Tag Archives: Arizona history

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’.”

Cora Wallace, Ranch Wife of the West

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

“She was really the one who raised us as Papa was away so much of the time.” So said Ruth Wallace Moritz of her mother, Cora Wallace. Ruth’s father Frank, a well-known Arizona cattle rancher, was absent from home on a regular basis. Like so many others, Cora found being a ranch wife truly demanding. These hearty women spent much of their time alone, performing such daily chores as tending the garden, curing meat, pickling and preserving food, washing laundry, sewing, cleaning house, raising children, feeding livestock and more.

Cora’s decision to be a rancher’s wife may have been inspired by a love for adventure. Born on an Arkansas plantation in 1870, Cora was primarily raised by her grandmother in Arkansas and Texas. It is notable that Cora attended a “finishing school” while with her grandmother. By 1888 she was reunited with her widowed father, a farmer near Dona Ana, New Mexico. There she met Frank Wallace, a sometime cowboy who was working for Joe Nations of New Mexico. Wallace spent the night while herding horses to Albuquerque but soon returned and married Cora. Two days later the newlyweds departed so Frank could take work as a cowpuncher near Tenuca. Cora’s life as a ranch wife had begun.

Shortly after the first of eight children was born in 1890, the Wallaces relocated to Winslow where Frank worked for the Waters Cattle Company. Three more children were born at Winslow, and Cora also took in two young girls whose mother had died. “Mama took care of them as her own,” Ruth noted. Frank was gone much of the time and even more so when Waters sold out to the Aztec Land & Cattle Company whose Hashknife brand was already famous in Arizona.

In 1898 the family moved to the Hashknife headquarters three miles south of Joseph City. Ruth recalled the challenges her mother faced. “Her life as a rancher’s wife was not an easy one,” Ruth remembered. “During those years the ranchers had open land for their cattle making it more difficult to gather them. They would be gone weeks at a time leaving their wives to take care of the children and keep things going at the ranch.”

In addition to her own family, Cora also boarded and fed numerous cowboys. Former cowpuncher J. Lon Jordan, later sheriff of Maricopa County, remembered that Cora “cooked more good groceries for hungry cowboys than any woman in Arizona.” Two more daughters were born at the Hashknife headquarters, yet Ruth remembered her mother as cheerful, generous and kind. Cora was also very proud to be a descendant of U.S. Presidents Zachary Taylor and James Monroe.

When the Aztec sold the Hashknife brand to Babbitt Brothers in 1899, the Wallaces stayed at the headquarters as caretakers while running their own cattle. In 1905 the family next relocated to Adamana, a desert whistlestop east of Holbrook. The first family home was a tent along the Rio Puerco River. When the family was flooded out they relocated to higher ground where Frank and his ranch hands built a two story home. “It was a desolate place,” said Ruth of Adamana, “and we depended on the windmills for water.”

Ruth also remembered the struggle to make ends meet since ranchers were regularly hampered by droughts, freezing winters and low prices for the beef they raised. At the mercantile in Holbrook, the family was forced to “sell their souls to the company store”, living on credit at a high interest rate. “Having no money was a fact of life and mothers made do,” she said. “We had very little money in those days but Mama gave of herself to all around her. We never felt deprived.” Although she occasionally secured a little extra money for store coats for her children, Cora made almost all of her children’s clothing. Towels were sewn from flour sacks, and scraps of material were saved to make quilts.

Seven children and two ranch hands continued to keep Cora busy at her cookstove. Ruth remembered that “Mama had a large kettle of beans on the stove and lots of home cooked bread. She cured the meat, made soap from scraps of pork so we had plenty. Our diet with lots of stewed peaches and apples was sufficient.” Cora also gave birth to her eighth—and last—child in 1912. She enlisted the help of her children when she could but the younger children were sent to school. Ruth remembered trekking two miles down the railroad tracks to the schoolhouse.

Ruth and another daughter, Margery, also were often out on the range taking fresh horses to cowboys as they worked throughout the day. “It was a lonely time as we missed home,” Ruth recalled, but added that Margery would sing songs to her for company. The girls headed home across the prairies after these round ups, where “Mama would have a hard time getting us clean.”

The Wallace’s hard work at Adamana eventually paid off. By the mid-teens, the family was faring well enough to build a nice home in Holbrook, complete with a beautiful hardwood interior, glass doorknobs, electricity and indoor plumbing (Frank stubbornly kept an outhouse in the back yard as well). Cora’s name appeared on the property deed. She also assured that her son-in-law, George Hennessey, purchased property directly across the street and built a home for himself and Cora’s daughter Frances. Shortly after the homes were completed, Hennessey was elected the first mayor of Holbrook.

Success continued to follow the Wallace family. Within a few years, Frank also purchased the majestic O W Ranch outside of Young for a whopping $150,000. The original log ranch house served as an ample home. There was plenty of water and the family dined on fish, wild game, chickens, turkey and, of course, beef. Outbuildings included a smokehouse, a cow barn and a dairy house for keeping butter, milk and cheese. Cora’s larder also included potatoes grown by a neighboring rancher and wild grapes. Writer Norma Leonard told how, after she had made some wine, Cora threw the fermented grapes in the yard. Some turkeys came along and ate the grapes, and were soon stumbling around trying to regain their balance.

A second, much fancier home was built on the property at the O W as well. It was intended for the Wallace’s oldest son, Emmet, to live in with his wife Amy whom he married at Adamana. Tragically, Emmet died during the 1920 flu epidemic (a daughter, Margery, had also died in 1915). The family later moved into the house, where an ample root cellar stored Cora’s homemade preserves. In spite of a lack of electricity, Cora was able to make a comfortable home for her family, as well as the numerous cowhands who worked for or passed by the ranch. She also bought, sold and traded coffee, flour and other goods with Native Americans, cowboys and other local ranch wives.

Forced by hard times to sell out in 1928, Frank went into business with various of his children and their spouses. In 1937, Frank and Cora moved to Tucson and lived with daughter Ruth and her husband, Harold Moritz. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there a year later. During a visit to Holbrook in September of 1939, Cora died unexpectedly. Her son-in-law Charles Lisitzky and Fred Schuster of A & B Schuster Co. handled the funeral costs. Guests and pallbearers  included many of the cowboys she had cared for and fed from the Hashknife, including Dick Grigsby, Johnny Paulsell, Bill Wyrick and Ed Bargeman.

Little remains today as a testament to Cora Wallace and women like her. Most of the Wallace homes are gone now, one exception being the house in Holbrook. Thanks to preservation efforts by subsequent owners, the home remains amongst the nicest in town. Another landmark is the old root cellar from the family home at the O W Ranch where Cora stored her cured meat and homemade preserves. When her granddaughter, Suzanne Peterson, visited the ranch as a young girl she remembered seeing some mason jars filled with preserves that were still in the cellar. Perhaps it is most fitting that this one remnant from a ranching family still pays tribute to a unique group of women from the old west.

Jan MacKell Collins is the great-great granddaughter of Frank and Cora Wallace. More about ranching life can be found in her book, The Hash Knife Around Holbrook.

Arizona Charlie Meadows, Famed Showman of the West

Arizona Charlie Meadows

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

What a presence! The sight of this six-foot-six, long-haired, mustachioed man from the wild west must have been startling to the citizens of Cripple Creek, Colorado in 1895, but one thing was for sure: Arizona Charlie Meadows would make an indelible mark in the history of the Cripple Creek District.

Born on March 10, 1860 in California, Abraham Henson “Charlie” Meadows was the sixth of twelve children. His parents, John and Margaret Meadows, lived near what is now Visalia, California. The family moved, first to a cattle ranch near Payson, Arizona in 1877 and later to Diamond Valley some 80 miles from Prescott, where Charlie began developing his skills as a marksman and roper (his younger brother, Mobley “Kid” Meadows, later became an expert trick rider).

In July 1882, the family ranch was attacked by Apache Indians who had already caused much havoc in the area. Altogether over 40 people were killed, including Charlie’s father and brother. Another brother was seriously wounded. Charlie, who was some 16 miles away at the time, arrived home to find his family devastated with over 40 horses and 60 cows missing, and the family crops destroyed. Charlie’s own account of the incident was published in local newspapers.

Margaret Meadows took her surviving children to Phoenix, and Charlie found himself on his own. For the next several years he roamed the west and became known for his shooting and roping talents. He was named “King of the Cowboys” at the Territorial Fair in Phoenix in 1888 after roping a steer in just 50 seconds. He also participated in Prescott’s very first annual rodeo that same year.

At one show, Charlie’s skills were spotted by none other than Buffalo Bill, who immediately hired the showman for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. For the next several years, Meadows toured with the show through Europe and even performed for the Queen of England. Later, Charlie joined the Wirth Brothers Wild West Show and traveled through Australia, New Zealand and the far East before forming his own show in 1893. The troupe toured all over, including California, before going broke. Undaunted, Meadows next joined up with another wild west show until the show’s circus also went broke.

In 1895, Charlie Meadows next landed in Gillette, Colorado, located four miles from Cripple Creek. Along with Joe Wolfe of Cripple Creek’s Palace Hotel, Meadows decided to stage the first “legal” bullfight ever officially recorded in the United States. The pair borrowed $5,000, built a 5,000 seat amphitheater at Tutt & Penrose’s racetrack for the event, and called their endeavor the Joe Wolfe Grand National Spanish Bull Fight Company. They even imported matadors from Mexico.

About 3,000 people attended the first day of the fights, despite the Colorado Springs Gazette’s article which labeled the event as inhumane: “If it be illegal to import bulls for fighting at the Atlanta Exposition, surely it must be illegal to import them across the border for fighting at the Gillette Exposition.” In the end, the bulls that were supposed to be imported from Mexico were prevented from entering the U.S. at the Texas border. Wolfe and Meadows ended up using local bulls, whose complacent natures were hardly conducive to those of their feistier Mexican counterparts. What was intended to be an exciting event turned into a slow and cruel death for the animals.

Americans didn’t care for the grisly killings; less than 300 people showed for the fight on the second day. Wolfe and Meadows were arrested after canceling the fight for the third day. The one saving grace was that meat from the slaughtered bulls was distributed among the city’s poor. In the wake of the fray, Meadows disappeared from sight, never to be seen in Cripple Creek again.

So what happened to him?

Turns out that Charlie beat his hasty retreat back to Arizona. Before long, he chose Alaska for his next scene of conquer. By the time he arrived there in 1897, he had secured a portable bar, restaurant and gambling equipment. With him was his “wife”, a showgirl named Mae McKamish Melbourne. Described as having “a peach-like complexion and a marvelous figure”, Mae was the perfect match for Charlie.

In 1898, Mae and her magnificent paramour narrowly escaped a flood on their way to the Klondike. “Charlie said if he had a Kadac [Kodak photograph] of me as I was running from the Sheep’s Camp flood,” Mae later said, “there would not any use of going to the Klondike, as that would be a gold mine in itself.”

The couple lost most of the equipment for their new business endeavor, but began again in Dawson. There, Mae wisely invested in mining claims, which soon amounted to $100,000. Charlie, meanwhile, earned ample money by selling provisions to miners. On April 1, 1898, he also printed the first edition of a souvenir paper called the Klondike News. Like almost everything else he put his hand to, Charlie did well with his newspaper; gold king Antone Stander even paid the entrepreneur to print a story about him in that first issue, about Stander’s engagement to Miss Violet Raymond.

By 1899, Arizona Charlie was ready to embark on yet another new career as a theater promoter. He hired a San Francisco architect to design a new theater, the Palace Grand, at Dawson, Alaska. Construction took six months, and much of the material was said to be wood from retired stern wheelers boats. Upon its opening in July, Charlie and Mae took up lodging on the top floor.

The Palace could seat up to 2,200 and featured anything from plays and musicals to trick shooting displays. Charlie himself often bolted across the stage on his horse, guns blazing. In 1900, the industrious man even attempted to jump a horse 14 feet into an eight-foot-deep tank of water built into the stage. The feat nearly spelled disaster when Meadows landed under the horse as it struggled out of the tank.

It is said that Charlie and Mae lived happily for many years, despite Charlie’s occasional wandering eye. He allegedly carried on regularly with “Diamond Tooth” Gertie Lovejoy, a local performer who had a sizable diamond installed between her two front teeth and was all the rage at the Palace. He also gave actress Kate Rockwell the Star’s Suite, lavishly decorated in red and gold, as a condition of hiring her. Together, “Klondike Kate” and Meadows worked to choreograph the “Flame Dance”, wherein Kate floated about the stage trailing 200 yards of chiffon. Kate made $200 per week for her performance, but claimed she easily made another $500 entertaining her admirers following the show.

Arizona Charlie also made several friends of the male species. In the late 1890’s, Alexander Pantages offered to stand in for a prize fighter who failed to show at Charlie’s place. Pantages worked as a waiter at the time, but his offer to fight, as well as his experience as a San Francisco welterweight, secured his employment as Charlie’s stage manager.

By 1901, the Klondike boom was fading. Meadows thought of moving the Palace Grand in its entirety to Nome on a barge, but wisely decided not to. Instead, he sold the theater at a loss for $17,000 and headed back to Arizona with Mae. In Yuma, a plan to take over the an island off the coast of Mexico was thwarted by the Mexican government when Charlie revealed plans to do away with a native tribe of Seri Indians (said to be cannibals) in the process.

Charlie died in December 1932 and was buried in Yuma. He left behind at least one daughter, Marion, who passed away in 1944. In the time since there have been a few books and several articles written about him. As early as the 1950’s, the Palace was restored to its original grandeur. Plays and shows still take there during the summer months, many of them centered around the amazing adventures of the theater’s builder. In Las Vegas, Nevada, Arizona Charlie’s Hotel & Casino was named for him.

In the Cripple Creek District, nothing remains of Gillette, nor its infamous bullring. And although Arizona Charlie has been memorialized by historians and writers in the region, his embarrassing incident at Gillette is rarely mentioned in his biographies.

Read more about Arizona Charlie in the summer edition of the Frontier Gazette, available now in Yavapai County and Prescott, Arizona.

The Mysterious Murder of Sammie Dean

News story

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in Days Past, a column in the Prescott Daily Courier.

By 1931, the boom—bust—boom town of Jerome had seen its fair share of shady ladies. These enterprising women rode the carnal rollercoaster of the city’s economy as miners came and went. There was plenty of violence within its red light district even then, and Sammie Dean’s murder has remained an especially intriguing and tragic story.

Sammie was born Marie Juanita Loveless in 1892 in Texas. Her parents were Oscar Loveless and Virginia “Jennie” Lee Ludgwig. Jennie married her first husband, William Kennington, in 1887. The couple had a daughter, also named Virginia, and later divorced. In 1891 Jennie married Loveless. Four years later Loveless died unexpectedly, and a year after that, Jennie married again. Her new husband was fellow widower James Landwermeyer. The couple rented a farm, living there with Sammie, Virginia, and Landwermeyer’s four children from his previous marriage. Jennie’s third child, Leo, was born in 1900.

After Landwermeyer died in 1905, Jennie and her children struggled to survive. Daughter Virginia eventually married; in 1910 she was living with her husband at his parents’ house on Bryan Street in Dallas. Jennie, Sammie and Leo lived just a few doors down. While in Dallas, Sammie tried to better her life. In 1910 she and her mother were employed as “cutters” in a factory that made overalls. Later that year she went to work as a clerk for Sanger Brothers dry goods and clothing store.

By 1914 Sammie was no longer living with her mother and in fact does not appear to have lived in Dallas at all. Perhaps it was around this time that George Dean, said to be a gambler, swept Sammie off her feet. In fact, Sammie disappears from record in Dallas for a good ten years. Where, when and if she officially married Dean remains unknown, but when the census taker found them in 1920, the couple was living with Virginia and her family back in Dallas. Theirs was truly a full house with Virginia, her husband Hugh, their three children, Hugh’s father and brother, plus Sammie and George. While Sammie did have a job, the census lists George Dean as the proprietor of a cigar store.

After 1920, Sammie disappeared again. She was said to have worked, perhaps as a prostitute, in Colorado for a time before coming to Arizona. What happened to George Dean is equally mystifying, although some believe he left Sammie in Jerome. Whatever her past, Sammie certainly seems to have had her act together. They say she had divorced George, owned her own car, and that her accoutrements included some mighty expensive jewelry. It was also known, unfortunately, that she kept a lot of cash in her suite at one of Jerome’s finer bordellos. How long she had been in town is unknown, but before long Sammie had many friends and admirers in the red light district.

Until July 10, 1931.

A neighbor saw Sammie early that morning, but she didn’t answer the door when friends came calling around noon. Around 6 o’clock that evening, one Leo Portillo decided to check on Sammie. He found that although her front doors were locked, the back doors stood wide open. Upon entering, Portillo quickly saw that the room had been ransacked. Sammie, bruised and mangled, lay dead from strangulation.

Robbery appeared to be the motive for the attack on Sammie.Her purse was empty and her gun was missing. Her valuable jewelry, however, was left untouched. This led investigators to believe there might have been another reason for her murder, but who would do such a thing? Notably, Sammie’s beloved German Shepard, who surely might have fought off a stranger, had not appeared to have attacked anyone or made any noise. The brokenhearted dog refused to leave Sammie’s side as authorities removed the body.

There were few suspects, although Sammie had written to her family back home claiming that Mayor Thomas Miller’s son wanted to marry her and vowed revenge when she refused his proposal. Local folklore states the boy then mysteriously disappeared, but both of the mayor’s sons were actually 20 years younger than Sammie and lived in Jerome as late as 1940 and beyond. Sammie also had a boyfriend, “a hard miner and fighter” who likewise does not appear to have been questioned. George Dean’s whereabouts were unknown.

Sammie’s sister Virginia, along with her five children, made the sad trip to Jerome to claim Sammie’s body. Perhaps to protect the family, Sammie’s death certificate listed her as being born in Arkansas. Virginia signed off on the document and on July 13, Sammie’s body was taken back to Dallas for burial.

Sammie’s murder has never been solved. Her mother died in 1933. Virginia died in 1964 and Sammie’s brother Leo died in 1973. Today, Sammie is at rest with her family at Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas.

My Love Affair with Lida, Explained

One of the reasons I so enjoy researching and writing about prostitutes of the past is the ladies themselves. When I write articles and books about them, I am often lambasted by scholars and other historians for not including deep analyses of the statistics I find. Such fodder doesn’t interest me. Rather, I like getting to know these women personally. By finding out where they were from, learning about their families and gleaning information from the cryptic notes and photographs they left behind, I can keep their memories alive a bit longer. It is important to me to let their spirits know that not everyone thinks that what they did was particularly shameful or up for ridicule. So many of them deserve a better memory of their lives. In short, I love these women. They feel like sisters, aunts and grandmas I never had, even if they were “bad girls.”

To date, I have researched literally thousands of shady ladies throughout Arizona, California, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Kansas, Nebraska, even as far away as Washington D.C. and New York. When my first book about prostitution history, Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930, came out in 2003 I was proud to say I knew of each and every woman in the book. I was a fountain of trivia. One could name any lady in that tome, and I would instantly recall everything I knew about her. In the time since, however, the overstuffed filing cabinet in my brain is overrun with names, dates, places and events. Even so, hundreds of ladies still haunt me, especially the ones with whom I feel an unexplained kinship. Lida is one of these.

I first ran across Lida when I was researching my second book about prostitution, Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains. That book transpired during a most wild time in my life; while trying to research and write the thing, I had broken out of a long term relationship, was taken a major new job responsibility, lost an old friend, sat by my mother and best friend as she died holding my hand, and experienced the utter joy of finding the true love of my life. In between were these crazy, rather blurry road trips all over the west. I had just one year in which to visit seven states, research all I could, and make some sense out of what I found. The end result was a giant volume that makes a great door stop, or even a small coffee table.

Throughout these gonzo research trips, certain women reached out through the piles of paperwork, pictures, documents and books to embed themselves in my memory. One of them was Lida, whom I discovered in Prescott, Arizona. She was memorable because someone had given her ample space in a research paper as one of the most prominent madams in town. When I moved to Arizona I found out a little more. Chief among the few facts about Lida was that one time, when forced by the state to establish an official red light district to keep the ladies in line, city authorities made an exception for Lida’s place. They had to, because it sat mostly in the middle of a busy intersection.

But Lida was clever, masquerading under several names, skillfully avoiding arrest and census takers, moving around a lot and never really revealing her true self in any existing documents. Because she seemed such a revered woman in red, and because she has been quietly tugging at my sleeve for over five years now, I have of course yearned to know more about her. I have been as true to Lida as I would to any living friend, diligently searching for clues about her life. Often I feel like her spirit is hovering over me while I work, gently prodding me to find out the rest of her story.

Yesterday I experienced a rare treat when I was invited to view the estate of another prominent prostitute. I looked forward to this visit for weeks, and my gracious hosts did not disappoint. Here were pictures, personal belongings, letters, newspaper articles and more, a pleasing variety of information that filled in a lot gaps about this woman. Tucked into one binder, we found a lone article about someone this woman had known. This lady had saved clippings about her friends and fellow working girls, and my heart jumped a bit when I saw that this particular piece was about Lida.

When I got home, I put all other research aside in favor of Lida’s article. Some of the mystery about her was cleared up, but as I read about her the tiny voice in the back of my head continued to puzzle over why she intrigues me so. The end of the article answered my question. Lida came to Arizona from Victor, Colorado, my former hometown which remains very close to my heart. In fact, my home there sits in the heart of the original red light district. For the twenty or so years I lived near or in that town, I researched the prostitutes there probably more than anywhere else. To find out Lida came from there makes me smile, a really big smile. Because it explains why this lady loves to haunt me, and why I in turn love to haunt her.

DSC01503

Third Street is part of the former red light district in Victor, Colorado, where my beloved Lida might have once lived.

A Crooked Poker Table, Teddy’s Rough Riders and the Life of Ben Daniels

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

This article originally appeared in Frontier Gazette magazine.

Benjamin Franklin Daniels

Benjamin Franklin Daniels

Try as he might, lawman Benjamin Franklin Daniels was a schemer at heart. Born in 1852, Daniels lost his mother and six siblings at an early age. He moved with his father and stepmother to Kansas in 1863, striking out five years later for Texas. Daniels was convicted of his first crime, stealing government mules, in Montana in about 1870. After a brief stint in prison, he returned to Kansas.

At Dodge City, Daniels became a marshal under Bat Masterson. He also worked in Oklahoma and Missouri before landing in Cripple Creek, Colorado. All was well until January of 1897, when Daniels was accused of “tolerating” a crooked roulette wheel and poker table in town for a share of the take, while blackmailing both lawbreakers and respectable citizens.

The poker table with its cheating device disappeared, but a boy eventually found it in a prospect hole outside of town and alerted police. Daniels’ trial was the stuff of movie fodder: Bribes. Threats. Conflicting stories. Testimony by jailbirds who had paid Daniels for their freedom and the floozy who witnessed such transactions. Wrongful arrests. One man was run out of town for “talking too much”, and a fellow officer had been fired for questioning Daniels’ business. Daniels had even taken the crooked table home after it was found and tried to sell it.

Amazingly, Daniels was acquitted and wisely decided to move on, joining Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in 1898. Some quick training in San Antonio, and the lawman was off to fight in Cuba. Cripple Creekers quickly turned face. “Ben has a record,” the Cripple Creek Morning Times admitted, but went on to describe him as a man “who goes about his business of thief-catching as relentlessly as a blood hound.”

Daniels’ seedy reputation was redeemed when he personally saved Roosevelt’s life on San Juan Hill. The future president gratefully appointed Daniels U.S. Marshal in Arizona. A proud Daniels permitted the Morning Times to publish a letter to his wife in Kansas, describing his adventures and vainly ending with “Whoops! What a long letter for me to write. Just make me a leather medal.”

Those who knew of Daniels’ wicked past were not happy. Daniels’ former boss in Cripple Creek, Jacob Bloom, was quick to point out the Montana incident and Daniels’ former reputation as a “hold-up man”. Bloom claimed Daniels had run some shady establishments in Dodge City, calling him “an all-around bad man”. He also told of Daniels killing restaurant keeper Ed Julian in 1885 (for which he was acquitted), and the killing of a hotel keeper (for which he was never arrested). “Ben Daniels will not be marshal of Arizona,” warned the Durango[Colorado] Herald. “Mr. Daniels is guilty of the unpardonable offense of committing a crime, being found out, and serving a term in the penitentiary.”

Even Roosevelt was disappointed in his prodigy, saying, “You did a grave wrong to me when you failed to be frank…and tell me about this one blot on your record.” Daniels’ appointment as Arizona marshal was revoked, but Roosevelt continued his support. With his help, Daniels was made superintendent of Yuma’s Territorial Prison in 1904 and reappointed as U.S. Marshal in 1906.

When Roosevelt’s Presidential term ended in 1909, Daniels was politely asked to resign. He remained in Arizona, dabbling in politics and mining. In 1917 he presented Roosevelt with a “handsome cane beautifully fashioned from cow horns.” Ben Daniels died in 1923. Whatever his sordid past, he is still best remembered as the loyal problem child of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.

The Wanton Women of Prescott, Arizona

C 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

When Prescott made headlines in 1864 as the first capitol of Arizona Territory, the news created an influx of the usual gold miners, merchants and of course soiled doves, a hidden staple to any boomtown economy.

Prescott’s shady ladies first made news in 1868 when the Arizona Journal Miner reported a shooting at a brothel on Montezuma Street, better known as Whiskey Row. Such reports would increase as more prostitutes settled in Prescott. Of the women plying their trade in 1870, at least three of them soon met a bad end. One was Jenny Schultz, who was killed at her bordello at Cortez and Gurley Streets in September. In November, Ellen “Nellie” Stackhouse was strangled at her brothel on Montezuma. Then there was Mollie Shepherd, who purportedly sold her brothel for thousands of dollars.

In 1871 Mollie boarded a stagecoach with her cash, but between Wickenburg and Ehrenberg the stage was robbed. All were killed except Mollie and army paymaster William Kruger. The two were ultimately suspected of the robbery, but lack of evidence set them free. Mollie and Kruger went to California, where they actually received celebrity status. Later, however, Kruger claimed Mollie died of wounds she received during the robbery—initially reported as only powder burns. When no record of Mollie’s death was found, the investigation turned back to Kruger, who mysteriously disappeared. Nothing was ever heard of the couple again, save for a man by Kruger’s name who was killed by a stray bullet at a Phoenix hotel in 1872.

By 1873, the red light ladies of Whiskey Row were in full swing. Tombstone sheriff Johnny Behan’s wife would later testify that her husband “openly and notoriously visited houses of ill-fame and a prostitute at said town of Prescott” that year. Another famous visitor was Big Nose Kate and her paramour, Doc Holliday, in about 1879. By 1880 there were approximately 18 prostitutes in Prescott proper. The red light district was located mainly along Granite Street but some girls were also said to be working on Leroux Street. The red light district was nicknamed “Whoretown.”

One of Prescott’s best known madams was Lydia Carlton, who ran a brothel for many years on Granite. Her 2-story house featured bedrooms and social rooms, and she charged about twice as much as other brothels. The house also served liquor, and customers were expected to purchase drinks both before and after choosing their company for the evening. Lydia also required her customers to be inspected for venereal disease prior to doing business and turned infected customers away.

In 1887 prostitution in Prescott was still a mere misdemeanor, allowing women to operate with relative ease. By 1900 there were approximately 100 girls in the red light district. A new Arizona statute even allowed cities to legalize and regulate their own red light districts. In 1901 the statute was amended to prohibit brothels from being located within 250 yards of a public building or 400 yards of a school. In 1902, the city began requiring weekly health exams. The new rules kept prostitution arrests in Prescott considerably low.

By 1910 the number of prostitutes in Prescott was shrinking, largely due to social pressure from church organizations but also the law. Only about 20 soiled doves remained in Prescott, including Madam Grace Watson and two dance halls. With Arizona entering statehood in 1912, authorities began cracking down even more. Stricter ordinances in 1913 included prohibition of building new brothels. By October, many girls had left town.

In 1918 authorities at Fort Whipple gave official orders to close the red light district. The post was joining numerous other military outfits throughout the west who were tired of their soldiers contracting venereal disease, going AWOL and coming off leave with bruises and black eyes. Despite the crack down, however, newspapers reported a murder at Nellie Stewart’s bordello in 1919. In 1928 Madam Irene Brown’s house was raided. The following year, the former Golden Eagle Saloon was converted to the Rex Arms. The Rex and another place called the Hazel Rooms operated as clandestine bordellos. Prostitution continued to flourish in smaller numbers, and it was not until 1947 that County Attorney David Palmer was able to crack down and eliminate prostitution in Prescott altogether.

IMG_1823 Virtually nothing remains of Prescott’s notorious red light district today. The corner of Goodwin and Granite Streets, where numerous cribs and the Union Saloon once flourished, is now a place for shops and restaurants.