Tag Archives: Prescott Arizona

Hidden Harlots at the Heart of History

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

For nearly thirty years, the long-gone, loose women of the American West have been chasing me around. I began by taking an interest in one, a prominent madam named Laura Bell McDaniel of Old Colorado City, Colorado. In researching her, more women followed, and before I knew it I was up to my ears in shady ladies.

Not that I minded, but I do have other history interests to write about. Over time, however, I have discovered that even when I am researching something entirely different from the prostitution history of the West, the ladies still show up. They casually appear in old news articles, right next to the one I’m reading. They pop up in old property ledgers, law books and miscellaneous documents. In census records, my trained eye automatically spots words like “sporting”, “red light” or any other term applied to women of the night.

Fortunately, the ladies have paid me for spending time with them by allowing me to write about them in relative peace. Three of the books I have written focus on the world’s oldest profession. The newest one, Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona, came out just a couple of years ago. This book focuses on the time period between 1860 and 1918, when the west was still quite young and struggling to come of age.

I’m not telling you this just in the name of shameless self-promotion. Rather, I enjoy emphasizing how the prostitution industry was an important aspect of western history as we know it. Love it or hate it, nearly every camp, boomtown and city sported its own special neighborhood where lonely miners, traveling salesmen, local husbands and other men could escape the drudgery of their lives with a little female companionship.

The ladies of the lamplight did much more than provide entertainment. In addition to their services, these women purchased property, paid taxes, bought business licenses, contributed monthly fines and fees to city coffers, shopped locally, and made untold numbers of donations to charities, schools, churches and other causes. Their posh parlors were often the scene of impromptu meetings between prominent men to discuss civic affairs, laws and other important issues of the day. The right madam knew every man in town, and willingly offered advice and opinions on sensitive matters. These unseen, unappreciated contributions helped shape the west and assisted places that are now fine, upstanding communities.

In places like Prescott, prominent men of the city actually owned and rented houses of prostitution to women who not only generated local business but also assisted in making important decisions regarding city growth, politics and commerce. What went on in the bordello generally stayed in the bordello, making for a great place in which to conduct business and other important meetings. The men knew the madam would keep their secrets, and that whatever plans they discussed were less likely to be overheard by the wrong person.

For me, this information is secondary to the fact that most prostitutes were amazingly brave to work in a dangerous industry. The realm of prostitution often included violence, drug and alcohol abuse and a slew of personal problems ranging from suicidal tendencies to unwanted pregnancies. The law could offer only limited assistance in times of trouble, usually after that fact – if any assistance was rendered at all. The sad stories overwhelmingly outweigh the good ones with tales of abuse, stabbings, shootings, suicide, death from overdose, stillborn children, asylum or jail time, lonely deaths and sad endings. I can only counter this blatant history with a healthy handful of success stories ending in wealth, vindication and happy days.

Many women, including Prescott madams Mollie Sheppard, Annie Hamilton, Gabe Wiley, Lida Winchell and others were willing to put themselves at risk in order to make their way in a man’s world. Done right, running a bordello was an attractive alternative to living the boring life of a housewife or working menial jobs which kept women in poverty. It also provided a means to widows with little mouths to feed. A woman had to take much care to keep from suffering from her own vices and succumbing to the hazards of working as a prostitute.

Fortunately for all, Prescott was more tolerant than most places across the West. Residents exhibited a most unique tenderness for the girls of the “restricted district”, allowing them to work and live within the confines of fairly lenient laws and ordinances. For many men, the working girls were “friends with benefits”, women who offered soft skin, scented necks, open arms, and even open ears as the men voiced their troubles. The men’s memories remained fond long after the girls were gone, gleaned through the occasional interview or perhaps an eloquently written obituary if one of them passed away.

Refreshingly, writing Wild Women of Prescott reminded me that the spirit of those sporting girls remains very real today as women of my generation struggle more than ever for empowerment. Always an advocate of the old “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been” adage, I find that my readers sense that the needs and wants of women are not much different now than they were then. In the old west prostitute’s case, here was a class of women who dared to venture forth and try to make money with the only tangible weapon they had.

If you are a fan of the wild west, I hope you can find time to pick up a copy of the book. You can find it at history.net, as well as Amazon.

Big Nose Kate, An Arizona Amazon

c 2017 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in “Days Past”, Prescott Daily Courier.

Of all of the wild women serenaded by the famous Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate was the first to woo the men who would later find fame in Tombstone. Born in Hungary in 1850 as Mary Katharine Haroney, Kate immigrated with her family in 1860. They were living in Iowa when Kate’s parents died in 1866. She and her siblings were sent to a farm, where grueling work conditions enticed Kate to run away. She stowed away on a steamship for New Orleans, where she entered the Ursuline Convent.

The idea of any young lady entering a convent on her own was quite novel in the day. The Ursuline Convents of American also offered academies, private girls’ schools for an elite set of socialites. Although New Orleans offered such an acadmey, it is unclear whether Kate paid tuition to attend classes, or whether she simply sought shelter. Either way, life in the convent failed to suit Kate, whose wanderlust soon sent her traveling West.

During her journeys, Kate adopted various aliases: the surnames of Fisher and Elder, and her infamous nickname, Big Nose Kate. She also dabbled in prostitution. By 1869, she was working for madam Blanch Tribolet in St. Louis but in 1874 she moved to Kansas and began working for madam Bessie Earp, wife of James Earp — Wyatt Earp’s older brother. The following year, she was in Dodge City working at Tom Sherman’s Dance Hall.

In late 1877, at Fort Griffin, Texas, Kate met John Henry “Doc” Holliday, the dentist-turned-gambler who was trying to alleviate his tuberculosis. Also, it was here that Kate introduced Holliday to Wyatt Earp. Later, when Wyatt moved to Dodge City, Holliday and Kate followed. The couple registered at the Deacon Cox’s Boarding House as Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Holliday. Doc set up a dental practice but he spent much of his time playing cards and drinking.

Kate would stay by Holliday’s side during his coughing fits, but the two quarreled regularly and sometimes violently. According to Kate, the couple later married in Valdosta, Georgia. They began traveling frequently, but lived in Las Vegas, New Mexico for about two years. Holliday worked as a dentist by day and ran a saloon by night. Kate also occasionally worked at a dance hall in Santa Fe.

In 1879, Wyatt came for a visit and talked Holliday and Kate into moving to Prescott. Wyatt’s brother, Virgil, was already in Prescott when Wyatt, his girlfriend Mattie Blaylock, Kate, Holliday, and James and Bessie Earp arrived. Wyatt and James traveled on to Tombstone, but Holliday hit a winning streak and stayed in Prescott. As of June 1880, he was living in a boarding house on Montezuma Street, aka “Whiskey Row”, working as a dentist and gambling. In the meantime, Kate traveled to Globe as she learned there was good money to be made there. When Holliday‘s lucky streak ended, he left for Tombstone and wrote to Kate asking her to visit him.

In March 1881, Kate arrived in Tombstone only to find Holliday very sickly. She decided to stay with him, but their reunion was hardly blissful. One night an angry Kate told Sheriff John Behan that Holliday was responsible for a local stage robbery involving two murders. Holliday was arrested, but Kate later recanted and the charges were dropped. Furious, Holliday sent her back to Globe, but by October he was writing for her to return. Kate did indeed return and moved with Holliday into Fly’s Boarding House.

By this time, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp had become noted lawmen in Tombstone. However, the Earps’ disagreements with the McLaury and Clanton brothers, as well as Billy Claiborne, were leading up to the notorious shootout at the O.K. Corral. On the morning of October 26, Kate remembered Holliday leaving, telling her, “I may not be back to take you to breakfast, so you better go alone.” Instead, Kate remained in room only to witness the gunfight that afternoon. In the aftermath of the shootout, Kate returned to Globe and Holliday hit the road traveling. Each rarely saw one another.

Kate continued working as a prostitute in Cochise, Courtland and Bisbee, but by 1887 she was back in Globe when she heard Holliday was ill in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Kate traveled to Colorado to care for Holliday while staying at her brother Alexander Haroney‘s ranch. On November 8 Holliday died. It is unsubstantiated whether or not Kate was present at his death.

Following Holliday’s death, Kate married blacksmith George Cummings in about 1888. By 1900, she was working as John Howard’s housekeeper in Dos Cabezas, Arizona where she remained until Howard’s death in 1930. In 1931, Kate moved to the Arizona Pioneer’s Home in Prescott, claiming American citizenship to gain admittance and living there quietly until her death on November 2, 1940.

Although she had not worked in the prostitution industry for decades, a small stink arose regarding whether Kate deserved burial in Prescott’s Pioneer Cemetery. Whispers around Prescott brought up her notorious past, her notorious paramour and whether she really was just the housekeeper for Howard. Those who squawked were reminded, however, how much Kate did for advocating the rights of her fellow residents at the Pioneer’s Home. In the end, Big Nose Kate won and was buried under the name of Mary K. Cummings at Prescott’s Pioneer Cemetery. Today, she would likely be surprised at how many visitors she receives each year.

You can read more about Big Nose Kate in Jan’s books, Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains and Wild Women of Prescott.

An Old Time Christmas, Arizona Style

CHRISTMAS 1898c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Frontier Gazette magazine.

Amongst historians, there is some dispute as to whether anybody in Prescott had a Christmas tree during the city’s first holiday season in 1863. By the late 1880’s however, Prescott knew full well how to get its Christmas on. In 1886, local newspapers were informing citizens that “Christmas trees are now in order” and published the highlights of Brooklyn Magazine’s December issue for those who could not afford their own copy. Prescottonians also celebrated the coming of the new Prescott & Arizona Central Railroad, which general manager T.S. Bullock announced would make its inaugural run into town on Christmas day. Bullock cheerfully promised the “railroad boys” would celebrate their Christmas dinner in Prescott.

Christmas presents were all the rage, even back then. At Christmas in 1886, mercantile magnate Harry Goldwater presented a handsome cane, made by inmates at Yuma’s Territorial Prison, to the editor of Prescott’s Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner. In the days before WalMart, more common folks shopped at such unique places as Baumann’s Candy Store in the Bellevue Hotel (where buyers could purchase tree decorations and children could visit with Santa Claus), and J.W. Wilson’s place which promised “toys and Christmas goods without end.” Mrs. D.J. Sullivan’s prices promised to be “less than Eastern prices” and with a good selection to boot. J.L. Fisher’s advertised Christmas cards, adding, “There are a few bad places on the Montezuma Street [read: the notorious saloons along Whiskey Row] sidewalk, but, ’tis strange how they will flock up to J.L. Fisher’s for toys, Christmas goods, furniture, etc. etc. etc.” For many years, Aitken’s was the place to go for a pleasing array of candy and fresh nuts.

Some even dared venture down to Joe On Lung’s Chinese and Japanese Bazaar down on Granite Street, directly across from the Union Saloon and Prescott’s red light ladies. Indeed, the grand opening of P.L. Kastner’s new tavern on Christmas Eve in 1888 was no doubt much celebrated. In keeping with barroom etiquette, merchant George Washington Ford recommended a box of imported Key West El Modelo Cigars as a fitting present for gentlemen. At the Fireman’s Ball at Christmas in 1889, however, the fancy affair promised the presence of “floor managers” who would “do everything possible to make the ball a pleasant affair for all who attend.” No riff-raff would be permitted to the dance, which promised music by the Whipple Band, electric lights, and a proper “Ladies’ Dressing Room.”

Likewise, rabble-rousers were no doubt turned away from the beautiful Victorian home of Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Bashford at Christmas in 1894. The Bashfords were leading Prescott merchants who hosted an annual Christmas market and musicale. For twenty-five cents, guests could enjoy refreshments, a several musical numbers and a variety of goods for sale that included needlework, homemade candy and fresh-cut flowers. Despite the inclement weather, the party was deemed a success (An intriguing sidenote: the Bashford’s home was moved to Sharlot Hall Museum in 1974 and today serves as the Museum’s gift shop). Not to be outdone, Mrs. B.H. Smith threw a similar soiree a few weeks later, charging a dollar to gentlemen and fifty cents to the ladies.

Mince pies, Christmas turkeys and Oregon apples graced every table, according to newspapers. An 1891 article recommended the turkey be “as large as possible and fat” and gave an most tempting recipe for dressing that included roasted chestnuts, stale bread and corn muffins, fresh oysters, onion, celery, parsley, cayenne, butter and mashed hard-boiled eggs, all mixed together with the juice from the cooked turkey. More recipes and ideas for home made gifts were available in the Ladies Home Journal, well on its way to being the premier magazine for the lady of the house.

Like today, the wealthier Christmas shoppers thronged in the streets, clamoring for gifts and taking part in numerous celebrations. But also like today, the sentiments among the Victorians of the past still rings true. “One need not be rich to enjoy making Christmas present,” the Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner reminded everyone in 1892. “It is not the value of what is given, but the feeling which prompts the gift that makes the pleasure.” And, there was little sympathy towards the familiar cry of “Is that all I got?” amongst gift recipients. “Perhaps if those who received no Christmas gifts could get those given to people who do not appreciate them,” lectured the Miner in 1895, “everybody would be happier.”

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.

Tragic Tales of a Prescott Rodeo Rider

c 2014 Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are in the current issue of Frontier Gazette

They called him by his nickname, Muck. Or his alias, Jim Mack. But Ralph McJunkin was flying straight when he rode in the Prescott Rodeo.

Born in Colorado in 1890, Muck was second to the youngest of twelve children. The McJunkins moved to Farmington, New Mexico when Muck was just a baby. Soon they were prominent farmers and lumber merchants, and a couple of Muck’s older brothers ran trading posts.

Muck had no tolerance for such stuff. The wide blue skies and endless prairies welcomed him. Out there, far away from stifling civilization, he learned how to live off the land, how to speak Navajo and how to work horses and cattle. In time, he knew every river, arroyo and canyon, and could follow the dimmest trail to the remotest places. The life suited him.

But a living had to be made. With little education behind him, Muck tried his hand at coal mining before returning to the plains and finding ranch work. Lasting friendships were made with the folks around Farmington, and Muck was a good hand. He was working as a “sheepman” when he married a local Navajo girl at Aztec in about 1918, but when she set his belongings outside the door (the tribal custom for divorce), Muck moved on.

By 1920 Muck had taken a second wife, Addie. She had her own burden to haul with two children from her last marriage and a brother to look after. The family home was made even smaller by a friend who boarded with the family and worked beside Muck as a butcher down in McKinley County. The arrangement must have smothered Muck, and when Addie suggested they move to Peach Springs, Arizona, it was alright with him.

Peach Springs was a refreshing change, at least for a little while. It was cooler there. Addie, who disliked the idea going to restaurants and eating processed food, could grow vegetables. The couple now had a child of their own, and Addie wanted a settled lifestyle. For the next couple of years Muck found odd jobs and ranch jobs in the area. But his eye was surely on surrounding towns, where cowboys were earning good money in contests. The annual Frontier Days at Prescott was especially appealing. They were calling this event a “rodeo”, which Muck found out was a Spanish word for “round up”.

By 1926 Muck had saved enough money to go to Prescott and had the glory of participating in the rodeo. He didn’t win anything, but someone gave him a picture of himself busting a bronc. Maybe his dream was shattered, or maybe the restless Addie wanted a change. Either way, the McJunkins eventually made their way back to Farmington where Muck was hired as a deputy sheriff. He like the job well enough; it kept him out on the reservation and away from town.

Then came a fateful night that would change Muck’s life forever. He had been wrongfully accused of keeping confiscated liquor for himself and quit his job in disgust. His brother Jim suggested they go over to Aztec for a dance. As the evening wore on a fight broke out. Jim looked to be getting the worst of it as everyone tumbled outside. Shots were fired, including at least one from Muck’s service revolver.

In the end a man was dead, and Muck was on the run for fear he’d delivered the fatal shot. Although he was actually innocent, Muck spent the next five years drifting around California and Oregon under fictitious names. He made his way by picking up movie parts with other cowboys on Gower Street in Hollywood and ran a streetcar in Los Angeles. He was also gored by a bull in Hawaii. Trusted friends and family were visited for only short amounts of time before Muck would move on, seldom saying where he was going. Ultimately, in 1933, Muck was caught in a small Oregon town and brought back to New Mexico. He served a year in the pen for fleeing the murder scene in Aztec.

Addie divorced him, but upon being released in 1934 Muck started over again. He remarried, went back to ranching, helped build Blanco Trading Post south of Aztec, worked as an Indian agent, “wildcatted” for various oil rigs and raised a stepson and another daughter. Times were tough; the family was often stranded in remote places with little to eat. All the while, Muck tried to forget the past and his shattered hopes for becoming a rodeo cowboy. There were a lot of regrets, especially when Addie refused to let him see his oldest daughter. Not until she was a young woman did the girl realize her father was still alive, not dead as her mother had led her to believe.

Ghosts are hard to shake. Some say that gunfight at Aztec caused some hard feelings among friends; others say Muck might have got involved in something much darker. On a late afternoon in August of 1947, Muck kissed his youngest daughter and stepson goodbye and headed out for a ranching job. His car broke down at Blanco Trading Post south of town, and he dined with the owners. He was last seen talking to a trucker, and it was assumed he’d hitched a ride—until the next morning. Some tourists from Kentucky stopped at Blanco Trading Post and two children from the group went exploring. It was they who found Muck hanging in a nearby hogan with a gash in the back of his head. His murderer was never caught.

Jan MacKell Collins is the grand daughter of Ralph “Muck” McJunkin. She continues to conduct research on this fascinating man and hopes one day to solve his murder.

Because the image of Ralph McJunkin at the Prescott Rodeo was taken slightly out of frame, one of his daughters later colored in his Navajo-style haircut.

Because the image of Ralph McJunkin at the Prescott Rodeo was taken slightly out of frame, one of his daughters later colored in his Navajo-style haircut.