Category Archives: Nevada Ghost Towns

A Quick History of Idaho Springs, Colorado

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

In its very early days, Idaho Springs, went by many other names including Idaho, Idahoe, Idaho Bar, Idaho City, Jackson Bar, Payne’s Bar, Sacramento and Jackson’s Diggings. The latter name was applied in honor of 32-year old George Jackson who first discovered gold in the area in 1858, as well as a natural hot springs around Chicago Creek.

During its stint as Idaho, the original town was established in 1860 and before long had grown to include 12,000 residents. By then it was known that Idaho was a Native American word for “Gem of the Rockies.” By 1861 there were two hotels, at least one saloon and gambling house, and F.W. Bebee’s “Bebee House Hotel” with its substantial menu. There were about 40 homes in town. The first post office, established in 1862, was a wooden box kept in the living room of Mrs. R.B. Griswold.

In addition to the mining industry, the hot springs at Idaho Springs drew people looking to improve their health. As in other places around Colorado, invalids, tuberculosis patients and tourists in general sought out the mineral springs. In 1863 Dr. E.S. Cummings erected the first bath house there. Although it was only in use about three years, Cummings’ bath house was the first of many such spas to come. The year 1868 saw an even bigger health resort and the introduction of stage coach service to Georgetown. The following year, William Hunter built a large log theater and called it Rock Island House. Idaho Springs’ first newspaper premiered in 1873.

Idaho was so popular during the 1870’s that its name was actually considered for the new name of Colorado Territory in 1876. But the idea was forgotten when new mineral discoveries in Virginia Canyon above town had overshadowed the findings at Idaho Springs. When a toll road (known locally as Oh My God Road) was built through Virginia Canyon to Central City, Idaho Springs realized additional commerce by serving as a supply town. The Colorado Central Railroad reached the town in 1877. The post office name was changed to Idaho Springs in April of that year, and Idaho Springs incorporated in 1878. Eventually it also became County Seat of Clear Creek County.

More growth would come as Idaho Springs became a well-known spot along the railroad and various trails. In 1879 the Idaho Springs Mining Exchange was built. Castle Eyrie, one of the city’s most prominent homes at 1828 Illinois Street, was completed in 1881, as well as the elite Club Hotel. By 1887 some 2,000 people were guessed to be living in and around Idaho Springs as plans were made to construct the 5-mile long Argo Tunnel (originally named the Newhouse) to Central City. The tunnel was completed in 1892 at a cost of $10 million.

For many more decades, Idaho Springs remained an important city and became known for its colorful watering holes. Among them was The Placer Inn in 1898 and The Buffalo Bar in 1899, the latter which remains a mainstay of Idaho Springs today. The city also remained unique for its hot springs and “Vapor Caves,” (now known as the Indian Hot Springs) which also are still in operation as well. Nearby mines and a smelter kept the town up with Colorado’s economy.

Eventually, as Colorado’s famous gold boom era faded, Idaho Springs lost some of its population. Still, the city remained an important stop along today’s Interstate 70 with restaurants and hotels for the weary traveler. In 1958, Interstate 70 was redirected, but the business loop still cuts directly through the scenic downtown area. By the 1970’s Idaho Springs’ old-time saloons and eateries had become legendary. Today some of them have gone to the wayside while others have taken their place. These, as well as several museums, historic buildings, mining tours, rafting, and even a zipline make Idaho Springs well worth a visit.

Photo: Busy Idaho Springs as it appeared around the turn of the century.

Oh, those Victorians loved to dance

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Gambler magazine.

Oh, going to a dance was our favorite thing to do. We would start out in the morning and drive our buggy for miles and bring food for a big dinner. Then we would dance all night and come home at daybreak.” – Frances Hennessey

My great-grandma’s words still echo in my mind whenever I think of those Victorian dances we so love to imitate today. In Granny’s world, nothing was so pleasing as to attend a social outing, especially a dance, where the toils of living on a remote ranch could be forgotten in the swishing of fancy skirts and a magical night that most pioneers rarely got to experience.

This was a day before radio, before nightclubs and even those dreaded disco days. It was a time before e-mail, telephones and automobiles made reaching friends commonplace. Attending a dance was literally the social event of the season. Dances were critical to the definition of social standing. They were a time to catch up on news and gossip, a time to cast off ordinary work clothes in favor of fancy dress. They also served as excellent venues to meet future mates and make new friends. Weeks, sometimes months, were spent preparing for this one special evening, whether it be a country hoedown held in a barn, a shindig at the local community center or even a fancy cotillion in one of the city’s finest dance halls.

Much like a high school prom, the most crucial aspect of any dance was the dress. Full, floor-length ball gowns were required attire. Lower and middle class ladies could fashion their evening wear from last years’ cast-off dresses, remnants of wedding gowns, or even lacy table cloths or curtains, while wealthier women always had the luxury of buying new. Gentlemen could be expected to bring out their best string-tie and an ironed shirt, or perhaps even a dress suit or tuxedo. And, unlike their contemporary counterparts of today, they were fully expected to remove their hats before entering the hall.

Upon arrival, the participants crowded into the ballroom or onto the dance floor. Etiquette of the day commanded finishing one’s “toilet”—that is, brushing hair, removing hats, drawing on gloves or arranging clothing—before entering the room. A courteous bow to the host, master of ceremonies or the dance caller was considered the polite thing to do. Friends greeted each other cordially, taking care to introduce strangers with the understanding that any new acquaintances between men and women would cease at night’s end—unless the lady chose to acknowledge her new gentleman friends at another time or place. For a man to ask a woman whom he did not know to dance was considered rude, and women who accepted such offers risked being labeled immoral!

If dinner was a part of the gala, ladies and their escorts brought in an array of dishes, potluck style. At fancier affairs, dinner might be served by caterers at lavishly set tables that included china, silverware and elegant table decor. In smaller, rural towns, where whole families were in attendance, children were given their own table with older siblings managing the younger ones. Afterward, as the hour grew late, children were generally ushered into a separate room and put to bed among coats and blankets brought by guests.

Sometimes, too, the energy of fitting a full-course meal into an agonizingly tight corset required a brief rest period. At the more luxurious balls, the ladies would retire to a separate room to rest, nap, chat and fix their hair and dresses. The men would retire to another room to smoke cigars, drink fine liquor and talk politics or business. A full-blown, carefully planned gala took time, and most attendees wanted to look and feel their best when the festivities began. After a properly allotted period of time, the couples would rejoin before entering the ballroom together.

And then the dance really began. At more elite affairs, ladies in attendance were issued a “dance card”, a small folded card with a pencil attached. Some were quite fancy and could include a tasseled cord to be tied to the wrist. Others came with a jacket covered in ornate paper or even a metal case. Dance cards served two purposes: one could record each dance and the partner with whom she danced, and the little trinkets served as a momento of the evening. In most cases, male partners could reserve a favorite dance with a lady in advance. Woe to the woman, however, who filled her dance card too quickly and inadvertently left out a late-arriving friend or favorite partner. Attending a ball without an escort or leaving a lady unattended was especially taboo; therefore, dance cards were dealt with very delicately.

For years, quadrilles and polkas—Victorian versions of line dancing and square dancing—were prominent. Dance styles with such extravagant names as the Schottische, the Mozourka, Le Pantalon, La Poule and Des Graces were popular because they included changing partners with everyone on the floor. During the Victorian era, the newest craze became the Waltz. Considered scandalous by some, the Waltz gave couples the luxury of dancing a full song together and required partners to hold each other close. A handkerchief, placed delicately between the hands or on the shoulder of the gentleman where the lady placed her hand, kept gloves from getting soiled. They also kept partners from the total intimacy of touching one another.

Music was naturally another important aspect. Lutes, mandolins, fiddles, flutes, pianos and organs were generally played at less fancy functions, where a “caller” might help dancers keep the time to the music by calling out the steps. Rural mining camps often had no more than a single musician, hopefully a fiddle player, to provide music. His pay usually came in the form of dinner and grog, or a collection might be taken to pay him at the end of the evening. At larger balls and more elite dances, a full band or orchestra would be on hand to play through the evening.

As odd as it sounds in our nine-to-five world, most dances did not end until the sun peeked over the horizon in the wee hours of the morning. The dancers, spent and happy, would then make their way home to await word of the next function. Until then, they would tuck away their dance cards, place cards, wilted flowers and pieces of lace in memory of the occasion.

A Day in the Life of a 19th Century Cowboy

C 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article were excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook.

As romantic as it sounds, a day in the life of a cowboy has always been a hard one. “We ate breakfast about 4 a.m. and wrangled our horses,” said 96-year-old cowboy George Hennessey of Arizona in 1974. “Sometimes we’d circle for 20 miles in a day, bringing the cattle in. Generally, we got a little rest in the afternoon. We’d come in at night in time to get the herd together and hold it overnight. Then everybody would stand three hours guard at night.” Hennessey worked for the famed Hashknife brand, a well-traveled icon of the cattle industry of Arizona and other places during the late 1800’s. In New Mexico, Frank Jones purchased some Arizona cattle bearing the brand and decided to register the Hashknife at his Watrous ranch. The brand can still be seen on the ranch’s 1913 barn from Interstate 25. The brand was also established in Oregon by a former Hashknife employee during the early 1900s.

Cowboying goes back a long way. The beef industry was especially important during the gold rushes of Colorado beginning in 1859. A year later, famed cattle baron Charles Goodnight brought cattle north through New Mexico and into southeastern Colorado. The Goodnight-Loving Trail and many other paths became well-worn highways of history, with millions of cattle stamping down the hard, dry dirt during summer and struggling through snow during winter.

The average cowpoke around the turn of the last century could make between $25 and $40 per month, but the work was tough. Many were young; New Mexico cowboy Ralph McJunkin left school after fourth grade to work on his father’s a ranch. But not everyone had what it took. A good rider, one who could work alone under a blazing sun or in freezing snow, made a good candidate. Working 15-hour days was typical. Loneliness was a given, since many hands spent weeks out on the range.

A comfortable bedroll was important to the boys, who were expected to roll up their bedding and toss it on the wagon each morning. One man recalled how cowboy Homer Creswell “always rolled his bed looser than anybody, just wadded it up loose as a goose and stuff was always spilling out of it.” The men also had to carry a gun. “We were gathering some of these wild cows and sometimes you had to shoot one to keep it from hooking your horse,” Hennessey explained. A good rancher supplied his hands with up to three circle horses, three cutting horses and two night mounts.

Although cowhands spent much of their time on the range, they also shared a common bunkhouse on the ranches that employed them. Eight to ten cowboys were usually kept on the payroll. In addition to herding cattle, cowboys also staved off wolves, rounded up strays, looked after the horses, and made repairs to fences and line shacks. Most men worked April through November calving, keeping the herd together and rounding up cattle as needed. During the winter months, crews of two men and a wagon spent their time looking after the herd and branding.

The success or failure of any ranch came twice a year at roundup, when it was time to sell the cattle. Up to 25 men could be needed as the cows were herded to stockyards, where they were inspected as buyers came to make their bids. Demand set the price, which was important since many ranchers bought their winter supplies on credit, at high interest rates. “It was likely they sold their souls to the company store,” commented one rancher’s daughter, Ruth Wallace. “Our father used to say if they had one good year out of seven, we would be lucky.”

At the end of the day most cowboys relished the chance to rest up. Some spent the evening hours singing songs or playing a guitar or harmonica. But after roundup or payday were the times the men looked forward to the most. Stories are many about cowboys galloping through some town or another with their guns blazing, or partying the night away at a saloon or brothel. Trinidad, Colorado’s location along the Santa Fe Trail, for instance, made the town a central location for cowpokes and cattlemen where bathhouses, saloons and plenty of wild women were on hand for entertainment.

The men also could eat a good meal after months of chowing from the chuckwagon with a rather repetitive menu. Dry biscuits known as hardtack, beans, jerky and coffee were regular staples. Those lucky enough to dine at the ranch fared much better. “Mama did the cooking for the cowboys and took care of them as her own,” said Ruth Wallace. “I learned one thing, when a cowboy came riding through to ask him in and cook a meal for him. That was the way of the west.”

The career span of a cowboy largely depended on whether he made enough money to start his own ranch and how long he was physically able to mount a horse. Longtime cowboy Frank Wallace had no use for cars and trucks. His daughter-in-law, Amy, remembered telling him, “that car isn’t a horse, and when you come to a bush or tree, unless you turn it, it is going to go right over.’” Colorado rancher Joseph Schneider was known to yell “Whoa!” and start cussing before jumping out of the vehicle. George Hennessey’s sentiment towards retirement likely rang true for many. “I think I’d enjoy myself a hell of a lot better if I was out on the range,” he said.

Trucks and other modern technology have changed ranching in many ways. For many cowboys, however, the work remains just as grueling and long as it ever was. Love for the job still comes straight from the heart. “You gotta want to be a cowboy, keep your eyes open and your mouth shut,” Arizona cowboy Pat Hughes once said, over 70 years ago. “And, by Gawd, don’t think you know it all the first year. Hell, I been cowboyin’ all my life and I’m still learnin’.”

Ashcroft: A Premiere Colorado Ghost Town

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

High up in the hills near Aspen lies Ashcroft, one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado. During summer, Ashcroft fairly comes alive with visitors who love to walk along the old roads and explore the nine buildings comprising what is left of the town. Although it is still highly accessible during winter, the snowy months drive away tourists as Ashcroft—altitude 9500’— settles into slumber and waits for spring thaw.

Ashcroft had its beginnings during the winter of 1879-80, when miner Thomas E. Ashcraft joined 22 other prospectors in Castle Creek Valley. Named for the castle-like spires on nearby Castle Peak, the valley was identified by the Hayden geological survey as having valuable silver deposits. Despite threats from Ute Indians, Ashcraft stuck it out and soon laid out a small settlement called Highland. A short time later, Ashcraft and his fellow miners moved a short distance from Highland and named their new camp Castle Forks City, a name they also assigned to their placer mine. Highland flourished for a short time before succumbing to the popularity of Ashcroft.

A Miner’s Protective Association was soon formed, with each of the 97 members having an equal say in Castle Forks’ future. Eight hundred and sixty four lots were sold at $5 each. The idea of renaming the picturesque little town soon came under fire. According to postal records, Castle Fork’s post office was first known as Ashcroft as of August 12, 1880 (the census taker called it Ashcraft when he came around a week later). Even at that early date, there were 130 people living there. Their numbers included several miners, but also an assayer, a mason, a merchant, a restaurant owner, a saloon keeper, a surveyor and two blacksmiths. A surprising five entrepreneurs, a news reporter and even a government scout were included in the eclectic total. And, there was nary a woman around.

The following year, the postmaster general assigned the name of Chloride. But local miners were calling the place Ashcroft by the time that name was reassigned in January of 1882. John R. Nelson was the first postmaster. As was the case with so many mining camps, the town grew quickly. Initially Ashcroft was only accessible via Taylor Pass, an extremely rough road that was closed through winter. Wagons traversing the pass were required to stop, disassemble the vehicle, raise or lower it over 40-foot cliffs, and reassemble it before moving on.

The Carson Brothers Stage Line made its debut in 1881 and charged travelers $2 for a ride to Buena Vista and points in between via Cottonwood Pass or Independence Pass. Two other stage lines eventually served Ashcroft as well. Easier access made Ashcroft a gateway to Aspen, while telegraph poles along Taylor Pass enhanced communications. Famous visitors to Ashcroft included Bob Ford, the killer of outlaw Jesse James, and silver magnates Horace and Baby Doe Tabor. In fact, Tabor purchased interests in the Tam O’Shanter and Montezuma mines and built a lavish home at Ashcroft that included gold-encrusted wallpaper. Whenever Baby Doe visited, Tabor declared a holiday and bought drinks for everyone.

By 1882 the $5 lots were selling for as much as $400 and by 1883 Ashcroft had outgrown the nearby town of Aspen. Some historians place the population of 1,000 and others 2,500. The residency consisted mostly of miners and was served by two newspapers the Herald and the Journal. There were also two sawmills, a school, a courthouse and jail, a theater and an amazing 20 saloons. There were also four hotels: the Farrell, Fifth Avenue, Riverside and St. Cloud. Main and Castle were the two main streets.

Unfortunately, much of the silver ore mined around Ashcroft was low grade. The town of Aspen began to grow. Aspen’s mines also excelled where Ashcroft’s did not, and local mining strikes also affected the town. Sealing its doom was the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad’s decision not to extend their tracks to Ashcroft. Very quickly, Aspen came into the limelight while Ashcroft faded into the past.

Ashcroft’s population had dwindled to 100 souls by 1885 with a mere $5.60 left in the city treasury. Many of Ashcroft’s citizens moved to Aspen, often lifting their cabins right off the foundations and moving them as well. There were 75 residents in 1900, but the number still only included three women. Ashcroft’s population was nearly depleted by 1906 when the town was sold to a New York syndicate. When the population was reduced to nine residents, the post office finally closed in 1912.

Eventually only two residents remained at Ashcroft: poet and former postmaster Dan McArthur and former saloon owner John “Jack” Leahy, who had helped form a union during the strikes. A resident of Ashcroft for some 57 years, Leahy also offered legal advice and served as a justice of the peace. Interestingly, his services were never required in an official court of law, and in later years he became known as the Hermit of Ashcroft. When Leahy died in 1939, he was the last official resident of the town.

Ashcroft next caught the attention of sports figure Theodore Ryan and Olympic gold medalist Billy Fiske, who wanted to turn it into a ski resort. The pair built the Highland-Bavarian Lodge in anticipation of constructing an aerial tramway to the top of Mount Hayden. World War II put a stop to the plans when Fiske died in action. Ryan was also drafted and but offered to lease Ashcroft to the 10th Mountain Division for only a dollar per year. But the army was already using Camp Hale near Leadville and while some training exercises took place at Ashcroft, the small town never reached its full potential as a base camp. A decision to move the ski resort to Aspen was Ashcroft’s final undoing.

After the war, dogsled operator Stuart Mace became a caretaker at Ashcroft in exchange for using the land for his sleds. Mace, his huskies and Ashcroft were all featured in the 1950’s television series “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.” Stuart and his wife also ran the Toklat Restaurant at Ashcroft, and their descendants have turned the building into an exclusive gallery with crafts from all over the world. The Mace’s also saved the town from land developers by donating its 15 acres to the Forest Service in 1953. The Aspen Historical Society began working in 1974 to preserve what was left of the town.

Today, Ashcroft is a great place to snow shoe in a quiet mountain valley. There is a caretaker nearby and a fee of $3.00. From Aspen, take Highway 82 west. At the roundabout, take Castle Creek Road for approximately 11 miles. The road is paved all the way to Ashcroft, but the ancient streets of the town will remind you of how it must have looked over a century ago.



Prostitution During the Cripple Creek District Labor Wars, 1904

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article were part of a presentation for the Cripple Creek Labor War Symposium at Penrose Library, Colorado Springs, in June, 2004, and appeared in The Colorado Labor Wars 1903-1904: Cripple Creek District, published in 2006. 

There is an old western proverb that goes, 

The miner came in ‘59

The prostitute in ‘61

And between the two,

They made the native son!

That little ditty was even truer than we might think, since prostitution was a major industry during the settlement of Colorado, and a presence in every boom town across the state. In a place where the chief industry was mining, men could outnumber women as much as 20 to one. Often, miners and prospectors would migrate from far away places and settle in a town or camp until they could afford to send for their families. The process could take months or even years, during which lonely men yearned for the sight of a woman—any woman. Thus red-light districts and brothels were highly acceptable among male-dominated communities, including company towns and especially in mining towns.

The city of Victor was no exception to the rule. Evidence of Victor’s illicit nightlife was already blatantly present during labor strikes which took place in the Cripple Creek District during the years 1893 and 1894. During the strikes, Mrs. Haillie Miller, a local prostitute, was employed by mine owners to bed striking miners and obtain information from them. It was a very limited success, for Haillie was often far more interested in the whiskey before her than listening to an unhappy miner rave about his job.


Despite that failure, prostitutes played an important role in the life of both miners and mine owners. Most brothels served not just as a place to procure sex or play a little poker, but they also offered security and discretion. Men could talk more freely in a bordello than they could in the bars and businesses or at work, or even at home, and the soiled doves kept their secrets. As a result, these women earned the respect of their clients. It was a nice exchange: the girls were able to make their living, and the miners found a place to relax, enjoy themselves and get their minds off of their dangerous working conditions.

Loyal friends

Many prostitutes made loyal friends out of their favorite customers, a varied lot from all walks of life. A good many of them were miners and young single men, but they could also be millionaires, business owners, laborers, city officials, and even law enforcement officers, husbands, and fathers. At the same time, many prostitutes in the district were prominent madams with extensive holdings at the local bank. Many a mine owner’s indiscretions were never divulged to the public, saved by those working girls who zipped their lips.

Mining stocks

Many prostitutes also invested in mining stocks, which was very fashionable for the day, much like owning the latest dressware or having a poodle. Such investments were very much a status symbol, and so naturally the gals who bought stocks in the mines supported both the mine owners and their employees.

Lola Livingston & Spencer Penrose

In fact, many girls rented from or catered to the millionaire mine owners around the Cripple Creek District, almost serving as double agents much like Mata Hari did during WW I. But, they also could be bought. A favorite story is the time an associate of Spencer Penrose was sent to collect the rent from Cripple Creek madam Lola Livingston. Forty minutes later the red-faced associate returned without the money, with the explanation that he and Lola had decided he should take the debt out in trade.

Millionaires protect status

By about 1895, the District millionaires were finding it necessary to protect their class status. Prominent men like Penrose, Charles Tutt and Winfield Scott Stratton were forced by their wealth to quit making appearances on bawdy Myers Avenue in Cripple Creek and the red light district in Victor in order to save their reputations. But making gobs of money failed to stop these men from their love of working girls.

Sally Halthusen

Spec Penrose in particular seems to have gotten into trouble with various girls, at least until his new wife, Julie, straightened him out. There was a widely circulated story about Penrose’s involvement with a horse trainer named Sally Halthusen. Sally wasn’t exactly a prostitute, but she was looking for a rich husband. It was said Sally had already been paid off once by the father of a man she was looking to marry. Eventually Spec’s brother talked some sense into him and he stopped seeing Sally, at least in the public eye.

Incidents like this were enough to make the millionaires of Cripple Creek hire private call girls to come to their homes. Still, embarrassing incidents were known to rear their ugly heads now and then. One call girl, Candace Root, sued millionaire Winfield Scott Stratton in 1895 for $200,000, with the charge of breach of promise to marry. Candace claimed Stratton lured her to his bed, and also that she was pregnant. The case was dismissed. Penrose and Tutt, who owned a racetrack and casino up at the town of Gillette and several brothels and “theaters” along Myers Avenue, were also fired upon. The Cripple Creek Morning Journal called their Topic Theater a “variety den and skin dive” and said their dance hall should “be removed with the rest of the filth.”

By the time Victor was officially incorporated in 1895, the city was chock full of saloons and whorehouses. Most of them were along portions of 3rd and 4th Streets, but unlike most larger cities, other red-light houses could be found scattered all over town. Victor, with its large male population of miners, also was unique in that brothels seemed welcome to coexist with other businesses throughout the town—at least for a little while.

In 1896, the miners in Victor got a taste of what was coming when they heard about labor strikes going on Leadville. One of the stories that made its way to Victor was about Laura Evens, later a prominent madam in Salida, who played an important part in the Leadville labor war herself. Union men were blocking the entrance to one of the mines, much like they did at the town of Altman in the Cripple Creek District during the 1894 strike. No one was allowed to leave. It was Laura who showed up under the guise of visiting a friend who had not been allowed to leave, and was permitted to enter. What the guards didn’t know was that she was smuggling the payroll for non-union miners under her skirts. Her effort was rewarded by a dinner invitation to the mine owners’ home plus $100.


In time, Victor’s proper women began objecting to the number of prostitutes plying their trade in town. Victor began regulating the red light industry with fines and required health exams. Then Victor suffered its infamous fire in 1899, which burned down much of the town. When it was discovered the fire began behind a dance hall on south 3rd, Victor’s prostitutes were even more ostracized.

By the time the labor wars began in 1903, Victor’s red light ladies had lost much respect. A good number of them were siding with the striking miners, which of course angered the mine owners. At the time, however, there were at least a handful of girls who were willing to spill their guts for a certain price. The 1903 labor war was much more violent than the strikes of 1893, and even Victor’s prostitutes fell victim to the turmoil.

One of the most devastating incidents to take place happened on September 1, 1903. At that time, and for some years before, the newspapers had been making light of the plight of prostitutes who fell victim to abuse, drug addiction, and alcohol. A pro-union miner named Slim Campbell had been arrested for striking, but was released. Like thousands of other miners, Slim was frustrated and angry. Later that evening, Slim procured the services of a working girl and brutally murdered her. The mine owners blamed the Western Federation of Miners for allowing Slim to escape, even as they themselves continued to condemn Victor’s prostitutes for offering refuge to men on both sides of the strike.

A few men, such as world traveler and author Lowell Thomas, defended Victor’s bad girls. After all, they too were caught up in this bloody and heart-wrenching war. Thomas delivered newspapers in Victor as a boy, and his route included several brothels. Thomas described the ladies who, he said, “came to their doors in their wrappers, and sometimes less, and appeared relieved to find only the newsboy. They often chatted with me and I answered respectfully, as I had been taught to do, and this seemed to please them inordinately…after learning about what went on behind those shuttered windows I remained respectful to the girls, and they were always nice to me. When I finally got my burro I promptly led it over and showed it to them. They seemed proud, too.”

Not surprisingly, it was a woman of questionable character who became the first female ordered to leave the district during the strikes. On about June 25, 1904, just a few weeks after professional assassin Harry Orchard blew up the depot at Independence, Mamie McGorraity of Victor got drunk and began traipsing up and down Victor Avenue. Mamie was arrested when she greeted a soldier with profanities, and calling the man a “scab herder.” Mamie was arrested and taken to city jail. Upon her release she was told to leave the district, but the paper did not report whether or not she did so.

Like everyone else in the district, Victor’s prostitutes waited out the strikes to their end, and it worked. In at least one way, they were very much like their male counterparts in the community: they were just trying to make a living and earn a little cash in order to survive.


Chapter One: Red Light Districts

C 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Excerpted from Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930 (University of New Mexico Press, 2004)

Special thanks to St. Margaret of Cortona, the patroness saint of fallen women.

            The term “red-light” has long been used to describe districts of prostitution. In America, its origins date from the days when railroad men left their red signal lanterns outside the brothels while paying a visit to a lady of the evening so they could be found in an emergency. The sign of a red lantern on the porch became known as a way to identify brothels, which often appeared as legitimate homes or businesses on the outside. And, true to its romantic shade, the color of red was used by many a prostitute in her decorating schemes. Many red-light districts got their start alongside railroad tracks, where numerous saloons already abounded. There, railroad employees and visitors alike could stop for a pleasure visit.

            In the West, red-light districts became especially popular among lonely miners and other men who came to seek their fortunes sans their families. As early as 1870, ordinances were passed in the city of Denver prohibiting prostitution. Apparently the new laws were of little avail. The Rocky Mountain News of July 23, 1889 commented that saloons were “the most fruitful source for breeding and feeding prostitution.”  In 1891 the Colorado General Assembly passed a law prohibiting women from entering saloons or being served liquor in Denver. Nevertheless, most brothels did serve alcohol—also known as nose paint, tonsil varnish and tongue oil—freely and at very high prices. Bottles of wine could sell at five hundred times their cost, thereby covering other losses. In Denver, brothels served beer in four-ounce glasses at $1 each. In comparison, one could purchase a schooner of beer in other parts of town for just a nickel. Expensive or not, it was well known that almost anything could be obtained where the red lantern hung.

            Many red-light districts served as their own private communities. Within their boundaries, prostitutes worked, ate, slept, confided in each other, fought with and stole from one another, and established rank among themselves. In these small and often forlorn looking neighborhoods, women hoped, dreamed, and tried to see through the dimness of their futures. Their place of  employment was also their home, where they were treated for illness, looked after the sick, and dressed the dead. Drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning, both intentional and accidental, were common. Most experienced girls and madams knew how to handle funeral arrangements. Even if the family of the dead could be found, relatives often refused to claim the body.

            Within the prostitute’s home, her immediate “family” consisted of her co-workers and her boss. Jealousy and competition, however, were just as likely to rear their ugly heads among women within the same house or district. More than a few soiled doves sought friendship and comfort in some of their customers. Often male companionship was the only hope a prostitute had for a lasting friendship of any kind. Sometimes women were fortunate enough to marry their consorts, but woe to the woman who became pregnant with no prospective husband. Her inconvenience put her out of work and cost the madam money.

          Abortion was always an alternative, but not a very pleasant one. Toxic poisons could be used to induce abortion, but could easily prove fatal for the mother as well. Back-room abortions, performed by unskilled midwives, could also have disastrous results. Women who chose to give birth raised their babies in the brothels, pawned them off on relatives or friends, or sent them away to school—if they lived. One of Leadville’s back alleys was so well known for the number of dead infants found there it was named “Stillborn Alley.” Daughters of prostitutes were sometimes trained by experienced professionals to follow their mothers into the business. One of the most notorious brothels in Denver during the year 1882 was kept by a madam, her daughter and two nieces.

            No matter its legalities, prostitution was in demand and flourished wherever men were willing to pay for it. The average “trick” cost anywhere from 50 c to $10, depending on the girl or the house. In the more elite parlor houses of the city, a customer could expect to pay $100 or more for an all-night stay. The price also largely depended on the availability of women in any given camp or city. Women who managed to ply their trade with only a few competitors could often make enough to retire within just a few months.

            Brothel tokens were introduced as an easy form of payment in many bordellos and parlor houses. Also called love tokens or brass checks and thought to be of Greek origin, such coins usually came in the shape of today’s fifty-cent piece or dollar gambling token. Variations included oval coins, buttons, business cards, or even slips of paper. Not all brothels used checks, but many did. The checks kept the girls and the customers honest.

          The practice of using such tokens worked something like this: the customer purchased his token or tokens directly from the madam. Upon finding the woman he wanted, the customer in turn gave the token to her. At the end of the night, the girl returned the tokens she had received to the madam. This prevented the girls from making their own cash deals in the privacy of their rooms. It also prevented customers from taking advantage of the house. Tipping was usually allowed, however, permitting the girls to have a little pocket money. A popular claim among sources in Cripple Creek is that some girls could turn in as many as fifty tokens per night. Some of the smaller denominations, such as dollar tokens, could be used in slot machines as well. Such forms of payment remained in use as late as World War II.

            Brothels did not usually lack either notoriety or popularity once they were established. For those new to town, however, and especially in larger cities, forms of advertising were limited. Soliciting in the newspapers would often have been out of the question even if prostitution were legal. Most papers pounced on the girls’ misfortunes, exploited their actions, jeered at their attempts to improve their situations, and displayed only mild sympathy when they died. Therefore, brothels had to resort to unusual methods for attracting customers. Business cards with a brothel address, some with what was considered vulgar language for the day, could be passed discreetly to prospects or even slipped into their pockets without them knowing. Some of the less expensive forms of advertising included discount nights, hiring bands to parade the streets and solicit, or driving new girls in a buggy around town. “Virgin auctions” were also widely advertised to attract more business.

            In larger cities like Denver, a directory of dance halls, gambling dens and brothels was easily obtainable if you knew whom to ask. Called Blue Books or Red Books, these handy directories were a skewed version of the social registries passed out among elite societies. In the early days, “Blue Book” was construed to mean “Blue Blood”. Many a madam plagiarized the “Blue Book” title in hopes that wealthy men would consult the books looking for acceptable houses of business and find their brothels instead. In time, the Red Books were published as a tongue-in-cheek alternative. Ultimately, the illegitimate Blue Books and Red Books of any city’s seamy underside directed travelers and newcomers to established pleasure resorts. They also helped those unfamiliar with the city to avoid trouble with seedier establishments.

            The 1895 Travelers’ Night Guide of Colorado was unique in that the booklet advertised brothels statewide, with scenic photographs of the state interspersed throughout. The sixty-six-page guide was conveniently made to fit in a vest pocket. Among the advertisers in this book were Pearl DeVere of Cripple Creek, Bell Bristol and Lucille Deming of Colorado City, Nellie Clark of Grand Junction, Clara Ogden of Lake City, Gussie Grant of Telluride, and Jennie Rogers and Georgie Burnham of Denver.

          The ads contained within such directories were free to be bold by the standards of the day. Messages such as “Twenty young ladies engaged nightly to entertain guests” and “Strangers Cordially Welcomed” told wayward visitors of the best houses to go to for fun. Advertisements were rarely brazen or crude; prospective customers were told what they needed to know in polite verbiage. Occasionally working girls competed by taking ads out against each other, accusing certain other houses or girls of bad business practices or highlighting other uncomplimentary aspects.

            Elite parlor houses often requested letters of recommendation from satisfied customers, which they displayed for new prospects. Occasionally, engraved invitations were sent to prospective clients for grand openings or special parties. Sometimes the girls would wear their fanciest dresses on the streets as a form of advertising. Other times, madams took their employees on excursions to nearby mining camps. Under the guise of a “vacation,” the girls could drum up new or temporary business.

          Sometimes the girls undertook this task themselves. In 1911 and 1912 and Cripple Creek prostitute register records a number of women such as Maxine Murry, Mazie Paterson, Katie Price, Laura Scott, Dora Willison and others, who appear to have only been visiting from Denver for a week or two before returning home. Quite possibly, these women were “on loan” from their Denver bordellos or looking for new business, or even scoping out business opportunities in Cripple Creek.

            Lower-class brothels advertised more freely. A common pitch was for the girls to sit, invitingly dressed, in second-story windows and call to prospects down below. In the cribs, usually located in the poorer section of the district, women were not beyond leaning out of their doorways inviting passerby to “C’mon in, baby.” During the 1880’s and 1890’s in Denver, open soliciting was legal for many years. Horse races down main streets, water fights to show off their wares, and public pillow fights were even more brazen methods of advertising.

          When the come-ons grew crude, soliciting was outlawed and curtains were required on all red-light windows in many towns. Accordingly, “accidental” holes were ripped in the curtains, allowing passerby their own private peep show. A more drastic measure of advertising was “hat snatching.” A girl would grab a man’s hat from his head and escape into the brothel with it. The hapless male would then attempt to go inside and retrieve his hat without falling victim to the pleasures within. In Central City, the refined Wakely sisters were known to grab passing miners and dance with or sing to them in order to lure them inside the bordello.

            The prostitute went by several other names. She was known as the soiled dove, lady of the evening, jewelled bird, fallen angel, shady lady, that other woman, lady of the lamplight, frail sister, fille de joie, nymph du pave, the fair Cyprian, the abandoned woman, scarlet woman, painted hussey, fancy girl, bawd, good time Daisy, trollop, strumpet, harridan, woman of the town, wanton woman, moll, norrel woman, erring sister and—least attractive—hooker, slut and whore. And there were other terms: carogue was another word for harlot, specifically, “a woman who, in revenge for having been corrupted by men, corrupts them in return.” During the early 1800’s, blowens were prostitutes or women who cohabited with men without the sanctity of marriage.

            The average prostitute was about twenty-one years old, although some were as young as thirteen or as old as fifty. No matter her age, the prostitute’s ultimate goal was to make money fast, marry well, and become socially acceptable. At the very least, she desired to become a courtesan or mistress to a very rich fellow who might marry her someday. Being a courtesan required being beautiful, intelligent, educated and sophisticated. Achieving such wit and charm took training and practice. According to Lawrence Powell:

“Most also were required, in the upscale sporting houses, to learn to play a musical instrument, take singing and elocution lessons, comportment lessons, and imitate the high fashion mandates of society. They had to be able to pass for a governess or companion to a rich man’s child or elderly parent. If they succeeded, they were sometimes housed in an unmarried man’s home. In any case, they had to be presentable in order to travel with wealthy patrons and obtain the coveted role of mistress versus chatelaine. Madams ran “charm schools” which mimicked the schools for young wealthy daughters of society.”

            A girl would be lucky indeed to land in such a prestigious position. Meanwhile, she worked hard and late, generally preferred drugs to fattening alcohol, and did what she could to make a life for herself. In her spare time she cleaned her wardrobe and linens, read, did needlework or gardened. A good number of shady ladies also became quite adept at card games, since it helped pass the time between customers and made for better entertainment when playing against clients. Cats and dogs made suitable companions for prostitutes. A favorite pet was the French poodle, because the little dogs were easy to keep in small quarters. Often, her pets were the only loyal friends a girl had.

            Prostitutes in general hoped to find freedom and wealth quickly and perhaps even enjoyed their job at the start, with the impression that not much work was required. Younger girls earned less than their older, more experienced counterparts, but they learned quickly that if they stayed too long in one place they risked being labeled old-timers. Jennie Bernard, for example, was noted as paying fines for prostitution in 1896. In 1912 Jennie surfaced in Cripple Creek looking for work. By then she was a good sixteen years into her profession, and was likely moving more and more often as her looks and talents faded. To avoid moving constantly or falling into disuse, a working girl had to make her money and get out of her career as quickly as she could. Many did not, and only a small percentage got out the profession and went straight before their career ruined them altogether.

            Denver prostitute Belle Grant was one who got out of the profession. In her day, Belle was a notorious madam known to become violent when drunk. Her talents at knife fights and shootouts were no secret in town. During the winter of 1887, Belle telegraphed another prostitute named Lil, who was living in Aspen. The girls decided to move to Salt Lake City together. At Pueblo, however, Belle had the inexplicable urge to disembark and stay the night. When she went to bed later that evening, Belle later claimed, she received a visit from the ghost of her mother, who sat on the bed, placed her hand on Belle’s head, and told her that if she continued on her wayward path the two would never meet in Heaven. The next morning, Belle lost no time in sending Lil on to Salt Lake City while she herself returned to Denver, where she began hanging around the churches and taking in sewing. She eventually went to work for the Salvation Army.

            Belle Grants’ story is unusual in that she successfully saved herself from prostitution. If she had chosen to remain in her career, she probably would have aspired to become a madam. Many madams were prostitutes who were no longer attractive but had vast experience in the business. A few were employed as “parlor ladies” for dance hall owners. Madams oversaw, owned, or controlled most aspects of their business, from fancy parlor houses to dance halls and down the line to lower-class cribs. Their goal was to make money, and lots of it. Acting as sophisticated and discreetly as possible to avoid trouble with the law was essential. Some madams were so discreet that even their girls did not know the customers’ names.

            Despite their bad reputations, most madams stayed on the good side of the law by donating to local charities, schools, hospitals and churches. Many took in the sick, the poor and the orphaned. Most helped find employment for their jobless friends. They also contributed involuntarily—they paid monthly fines or fees required by the court, and their building rent was higher than that of any legitimate business in town. In Salida for instance, madams were fined as much as $100 monthly, and their girls paid $25 and up.  Almost all city councils passed laws prohibiting prostitution, but timely payment of fines for breaking those laws usually assured a madam her business was safe.

            Because of their many financial obligations, madams worked to maintain excellent credit. Good standing at the bank was important should any problems occur. Some madams kept a “ceremonial” husband for legal and financial reasons. Such men were usually longtime friends or lovers who could be trusted. Their job was to vouch for their “wife’s” reputation, sign legal papers, serve as bouncers, and generally help the madam out of any unpleasant messes. Men were rarely prosecuted for their participation in the prostitution industry, but there were exceptions. In 1874 a Mr. Baron of Pueblo answered charges of being drunk, visiting a Mexican house of ill fame, and assaulting the occupant—for which he paid a total of $10 in fines.

          In 1886 local newspapers in Silverton reported on a local ball where, after escorting their respectable companions home, many of the men returned for a second dance hosted by ladies of the demi-monde. “The indignation of the respectable ladies of our city,” commented the paper, “is just.” The Boulder County News voiced similar sentiments in 1888 after reporting on several local boys from good families who were arrested for visiting a brothel. “If young men have no more self-respect or respect for their parents or friends than to seek such low resorts, the whole community shall be made acquainted with the fact so they may be treated accordingly.”

            If a prostitute collided with the law by disturbing the peace, fighting, being on the street at the wrong time, swearing or being intoxicated in public, her madam had to answer for her. If the madam was unavailable or unwilling to bail her out, the prostitute usually could not pay her own fine and had to work out her debt in jail: doing time, cleaning, or even trading sexual favors for her freedom.

            The prostitute’s wardrobe consisted of evening wear, afternoon “costumes” and lingerie. Additionally, the girls required plenty of powder, other cosmetics and perfume. Since many prostitutes could get no credit, they were forced to purchase their personal items through the madam and were therefore always in debt to her. Most girls paid their own room and board, purchased their personal beverages, and disbursed about half their fee to the madam.

            Prostitutes were also expected to obey house rules, which their madams oversaw with a firm hand. A few madams could be cruel or violent, making sure their girls were too indebted to them or too scared to leave or failing to care for them when they fell sick. When a Tin Cup prostitute calling herself “Oh Be Joyful” expressed her desire to marry a local rancher her madam, Deadwood Sal, refused to give up the girl’s contract. In desperation, the rancher and his friends rescued Oh Be Joyful in the dead of night, and the two were married in a cabin on the hill above town before galloping off to live at the rancher’s spread.

            At the opposite end of the spectrum, it was not uncommon for madams to have to evict, sue or even swear out complaints against their girls and others. Boulder madam Frenchy Nealis sued saloon keeper James Nevin to reclaim her furniture from an apartment above his bar in 1877. In 1882 Mollie May of Leadville charged Annie Layton with stealing a dress. In turn, Annie accused Mollie of running a house of ill fame, and Mollie retaliated by revealing that Annie was employed as a prostitute. Ultimately, all charges were dropped. In 1885 Silverton madam Mable Pierce filed a complaint against employee Bessie Smith for welshing on a loan and stealing back her own clothes, which she had used for collateral. Within a week, Mable sued Jessie Carter for the same offense. A few months later, Mable also sued Jessie Carroll for disturbing the peace.

          There was more: In 1897 a Creede madam known as Mrs. Joseph Barnett, alias Ardeen Hamilton, shot and killed employee Kate Cassidy. Hamilton admitted to the shooting, but claimed self-defense. And as late as June of 1905, Helen Ward suffered during raids by Colorado City authorities, when a former employee named Annie Rock (probably Annie Rook), testified against her after quarreling with the would-be madam. Ward spent six months in the El Paso County Jail for conducting a disorderly house, despite her compliant guilty plea. Rock was charged with mayhem, but the outcome of her case is unknown.

            In spite of the occasional skirmish, a good madam served as a surrogate mother to her girls. Because of their lifestyles, most call girls were ill tempered, frequently depressed, given to drinking, or addicted to drugs. It was the madam’s job to pacify her girls as much as she was able and protect them from the law, clergy, and rough customers. In Trinidad, a Madams’ Association was formed to provide protection and care for the girls. This respected organization followed guidelines resembling a union and included a convalescent home for those who became ill. Trinidad, like Cripple Creek, required a health card issued by an approved physician in order for girls to work. This rule was also practiced in Colorado City, Silverton, and many other towns in Colorado. In Salida, Laura Evens was well known for caring for her girls, including getting them regular health exams and finding them other employment when they no longer made suitable prostitutes.

            Naturally, those madams who best cared for their workers also had the fanciest brothels in town. Called parlor houses, these aristocratic businesses were more likely to appear in prime locations within larger cities. City directories usually listed them as boarding houses, but anyone familiar with the city knew what they really were. The average house employed anywhere from five to twenty working girls, plus servants, a musician and a bouncer. The naughty ladies employed there were required to be talented, attractive and classy. According to a prostitute named LaVerne who worked for madam Laura Evens (sometimes spelled Evans) in Salida, “Miss Laura never wanted us girls to talk loud, and we were always taught to watch our language. We parlor house girls never used four-letter words.”

            The decor of most parlor houses was lavish and fine to suit its wealthy customers. The average parlor house contained several bedroom sets, furniture and other accoutrements necessary to the business. In Silverton in 1899, Dottie Watson’s house consisted of seventeen floor carpets, one stair carpet, nine bedroom sets with springs and mattresses, two sets of parlor furniture, four heating stoves, twenty-one window shades and an eighteen-by-forty-inch mirror. Arriving guests were generally shown to the parlor, or perhaps a music room or a poker parlor and invited to partake of a variety of entertainment with wine, gambling, music, dancing and dining before the couples retired upstairs.

            If a client did not have a special woman in mind, the madam could select one for him. An alternative to this practice is today illustrated at the Old Homestead, now a museum in Cripple Creek. There, girls disrobed and paraded one at a time through a closet with a glass door. The gentleman could then see each lady for himself and pick the one he liked. Regular customers could establish credit, but patrons who did not have credit were required to pay up front. Established clients were catered to, since they were usually wealthy and powerful men in the community. Not all customers, however, were gentlemen. As LaVerne of Salida explained, “We’d take our evening gowns right off as soon as we could. We didn’t want them to get messed up or torn or anything, for sometimes a man…would try to start taking off our gowns himself, and we’d have to beat him to it.”

            Working women in the parlor houses were fed nourishing meals, dining on red meat and lots of milk to keep them healthy. After all, their jobs required strength and stamina. Each new customer meant bathing, fresh clothing, and a change of sheets (some girls would place a strip of canvas at the foot of their bed, so the customers’ boots or shoes would not soil the linens). Occasionally girls were “rented out” to stag parties or other events requiring strenuous travel. A first-class parlor house never opened on Sunday, thus giving the ladies a chance to rest and catch up on their personal chores. The parlor house lady was generally well to do, as long as she retained good employment. In Cripple Creek, purchasing mining claims or stocks was as fashionable as buying a new dress.

            So close were parlor ladies to the upper echelon that often they made fewer attempts to mask their identities than their lower counterparts. Some brothels in Denver, such as Anna “Gouldie” Gould’s house, actually kept photos of their girls on file. Most prostitutes preferred not to be photographed and identified as working girls, but in Gouldie’s case the practice served several purposes. Upon receiving a discreet phone call or message from uptown hotels, Gouldie could dispatch runners with the pictures and allow the prospective customer to select the girl of his choice. Photographs were also handy for advertising purposes, and they served as proper identification in case of trouble with the law or death.

            Pornography was a whole other matter. Photographs of a sexual nature were a valid means of advertising for both the girl and the photographer. Exhibitionists certainly flourished in the 1800’s and beyond, and much pornography of the day reveals a variety of poses from artistic to vulgar. Back then a photograph of a woman in the nude, no matter how artistic, could be considered pornographic in nature. A good many parlor house girls jumped at the chance to have themselves photographed wearing no more than a scarf or lacy lingerie. In cruder photographs the subjects appear to have been poorer girls who could be persuaded to pose for a few dollars or drinks. In more than a few instances, some prostitute pornography includes women who appear to be drugged, humiliated or downright frightened, and the sexual acts they portray are vulgar even by today’s standards. So it was for women who could not control the camera, simply because they did not rate parlor house status.

            Unfortunately, many women lacked the talent and good looks required for employment in a parlor house. Others were habitual troublemakers or too old to work in a parlor house. Any girl who failed to live up to her madam’s expectations was unceremoniously shown the door. A few were unfortunate girls who had been recruited in Europe or China with promises of wealth and success in America. Upon arriving in the United States, they became indentured servants to a brothel owner. In the case of Chinese women, many were sold as slaves before they even left China. Even more girls were solicited in eastern cities to come out West, with the guarantee of high wages and a good life. Pimps, saloon owners and dance hall managers could often be found waiting at the train or stage station for girls who had answered their advertisements in eastern newspapers. More often than not, the newcomers found themselves in a strange town with no money, at the mercy of those who had promised them such a good life.

            Girls who were recruited elsewhere or could not make the grade in a parlor house worked in common brothels. These houses of prostitution were not as nice, not as reputable, and often not as clean as parlor houses. A brothel, or whorehouse, was housed in anything from a canvas tent to a rented apartment above a gambling hall. Brothels housed in their own buildings usually had saloons. Their employees ranged in age from sixteen to thirty-five and came from a variety of backgrounds. Brothel women earned less (approximately $10 per customer) but served more customers than their higher-up counterparts. They were also more vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and disease. Common brothels experienced high turnovers among the girls, who moved on, were fired, or were forced to find new employment when the brothel closed down.

            Dance hall girls, also known as “hurdy-gurdy girls,” worked in saloons and entertained customers with song, dance, and skits. Some also doubled as prostitutes in rooms above the saloons. In Cripple Creek, most dance halls had a small bar in front, beyond which was a railing with a gate. The girls would await their partners beyond the railing, while a “caller” enticed men to pick a girl and dance. The caller acted almost as a pimp, commanding the girls to attract more customers if business was slow. The customer paid the bartender a quarter or so, which included the price of the dance and a beer. 

          Dance hall girls received about a dime of the customer’s quarter for their share, but they earned most of their money in tips. After the dance, the men and their partners would proceed to another bar, located in back of the hall. In the dance halls, hard-sell customers could be invited to the “wine room” to imbibe further before being seduced. The girls’ actions were rigidly controlled. They were not permitted to linger at the front bar, but could usually talk a customer or two into going to a rented room upstairs. Many saloons had one room cribs behind or on the side of them. 

            Most dance halls of this sort were within the legal limits of the law. As the Ouray Times commented in 1881, “If a dance hall is well managed, and kept in a proper place, and the prostitutes are not allowed to parade the streets and back alleys, we see no reasonable grounds for complaint, but when they get to scattering here and there…and use vulgar and obscene language…it is high time that there should be some action taken to stop such nuisances. Fire them out.” If a dance hall remained on the right side of the law, however, it could be a fairly profitable business.

            It is important to note that not all dance hall girls were prostitutes. Some were employed strictly as hostesses, entertainers and dancers. Many dance hall girls were merely aspiring actresses or performers with no desire for the lives they led. Socializing with actresses, however, was frowned upon in decent society, making it difficult for such women to procure any real gainful employment.

            A few famous performers of the 1920’s and 1930’s began their careers this way. Among them was Ida Mulle, one of a number of actresses portrayed in provocative poses in photographs issued by Newsboy Tobacco Co. in the late nineteenth century. The casual observer of Ida’s photo may believe she was less than a talented actress. But apparently Ida was fairly successful, starring in the Boston Theater’s production of Cinderella and meriting mention in several publications about American theater and screen actresses.

            Others were not so lucky; they were mostly young, unmarried immigrants or the wives or widows of poor miners. No matter their background, however, many dance hall women were eventually swallowed up by the seamy world they lived in, ever fearful that their work as prostitutes might lower their status to that of the crib girl.

            Crib girls lived in smaller houses or shacks, sometimes designed as tiny row houses. Like dance halls, cribs were more prominent in small towns and military or mining camps when the West was still quite young. Eventually every city had its share of undesirable cribs. Their occupants were an unfortunate lot. Usually they were prostitutes who had outgrown their usefulness in the larger brothels due to health or age. Often their initial goal was to be self-employed and assured of privacy, but these dreams rarely came true.

          Instead, the average crib girl paid high rent to a madam or landlord. Her profits usually went to a pimp, lover, or some other undesirable overlord in her life. Domestic violence broke out often among couples who worked as a pimp and prostitute. The law often turned their backs on those who beat prostitutes, while the public felt that the “whores” got what they deserved. Too often, the death of a working girl served as a grim reminder to others of what brutal and unsafe lives they led.

            Streetwalkers were an even poorer class of prostitute. Their accommodations usually consisted of run-down hotel rooms or apartments. Streetwalkers were more likely to be unhealthy and unclean, and they earned much less than their fellow prostitutes. Their one advantage was more freedom, since their lack of any permanent address made them harder for the law to track down. But their plight was twice as bad as those in the upper classes. The streetwalker’s chances of survival were slim. Usually she was destined to sink lower still, to the status of a “signboard gal”. These were girls who were washed up, untalented, ugly or sick. Often they lacked a place to call home, sleeping in back streets, alleys and gutters.

          Business with signboard gals was conducted wherever a quick few minutes of privacy could be found, sometimes behind a large street sign or billboard—hence the name. In Trinidad, one signboard gal conducted business behind a billboard at Santa Fe and Main Street. Another worked on top of a former butcher’s block behind a building. Signboard gals charged much less, often no more than a trade for drinks, drugs or food. Their lives were miserable, with no hope for enhancing their future.

            While any prostitute could fall into one or more of the categories listed here, the careers of most tended to be consistent with their backgrounds. Some came from poor or abusive homes, and some came from middle- and even upper-class families. Those who grew up in poverty were slovenly and unskilled, while women who were raised properly and with educations usually succeeded at making much money in their profession. In Colorado City for example, Laura Bell McDaniel was from a working class family who lived and worked in the same town as she. Educated and allegedly beautiful, Laura Bell succeeded in running several prosperous brothels in Salida, Colorado City and Cripple Creek.

            Blanche Burton also operated in Colorado City and was the first madam in Cripple Creek. Uneducated, Blanche was duped in at least one mining scheme in Cripple Creek but ran a successful business. In 1894 Blanche moved back to Colorado City, where over time she became a recluse. While Laura Bell McDaniel and Blanche Burton were diverse in background and lifestyle, they shared at least two common bonds: both women were in a profession disapproved of by society, and both probably wished they were doing something else.


Love For Sale: Brothels of Ute Pass, Colorado

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

Face it, in the old days trekking up Ute Pass, the winding path between Colorado Springs and Woodland Park, was a steep, torturous climb. Add several layers of petticoats and a trunk full of women’s sensibilities, and the trip was indeed a long one for the fairer sex. But just like their male counterparts, the spunky pioneer women who traversed the pass had dreams and goals. Ahead of them lay new homes, new lives, and the chance to start over fresh.

Naturally, Ute Pass afforded a bevy of comfortable rest stops. For prostitutes in particular, the pass was a viable means of paying ones’ passage. From mobile brothels to itinerant bad girls, prostitutes could prosper along their trip as a means to reach their destination. And prosper they did. Many was the prospector who, on his way to or from the Colorado gold fields, might be enticed to relinquish some of his goods or gold in return for a little attention from a soiled dove.

The presence of prostitutes along Ute Pass escalated dramatically in 1892 with the gold boom at Cripple Creek. Traffic along the trail increased to three times what it had been. At Colorado City, now the “Westside” of Colorado Springs, ladies of the night hastened to find their riches along with everyone else. Soon, the girls traipsing between Colorado City and Cripple Creek became interchangeable. It seemed like each time a girl left one town, she turned up in the other and vice versa.

As early as 1891, the blossoming cow town of Woodland Park had established ordinances against houses of ill repute. So did every other town, but it didn’t seem to matter. Prostitution was a viable resource to any town coffer. And its inmates, as they were called, were hardly bothered like a little old thing like the law. For decades prostitutes ran rampant along Ute Pass, usually just one step ahead of the sheriff. Even such notable events as two world wars and prohibition did little to stop the illegal goings-on.

Well into the 1940’s and 50’s, prostitution and its counterparts-namely drinking and gambling-were well known diversions along Ute Pass. Places like Brock’s Crystola Inn boldly built one-woman cribs right along the roadside for all to see. Across Highway 24, a lesser-known dance hall flourished up in the hills. Other places, such as the Thunderhead Inn in Woodland Park, placed their tiny houses of ill fame discreetly behind their business. The Ouray Inn, also in Woodland Park, went one step further by installing a tunnel to its brothel some 150 yards away.

Beginning in 1950, word of Ute Pass’ notorious nightlife had spread itself too thin. Colorado Governor Dan Thornton ordered raids, and the pleasure resorts along the pass were busted. The war against gambling raged for years. Through it all, the dens of sin continued their risque business as best as they could. In 1954, the Thunderhead was still importing Las Vegas showgirls for Saturday night soirees.

Nearly two decades later, the secret gambling dens along Ute Pass closed and the girls moved on. Today, the cribs alongside the Crystola Inn and behind the Thunderhead are all that remain from the naughty girls of Ute Pass.

The Murder of J. Pleasant Marksbury

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine in 2006.

Misunderstandings will happen. At least that is the best explanation as to how J. Pleasant Marksbury (also spelled Marksbery and Marksberry) came to be killed by Ute Indians near Florissant, Colorado, just fifteen years before gold was discovered at Cripple Creek.

The Utes called the region between Manitou Springs and Florissant home for thousands of years before white settlers appeared on the horizon. The area was ideal for gathering berries and hunting wildlife during the summer months. The Utes’ preference for the mountains included the area around the Cripple Creek District and Mt. Pisgah, which was used as a hunting ground. Even today, teepee circles are still visible in the yard of at least one Cripple Creek residence.

Major James B. Thompson was among the first white men to take note of the Utes camped along 4-Mile Creek near Florissant in 1869. But the largest influx of Utes occurred during the winter of 1874, when Ute leader Ouray and 600 members of his tribe camped roughly 20 miles south of Florissant near Mt. Pisgah. That winter especially, Utes were a common site to the settlers at Florissant. The Indians traded frequently with Judge James Castello, who had established a general store and post office at Florissant in 1872. But the mixture of Native Americans with newly arriving white settlers was bound to result in some skirmishes. The worst of these happened in December, resulting in the death of Jamis Pleasant Marksbury.

Born in Kentucky, Marksbury was well traveled by the time he came to Florissant. The 1850 census found him working as a physician in California. He later married Sarah Pierce, also of Kentucky. By 1859 the couple had moved to Missouri where a daughter, Jeanette, was born. Following the birth of a second daughter in 1862 the family next headed to Colorado and settled for a short time in Summit County. Later they moved to Golden where their first son, Summit, was born in 1863. A fourth and final child, Perry, was born in Golden in 1870. Despite supporting his family on miner’s wages, Marksbury soon earned enough to secure a hay ranch on the Tarryall River about 16 miles from Florissant.

Men like Marksbury and Castello openly traded with the Utes around Florissant and even as far away as Colorado Springs. During one such visit in the spring of 1874, a Ute named Antelope sold a horse to one Nat Colby for $20 and a revolver. Later, Colby traded the horse to Marksbury for some cattle. Because the transaction took place in Colorado Springs, local braves were apparently unaware of it when Marksbury rode the horse to Castello’s store. Ouray’s war chief, Shawano, recognized the horse and believed it stolen. Per Shawano’s instructions the horse was unsaddled by another Ute. A squaw then hopped aboard the animal and took off for the camp.

When Marksbury discovered his mount was missing he went back into the store and confronted Shewano, who accused him of stealing it. Marksbury had already had one other confrontation about the horse the previous summer, when some other Utes saw him with it on the Snake River, said it was stolen, and demanded $10. Although Marksbury refused to pay up, he was allowed to keep the pony. But the argument with Shawano took on a more sinister glint. Harsh words were exchanged and in the ensuing scuffle Marksbury wrestled away Shawano’s gun, claiming he would keep it until his horse was returned.

Marksbury next appealed to both Major Thompson and Ouray, who said Antelope was now claiming the horse had been sold to Colby after it had been taken from him by some other Utes. When ten days had passed with no word from Thompson, the frustrated Marksbury took matters into his own hands and appeared at the Ute camp with E. Kranner or Kromer. Marksbury waved some papers he claimed to be special orders from both Thompson and Ouray to surrender the pony. Naturally, the Indians had no idea what the paper was or what it said. Nor did they seem inclined to do much about the recovery of the horse as Kromer led it away. Marksbury followed behind, acting as rear guard.

When Tabweah, another Ute leader, learned of the incident from his wife he, along with another Ute gave chase and soon caught up with Marksbury and Kromer. The men tried to reason with Marksbury, but later said the white man began making “threatening demonstrations with his rifle.” Tabweah, they claimed, shot Marksbury in self defense. Kromer later testified that Marksbury screamed “Oh God! I am shot dead.” Kromer asked “Where are you shot?” and Marksbury replied he was shot through the heart. Kromer then said, “Can I do anything for you?” But by then Marksbury had already fallen from his horse and was lying dead in the high country prairie grass.

Word of the Marksbury murder spread, and before long a bevy of angry settlers gathered at Castello’s. The judge was able to talk everyone out of acting rashly as a coroner’s jury was formed in Colorado Springs. The jurors included George Welty who had a ranch not far from the Ute camp, John Nolan who later ran a saloon in Cripple Creek and L.C. Barnard, whose namesake creek still runs through Teller County today. Telegraphs were sent to and from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. Ultimately Major Thompson gave orders to one Charles Jockmus to go to the camp and arrest Tabweah. Upon his arrival Jockmus summoned Chief Ouray and Tabweah was duly taken into custody.

Tabweah was taken to Denver, locked up in the county jail and tried in a white man’s court. Newspapers that had sensationalized the Marksbury killing by Indians were strangely silent about the outcome, but it is known that Tabweah was released due to lack of evidence. The decision angered many, especially Thompson who later expressed his satisfaction when Tabweah was killed in Middle Park a few years later. Interestingly Thompson justified Tabweah’s death over thirty years after Marksbury was killed, even though his reports dated 1871 through 1875 noted several occasions where white men did indeed steal horses from Utes.

Thompson’s account also claimed that Marksbury’s companion on his trip to the Ute camp was his son Summit, not Kromer. According to Thompson the incident basically played out the same, with Summit leading the horse away from the camp as his father followed. The boy recalled hearing a shot and turning just in time to see his father fall dead from his own mount. Dropping the lead rope of the stolen horse, the boy “streaked” for home.

Coincidentally Summit later became a champion foot racer. After his father’s death, Summit’s mother struggled for a short time to keep the hay ranch going. A bad summer storm, however, washed out the crops and drowned most of the farm stock. Neighbors came to the rescue with supplies and milk cows, but Sarah Marksbury soon moved to Georgia Gulch to run a boarding house at a mine. Her oldest daughter, Jeanette, married and when her husband was elected County Assessor the family moved a final time to Breckenridge.

Summit, meanwhile, married a woman named Sarah in 1891. By 1900 the couple, along with their six year old daughter, were living in a boarding house in Cripple Creek not far from where Summit’s father had met his untimely end. Summit’s career as a runner ended in 1903 when he was banned from the sport for cheating. A year later he divorced from Sarah and in 1908 a Denver newspaper reported that Summit was begging on the streets of that town. Summit, the paper said, was “one of the most noted athletes in the West” but had recently been arrested for vagrancy.

The arrest, and perhaps his family, brought Summit to his senses. By 1910 he had married a second time and was living in Larimer County. When Jeanette died in 1918 Summit, who was living in Alma at the time, attended her services. Sometime after that he moved to California, dying in Los Angeles in 1951. In Cripple Creek and Florissant, the story of the Marksburys was carried on by other pioneers who remembered the incident. Indeed, J. Pleasant Marksbury’s bad end did little to prevent other settlers from homesteading. Even today Marksbury Gulch, named for the family homestead near Lake George, pays homage to this determined family.


On Leaving 2017 Behind…

I’m sitting here on the next-to-last day of 2017, in my office. I am still in my pajamas at 3 p.m. Outside, the chilly day has bits of blue sky hiding behind patches of low fog. But the sun is mostly shining, I am warm, it is quiet, and my cat, Amos, is snuggled in his bed. He is staring at the curtain, waiting for drowsiness to overtake him for his fourth nap today.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve nearly always offer some solace that, right now, I have nothing urgent to do. Everybody out there has taken the week off, or is short-timing between three day weekends. I can spend at least one or two days lazing around my house, watching t.v., idly doing chores or doodling with my new gel pens. Or, I can work solely on what I want to work on for a change, no deadlines, no worries.

It is during this time that I, like many others, reflect on both the outgoing year and what the new one might bring. I did a lot last year: lived in our motorhome with my family for awhile, sold a house, bought a house, fixed it up, got rid of a lot of junk, settled into my new surroundings and did a lot of exploring. I did this on my own free will, taking on hardships and then working to overcome them. Not once did I ever go without money or a meal unless I chose to. Knowing that my fate was completely in my hands was quite freeing, as is knowing that my future is all up to me.

There are those catting around on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other social media sites who are saying the same thing they do every year: “I can’t WAIT for 2018!” and “Boy am I glad 2017 is over!” and worst of all, “Things will be better in the coming year!” How much better can they be if you sat around 2017 lamenting how awful your life was, and doing nothing to change it? And, was it really that awful? Are you going to solve it by making a list of resolutions for yourself for the coming year?

Screw that crap. Here’s what I found out: you don’t have to wait for January 1 to start fresh, lose weight, quit smoking, start working out, get a better job, deal with your health, find a new crowd, or improve your life. As my poor husband noshed on some pizza the other day, commenting how he should do it now before he starts control of his diet in the new year, I zapped him right where it hurt: his stomach. What if, I said, you began putting your diet in check right now, today, instead of setting yourself up for failure in January?

January 1 is just a calendar date. I myself happen to like even-numbered years for no apparent reason, and 2018 sounds great to me. But my personal resolutions were actually formed some time ago, and I plan to continue working on them with no time limit or start date in mind. That has included chasing off bad memories, incidents and people, some stemming from years ago. Those suckers have been loaded onto a train and it has chugged right out of Janville. I am certain the train will make a return trip. More baggage will be sent on its way as needed, and I am ready for it. There is no freight charge.

So here is my challenge to you: I submit that today, you can think of something you want to achieve right now, without waiting for the new year. Even though it’s only two days away, surely there is something you plan to do come January? Why not start right now. Live for this minute. Fool that little New Year’s Baby into thinking you’ll be carrying out your mission on January 1 (or January 2 if you have a hangover), and get the jump on him. Most importantly, whatever you do, even if it’s nothing, do it with vigor and purpose. And have a glorious 367 days until New Year’s Eve 2018, living your life the way you want to live it.

Wild Times and Wild Women: (Old) Colorado City’s Shady Side

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Laura Bells house 1990s

Laura Bell McDaniel’s last luxurious bordello as it appears today.

Portions of this article first appeared in Kiva Magazine.

When it was first established west of Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1859, Colorado City was every bit of a notoriously rough western town. Long before Colorado Springs came along with its anti-liquor laws and elite citizenship, Colorado City sprouted as a thriving supply town. All the required elements were present: ramshackle houses, churches, a school, hotels and saloons. The place was a virtual melting pot for easterners who swarmed the state in search of gold. Accordingly, Colorado City’s population grew to include enterprising merchants, faithful families, hopeful miners—and prostitutes.

It could be said that prostitution was a cornerstone of any town. Like any other industry, “red light’ districts made healthy contributions to the local economy, especially the courts. The difference was that, unlike any other industry, prostitution was frowned upon even as it helped these cities thrive.

There is no doubt that the soiled doves who flocked to Colorado City saw golden opportunities everywhere. Trains and freighters stopped daily on their way to the gold fields, initially bringing lots of single and lonely men. In those early days, the business was hardly regulated and permitted these women freedom to work and live where they chose.

By 1880 Colorado Springs was booming, but Colorado City was still not much more than a village with a few streets and no visible red light district. That is not to say that some women did not ply their trade in the city limits. There were no more than four saloons in 1884, but the numbers began to grow as Colorado City’s population surged to 400 souls within three years.

Much of Colorado City’s new commerce was generated by Colorado Springs, located just a few miles away. Founder General William Palmer forbade alcohol within his city limits. It stood to reason then, that Colorado City should excel in that area. A variety of activities, from prize fighting to prostitutes and drinking to dancing, swarmed at all hours around what is now the 2500 block of Colorado Avenue.

As of 1888, Colorado City’s population had allegedly escalated to 1500, some of which supported sixteen saloons. Business was booming as shootouts, drunken brawls and “good ol’ boy” fights became common sights. Horse racing up and down Colorado Avenue was a popular pastime. In the midst of the foray, a number of single women were living on Colorado Avenue. Their occupations are all unclear, but for one lady. Her name was Mrs. Bell McDaniel, better known as Laura Bell McDaniel.

Laura Bell first got her start in Salida, where she first appeared in 1882 as Belle Dale. With her was her daughter, Eva Pearl. Although she was married, Mr. Dale was apparently not on the scene. The two were likely divorced, for in 1887 court records note that Miss Laura B. Dale married one John Thomas McDaniel. The two had been close for some time, as evidenced by their trip to Leadville during the winter of 1886-87. In their absence, Laura Bell’s house burned but she was heavily insured. She received a large settlement, despite the fact that a man named Morgan Dunn was suspected of setting the fire for a percentage of the insurance money.

A month after her marriage to McDaniel, Laura Bell reported to her new husband that Dunn had tried to kiss her.”Why didn’t you kill the son of a bitch?” Thomas retorted. That night, after several heated words, McDaniel would later claim Dunn said, “We might as well settle it now as any time,” and placed his hand on a hip pocket. McDaniel fired five shots at the man, killing him.

Employees of the nearby Arlington Hotel heard the shots and ran over. The scene was unnerving. Thomas was standing in the front door, with Laura Bell and her mother clinging to him and screaming. Laura Bell’s mother was exclaiming, “Oh Tom! Oh Tom! Why did you do that?” McDaniel coldly replied, “He had no business in my house.”

Thomas McDaniel was acquitted of the murder, but the shady elements surrounding the case made the couple uneasy. The two lost no time in departing from Salida and in fact parted ways, for Laura Bell appeared to be alone when she surfaced in Colorado City. Within a year of her arrival, the enterprising woman had access to twenty four saloons and only a handful of competition. Laura Bell’s sisters of the underworld included Miss Belle Barlow, Miss Daisy Bell, Miss Fernie Brooks, Mamie Maddern and Emma Wilson. The list continued to grow, so much in fact that a new city hall was constructed in 1892. City authorities boldly built the new structure at 119 S. 26th Street, just around the corner from the red light district.

The surge in prostitution at Colorado City during the 1890’s alarmed city officials, as well as the media. The Colorado Springs Gazette pounced on every chance to report on the goings-on in the district. When Bell Barker died of a morphine overdose in 1893, the paper reported how her Colorado City friends buried her “in good style”, but that Billie Huffman, “the tin horn who was living with her”, had left the country. Similar sentiments were expressed for Minnie Smith, a sometime gambler and madam throughout Colorado, including Creede and Denver. When she committed suicide in Cripple Creek, her body was brought back to Colorado City for burial.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, better known as the WCTU, was waiting for chances such as these. In 1894, the WCTU submitted a petition to impose hours of operation on all saloons, bowling alleys, halls and “other resorts”. Only 152 people signed it, but city authorities had just begun. A widely publicized raid (the sting only netted two girls and their tricks) in 1896 was followed by a series of ordinances: “Keepers of disorderly houses shall not refuse to admit officers. Officers may break doors and arrest with or without warrant.” Getting caught in the act of prostitution was a $300 fine, with additional punishments for visiting opium joints, houses of prostitution, or dance halls. Music was not permitted at houses of ill-fame or saloons. Still the girls came, and many stayed. Both Ida Anderson and Elizabeth Franklin moved to Colorado City in 1896, staying as late as 1900 and 1906, respectively.

By 1900, it was said one could buy twenty drinks down “Saloon Row” on Colorado Avenue and never have to drink in the same bar twice. Despite this promising statistic, city authorities charged ahead and managed to prohibit gambling in 1901. By then, the shady ladies of Colorado City were running amok. Throughout the year, more and more girls showed up to ply their trade. Some left, some didn’t. Business flourished as even more saloons and gambling halls opened. Even girls like Georgia Hayden, who had been in Cripple Creek since 1893, came to try their luck. Among the new girls were veterans like Laura Bell and Mamie Majors, who had come to Colorado City in the 1890’s.

Indeed, Laura Bell and Mamie Majors were the epitome of the “whore with a heart of gold.” Both ladies ruled over their respective kingdoms with grace and finesse. One of Laura Bell’s employees and best friends was Dusty McCarty, a blind man who made his way by bartending. Even after employee Carrie Briscoe married in 1902, Mamie Majors paid for her funeral when she died of tuberculosis in 1906. Both madams paid their monthly fines to the city on time, subscribed to newspapers and donated to schools, churches and other charities.

In the mode of the day, the good deeds of the red-light ladies were unreciprocated. City authorities sought to make an example out of Mamie by arresting her for maintaining a house of ill-fame in 1905. The arrest was neither her first nor last, and despite her three attorneys, Mamie was sentenced to six months in jail. The decision was followed by a barrage of letters on the desk of Governor Henry A. Buchtel, who in turn reduced Mamie’s sentence to thirty days. Buchtel’s action brought a two year run of accusing hate letters by newspapers and churches. The fight escalated to ridiculous proportions as it was insinuated that Buchtel in effect pardoned the madam. Buchtel’s heated retort was eagerly published, reading in part, “I did not pardon Mamie Majors. Please fix that in your mind. I would like to say it over and over about 10,000 times, I DID NOT PARDON MAMIE MAJORS.”

Beginning in 1906, a new ordinance required bars to close at midnight and Sundays; another ordinance prohibited use of side doors. In February, there were a series of busts resulting in jail time, fines and warnings. The police were egged on by local newspapers. The Colorado City Iris reported on seven brothels where liquor was sold without a city license. A monthly fine of $600 was suggested. Other newsworthy items included questioning city council for failing to close bawdy houses on Sundays. By March of that year, some girls had enough. Two brothels closed, leaving seven houses. “One of the gangs went to Cripple Creek,” tattled the Iris with satisfaction. The city pounced once again, this time on Jacob Schmidt for permitting women in his bar. Schmidt argued he had a sign up barring “prostitutes or fast women” from entering. He was dismissed with a reprimand.

As of November, the number of prostitutes on the Row had slimmed down to twenty four girls and eight madams. Things began quieting down and there was talk about annexing Colorado City to Colorado Springs. The red light district was falling out of the limelight until a respectable boy named Tucker Holland died at Dolly Worling’s brothel. It seemed 24-year old Tucker was terribly sweet on Dolly, whom he had been spending his wages on for at least six months. When Dolly’s ex-husband, a foul mouth by the name of Frank Shank showed up, Tucker was ousted from the house one last time. Upon returning the next day, Tucker had it out with Dolly. According to Dolly’s later testimony, Tucker was sitting on the bed playing with a revolver while she looked out the window. Below, a small boy pointed a toy pistol at Dolly’s dog. “See, Tucker,” she teased, “he’s going to shoot my poodle.” In answer, Holland shot himself neatly through the head.

This time, Mayor Ira Foote had enough and notified the girls of the Row they had ten days to leave town. The point was emphasized by a series of mysterious fires beginning in January of 1909. The first fire burned five or six houses on the south side of the red light district in a one block area. A second fire on January 8 destroyed the rest of the south side. Within hours, even a police watchman could not stop a third fire, which mysteriously originated in the same area. This time, the flames threatened the business district before being put out. The last fire, although blamed on a vagrant, took out Ridenhour & Rettigers livery stable in the 400 block of West Colorado. Forty three horses died, including Mayor Foote=s steed. Fourteen carriages and two other structures also went up.

Whether this last conflagration was related to sweeping the red light district clean will probably never be known. But retaliations of such proportions continued throughout much of 1909. Just a few days before Christmas, former madam Blanche Burton succumbed to burns received when a flaming curtain set her clothing on fire. The accident was typical for the time. Still, no one could explain the man seen running down the street near her home, nor a fire eighteen months before which burned her barn and killed a horse and two dogs.

In the wake of the 1909 fires, most of the madams’ insurance policies paid off and the district slowly grew up again. As the ladies of the district struggled to regain their composure, the Colorado City Iris continued to complain. Various exposés revealed new construction and accused the police of “dividing their ill-got gains with the city each month…” City authorities hustled to comply to the wishes of the WCTU and the Iris. In 1911, yet another ultimatum was issued to the prostitutes.

Nothing the authorities did seemed to sweep Colorado City clean of its soiled doves. When the WCTU succeeded in voting Colorado City dry in 1913, the red light ladies were hardly phased. They and their liquor-selling counterparts simply moved the brothels and bars to an area outside city limits. They christened their new town Ramona, and accounts of the ensuing battle with city and county authorities resemble an episode of Keystone cops.

Not everyone moved to Ramona. Mamie Majors gave up the ghost and went quietly away. Laura Bell McDaniel stayed right where she was, discreetly advertising herself as the “keeper of furnished rooms”. But inside, the business was the same, as court records show. Throughout 1917, Laura Bell paid her fines and minded her own business. Then fate dealt a final blow to Laura Bell and the red light district of Colorado City. Just a year before, the State of Colorado had outlawed liquor in anticipation of nationwide prohibition. Liquor became illegal everywhere except in private homes. Only city clerks were allowed to dispense alcohol, and strictly for medicinal purposes. In conjunction with the new laws, Colorado City annexed to Colorado Springs in June. The scene was devastating. Saloon kings like N. Byron Hames lost their fortunes and left town. Long time bar keeper Jake Schmidt committed suicide. Colorado City was almost clean, and it was no surprise when stolen liquor was found within the unmoving confines of Laura Bell’s.

In court, it was none other than Laura Bell=s blind and long time friend, Dusty McCarty, whose testimony revealed the true fiends. Two men, he said, stole that liquor from a Broadmoor home and planted it at Laura Bell’s. The good woman was framed! Much to the court’s chagrin, Dusty’s testimony held up and the case was dismissed on January 24, 1918. The very next day, Laura Bell set out for Denver. With her were Dusty and Laura Bell’s niece, Laura Pearson. It is said the latter two were very close, and that Laura Bell was teaching “Little Laura” to follow in her footsteps.

The threesome took off in Laura Bell’s spiffy Mitchell Touring Car, with Little Laura at the wheel. Near Castle Rock, the car inexplicably left the road and overturned. Little Laura died instantly, and Dusty was knocked unconscious. Later that night, 56 year old Laura Bell succumbed to massive internal injuries. She was buried in the lot she had already purchased at Fairview Cemetery, and the incident was forgotten. It was the perfect crime, but for certain Colorado Springs authorities who happened to witness the accident. Regardless of their suspicious presence, the accident was ruled just that.

That was the end of Colorado City’s den of prostitution. A scattering of girls continued living in the area, losing their identities as Colorado Springs continued to grow. Pearl Livingston, who arrived in 1903, was still here in 1927. Mamie Dedrick, in the profession since 1896, was living in the brothel she worked in when she died in the 1940’s. By then, the place was an apartment house for the elderly. Likewise, Laura Bell’s last brothel is now part of the Mountain View Care Center. Other brothels have found new life as private homes and even churches. The rest of the neighborhood is home to a park and a small Mennonite community. The occasional old-timer of Colorado Springs’ charming Westside might remember stories about the past. In the present, Laura Bell’s old haunt has melded into a quiet, comfortable historic place. At last, one of the west’s wildest places has a fitting end.

For additional reading, see Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930 and Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains. Both books are available at http://www.unmpress. Ms. Collins’ 3rd book on prostitution, Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona, is available