Tag Archives: prostitution

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.

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

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.