Category Archives: historical prostitution

Flagstaff’s Flag Has Flown for 160 Over Years

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

For those of you wishing to order the book, you can do so at this link: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781493038114/Good-Time-Girls-of-Arizona-and-New-Mexico-A-Red-Light-History-of-the-American-Southwest

 

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 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.

Soiled Doves of the Santa Fe Trail: Colorado and New Mexico

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in New Legends Magazine.

Trinidad, Colorado is Santa Fe Trail country where, beginning in 1821, the “Mountain Branch” spanned from today’s Pueblo and south through Trinidad, Raton and on to Santa Fe. While the majority of women who traveled the trail were wives and daughters, it wasn’t long before ladies of the night also joined the caravans heading west.

When Fort Pueblo was established in 1853, several red light districts appeared over time as the city grew. One was by the Arkansas River near today’s central Pueblo. Another was near Santa Fe Avenue and today’s 1st Street. Some of the more notorious bordellos in Pueblo included the Stranger’s Home and the Hotel de Omaha, where fights, murders and suicides occurred with alarming frequency.

The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad began laying rails south of Pueblo in the late 1800’s. The tracks first passed through El Moro, a “company town” located four miles from Trinidad. Such places normally forbid prostitution, but in El Moro, George Close successfully ran a dance hall just around the corner from the New State Hotel with its fancy saloon.

South of Trinidad, the railroad continued over the New Mexico border to Raton. By the 1880’s a red light district was flourishing along Garcia Street, just across the tracks from the business district on First Street. Early soiled doves of Raton included a woman called La Josie, who they say could dance up a storm despite having a peg leg.

When the business district relocated to Second Street, Josie and her cohorts immediately filled the empty buildings along First. In time, Raton’s bawdy houses spanned a two block area near the depot and downtown. In 1888, a devastating fire burned much of the red light district and the business district after a disgruntled working girl threw a lamp at one of her customers.

Further south of Raton was Fort Union, near the Cimarron cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail. Soon after the fort was established in 1851, a group of shady ladies set up shop in some nearby caves. A Captain Sykes discovered their presence when he found that stolen goods from the fort were being used to pay them. Sykes ended the sinful business by capturing the women, shaving their heads, and commanding them to move on.

The ladies did move on—to Loma Parda, a small farming community six miles away. There soldiers could gamble, drink, dance, and carouse with women. Julian Baca’s dance hall featured live music twenty four hours a day. The town’s signature whiskey, “Loma Lightening” was often the cause of thefts, fights and murders.

In contrast to these woolly and wild places along the trail, Trinidad offered more refined places of vice. In its early days, Trinidad was as raucous as anywhere else, marked by the 1874 murder of a call girl named Moll Howard. Her killer claimed the woman attacked him with a butcher knife, and owed him a dollar besides. Moll’s friends heard about the murder, formed an angry mob, and hanged the man by the Purgatoire River.

Within a decade, however, Trinidad’s brothels and parlor houses were neatly situated behind Commercial Street on Mill and Plum Streets, but also near Main Street. The fancier houses sported dance floors, and the Grand, at Santa Fe and Main, even had a swimming pool and Turkish baths. “Bar girls” also offered sex above the saloons, and certain restaurants provided curtained booths, where waitresses could offer more than what was on the menu.

Such places received plenty of business from men living in outlying company towns like Berwind, Ludlow, Morley, and Jensen. On slow nights, some brothels resorted to calling the fire department with some made up “emergency”. The firemen would duly show up to “rescue” girls from the second floors via ladders on which the women descended—wearing no underclothes!

When an ornate building on Main was constructed in 1888, the architect’s plans allegedly included the bust of a local madam on the front facade. Who she was remains unknown, but the best known madam was Mae Phelps. In 1900, Mae employed ten lovely ladies from her brothel at 228 Santa Fe Avenue. Mae defied public officials; once during a court appearance, attorney Jamie McKeough demanded whether Mae “operated a public place on the Santa Fe Trail.” Mae replied, “You ought to know, you’ve been there often enough.”

But Mae also worked with the city, establishing a “Madams’ Association” to construct a special trolley system leading to the red light district. The system was built by a written agreement with the city. Mae also established a “Madams’ Rest Home” outside of town where ill or injured girls could recuperate in peace.

Mae and Trinidad’s red light ladies are long gone, but many of their historic bordellos remain in the downtown area, if you know where to look.

Pictured: The Palace in Raton, New Mexico where shady ladies once took center stage. Photo by Jan MacKell Collins.

Ed Harless and His Renegade Wife

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine and Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930.

Pictured: Notorious Blair Street at 12th Street, Silverton, Colorado.

It was no easy trick, being married in the Victorian era. Given the harshness of the times—no electricity, back-breaking chores, a plethora of vices and procreational rather than recreational sex, it is no wonder many marriages ended in divorce. The misery doubled with the death of a child, or if either spouse was given to drinking or beating one another.

In 1899 alone, the newspapers in the booming Cripple Creek District of Colorado were rife with news of unhappy unions. That June, three women applied for divorce. In July, Joe Anderson was arrested for shooting Hense Johnson in Cripple Creek’s Poverty Gulch after the former found the latter with his wife. And in October, Victor’s postmaster reported on a letter from C.M. Jones of Butte Montana, asking for assistance. Jones had just returned from the Klondike and couldn’t find his wife.

Indeed, residents of the district were no strangers to such goings on. So when Ed Harless’ wife turned up missing in Victor, it was no real surprise to anyone except maybe Ed.

The Harless’ first appeared in Victor in 1902. Ed was a miner at the Portland Mine, residing with his bride at 321 South 4th Street. But he apparently balanced his time between Victor and Denver, where he had another home. It was probably during one of his absences that Mrs. Harless unexpectedly packed her bags and caught the next train out of town. What became of her was anyone’s guess.

Ed went looking for his wife, much as any husband might do. He found her in the western slope mining town of Silverton, and the November 29 issue of the Silverton Standard reported what happened next. Harless had arrived from Victor the day before. According to the newspaper, he had been consulting a spirit medium in Denver regarding his wife’s whereabouts. The clairvoyant informed Harless that he had to look no further than Silverton to find her.

Harless beat a path to Marshal Leonard’s door in Silverton. After a short investigation, the good marshal led Harless to a bordello on Silverton’s notorious Blair Street. Like so many before her, the price of Mrs. Harless’ freedom was to land in a strange town with no support. Prostitution was a viable way to get some cash, and the girls on the row had beckoned her in.

Leonard and Harless entered the room occupied by Mrs. Harless. As the marshal stepped to the window to let in some light, the woman let out a scream. The marshal turned in time to see the husband “drawing an ugly looking revolver”. Leonard wrestled the gun away from the angry man and promptly deposited him in the city pokey. Harless was fined $50 and costs.

A few weeks later, the Standard followed up on the story with the comment that Harless had returned to Denver to further consult the psychic. This time, Harless claimed, he would find “the Telluride assassin”. Whether his boast that he could find a western slope criminal by such means was hooey, nobody will ever know. Harless did eventually return to his home in Victor, residing there as late as 1905. As for Mrs. Harless, her name in the city directory is conspicuously absent.

The Legend of Tucker Holland

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930.

           No doubt about it, Tucker Holland had it bad for Dolly Worling. The 24-year-old thought nothing of spending his time and money on the soiled dove of Colorado City’s red light district west of Colorado Springs. In fact, for a good six months leading up to Tucker’s death, his love for Dolly had turned from mere infatuation into downright obsession.

            It was said Tucker was a good boy, residing in Colorado Springs and holding a steady job. But the enticement of Colorado City was his undoing. Tucker and his brother Tony were frequent visitors to the red light district, and both boys had a fondness for Dolly’s house of ill fame, The Cottage.

            On the night of  January 18, 1908, Tucker and Tony were out buying sandwiches for the Cottage girls when Dolly’s ex-husband, Frank Shank, arrived. Frank was a foul mouthed bartender, but his love for Dolly was undying. The couple had been trying to reconcile for some time. Dolly’s love for Frank and Tucker had become precariously balanced, tilting in favor of Frank whenever the boisterous man darkened her door. When Tucker returned with the sandwiches, he discovered he’d been unceremoniously ousted from Dolly’s house. Employee Nettie Crawford met him at the door. Instructions to find somewhere else to sleep were accompanied by a pile of Tucker’s clothes.

            Crestfallen Tucker went away, muttering to Tony, “This is the end of me.” The following morning, the brothers were once more received at Dolly’s house. Tucker and Dolly retired to her boudoir, where Tucker sat on the bed and played with a revolver. Dolly stood at the window making light of Tucker’s intentions as she listened to him declare his love for her. Outside, a small boy on the sidewalk below was pointing his toy pistol at Dolly’s dog. Dolly joked, “See, Tucker, he’s going to shoot my poodle!”

            But Tucker Holland was in no mood for jokes. “Well, here’s another,” he replied. A second later a shot rang out as Tucker shot himself in the head.

            Dolly screamed, and the other girls rushed into the room. Dolly’s cook, Birdie Ward, took the gun from Tucker’s dying hand and laid it on the dresser. Dolly grabbed the gun and turned it on herself, exclaiming, “If he’s dead, I must die too!” Her girls succeeded in wrestling the gun away from her, and Tony summoned the police.

            When authorities arrived, they found Tucker bleeding profusely as he lay across Dolly’s bed. The pistol was on the dresser, but the police had a hard time swallowing the story of why it was there. Each occupant of the house was immediately arrested, including customer Roy Catton. Tucker was bundled off to St. Francis Hospital, where he died at 3 p.m. He never recovered sufficiently enough to make a statement.

            An inquest following the shooting included questioning of Tony Holland, Nettie Crawford and Birdie Ward, as well as prostitutes Mary Catlin and Myrtle Van Duyne. Frank Shank was questioned, but mostly spewed forth epithets for answers. Dolly also was questioned. The inquiry concluded that Tucker Holland had indeed ended his own life.

            Tucker was buried at Evergreen Cemetery, and his untimely death inspired the city authorities in Colorado City to close the brothels. The prostitutes of Colorado City were accordingly given ten days to leave town. Where Dolly Worley went is unknown, but her baggage certainly contained the memory of the boy who loved her—and lost.