nominations every year for its Endangered Places List. Everything from Native campsites to trails to bridges, structures and even whole cities are eligible. Those making the list receive media attention and solicitations for support, including an annual meeting in Denver each February. The public is welcome to register for this worthy event, which is attended by experts and others in every historic field there is. To contact Colorado Preservation Inc., access their website at http://www.coloradopreservation.org. History Colorado can be accessed at https://www.historycolorado.org/.

Adelaide, Colorado: The Ill-Fated Stop Along the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Shortly after gold was discovered in the Cripple Creek District in 1891 merchant James A. McCandless of Florence, to the south, was one of many men who took an interest in generating commerce from the gold boom. In McCandless’s mind was Eight-Mile Canyon, an old, windy and sometimes precarious trail used by Ute natives to travel to the high country and make their summer quarters. With a creek of the same name meandering alongside much of the trail, the canyon was ideal for reaching the District. McCandless and several engineers first surveyed the canyon in 1891. By 1892 Thomas Robinson, whose endeavors included promoting the Florence Electric Street Railway Company, had opened the “Florence Free Road” leading to the District. Around this same time, give a take a few years, the name of the canyon was changed to Phantom Canyon.

Robinson intended for the road through Phantom Canyon to eventually run between the borders of Wyoming to the north and New Mexico to the south. When the Salaman Stage Line debuted on the Florence Free Road, its success inspired plans for the Florence and Cripple Creek State Line Railroad. A map of the new railroad was filed in May of 1892, and the company was reformed as the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad.

As plans unfolded for the new railroad, Denver & Rio Grande Railroad magnate David Moffat got involved. Under his wing, the F&CC was incorporated in April of 1893, and construction of the railroad commenced the following December. Robinson also remained involved with the project, to the effect that one early camp along the line was named for him. Railroad workers and travelers could stop at Robinson, situated nearly halfway between Florence and Cripple Creek, to buy supplies at a general store or stay at a boardinghouse nearby.

By 1894, for reasons unknown, the name of Robinson had been changed to Adelaide. A depot was constructed for the F&CC, as well as some homes and a water tank for the train. Two men worked at the tank, each in a 12 hour shift, so that it would remain full of water for the locomotive. They, as well as other railroad employees, lived in a nearby bunkhouse with a coal-burning stove for warmth. The former boardinghouse was converted into a hotel called the Great Elk. The station agent’s quarters were in the back of the depot.

Adelaide served a second, more important purpose too. As the F&CC tracks progressed up the canyon, it was soon discovered that the last few miles into the district proved steeper than originally thought. A “helper” town of sorts, Alta Vista, was constructed on the edge of the Cripple Creek District near the city of Victor, wherein engines could travel down the canyon to the station at Adelaide in Fremont County and assist the trains in making it up the grade.

For about a year, everything was grand at little Adelaide, nestled there among the trees and below the majestic rock walls of Phantom Canyon. But there came an evening in July of 1895 when a horrific thunderstorm, typical for late summer in Colorado, let loose with a destructive might like no other.

The Cripple Creek Weekly Journal later described the carnage that ensued. A F&CC train with 14 cars had just been lightly damaged when a small landslide derailed the train just a mile above Adelaide. Four railroad men from the train walked down to the Great Elk Hotel, and Conductor Brown had just wired news of the incident when he chanced to step outside. In the twilight he could see a wall of water, towering some 20 feet high and flowing at about thirty miles per hour, roaring down the canyon, and Adelaide was directly in its path.

Just up the tracks from Adelaide, a helper engine with engineer Mathew Lines and fireman Bert Kreis had just passed through Glenbrook, the closest stop above Adelaide, on its way down from Alta Vista. Lines and Kreis saw the wall of water, quickly stoked the fire in the engine and sped up as fast as they could as the flood chased after them. If anyone saw the engine fly past Adelaide, there does not seem to be a record of it. The engine managed to pass by the next stop, McCourt, before reaching Russell where the tracks diverted away from the flooded creek. Lines and Kreis survived.

Back at Adelaide, meanwhile, the railroad men and the station agent and his family quickly climbed to safety, as well as three other men and “three tramps” who were dining at the hotel. The railroad men turned around in time to see the Great Elk Hotel smashed to pieces by the water and carried away. Tragically, inside were the hotel’s proprietress, Mrs. Carr, as well as waiter Lee Tracy and cook John Watson. Tracy’s body was eventually found nine miles south of Adelaide, near Russell. Mrs. Carr’s body was carried several miles further, almost to Vesta Junction near Florence. Watson was found too, as well as the bodies of three other men who were believed to be section men for the railroad. Three other men surfaced safely in Florence the next day.

In all, the flood washed away ten miles of tracks as well as several bridges. It took quite some time to reach Adelaide and assess the damage, which was estimated at $100,000—over $3 million dollars in today’s money. One would think that would be the end of the F&CC, but the company remained resilient. Over the next year, workers toiled to rebuild the railroad at a cost of just over $238,000. At Adelaide, the station was relocated about half a mile down from its original location on today’s Phantom Canyon Road, well above the creek. A new water tank, a large cistern and a new depot were eventually built at the site.

Although other cloudbursts and occasional floods continued to plague Phantom Canyon, Adelaide remained safe until July of 1912 when another storm sent yet another wall of water crashing down the F&CC tracks. This time, twelve bridges were wiped out and five miles of track were either damaged or lost altogether in the flood. Rather than rebuild again, the F&CC took into consideration its own finances but also those in the Cripple Creek District, where the mining boom was slowly fading away. In 1915 the F&CC was dissolved, and the remaining tracks were removed from the canyon.

Over the last several decades, any structural remnants remaining at Adelaide have disappeared altogether. The only evidence of the whistle stop today is the large cistern, which can be seen below the road along Phantom Canyon. Small signs denote Adelaide and most of the other stops along the route, making for a most scenic drive through the canyon with a little history thrown in. And in Florence, both the McCandless house and the Robinson mansion bear proof that, for a time, the F&CC was a good investment indeed.

Arbourville, Colorado and its Community Parlor House

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

www.JanMacKellCollins.com

            Every day, hundreds of cars whiz along Highway 50 along Monarch Pass between Salida and Gunnison. Between these two metropolises lie a number of forgotten towns, some no larger than a building or two. Some of the communities no longer stand at all, their existence marked only by a pile of lumber or sign along the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad as it meanders along the Arkansas River and parallel to the highway. Though travelers in their fast cars have no real reason to stop now, a century ago these small hamlets played an important role in Colorado’s development. At the tiny town of Maysville, for instance, several toll roads offered mail and passenger service in a number of directions. As a crossroads leading to both the goldfields of the west and the southeastern plains of Colorado, Maysville became an important center for exchanging news and information.

These were the days of lawlessness in urban Colorado, but only because there weren’t many laws to break nor outlaws to break them—which would explain why Maysville was sometimes referred to as Crazy Town. When Arbourville was founded along Highway 50 just five miles west of Maysville, it too became a social center of the Monarch Mining District, mostly because the camp housed the only substantial brothel in the area.

Although Arbourville was never incorporated, a post office was established on September 12, 1879. The town was likely named for M. Arbour, a real estate agent who was living at A.B. Stemberger’s boardinghouse near Arbourville in 1880. It was said Arbour had migrated to the new camp from Silver Cliff. It is interesting to note that the first day lots went up for sale at Arbourville, over 100 were sold. Soon, the growing hamlet sported a hotel, boardinghouse and general store.

By 1880, the population was up to 159, a number that seems consistent with the town’s history. There were 102 men and 25 women, many with children. Residents included three local ranchers, as well as upwards of 46 miners who commuted further up Monarch Pass to the Madonna Mine and other surrounding prospect holes. Business folks in 1880 included a banker, two butchers, seven carpenters, three doctors (all of whom were also surgeons), a general merchandiser, a harness shop owner, three grocers, a hotel operator, two livery stables, miller H. Breckenridge, two house painters, two real estate agents, two restaurant operators, two saloon keepers, a shoemaker and two teamsters who likely carried freight and passengers between the mines and the railroad. Stage fare from Maysville to Arbourville cost fifty cents.

Arbourville’s brothel, which is said to have doubled as a stage coach stop, saloon and hotel, replaced a smaller log brothel that operated in the town years earlier. The new bordello is thought to have been constructed by James or Eli Wolfrom in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. In more recent years, the now empty building has become known as the “stone house”. Despite being a house of ill repute, this structure likely assisted Arbourville in rivaling the nearby towns of Garfield and Monarch, since people also gathered there for news and to socialize.

Renowned photographer William Henry Jackson was among those who recorded early-day photographs of Arbourville between 1880 and 1890. In 1881 the post office name was inexplicably changed to Conrow, but closed altogether in 1882. When travel-writer Ernest Ingersoll visited the area in 1885, he noted that Maysville and Monarch appeared to be the most important communities in the area.

Although the D. & R.G. crossed today’s Highway 50 on the town’s edge, there does not appear to have been a depot at Arbourville. Wagon roads led up to Cree’s Camp and other mines, and east or west along the “Rainbow Route” to Salida or Gunnison, respectively. The town cemetery was located under today’s Highway 50. Of the only two identified burials there, the earliest one dated to 1883.

The silver panic of 1893, combined with better transportation, left Arbourville in the dust to the point that the town wasn’t even covered in census records beginning in 1885. The buildings went into private ownership and the town settled into a quiet suburb. In 1938, when the state expanded the highway to its present size, workers declined to even bother moving the bodies from the graveyard.

Long after its short glory faded, Arbourville eventually became home to just one resident, Frank E. Gimlett, the former proprietor of the Salida Opera House. In 1900, Gimlett and his family, including a cousin, were living at Monarch. Gimlett initially worked as a mine superintendent. Later he worked as a grocer and lived with his family in Salida until about 1930. Sometime after that, he made the defunct town of Arbourville his home.

An eccentric and likeable hermit, Gimlett lived year-round at Arbourville until his death in circa the mid-1940’s. He utilized his winter months by writing a series of booklets called “Over Trails of Yesterday.” As a veteran of the mining era, Gimlett knew many of the people and places from the old days and spun many a colorful yarn about them. His stories were entwined with his own personal philosophies. One of his books, “The Futility of Loving Vagarious Women,” inspired playwright and diplomat Clare Boothe Luce to write him a protest letter in defense of the fairer sex. But notably, Gimlett did love one woman, his wife Gertrude, who supposedly also lived with him at Arbourville.

Gimlett also dubbed Arbourville “Arbor Villa” and assigned his own names to various mountains in the area. Among them was Mount Aetna, which Gimlett petitioned to rename Ginger Peak after his favorite film star, Ginger Rogers. Gimlett went so far as to send a petition to President Franklin Roosevelt himself to change the name, but the president himself shot the idea down. Supposedly Roosevelt explained that while Ginger Rogers was worthy of the honor, the name change might prove too much trouble for cartographers. Gimlett retaliated by sending a bill to the government for $50,000. The fee was for “guarding the mountains” during winter and assuring the snow and ice were safe from thieves. It was never paid.

Today, about five buildings are left standing in Arbourville, along with old fences along traces of the main drag, collapsed structures, several foundations and the magnificent stone house. The roof of the building gets weaker and weaker each year and is in danger of sinking in altogether. The ghost town is accessed via the Monarch Spur RV Park, which was owned by Elsie Gunkel Porter in 2012. Having grown up in the stone house, Elsie and her brother Jerry were the last residents of Arbourville. “That town was Jerry’s life and his love,” said Christina Anastasia of Salida in a 2005 interview. Anastasia, along with her husband Raymond, was a good friend of Gunkel’s.

According to Anastasia it was Jerry Gunkel’s dream to re-develop Arbourville, but he passed away in May of 2003. In his honor Anastasia, a doctoral candidate and professor at Colorado Technical University of Salida, nominated Arbourville to the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register, but to no avail. “They said there is no historic relevance to the property, although there are all kinds of fun stories,” she says, “because there is so little documentation about it. Arbourville was a mining camp so there is no legal record that really shows anything. They said until someone can come up with some historical significance, it doesn’t have any relevance.”

Monarch Spur RV Park at Arbourville continues to serve as a wonderful and remote vacation spot with tent and RV sites, cabins, shower and laundry facilities, a store, and even internet service. For information or reservations, or to visit Arbourville, call 888-814-3001 or 719-530-0341 or access the website at msrvpark.com.

The Adventures of Captain Jack: A whimsical little woman combined her own stories with her vivid imagination to create a colorful life in Colorado.

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article were originally published in All About History magazine.

“I was born November 4, 1842, in New Lantern, Nottingham, England.” So begins a seemingly plain and humble autobiography by a woman who was anything but plain, or humble. Ellen Elliott Jack’s book, The Fate of a Fairy, or, Twenty Seven Years in the Far West, would later tell of the spunky little woman’s amazing adventures. And although her facts were often sprinkled with a good dose of fiction, her story is very much worth telling.

When she was seven years old, Ellen met a “gypsy queen” at Nottingham’s annual Goose Fair who touched her on the head. “This child was born to be a great traveler, and if she had been a male would have been a great mining expert,” the gypsy said. “She is a Rosicrucian, born to find hidden treasures. She will meet great sorrows and be a widow early in life. Fire will cause her great trouble and losses.” Indeed, Ellen had already lost one sister in a fire. And as a teen, she had a brief romance with a man, “Carl,” who stabbed her in a fit of jealousy after seeing her in the company of her male cousin. Ellen recovered, and when her sister Lydia and her husband sailed to New York, Ellen successfully begged to go along.

Ellen loved New York, but fell ill and was unable to return to England with her sister until she was well. Upon boarding another ship, she recalled the horror of assisting a doctor in amputating the legs of a young Irish girl. But she also met first officer Charles E. Jack. The couple married at Liverpool in 1860 and returned to New York before Jack was called for duty during the Civil War.

The Jack’s first child, Nettie, was born between 1862 and 1864. During this time, Ellen claimed she took charge of a ring presented to her husband by General Robert E. Lee, attended a “president’s reception” with her husband during which she met President and Mrs. Lincoln, and toured Europe. After Charles Jack returned from the war with heart trouble, Ellen gave birth to a son. Both the infant and Nettie died just before the Jacks next moved to Chicago. Over the next three years another daughter, Jenny, was born. The family also lost everything in a fire, just like the gypsy predicted, and briefly farmed in Kansas before returning to Brooklyn. Ellen’s last child, Daisy, was born just before Charles Jack died in 1873.

The widow Ellen next built a hotel called the Bon Ton, but it burned in March of 1876 as she rescued her daughters and their nurse from the second floor. Daisy died three years later. Soon afterwards Ellen made friends with psychic Madam Clifford who, like the gypsy queen, told Ellen she was “born to find hidden treasures.” Ellen decided to head west, leaving Jenny with her sister-in-law. She arrived in Denver in about 1880, where she ran into her former nursemaid, Jennie. The woman advised her to go to Gunnison, but Ellen went to Leadville first. There, she was a witness when “Curley Frank” and another gambler killed each other in a shootout. A shook-up Ellen heeded Jennie’s advice and headed to Gunnison, where she arrived in the spring of 1881.

Ellen’s first night in Gunnison was spent at the Gunnison House where she paid a dollar to sleep in the lobby of the crowded hotel. The landlady advised Ellen to hide her valuables on her person, “as this is a very rough place.” Ellen followed the woman’s advice, saying she had “diamonds and government bonds sewed up in my bustle.” The next morning, Ellen was exploring the town when a stray bullet passed through her cloak. Ellen identified the shooter as “Wild Bill,” who scared her so badly that she shot him. Two lawmen appeared, but Ellen implored them to leave Wild Bill alone, “for he is a dying man.” Wild Bill gave her his gun, which the officers tried to take from her after the man died. Ellen boldy told them, “No. He gave me the gun, for you were too big a coward to get it, and you shall never have it.”

Ellen next purchased a tent with a cook stove, as well as a lot on Tomichi Avenue. She called her place “Jack’s Cabin” and began advertising a restaurant and “furnished rooms” in Gunnison’s Daily-News Democrat. Running a boardinghouse was no less exciting, for Ellen once discovered a group of Indian marauders pilfering Jack’s Cabin. Ellen said one of them was Ute leader Colorow, a “big buck” with “large gold earrings” who “came to me dancing and trying to touch my hair.” Ellen cut a lock of her golden hair for Colorow to keep, and a friendship was formed.

Eventually Ellen constructed some buildings. She rented one of them to Jeff Mickey, whom she had met on her trip to Gunnison. Mickey opened a saloon which became “headquarters for the freighters, and it was very crowded at night.” He was quite the businessman; once, the Gunnison Daily News Democrat revealed that the guest of honor at a funeral in the saloon was really only a passed-out drunk. “The joke was a profitable one for Jeff Mickey,” the paper explained. The supposed victim, with “burning candles at his head and feet, was better for business purposes, so Mickey said, than a free lunch or brass band.” Mickey also opened a gymnasium and “boxing school” next to the saloon.

Ellen would later attribute a large scar on her forehead to another Indian raid. This time, Jack’s Cabin was set on fire and she “was struck on the forehead with a tomahawk” laced with poison. Ellen claimed that she managed to kill some of the Indians before Chief Colorow declared a truce. “Pale face! Me wants to save her,” he exclaimed upon seeing her. “Bloody poison killy the white squaw, and we lovey the pale face.”[sic] There is no recorded Indian raid in Gunnison at the time, although it is true that Colorow often camped nearby. Only Ellen’s scar remained as a testament to her whimsical story.

Jack’s Cabin made the news again in January of 1882, when escaped convict Jim McClees appeared there. Ellen recalled that one of her employees told her, “There will be trouble in the bunkhouse, for Jim is full [of liquor] and has a gun, and is abusing one of the carpenters.” Ellen tried to make McClees leave. Instead, she said, McClees “pulled out his gun to fire at the man. I pulled mine and shot the gun out of his hands and part of his hand off with it.” A Sheriff Clark soon came looking for McClees and searched a room “occupied as a sleeping apartment by Mr. and Mrs. Mickey.”

When the officers found a trap door in the floor, “Mrs. Mickey” called out, “There is no use, Jim; there are fifty men here with guns, and you might as well come out without losing your life or shedding their blood.” McClees surrendered, Jeff Mickey was arrested, and Mrs. Mickey was notified she must appear in court. Ellen never admitted that she was “Mrs. Mickey.” She did admit, however, that she was unduly credited with beating everyone up during a fight in the courtroom and that a news reporter called her “Mrs. Captain Jack, the Dare Devil of the West”. All that is known for sure is that Ellen accused Sheriff Clark of false arrest while McClees bonded out and returned to Jack’s Cabin as he awaited his trial.

Ellen next decided to go to Crested Butte and told Jeff Mickey to leave. Mickey, she said, proposed marriage and promised to stop drinking. When she refused him, he told her that “when I breathe my last breath on earth it will be, ‘love for you, my fairy queen’, goodbye!” The Daily News-Democrat later explained more truthfully that “when (Mickey) took to drinking there was sure to be trouble. This last spree angered Mrs. Mickey so much that hot words followed and she left the house.” Ellen went on to Crested Butte. Later that evening at Jack’s Cabin, McClees saw Mickey with a vial of morphine powder. “Here’s the thing that will end all of my troubles,” he said. He died after consuming half of the vial.

The Daily News-Democrat noted that Ellen was slow to return to Gunnison because “the telegram instead of reading, ‘Jeff has taken poison,’ read, ‘Jeff has taken horses,’ and she supposed he coming for her with a team.” The paper also revealed Ellen was trying to lease the Miners’ Boarding House in Crested Butte “hoping in that way to get her husband away from his present business”. Ellen “thought her absence would bring him to his senses, and sober him up.” But Ellen had already placed a new advertisement for Jack’s Cabin, which appeared on the same day as Mickey’s funeral. “The business will be carried on as heretofore,” it said, “and Mrs. Jeff Mickey will be glad to see old friends.”

Within a month of Mickey’s death, however, Ellen rented Jack’s Cabin to someone else and ventured “into the mountains in Wild Cat Gulch where the Indians camped,” looking for mining investments. This time her partner was sometime outlaw Bill Edwards, who promised to share any gold discoveries if Ellen would bail him out of jail. Edwards kept his promise and for the first time, Ellen made money off of the Big Congo and Maggie Jack mining claims. She also became half owner of the Black Queen Mine near Crystal City.

In 1882 Ellen had returned to Jack’s Cabin when one of her boarders, Redmond Walsh, proposed marriage. The couple traveled to Denver, but the night before the wedding, Ellen dreamed of children crying and awoke with a sense of dread. During the ceremony, the children’s crying sounded again, as well as a man’s voice. Startled, Ellen dropped the ring on the floor, but Walsh “grabbed my hand and put the ring on my finger without any more ceremony.” Afterwards, Walsh left Ellen at a hotel and did not return.

The next morning, Ellen caught the train back to Gunnison. Walsh eventually returned too, but spent much of his time away from home. A few months later he asked Ellen to take out a note for $2,600, explaining that the Black Queen’s payroll was short. But the miners only received half of their promised pay. A cashier from the bank informed Ellen that Walsh had “duped” her, and advised that Walsh had his eye on her half of the Black Queen. “Be on your lookout for that man,” he said. “He would not hesitate to take your life to get that mine.”

There was more about the deceitful Walsh. For one thing, he was still married to another woman. Ellen confronted him about it and recalled that his face turned into “an incarnated demon, and such a hellish, fiendish look I never saw on a human face before.” The next day, Walsh tried to make Ellen sign a contract deeding half of her properties to him. When she threw it in the fire, Walsh “grabbed me and tried to stick my head in the fire. I clung to him and screamed until two men came and took him by the collar, and then he let go of me.” Ellen’s hair, she said, “was nearly all burned and my face and neck were in blisters.”

Walsh’s debtors soon came after Ellen, who next caught Walsh planting dynamite under her window. She finally divorced him, but spent two years battling him in court. She also was arrested, in 1886, for applying for the pension left to her by Charles Jack. The reason? Nobody knew her as Ellen Jack, and the court believed she was trying to steal the pension. It took almost a year for Ellen to gain an acquittal, at which time she also was embroiled in another suit with the other owners of the Black Queen. Ellen’s rollercoaster of money troubles continued: She nearly lost the Black Queen in 1888, although she did manage to invest in the Little Mandie mine. Also, however, some property she purchased in Ouray in 1891 was seized to pay an outstanding bill.

In 1894 Denver’s Queen Bee, a feminist newspaper “devoted to the interests of humanity, woman’s political quality and individuality,” at last defended Ellen. “Captain Ellen E. Jack is back on her claim near Gunnison, again,” the paper reported. “The powers that be have had the wiley Captain Jack arrested for defending her claim at the point of her pistols…Men are simply absurd or they would let her alone, and fight professional pugilists and small dogs. It is shameful how the lords of creation will condescend to badger a plucky woman just because they like to have a winning fight.”

Ellen was likely not aware of the article, for she never mentioned it. Her autobiography ends after her account of a trip she took through Utah and Arizona, as well as her musings on God and how far society had come. “So, cheer up, for the aura light is breaking through the dark circle of apprehension,” she concluded, “And this is the prophecy of the Fated Fairy and a wanderer for twenty-seven years in the far West.”

Ellen’s adventures, however, were far from over. In February, 1900, the Aspen Daily Times reported that Ellen sold her interest in the Black Queen and was heading to Cripple Creek. “She is a good rustler and will make a strike in that camp,” the paper predicted. But Ellen did not invest in any mines in the Cripple Creek District. Instead she merely rented a lodging house above a grocery store. By 1903 she was in Colorado Springs, where it was reported a year later that she had established a mining claim in nearby Cheyenne Canyon called the Mars group, with four gold and copper mines. There also was a “tent town” called Camp Jack. Ellen said the claims were averaging $21.00 per ton.

None of Ellen’s claims ever amounted to much. Beginning in about 1907, she turned to the tourism industry. One of her endeavors was generating photographic postcards, featuring herself in various scenarios. In the earliest known image, she poses along with several men, two burros and some equipment. The image is captioned hopefully, “Mrs. Capt. Jack Looking for a Company to Buy Mine.” Next, in 1909, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Ellen had located a cave “of wonderful formation”, but was keeping its location a secret until she could “purchase the property and turn it into a tourist attraction.”

Promotion of the cave never did come to fruition, but Ellen did establish a resort on High Drive in Cheyenne Canyon. She called it “Captain Jack’s” and told visitors colorful stories while hawking her postcards and copies of Fate of a Fairy. During 1912, her advertisement in a traveler’s guide of the Pikes Peak region commanded, “Stop at Captain Jack’s!”

Ellen also maintained a separate home in Colorado Springs, where passerby remembered seeing her “brilliantly colored parrots in the trees in front of her house.” In 1921 she filed for patents on her Cobra No. 3 and Mars No. 1 mining claims and seemed to be doing well until a flood which washed out the road to Captain Jack’s. The loss of her tourist resort was Ellen’s undoing. Her heart failed and she died on June 17. She was buried in Colorado Springs’ Evergreen Cemetery. Her long-forgotten daughter, Jenny, appeared in the hopes of gaining something from her mother’s will, but received nothing.

Ellen’s rival tour operator, Nora Gaines, purchased Ellen’s resort in 1923. The Colorado Springs Gazette noted that the “New Captain Jack’s Place Now Being Constructed on the High Drive” would offer rest for hikers and motorists, but Nora died just ten years later. The property was abandoned, and the “rotting cabins” were torn down in 1965. Today, Captain Jack’s Mountain Bike Trail outside of Colorado Springs is named for her.

The Terrible Mill

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

The Terrible Mill. The sinister sounding name was what intrigued me from the git. Even before I ever saw it, I could picture it in my mind, a large skeleton of a building, looming quietly on a hillside above the long forgotten town of Ilse in which ghosts roamed and winds moaned. Such was what I pictured the first time I first went to the mill back in the 1980s. What I found was interestingly different. The town was nowhere to be found, save perhaps one home, still occupied, with another modern dwelling nearby. And the mill, oh the Terrible Mill! There it sat, a quarter of a mile away from the houses, not a skeleton so much as one large, rusty square of wood and tin. Three glorious stories of rambling corrugated steel and wood beams and scaffolding and ancient cement jutted out of the hillside, right beside the road.

We roamed discreetly around the backside of the mill, keeping a careful eye on the houses lest anyone protest our intrusion. But once we had climbed through a broken window into the dank confines of that old place, all cautions were forgotten in the wonderful splendor of a building time forgot. We rambled at our leisure up one side and down the other, exploring endless passageways, chutes, large rooms, small rooms and halls. And there were wonderful, crooked but solid stairways, one of which led to the very top of the mill and the greatest treasure of many: a small sparrow hawk, trapped in the uppermost room. Catching and exploring his sleek and refined shape, returning him to the outdoors, and watching him fly away from us was an experience like none other.

Seven years later, we returned to the mill. As it is with ghost towns, one can never know how fast they will deteriorate. We took a back way in, different from the last time, and I felt an assuring pang of excitement when I sighted the old mill from around the next bend. We passed the first of the two houses, and lo and behold, there sat a sheriff’s blazer. It wasn’t there the last time, and my heart sank at the thought of not being able to see the mill after such a long drive. But we respectfully took our chances, and stopped to ask permission. A small, affable man, not at all resembling a sheriff, gave us permission to explore and take photographs. His father once worked at the mill.

How amazing and refreshing it was to find the Terrible Mill held up well over those seven years, with virtually no change at all. There it was, all three stories still there and holding. The wind, as before, whistled through cracks in the walls and rustled the tin roof – but the building stood strong.

My first mission was to find my favorite staircase, the one leading to the top. It was still there, scaling the side of the wall up, up a good hundred feet, and so crooked that I had to half climb it, hanging precariously on to the supporting wall. Even in its dilapidated position, its steps worn and slick from the hundreds of feet that have climbed it through the years, it was strong and sturdy.

Hardly anything had been moved. The old iron bed was still in the office, complete with mattress and the old shoes looking like someone just took them off before retiring. The bedside table was still there too, although a previous visitor had spilled the bottles of vitamin B to the floor. The old lab looked almost exactly the way I last left it. Samples were scattered in small brown packets, mixed in with old bottles of acid and other mining chemicals. The old bottle of salad dressing, still half full, lay exactly where I’d swear I put it. A box of wire mesh, looking like a giant brillo pad, still leaned against the wall. Even the old empty cans of cat food lay untouched, just as I’d seen them seven years ago, and the cat, whose petrified carcass we found when we pulled a Persian rug from the rafters back then, still lay prone on an old piece of cardboard in a doorway.

We wandered back down to the bottom story, where ore once rumbled down chutes to be melted by a large drum furnace, and eventually found our way out of a large sliding door. As we climbed carefully across the barbed wire fence, I felt a sense of duty relieved. It was as if I had just been to see an elderly aunt, and was leaving with the assurance she was doing just fine. In all the hussle of influx to this state, amongst all the construction and destruction going on, all the people old and new who have no appreciation for how this state came to be and the people who toiled so hard to make their dreams come true here, there are still some quiet corners in which to take refuge. I can rest easy knowing this, and that it is still possible for time to stand still in certain spots if you know where to look.

Cleora, Colorado: Victim of a Railroad War

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central magazine.

In the great rush to settle Colorado, it was not unusual to see railroad companies vying for the quickest and most profitable routes across Colorado. The settlement of Cleora was a perfect example of the sacrifices made when one company won and another one lost.

Cleora’s history begins with William Bale, and early-day settler who purchased a ranch on the north side of the Arkansas River near today’s Salida in the early 1870’s. The ranch, located along the Barlow and Sanderson State Road running between Leadville and Cañon City, became known as the South Arkansas stage stop.

Bale, his wife Sarah, and their three daughters became well known at South Arkansas. According to local newspapers, overnight accommodations were provided in the family’s “big, rambling” log house, and “liquid libations” were served to thirsty travelers. By 1875 there also was a cemetery. The first burial is said to have been Charles Harding, a victim of the infamous Lake County War of 1874-1875.

In the summer of 1876, the Colorado Daily Chieftain predicted that South Arkansas was “bound to become a popular resort of pleasure seekers.” In December, Bale duly applied for a post office. The name South Arkansas was already in use at the site of today’s Poncha Springs. Bale decided to name his new mail stop after his youngest daughter, Cleora.

Cleora prospered. An 1877 article in the Saguache Chronicle commented that “no better accommodations can be found on any routes of travel.” The Salida Mail would later recall that “the place fairly hummed with business, the house usually being filled to its capacity and often more people camped outside than there were inside. Many of the leading men of America, and most of the leading men of Colorado in that day, were guests of the Bale house at one time or another.”

When officials of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (AT&SF) railroad purchased some of Bale’s land in the summer of 1878 to layout a town, Cleora’s future seemed set in stone. Lot sales totaled $3,800 on the first day they were offered as 200 people migrated to the new community. By 1879, Bale was “one of the best known and highly respected citizens” in Chaffee County, which was officially formed in February. Early merchants included dry goods dealer John Blake. “Old Uncle Billy Bale’s” hotel, as it was called, underwent renovations. Dr. L. C. McKinney’s Cleora Journal reported the goings-on around town as the population climbed to nearly 600 people. In August, residents gathered at Mayor W.A. Hawkins’ newly opened Grand View Hotel to vote for incorporation of their new town.

At the same time the vote was made, an article in the Rocky Mountain News announced that the Denver & Rio Grande was attempting a takeover and had managed to stop the AT&SF’s progress. “Cleora is doomed for the present to inactivity,” the News warned. Still, Hawkins and the others remained optimistic, appointing a treasurer, marshal, police judge, and corporate attorney that October. Three lumber yards supplied building materials as buildings flew up and businesses opened throughout the winter of 1879-1880. Pioneer Thomas Penrose remembered trying to cash a payroll check for $1,250 at Wilson’s Saloon in February. When the proprietor said he didn’t have enough money on hand, Penrose and his partner rode to Cañon City, cashed the check, and returned to Cleora to drink at Wilson’s. “They told us that the whiskey was in the back room,” Penrose remembered, “and that there was a siphon there and for us to go ahead and take a drink, and pay 25 cents for a drink.”

The railroad war was finally settled in April when the D&RG won the battle against the AT&SF and continued laying tracks along the north bank of the Arkansas. At Cleora, citizens watched eagerly as the D&RG line approached—and then passed them right by! D&RG officials made it painfully clear that they had no use for Cleora. Instead, they platted their own new town just 1 ½ miles away, and named it for the South Arkansas post office. Disheartened citizens of Cleora pondered what to do as the board of trustees met for the last time on May 27.

In the end, D&RG officials were not so heartless. Officials soon announced that anyone owning a lot with a house or business on it in Cleora (the exception being saloonkeepers) would receive a free lot in the new town if they moved their building over to South Arkansas. By June, dozens of structures were being heaved onto rollers and guided over the rough road to South Arkansas. The Cleora Journal hauled its printing equipment over and became the Mountain Mail. Meyer & Dale, E.H. Webb and Peter Mulvaney relocated their mercantile buildings. “The business men of Cleora are all settling with us,” the Mountain Mail announced importantly. “They see that South Arkansas is to be the town and are governing themselves accordingly.”

Not everyone chose to leave Cleora. The June, 1880 census recorded 183 residents, including William, Sarah and Cleora Bale. Still, the Mountain Mail noted in August that “buildings keep coming up here from Cleora. It will not be long until they are all here.” In November, former territorial governor and D&RG official Alexander Hunt purchased the Grand View Hotel and also moved it to the new town. “The Hawkins house has finally succumbed and gone with the rest of Cleora up to South Arkansas,” reported the Rocky Mountain News. “It was the last building to go.”

Cleora’s post office closed in 1882 as South Arkansas adopted a new name, Salida. At last there remained but one asset of value at Cleora which nobody seemed inclined to move: the cemetery. Salida’s town founders showed no interest in establishing a new graveyard. “What would be the use of one?” the Salida Mail quipped in January 1883. “People don’t seem to die here at any alarming extent.”

For a time, Cleora’s cemetery remained the only burial ground in the area—a less than ideal situation to some. “It’s a mockery to call the present burying ground ‘a cemetery’”, declared the Salida Mail in 1887. The article further lectured that Salidans should be “aroused to a sense of their duty toward a fit place to bury our dead.” It was not until 1889 that Salida at last established its own cemetery, Woodlawn (Fairview Cemetery would be established in 1891).

Cleora’s cemetery was not forgotten: Knights of Pythias, the Grand Army of the Republic, and Woodmen of the World continued hosting annual Memorial Day activities there for many years before the graveyard was deeded to Chaffee County in 1921. The last burial took place in 1948. The cemetery eventually fell victim to vandalism and the elements, cared for only by the families of those buried there.

Thankfully, Cleora Cemetery was successfully listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. Today, Four Seasons RV Park and Rocky Mountain Livestock Sales mark the site of Cleora on the north side of Highway 50. The cemetery is across the highway, an ironic reminder of the days when Cleora was full of life.

French Blanche: Last of the Harlots

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

For more on French Blanche, see Jan’s new book, Good Time Girls of Colorado: A Red-Light History of the Centennial State. Click here to order.

Of all the forgotten soiled doves in the Cripple Creek District of Colorado, French Blanche=s story is one that bears mention.

Born in France, Blanche LaCroix first came to America to work as a prostitute in New Orleans. She later stated that she was hired by Morris Durant to come to Cripple Creek. A saloon owner in Cripple Creek and Victor, Durant apparently commissioned several girls from France to work on Myers Avenue, Cripple Creek=s notorious red light district.

Naturally, French was quite beautiful in her youth. Durant fell in love with her. When his wife heard French Blanche was pregnant with his child, she accosted French and threw acid in her face. The wounded harlot retreated to the nearby town of Midway, where for many years she concealed her scarred face behind a veil. At Midway, she could still service miners coming to the Midway Saloon along the High Line railway. When her daughter was born, French was forced to give her up for adoption.

For years, French=s only company at Midway was a handsome man who lived next door. The two had a brief courtship until French discovered he was seeing another woman. Despite his being her only neighbor in Midway, French never spoke to the man again, and he eventually moved away.

During her remaining years at Midway, French Blanche lived a quiet life. No one is certain when she ceased doing business. After a time she would accept groceries delivered to her door, and old timers recalled seeing her sitting in the window with the evening sun on her face. She waved at folks passing by, but if someone happened to knock at her door, French never answered the door without her veil in place.

As she grew older, wrinkles disguised her scars and French stopped wearing the veil. Certain children of the district began visiting her and recalled she made wonderfully delicious cookies. Her tiny cabin was wallpapered and clean, with a green and white porcelain cook stove.

Perhaps the children gave French Blanche courage, for she began making monthly trips to Victor for groceries. Before long, a local woman began giving her rides back to Midway and learned she received no more than $35 per month to live on because she wasn=t a U.S. citizen.

Lack of money and failing health are probably what enticed French to move to Victor in the 1950’s. The same woman who had given her rides to Midway put her up in a small cabin next to the family home. In the early 1960’s, French contracted pneumonia and died at St. Nicholas Hospital. Per French=s instructions, the woman who cared for her found $200 stashed in a drawer for her burial.

French Blanche=s story doesn=t end here. Two years after she died, the daughter she had given up years ago came looking for her. The woman said she had been adopted by a doctor in Kansas, who revealed her mother=s true identity on his deathbed. She received a photograph and a few of French=s belongings, and disappeared. All that remains of French Blanche is a small metal sign, which marks her grave at Victor=s Sunnyside Cemetery.

Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Chapter 3

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

Chapter Three: In the Beginning There Was Denver

The miner came in ‘59

The prostitute in ‘61

And between the two,

They made the native son!

—old western proverb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mattie Silks and Fanny Ford

Drank theirs from a gourd,

Poker Alice she smoked a cherout;

Lily Langtree, they say,

Had been led astray

By the juice of forbidden fruit 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We regret the loss of our sister

All of her family and friends

Pray for her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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