Category Archives: Cripple Creek Colorado

Good Time Girls of Colorado: A Red-Light History of the Centennial State

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

A quick note about this book: expanding on the research I have done for Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930 (University of New Mexico Press, 2004) and Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains (University of New Mexico Press, 2009 – out of print), presented here are some notable shady ladies like Mattie Silks, Jennie Rogers, Laura Evens and others. Also included however, are some ladies seldom written about: French Blanche LeCoq, Lou Bunch and Laura Bell McDaniel (whom I was pleased to first introduce to the world clear back in 1999).

Why do I write about historical prostitution? Because I believe that these women made numerous unseen, unappreciated contributions to the growth of the American West. They paid for fines, fees, business licenses and liquor licenses in their towns. They shopped local, buying their clothing, furniture, food, jewelry, medicine and other needed items from local merchants. These women were often angels of mercy, donating to the poor, helping the needy, and making or procuring sizeable donations for churches, schools and other organizations. Many took care of their customers when they were sick, or sometimes when they became elderly.

Hollywood and the general public like to laugh at and shame women of the night for selling sex for a living. In reality, these women often turned to prostitution as the only viable way to make enough money to survive. Theirs was one of the most dangerous professions of the time, the threat of devastating depression, domestic violence, disease, pregnancy and often subsequent abortion, and alcohol or drug related issues being very real issues the ladies faced daily.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it and furthering the truth about our good time girls from the past. You can order it here: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781493038060/Good-Time-Girls-of-Colorado-A-Red-Light-History-of-the-Centennial-State

The Legends Behind the Face on the Barroom Floor

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.

“Say, boys, if you give me just another whiskey, I’ll be glad

And I’ll draw right here a picture of the face that drove me mad.

Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score –

You shall see the lovely Madeline upon the barroom floor.”

The above poem by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy has been the subject of barroom stories for decades. It’s an intriguing tale, yet the truth behind it is one of the little-known tales of western folklore. The mysterious and alluring faces of various women began adorning tavern floors across the nation roughly a century ago. Each had their own story to tell, and Colorado is no exception to the ongoing folklore.

At one time, there were as many as eight portraits known to be painted on barroom floors across America. Each seemed to have been inspired largely D’Arcy’s poem, “The Face Upon the Floor.” The verse tells of love lost by a lonely artist. One day, the woman of his affections spots a portrait the artist is painting of another man. Ultimately, the artist loses his girl to his subject, takes to drink, and tells his sad tale in exchange for whiskey. The artist then renders a stunning likeness of his lost love on the tavern floor, only to fall dead upon the finished portrait.

Little is known about Hugh Antoine D’Arcy. He was born in France in 1843, and it is thought he composed his famous poem in about 1898. “The Face Upon the Floor” appears to be his most outstanding accomplishment, and he lived to see it put into both movie and song. The poem was first immortalized in 1914, when Charlie Chaplin adapted it for a film called The Face on the Bar Room Floor.

Most people believe that the famous face on the floor at Central City’s Teller House was the first, and only, portrait of a woman’s face to be painted on a wooden floor. But the first portrait to appear in Colorado history was actually recorded on the kitchen floor of a private residence in Cripple Creek. The picture is thought to have been painted in the teens or 1920’s, in a house once owned by saloon keeper Herman Metz. Charles Walker purchased the residence in 1906, who in turn hired Harry B. Denny to paint the house in 1910. Denny left his signature and identified himself as the house painter on a basement door. Did he paint the portrait? Certain old-timers of Cripple Creek say no, that Denny painted houses and nothing more. The true artist will likely never be known.

As the face on the floor at Cripple Creek was subsequently forgotten, D’Arcy was experiencing a second success from his poem. It came in the form of a movie by renowned director John Ford, who in 1923 made his own version of D’Arcy‘s poem, The Face on the Bar-Room Floor.

 D’Arcy passed away in 1925, but his poem lived on. In 1936, the poem’s fame was sealed by Herndon Davis, formerly an artist for the Denver Post. One of the stories goes that Davis was a carpenter at the Teller House in Central City. His employer was Anne Evans, daughter of former Colorado Governor John Evans. A falling out between the two resulted in Davis‘ termination. Before leaving, however, Davis painted a ladies’ portrait on the floor. The act allegedly infuriated Anne Evans, but not enough to inspire her to remove it. In fact, the identity behind the mysterious face became legend until Davis died in the 1960’s. Just before his death, Davis revealed that the face was none other than his wife, Edna.

The success of the Teller House face was not lost on the rest of Colorado. In about 1953, another face appeared at the Western Hotel in Ouray. Built in 1890, the Western offered hotel rooms until it closed in 1945. The bar and dining room were kept open, however. When the Western was purchased by a Mr. Shady, according to Ouray native Ed Gregory, the new owner decided that another face might boost tourism. Shady commissioned Ed‘s mother, Ruth Gregory, to paint the portrait.

Like the faces in Cripple Creek and Central City, Mrs. Gregory‘s portrait reveals an intriguing face with mischievous eyes and a bobbed hairstyle. The painting also appears “two-faced,” with the left side resembling a profile. The fuss over the faces in Ouray and Central City continued to grow. Antoine D’Arcy’s poem received more coverage from Franklyn MacCormack, beloved radio announcer at Chicago’s WGN. A recording exists today of MacCormack reading the poem to his listeners.

One last rendering of a face on the floor appeared in the early 1960’s, again in Cripple Creek. This last face was at what was once the Cottage Inn at 261 East Bennett. When owner Jack Schwab passed away in 1961, his ex-wife Evelyn took possession of The Cottage and commissioned none other than Dick Johnson, founder of the Cripple Creek District Museum, to paint a female face on the floor. Like Herndon Davis, Johnson preferred not to be identified as the artist until after his death in February 2004, and this is the first time he has officially been named as the man who painted the face. Today, Cripple Creek’s “Madeline” is preserved at the Cripple Creek District Museum.

In 1978, writer Henry Mollicone penned an opera version of D’Arcy’s poem. The Central City Opera Company swooped upon the play, presenting it with great success. The company performs near the Teller House, where Edna Davis’s portrait can still be seen on the floor in the barroom.  Most recently, the story of Madeline gained fame once more in 1997, when the late Teller County musician, T.O. Locker, produced his own music video, The Face on the Barroom Floor. Several Colorado locations were used in filming the video, including Cripple Creek and the Western Hotel. The video won several first place prizes through the Colorado Springs Film Commission and the Professional Film and Video Guild of Colorado.

Perhaps what is most intriguing about the mysterious faces on the floors of Colorado is their failure to become commercialized. In each case, D’Arcy’s story has been treated with utmost respect. In the end, the poignancy behind the story rings truer than any other tale one could tell. Indeed, it is the last stanza of D’Arcy’s poem that carries on the romance behind the obscure faces painted in his memory:

“Another drink, and with chalk in hand the vagabond begTo sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.

Then, as he placed another lock upon the shapely head,

With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture—dead.”

Image: Today, the face on the floor at Central City’s Teller House remains as the best known painting by Herndon Davis.

Colorado City, Colorado: Gateway to the Goldfields

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine and the Ute Pass Vacation Guide

In 1859, the rough and tumble town of Colorado City debuted as the portal to Ute Pass, next to what would eventully become Colorado Springs, Colorado. The pass was an ancient Indian trail skirting up the north base of Pikes Peak and on to the gold fields on the western side of the state. As  more travelers utilized the pass in their quest for gold, Colorado City grew in the form of stick‑built shacks and log cabins. Later, fine stone and brick structures would mingle with tidy wood bungalows and impressive Victorian homes.

Everything a prospector could want was available in Colorado City, including mining supplies, pack mules, grub and grog. There were also a variety of vices, from drinking and dining to poker and prostitution. Local merchants made a tidy profit on the transient population, which flowed constantly in and out of town.

When Colorado Springs was platted in 1872, liquor was banned within its city limits. Then in 1878, Manitou Springs formed to the west. Colorado City, nestled snugly between the two resort towns, prospered: not only as a “sin city” but as a blue collar town as well. A number of railroad workers were employed by the Colorado Midland Railroad. Local mills, namely the Golden Cycle Mill, processed gold ore shipped by train from teh famed Cripple Creek District on the back side of Pikes Peak, and other area mines. The city became a mesh of church‑going families, would‑be prospectors, wild folk and nomads.

Look down Colorado Avenue today and it is easy to envision a Colorado City of the past. Horse races and shoot outs took place on the dirt streets with alarming frequency. Wagons and horses sent pedestrians scurrying as the street bustled with life. The old buildings sported every business house imaginable, and the shouts of street hawkers mingled with the bawdy music flowing from the saloons.

Upwards of 24 taverns once lined the south side of Colorado Avenue. Many of them connected via underground tunnels to the respectable businesses on the north side of the street. In back of the saloons, madams like Laura Bell McDaniel, Mamie Majors and Nellie White were the reigning pleasure queens. The houses of “ill fame” spanned four blocks on Cucharras St. The lawmen and temperance unions of Colorado City levied their own public war against the shameful nightlife, but it was sometimes a losing battle. When the city outlawed liquor, some of the saloon owners and prostitutes started their own town, Ramona, outside the city limits.

On the north side of town, churches, lodges, meeting halls and more respectable social places mingled among the quaint homes and upstanding citizens of the town. Still, there were some real characters adding much color to Colorado City. Prairie Dog O’Byrne’s taxi wagon held a cage with a pet prairie dog inside and was pulled by two tame elk. Judge Baldwin was an honorary judge who was known for his love of libations. Anthony Bott, a founder of the town, also made a name for himself in the Cripple Creek District. Dusty McCarty was a blinded miner who honed his skills at bartending and was the best source of where to go and what to do in town. Bob Ford, the killer of Jesse James, dealt faro in Colorado City before going off to Creede and getting killed.

In 1917 Colorado City was annexed to Colorado Springs, and Colorado City’s wild days ended. Since that time, the city has evolved into an historic section of the Pikes Peak region with a variety of novelty  shops, boutiques and eateries. Neighborhood tours reveal an outstanding array of unique architectural designs, including a few pre-manufactured homes that were literally purchased from catalogs—in essence, the first modular homes in the state.

The Old Colorado City History Center at 1 South 24th Street houses a museum with photographs and hundreds of artifacts outlining Colorado City’s wild and woolly past. To see historic Colorado City on the way to Cripple Creek, take Highway 24 west at Colorado Springs and turn right at 21st Street. For more information, call the Old Colorado History Center at 719-636-1225 or the Old Colorado City Associates at 719-577-4112.

Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Ute Pass Vacation Guide and The Colorado Gambler magazine.

Significant in history and world-reknowned, Pikes Peak is honored as one of the best-known landmarks in America. For centuries, the mountain looming above Colorado Springs has served as a vantage point from all directions across the state and beyond. The unmistakable landmark first guided the Indians, then the fur trappers, and later the white men who inhabit the areas around it now. In 1802, Pike’s Peak was part of the Louisiana Purchase.

When the famous explorer Zebulon Pike determined to scale the peak in 1806, his efforts were somewhat ridiculous by today’s standards. Naming the mountain Grand Peak, Pike denounced it as unclimbable and reaching a height of 18,581 feet. Had Pike chosen a better time of year (he was there in November), better clothing and a better grasp of the peak’s actual altitude of 14,110 feet, he probably would have made it to the summit. Instead, Pike had to be content with being the first white man to note the mountain on maps.

Between 1806 and 1820, the peak was alternately referred to as Grand Peak and Highest Peak. Many historians credit Major Stephen H. Long as the first white man to climb the mountain in the latter year. However, even Long gave the honor to Dr. Edwin James, himself an historian with the expedition. In reality, James was accompanied by Long and two others on the journey. Apparently, because James was first to actually set foot on the summit, Long named the mountain James Peak.

Over the next twenty years, the name of James Peak was gradually replaced with Pikes Peak. Lt. John C. Fremont sealed the official name in his travel logs. By the 1850’s, everyone seemed Pikes Peak-bound as gold booms began all over Colorado. Clothing and supply stores back east manufactured items bearing the Pike’s Peak label. Guidebooks and maps were in abundance, all describing the best ways to reach Pikes Peak country and what the traveler might find upon arrival.

As Colorado launched into its gold boom era, Julia Archibald Holmes became the first white woman to scale the peak. In 1858, Holmes, her husband John and four others from Kansas included the peak in their sight-seeing tour while prospecting for gold. So wide-spread was the quest for gold that even Denver was included in the “Pikes Peak or Bust” rush of 1859.

As thousands of miners flocked to the rocky mountains to seek their fortunes, their trek was aptly titled the Great Pikes Peak Gold Rush. The spirit of those first pioneers who sacrificed their homes and even their families to find Pikes Peak was an inspiration to others. Because of them, millions of people found the courage to come west and settle in new territory. The sight of Pikes Peak, even hundreds of miles in the distance, gave them hope. Many of those pioneers wound up at Colorado City, a supply town established at the base of the peak near Ute Pass.

When Colorado Springs sprang to life in 1871, a popular pastime was to scale the peak. A U.S. Signal Corps station, constructed from rocks, was used as a weather station. Later abandoned, the building eventually became a tourist hotel. The number of tourists to the summit escalated in 1873 with a mild gold strike on the eastern slopes. The strike turned out to be a hoax, however.

As it was, hoaxes and jokes upon the unsuspecting public seemed to be running rampant through Colorado about this time. Other such mischief included the 1876 “death” of a non-existent baby named Erin O’Keefe. One John O’Keefe claimed his infant daughter had been consumed by mountain rats atop the peak. A realistic photograph showed Erin’s grave surrounded by several mourners. Tourists flocked to the burial site to see the grave and leave trinkets before the hoax was revealed.

For the next several years, Pikes Peak gained even more notoriety. In 1884 a route was established for a railway to the summit, but was abandoned. A few years later, Dr. A.G. Lewis homesteaded 160 acres at the summit. Amazingly, Lewis was able to grow a few crops as required by the 1862 Homestead Act. Lewis’ intent was to build a tourist trap illustrating his crops. A carriage road was built in anticipation for the new business.

Unfortunately for Lewis, railroad pioneer David H. Moffat succeeded in acquiring a 99-year lease on just five acres of the summit. Lewis lost his claim in court, and a cog railway began daily excursions to the top of Pikes Peak beginning in 1891. Viewed as one of the most scenic rides in America, the train ran a distance of 8.9 miles, climbing 7,518 feet (the Pikes Peak Cog Railroad is currently closed for needed renovations, but will be open again next year). A daily guide was given to passengers, listing visitors of the day before and expounding on other interesting sites in the region.

The same year as the premier of the cog railway, the Cripple Creek District on the backside of Pikes Peak experienced the last, and one of the largest, gold booms in Colorado’s history. Numerous trails were established and there was talk of building a road to the top of Pikes Peak from the Cripple Creek side. The closest anyone came, however, was at Seven Lakes, which had opened as a resort quite some years before some seven miles below the summit.

The peak gained further popularity in 1895 when Katharine Lee Bates, a professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, published the anthem “America The Beautiful”. The song was based on her visit to the peak two years earlier. More and more travelers made the summit of Pikes Peak a destination spot. In fact, one might say that in the rush to see Pikes Peak, people began turning it into a race of sorts. Excursions of all kinds, from wildflower-picking expeditions to hiking trips to the first wedding in 1905, were the popular mode of the day.

There were tragedies here and there: In August of 1911, Mr. and Mrs. William A. Skinner learned a hard lesson about the perils of hiking unprepared on Pike’s Peak. Ignoring the advice of guides and the editor of the Pike’s Peak Daily News, Mrs. Skinner insisted on setting out for the summit late in the afternoon. Snow clouds looming on the horizon were soon hovering over the couple, who were poorly dressed for the trek and already tuckered out. After a two-foot snowfall during the night, the couple was found frozen to death about two miles below the summit the next day.

The unfortunate fate of the Skinners hardly stopped other hikers, or drivers. In 1916, the Pikes Peak Automobile Company opened the toll road to the summit. An annual hill climb was also established, which steadily gained world fame. The Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb is now called the Pikes Peak International Hlil Climb and takes place each year. The event draws thousands, not to mention some very famous participants.

Other innovative news about Pikes Peak came in 1918 with the opening of Barr Trail. Built by Fred Barr, the trail took four years to construct and included a camp halfway to the summit which is still in use today. The Barr Trail opening was followed by the establishment of the AdAmAn Club in 1923. Each year, a new member is chosen to join the group, which treks to the summit on New Years’ Eve to set off fire works at midnight. In 1935, this group gained notoriety as they broadcasted greetings from the peak to Admiral Richard C. Byrd in the Antarctic. Just six years earlier, Bill Williams gained fame by pushing a peanut to the top of Pikes Peak with his nose.

It has been nearly 200 years since the first explorers spotted “America’s Mountain”, Pikes Peak, off in the distance. Since that time, untold numbers of men and women around the world have traversed the United States in search of this great landmark. They were looking for opportunity and freedom they had only imagined in their dreams. They found it, too, here in the American west where the untamed land dared the bravest to fight for peace, happiness, and the American way of life.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Melinda Brolin

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Parts of this article originally appeared in the Ute Pass Vacation Guide in 2002.

Today’s “Old Colorado City”, located due west of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is filled with kitschy shops, great restaurants and comfy pubs. Most of them are housed in beautiful historic buildings, some dating back to the late 1800’s. From the time it was founded in 1859 to its annexation to Colorado Springs in the early 1900’s, Colorado City fairly howled with history in the way of saloons, gambling and giddy girls.

When Colorado Springs was founded as the elite “Saratoga of the West” in 1874, there was naturally an uproar over the goings-on in bawdy Colorado City. Liquor, gambling houses and prostitution was outlawed in the new town, but in the old town the owners of such places found plenty of ways to carry on business out of the prying eyes of newspapers and the law. One system employed involved an underground tunnel system, whereby one could enter a respectable store or restaurant, access a tunnel, and come out at a tavern, gambling den or brothel.

In time, everyone knew about the tunnels. And although some of the old tunnels survive even today, not much has been found to document what actually went on inside of them. There is one tale, largely folklore in nature, that tells of a young lady who went into one of these tunnels-and never came back out. Her name was Melinda Brolin.

At the time, there was a new rush to the Cripple Creek District, just on the other side of Pikes Peak from Colorado City. Miners were flooding into Colorado City on their way to the goldfields. One of them was Ben Kelly, who left his Chicago home to find his riches in 1899. As was common Kelly left behind the love of his life—our heroine—with the promise to send for her as soon as his prospects looked good.

Six months after Kelly’s departure, Melinda grew impatient and came west herself. She landed in Colorado City, securing a waitress job in a restaurant at today’s 2625 West Colorado Avenue, until she could afford the trek up Ute Pass to Cripple Creek. Colorado City proved to be a friendly place full of friendly people. As months went by, Melinda thought less and less of the beau who had not bothered to send for her. Eventually she found another man and made Colorado City her permanent home.

Back then, Colorado City was practically a sister city to Cripple Creek. The Golden Cycle Mill along today’s Highway 24 processed Cripple Creek ore, and thousands of people divided their time between the two cities. In time, Ben Kelly heard that Melinda was in Colorado City. He also heard about her new lover. A fit of jealousy overtook him and he hopped on the next train for Colorado City, intent on finding his cheating gal and exacting revenge.

By then, Melinda’s dedicated customers, as well as her new beau, were as loyal to Melinda as though she had lived in Colorado City all her life. When they heard Kelly was in town and looking for blood, they lost no time in informing Miss Melinda. The Irish lass quickly took refuge in the basement, disappearing into one of many tunnels underneath Colorado Avenue.

Kelly looked in vain for Melinda all over Colorado City, but nobody ever saw hide nor hair of her—ever again. Even after Kelly gave up and departed for Cripple Creek, Melinda failed to surface from the tunnel. A thorough search turned up nothing, and nobody recalled seeing a woman of her description emerge from either end.  No one ever knew what became of her, and some weeks after her disappearance the tunnel collapsed.

Melissa’s disappearance was the beginning of several strange happenstances. Local legend alleges that a week after the tunnel collapsed, Melinda’s former place of employment caught fire. Melinda’s forlorn lover in Colorado City died a mysterious death and his body was found in Fountain Creek. Shortly after that, even Ben Kelly met his end in a mine at Cripple Creek. If Melinda was around to hear of these fateful events, she never made herself known.

For decades following Melinda’s disappearance, her old workplace pretty much remained the site of generations of other restaurants and cafes. In about 1952 it was known as Baskett’s Cafe, and in 2002 was Gertrude’s Restaurant. These days, the place is an Irish pub called Alchemy. No matter the business, various owners dating as far back as 1900 have claimed there is a ghost. Perhaps in the end, Melinda never left her beloved workplace at all.

The Irish of Cripple Creek, Colorado

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Colorado Gambler magazine in 2000.

Between 1891 and 1900, an estimated 403,496 Irish immigrants arrived in America. A good percentage of them were miners whose ancestors had toiled in the copper and tin mines of Ireland. Mining was a transient occupation, relying on the newest, biggest and best strike. The Colorado goldfields provided ample income in districts such as Leadville, Central City and Blackhawk, and Cripple Creek.

Work for the Irish miner was easy to find since they were regarded as highly skilled. Like miners of all races, the men usually came ahead to scope out the prospects. If the boom was big enough, family and friends followed. As a result, the city of Cripple Creek was predominantly white, Irish and Catholic. Names like O’Hara, Sullivan, Murphy and McKenna were common around town. During the labor wars of 1894, one Colorado Springs minister went so far as to predict the strikes would end if only the predominantly Episcopalian mine owners would just hire Catholic superintendents.

Hundreds of Irish patented land in and around Cripple Creek beginning in 1893. Many have their names emblazoned in history. Jimmy Burns and Jimmy Doyle were two Irishmen whose mine, the Portland, was the largest producing mine in the district. The Mary McKinney Mine was also a big producer. Jim Daily, another Irishman, is said to have saved millionaire investor A.E. Carlton from a gunshot meant for him at McKillip & Doyle’s Grand View Saloon at Midway.

At least five Irishmen were among the district’s top millionaires. Mollie O’Brien was the only female broker to ever hold a seat on the Cripple Creek Mining Stock Exchange. And while Irish prostitutes ran rampant in other cities around the state, only two are recorded as shaming their upper-class counterparts in Cripple Creek.

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones was an Irish-American whose actions ranked high above many women. By the age of 74, Jones had overcome the deaths of all four of her children and her husband to become a powerful force in the United Mineworkers of America. Authorities tried to kick her out of Colorado during the strikes of 1904, but were unsuccessful. Incidentally, one James Murphy was a saving grace after the depot at Independence was blown up during those same strikes.

True to their heritage and folklore, the Irish produced many a lively tale in the Cripple Creek District. The infamous Tommyknockers of the mines in Ireland accompanied the immigrant miners to Cripple Creek. These mischievous, invisible little characters were said to dwell in the working mines. Tommyknockers were considered to be of a friendly nature, warning miners of danger and allegedly saving many a man’s life. They also served as the perpetrator whenever a tool was misplaced or unusual noises in the shaft were heard.

Occasionally, the Tommyknockers were blamed for eating another man’s lunch or wreaking vengeance on the miner who dared to curse him. If a Tommyknocker wasn’t to blame, the Irish could always accuse their enemies, the “Cousin Jacks” who had migrated from Cornwall, England. Their dislike for each other ran deep in their respective native lands, and the two never worked together if they could help it.

Hard rock miner and poet Rufus Porter wrote many a vignette about the Irish in the district. The very real characters he portrayed included Angus McGurk, who threw himself down his own mine shaft because he’d eaten the last of his beans. Then there was drunken Pat McCain, who became a hero after rescuing a crew of men at the Lucky Ten Mine.

Porter’s most famous character was probably Dynamite Dan O’Hara, a fictional person based on several Irishmen Porter knew in the district. Among other things, O’Hara is credited with building Johnny Nolon’s and other saloons, knocking boxing great John Sullivan out for insulting his heritage, and being a favorite among the dance hall ladies.

It is true that many an Irishman found wealth in the Cripple Creek District. But the tales behind the success are now more priceless than the fortune made. An example is two Irishmen who had a claim on the east slope of Bull Hill. Three months went by with nary a result. The story goes that the two were down to their last dollar one morning and decided that if nothing came of the day’s work they would sell the non-producing mine for the going rate of $100.

On a whim, the pair decided to see what their pet mongrel had to say about the situation. “We’ll wait until the pooch lays down,” one of them declared, “then we’ll kick him off and dig there.”

Sure enough, upon ousting the dog from his chosen spot and digging, the men hit a rich vein of ore by noon. Three weeks later they sold out for $100,000 and their discovery, the Last Dollar, became one of the best producers in the camp. The end of this story is unfortunate, if typical; the pair headed back east, prepared to return to their homeland. By Chicago they were broke, and at least one of them returned to the district to finish out his years hard rocking.

Other tales include the one about the Irishman who was single jacking in some tough ground one day. When he came out of the hole that night, his boss asked how it had gone that day. “Begorra,” he replied, “I drilled all day on one hole and the ground’s so hard that when I quit the hole stuck out two inches.”

By 1930, the Cripple Creek District’s heyday was well over. Even so, the census that year showed 34 Irish still calling Cripple Creek home. Among them was Danny Rind, who lived to be over 100 years old. Rufus Porter recalled Danny was still sinking shafts and hauling his own ore in the 1930’s. When asked his secret to longevity, Rind replied, “You’ve got to have an interest in life, son.”

These words of wisdom might have been followed by an evening of tipping pints of ale and singing one of the best of all Irish toasts:

“May the wind always be at your back,

May the road you take not be so steep

And may you be in Heaven half an hour

Before the Devil knows your dead.”

Lillian Powers, Genteel Harlot of the West

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine, as well as Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930 (University of New Mexico Press, 2003).

While the general public tends to think of prostitutes in the west as being slovenly, uneducated and rude, such was not always the case. A good many of the would-be wild women who worked in the camps, towns and cities of Colorado during the 1800’s and early 1900’s were just the opposite. Most could read and write. Many came from good homes and had good educations, some from some of finest schools back east.

At least some women carried their education and manners into their professions as prostitutes. In the higher dollar “parlor houses”, madams were known to send their employees to finishing school, so that they may conduct themselves in a more respectable manner. Drug and alcohol use notwithstanding, most parlor house girls were quite refined. Most could also play an instrument or sing, and practiced good table manners and conversational talents. Such was the case of Lillian Powers, whose intelligence and kindness endeared her to many of her customers.

Lillian Powers was the city of Florence, Colorado’s most famous madam. She arrived after working for, and then partnering with, madam Laura Evens in Salida for several years. In Florence, Lil set up her own place south of the railroad tracks cutting through town. It was said that Lillian had been a school teacher in Wisconsin before coming West. She had formerly been a laundress, and her boss fondly dubbed her “The Laundry Queen”. But such work was dull to Lillian, who looked younger than she really was. Before long she had made her way to South Dakota where she heard about the money prostitutes were making in Denver.

Lillian actually had her start in Denver right around the turn of the century, when she ran a house called “The Cupolo”. But she didn’t like the way prostitutes were being treated or the low wages they received. In about 1907 Lillian moved to the Cripple Creek District, where she worked in Victor for four years before relocating to Cripple Creek. There, she could rule over her own crib, a small apartment she could rent and operate as she pleased. Lillian preferred running a crib to working in a confining parlor house. It was said she kept her place neat with clean linens and towels, frilly curtains and other comforts.

Lil’s landlady was a French woman named Leola Ahrens, better known around town as Leo the Lion. Leo drank a lot and threw violent temper tantrums. In her early days in Cripple Creek, the madam had run her own sporting house and invested her profits in the cribs. When Lillian worked for her, Leo had lost the house and was reduced to working out of one of her own cribs.

Because Lil’s place was so neat and clean, and because she was always willing to lend a sympathetic ear to her customers, Lil she made friends with many of her regulars. She also served beer as part of her services. Within a month she was making good money, and it was said that some of Lil’s customers came to visit her more for her friendship than sex.

Leo ultimately got jealous over losing her customers to Lil. One day, in a drunken rage, Leo began pounding on Lillian’s door, gun in hand. “You double-crossing bitch, you get out, and I mean get out!” she screamed. “You get out of this crib and out of town. Or I’ll kill you!” Lil fled out the back door to the telephone office and called Laura Evens, asking for a job. Then she hired a local boy to help her pack, a process which took all night.

For some reason, Lil took the earliest train to Colorado Springs first, before going on to Salida. At Laura Evens’s, another young woman answered the door and reported to Laura the new girl looked “dirty and old.” It was probably true, given that Lil had fled in the dead of night and endured a lengthy train ride to Salida without much sleep. Laura rented a crib to Lil anyway. The following day after a good bath, Lil dressed up and paid Laura a visit, giving her rent in advance. The two became good friends and Lillian eventually managed the cribs for Laura in return for a percentage of the profits. By then, Lil was alternately known as Fay Weston, and the cribs became known as Weston Terrace.

In about 1911 Lillian moved to Florence, just east of Canon City and opened her own place. Founded in 1873, Florence flourished in coal mining, cattle, oil and agriculture. At least one of the girls from Salida followed Lil and may have gone to work for her. Laura Evens came to visit her there, and Lil made occasional visits to Salida as well. In 1915 when Laura bought more property in Salida, Lillian paid the Deed of Trust.

“Lil’s Place” in Florence afforded many amenities, including two or three girls, a beer garden with a dance floor, and a high wall around the backyard for privacy. She spent $30,000 on her house, which featured a ballroom with a player piano. It was also said she had a huge collection of fine cut glass and diamonds, including a diamond cross that was once given to Denver madam Mattie Silks by prostitute Lizzie Preston. Lil slept downstairs and her boarders upstairs. Roy Pray, who was born in Victor in 1910 and grew up in Florence, recalled visiting Lil’s house while he was in college during the 1930’s. One of the girls kept sitting on the lap of Roy’s friend. Unable to stand it any longer, the shy and embarrassed boy finally admonished the girl with a “There now, tut tut!”

From time to time over the years, Lil was shut down, but always managed to reopen for business. Eventually she hired a couple to cook and maintain the house. By the 1940’s, Lil could afford to employ 10 girls and was no longer a working madam. Eventually, however, she was closed down for good and simply retired, passing away at a local nursing home in 1960.

After Lillian’s death, Colorado historian and author Caroline Bancroft attempted to contact Arthur Mink, a friend of Lil for some thirty years. In a letter to Ms. Bancroft, Mink confirmed a promise he had made to Lil not to reveal anything about her past. There is little doubt that Lil died with many secrets, even as she continues to intrigue fans of prostitution history.

You can read more about Lil Powers, Laura Evens and other Colorado madams in my upcoming book, Good Time Girls of Colorado: A Red-Light History of the Centennial State (Globe Pequot Press, September 2019).