Tag Archives: old colorado city

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 http://www.HistoryPress.net.

Bob Ford Thrown Out of Cripple Creek!

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

It is certain that, in its prime, the Cripple Creek District in Colorado had its share of criminals. From the local Crumley and General Jack Smith Gangs to such notorious notables as Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, the district saw more than just a few outlaws pass through. More often than not, the more wicked of the District’s transient population often went unnoticed until some unfortunate incident brought their identities to light. In the interim, the good citizens of the District did their best to keep the scourge of society out. Such was the case with Bob Ford, killer of the notorious outlaw Jesse James.

Bob Ford was only nineteen years old when he made his place in history by killing James. At the time of his death, 34-year-old Jesse Woodson James had murdered upwards of sixteen men and taken $250,000 in cash, gold and jewelry from banks and stages across the Midwest. There was a $10,000 price on his head, but legend has it that Jesse was trying to go straight under the alias of Thomas Howard when death came. Ford was a guest of Jesse’s at his home in Missouri at the time. He was also allegedly Jesse’s first cousin, recruited to assist in Jesse’s last robbery before he turned from his life of crime.

The story goes that on April 3 of 1882, Jesse noticed a crooked picture on the wall and stepped upon a chair to straighten it. Bob Ford, the gleam of a $10,000 reward in his eye, took advantage of Jesse’s unguarded move. A single shot through the back of Jesse’s head did him in. Next Ford surrendered to local authorities, was tried, convicted, and pardoned immediately by Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden.

Even now, certain historians and would-be relatives of James claim Jesse didn’t die at Bob Ford’s hands. But at the time, America believed him dead. And, no matter how bad the outlaw, the wild West’s code against shooting a man in the back prevailed. Besides, Jesse James had been respected and admired despite his outlaw status. Ford received less than a heroes’ welcome, especially when he began touring and giving lectures on the incident. He was often booed from the stage and nearly lynched more than once.

For several years following the killing, Bob Ford roamed the country. History is scarce as to exactly where he went and what he did. No doubt, Ford had trouble shaking his reputation as a yellow coward. Eventually he landed in Colorado City, that wild and woolly place just west of Colorado Springs. In 1889, Bob was dealing Faro at the Crystal Palace. He also worked for Colorado City’s notorious madam, Laura Bell McDaniel, and at the Nickel Plate Saloon.

The unwelcome reception Ford had received in other places eventually echoed in Colorado City. In December of 1891, he was arrested for gambling. It was likely this incident that inspired him to seek greener pastures once more. This time, he decided to try his luck in Cripple Creek. The District was just starting to roll with one of the nation’s last—and most productive—gold booms.

What Ford didn’t know was that Cripple Creek authorities were very aware of his presence in Colorado City. Someone must have tipped them off about his plans to invade Cripple Creek, for when Ford reached the fair city he was met by Sheriff Hi Wilson. Exactly what Wilson said to him is lost to history, but the conversation was enough to convince Ford that Cripple Creek wasn’t his kind of place.

On February 3 of 1892, the Colorado City Iris announced Ford had gone to try his luck in Creede. Success came easier there, and Ford soon found himself officiating prize fights and even running a dance hall and brothel out of a tent. Ironically enough, Ford’s newfound happiness was deterred briefly by a rumor that he had been killed in Creede shortly after he departed Colorado City. The killer was thought to be Billy Meyer, with whom Ford had quarreled before leaving town.

That fateful rumor would soon ring truer than anyone realized. By April Ford had managed to make several more enemies in Creede. The newspaper there reported him dealing Faro but staying “out of the range of any window…” Furthermore, the paper stated, Ford “keeps a restless eye on the crowd about him, while ever near him lies the gun with which he brought down by a shot from behind, the much-feared Missouri Outlaw.”

Before long, Ford was run out of Creede and returned to Colorado City once more. But he wasn’t any more welcome there than before, and soon departed for Creede again. By June he was back at his dance hall tent in Creede. Ed O’Kelley was waiting for him. A former deputy sheriff from Pueblo, O’Kelley was one of hundreds who didn’t like Ford. Their relationship was especially strained after some incident in Pueblo, perhaps a gambling debt. On June 8, according to most accounts, Kelley walked into Ford’s, said “Hello, Bob!” and fired off two sawed off shotguns a mere five feet from Ford’s throat.

Accounts vary as to whether O’Kelley actually shot Ford in the back. But other facts are certain: O’Kelley received a life sentence, was paroled in 1902, only to be killed in a scuffle with Oklahoma City police in 1904.

That was the end of the Bob Ford saga. The bar behind which he was shot was sold to a saloon keeper in the Colorado town of Spar City, now a long gone ghost town. Later, Ford’s body was said to have been moved from Creede to the family plot in Richmond, Missouri. Creede went on to claim its own fame as the death place of Bob Ford, and the answer to what would have happened if Sheriff Wilson had let Bob into Cripple Creek will never be known.

"The dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard", Bob Ford,

“The dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard”, Bob Ford.

Blanche Burton, Queen Madam of Colorado City and Cripple Creek

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Jan MacKell’s book, “Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930” (University of New Mexico Press, http://www.unmpress.com).

If prostitution is the oldest profession, who was the oldest prostitute in Cripple Creek? The answer would be Blanche Burton, the very first soiled dove to haul her petticoats to town.

Blanche appears to have got her start in Colorado City, now the west side of Colorado Springs. According to census records, she was born in Ireland in November of 1865 and came to the United States in 1881.She was once married to a prominent Kansas man who later moved back east. The couple had a son and a daughter. The boy died in an explosion, and the girl was placed in a convent.

Blanche first appears on record in Colorado in 1889, at the seasoned age of thirty. That year, court records show she was accused of running a house of ill fame in Colorado City. The loophole Blanche dove through to gain her release was quite clever, as her defense successfully argued that she couldn’t possibly run a “house” of ill fame because she actually lived in a tent.

But such harassment was common in Colorado City, and so when word came of a gold boom in Cripple Creek, Blanche took the opportunity to move up there. She and her tent arrived in 1891, where an immediate friendship was struck up with Bob Womack, founder of the gold boom itself. The charming cowboy took Blanche under his wing and encouraged her to pitch her tent and set up business near his cabin in Poverty Gulch.

Almost right away, Blanche discovered the value of being street-wise in Cripple Creek. One of her customers, aptly named Tim Hussey, had been paying for Blanche’s services by giving her interests in his mining claims. An investigation by Womack revealed that the 27 one-eighth interests were all from the same claim. Despite this and other gold camp schemes, Blanche appears to have done well during her first two years in Cripple Creek. She had a limited education, but she could read and write. For several months, she held the title of the first and only madam in town.

By 1893, Blanche was operating a parlor house over a saloon on Bennett Avenue, one of two main business drags. One time Womack rode his horse up the front steps of her parlor house. Whenever Bob fell ill, Blanche would send her girls to his cabin to take care of him. In the meantime, Cripple Creek had turned into a rough and tumble boomtown. Younger girls, some in their teens, came and set up business too. It is not unlikely that Blanche may have felt lost or even left out as newcomers literally poured into the city limits and “old-timers” like herself were forgotten. When Marshal Hi Wilson demanded that all ladies of the evening remove themselves from Bennett Avenue to more discreet quarters on Myers Avenue, Blanche had enough. Upon departing from Cripple Creek in 1894, she considered herself officially retired.

Or did she?

Back in Colorado City, Blanche next took up residence at 812 Colorado Avenue, just around the corner from the northernmost part of the red-light district. But word of Blanche’s reputation spread through town. Three years away, especially in an immensely popular town like Cripple Creek, did little to quell any rumors about her profession. With time, Blanche became a noted recluse with no visible means of income. In 1902 she moved one house over to 816 West Colorado. Also living at the house in 1902 was Miss Blanche Bell, and it is entirely possible that Ms. Burton may have been in business after all with her own small parlor house.

Either way, Blanche continued to contribute to her community and live quietly. All around her, Colorado City seemed in a constant ruckus what with the railroad, progress, and authorities trying to close down the red light district where she herself had once worked. In January of 1909, three mysterious fires wiped out the red light district almost completely, but it was quickly rebuilt. The fires may or may not have had something to do with Blanche’s ultimate fate.

On December 20, 1909, Police Chief McDowell and Patrolman Morse were on an evening stroll when they noted a person who appeared to be on fire running into the middle of Colorado Avenue. The men immediately grabbed the victim and used their overcoats and snow to extinguish the flames. Most of the clothing was burned off, and closer examination revealed it was Blanche Burton laying in their arms. Upon carrying her into the house the men discovered a hanging curtain, called a portiere, also in flames. Surprisingly, the fire was small and extinguished quickly. A broken oil lamp lay nearby, providing the last clue to the mystery.

Two physicians, Dr. G.S. Vinyard and Dr. G.B. Gilmore, were called to the Burton home but there was little to be done. Blanche lived long enough to tell everyone that just a year and a half earlier her barn had burned. Her horse and two dogs had been killed, and in trying to rescue them she almost died herself. The men tried to get her to reveal her true name if there was one, as well as the address of the daughter she allegedly had. Supposedly, Blanche said that her daughter lived in Illinois but nothing more. She died just after 5 a.m. the next morning before she could give any other information.

No doubt the men may have wondered why Blanche chose to mention her burning barn, but they also wondered why a man was seen running west on Colorado Avenue shortly before Blanche’s accident. The man was never identified, nor was there any cash in the house. Furthermore, authorities failed to find any bank accounts in Blanche’s name.

Blanche Burton may have been buried a pauper if it weren’t for fellow madam Mamie Majors. The bold Miss Majors paid for Blanche’s funeral, which was conducted from Beyle Undertaking Rooms on Christmas Eve. Surely it was a sad and grief-stricken party who accompanied Blanche to her grave in Fairview Cemetery. Even the public and the press felt sympathy for the reclusive harlot. The presiding minister praised Blanche’s good heart, explaining that the day before her death she had purchased a ton of coal for needy families in time for Christmas. Her obituary in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph was headlined, “Did Much Good.” The article stated that Blanche was a good nurse and always ready to respond to those in need.

In the years following, Blanche and her counterparts were all but forgotten until Bill Henderson came along. Henderson, formerly the mayor of Colorado Springs, took a special liking to the naughty (but deceased) ladies of Colorado City. Members of the Garden of the Gods Rotary Club were so moved by a speech Henderson gave, they decided Blanche should have a proper gravestone. Accordingly Richard Wilhelm of Wilhelm Monument Company donated the stone, which was erected in 1983 on the anniversary of Blanche’s unfortunate death. It remains today, bearing an appropriately wise inscription based on a poem by Frank Waugh:

Pioneer Madam
Blanche
BURTON
1859-1909
The sins of the living
are not of the dead

An unidentified harlot from Colorado's past.

An unidentified harlot from Colorado’s past.