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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.