Tag Archives: prostitution history

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

From Gold and Tungsten to Rock and Roll: Nederland, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler.

Throughout its early life, Nederland Colorado was closely associated with Caribou, a Dutch gold mining community that was platted near Boulder in 1870. In 1873, some Dutchmen purchased the Idaho Shaft at Caribou for $3 million and set their sites on a nearby settlement. Originally called Dayton, then Brownsville after settler N.W. Brown in 1869, then Middle Boulder with a post office in 1871, this smaller camp became Nederland after Dutch immigrants took over the local mills. One of them, Abel Breed, purchased the Caribou Mine.

Nederland is in fact Dutch for the Netherlands. The city fathers lost no time incorporating on February 10, 1874. The post office opened under the new name on March 2. Although gold was all the rage in Colorado, tungsten was also mined near both Nederland and Caribou. In its day, the mineral served as a useful material to harden other metals such as steel, and for filaments in electric lights.

It is no wonder the Dutch settlers preferred Nederland to Caribou. Located at nearly 10,000 feet, Caribou was cold, subject to 100 mile an hour winds and terrible snowstorms with 25 foot drifts. The camp also suffered at least one scarlet fever epidemic and a diptheria epidemic. Also, there was no railroad to Caribou. Despite such inconveniences and tragedies, however, there were roughly 60 businesses including the Potosi Mine Boarding House and the 1875 Sherman House. Twenty mines served a population of 3,000.

When Caribou burned in 1879, even more folks began migrating to Nederland. A new church was erected in 1881 at Caribou, but the population had shrunk to just 549 people. The town burned again in 1899, suffered an earthquake in 1903 and burned one last time in 1905. A final attempt by the Consolidated Caribou Silver Mining Company to blast the 3,500′ Idaho Tunnel in 1946 did nothing for the town.

Where Caribou failed, Nederland did not. In 1870 a mill was built to process ore from Caribou’s mines. In 1873, when it was announced that President Ulysses S. Grant was coming to visit nearby Central City, Abel Breed’s mill produced silver bricks that were later laid across the sidewalk where Grant would enter the Teller House in Central. Within four more years, the population of Nederland was 300. Despite its great aspirations, however, author Helen Hunt Jackson visited Nederland that same year and referred to it as “A dismal little mining town, with only a handful of small houses and smelting mills. Boulder Creek comes dashing through it, foaming white to the very edge of town.”

Nederland was obviously not Jackson’s cup of tea, but the town thrived throughout the 1870’s, 80’s and into the 1890’s. Boardinghouses included the Antlers, Cory, Hetzer, Sherman House and the Western, all of which rented beds in shifts when mining was at its height. Restaurants followed suit, allowing their customers only 20 minutes to consume their meals before ushering them out for the next set of hungry miners. During its boom time, Nederland produced 60 percent of the tungsten in the United States, and at one time realized one million dollars in the stuff annually.

Nederland proper served chiefly as a supply, smelting and shipping town for area mines. Those mines, in fact, experienced great success. The Primos Mill, located at the community of Lakewood some three miles away, was the largest tungsten-producing mill in the world. Around Nederland were several camps and towns, but Nederland appears to have only been rivaled by Tungsten Camp with its alleged population of 20,000.

Tungsten was also known as Steven’s Camp and Ferberite. Today, however, most of Tungsten lies underneath Barker Reservoir. A less popular town among Nederlands’ proper families was Cardinal City, a sin city founded expressly by saloon keepers and prostitutes from Caribou beginning in 1870. Cardinal City was originally located conveniently between Caribou and Nederland. For a time, the scarlet ladies and barkeeps of Cardinal City hoped to overtake both towns. A plan in 1872 to build a courthouse, possibly to keep the barkeeps and wanton women in check, never came to fruition.

In about 1878 Cardinal City picked up and moved to a site closer to Nederland because of the railroad, and re-christened itself New Cardinal. But by 1883 the new city had lost its appeal, and its 2000 or so citizens began migrating elsewhere. Some moved to the 1860 gold mining town of Eldora (known originally as Happy Valley and Eldorado). The hard drinking and hard gambling miners at Eldora were nobody to fool with; the first day the Bailey Chlorniation Mill failed to make payroll, miners shot the manager and burned down the mill.

Other towns close to Nederland included Bluebird and the 1892 silver town of Hessie, which was named after its first postmistress. In 1914, Hessie also briefly made the papers following a mysterious murder. Grand Island, Lost Lake, Mary City, Phoenixville, Sulphide Flats and Ward were other camps. Most of these camps were fading by 1916. With the beginning of World War I and the call for more tungsten, however, Nederland experienced a surge while towns around it were dying off. The exception was the old town of Tungsten up the road. Within no time, real estate prices at both towns soared.

Of course the price of tungsten also went up. Upwards of 17 mills were working between Tungsten and Nederland. In 1917, nearly $6 million in tungsten was mined. Eventually, imports of the stuff from South America and Japan killed off the boom. Quickly. By 1920 Nederland was hanging on as a mere resort town with a handful of pioneer families living there full time. When author Muriell Sybil Wolle stayed the night there, she recalled that at the time, the boys from Nederland were playing a heated baseball game against a team from nearby Blackhawk.

Although Nederland has held its own as a resort and summer escape since the 1930’s, its reputation also received a boost with the repurpose of the old Caribou Ranch in the 1970’s. Homesteaded on the road between Nederland and Caribou in the 1860’s by Caribou Mine owner Sam Conger, no less than four films were shot at the ranch before music producer James William Guercio purchased it in 1972. All told, Guercio bought a 4,000+ acre parcel and set up a private, unique recording studio for major recording artists. Joe Walsh and Bill Szymczyk were the first musicians to finish an album (Barnstorm) there. The second project to be recorded at the ranch included Rick Derringer’s hit single, Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo.

In 1974, Elton John further immortalized the place with his album, fittingly called Caribou. Dozens of other performers recorded there as well, including America, Badfinger, the Beach Boys, Chicago, Phil Collins, Dan Fogelberg, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, John Lennon, Stevie Nicks, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tom Petty and Frank Zappa. Legendary musicians might still be recording there today, but in March of 1985 the control room at the studio suffered a fire with an amazing $3 million dollar loss. The roof was replaced, but the original recording studio was never rebuilt.

Guercio began selling off parts of the Caribou Ranch in 1996. About half of it is owned today by the City of Boulder and Boulder County. An additional 1,489 acres were placed under a conservation easement. The remaining parcel is still owned by Guercio’s Caribou Companies, an exclusive gated community containing 20 unique mountain home sites encompassing over 700 acres. As for the old studio, there have been hints for several years now of a reprise of the ranch’s famous recording past. Guercio’s remaining 1600 acres, which continue to serve as a working ranch, are currently listed for sale with Mountain Marketing Associates of Breckenridge-for the modest price of $45,000,000. The right seller could indeed make Nederland and its surrounding communities experience a whole new boom of a different kind.

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