Tag Archives: Victor Colorado

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.


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

Ghost Stories from Victor, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

A reckless day once passed through the streets of Victor, once a booming mining town high on the backside of Pikes Peak. It was a time before flu and polio vaccinations, a time when the chilling fingers of winter easily wrapped themselves around one’s neck. It was a time when teams of horses trod down the streets careless of pedestrians. When miners in deep shafts sometimes forgot to holler before a blast of dynamite went off. Dangers lurked menacingly around every corner, exercising no prejudice for those who fell victim.

When Victor settled into silent submission for a number of decades in the early 1900’s, the past was somewhat forgotten as folks died or moved away. Among those who stayed, a condescending smile surely passed over their faces as newcomers arrived as the tourism era began some years ago. Visitors drank in the town’s ethereal charm and yearned to hear stories of what they had missed. For while the physical population of Victor had dwindled, more than one spirit arose to meet new generations. Many bewailed a tragic or bewildering past while others simply drifted about, here one moment and gone the next. A handful of new stories soon mixed with the old, weaving an unseen pattern into the fascinating fabric that is now Victor.

It is hard to say which story of Victor’s afterlife is most fascinating. Hardly a building in Victor, it seems, is without its share of eerie noises, fleeting shadows and apparitions. Most of Victor’s prominent buildings—the former high school, the Gold Coin Club, the Victor Hotel and a healthy handful of downtown business blocks—claim some spirit or another. As almost any resident, regular visitor or others who carry on a love affair with this charming town will tell you, ghost stories are many in Victor. Some have been passed down for generations, but the restless spirits wafting through the buildings and down the streets seem to have increased in time with the growing population over the last several years.

Some of the tales are no more than passing folklore, such as that of the petrified remains of a cat which were once found at the District Museum in nearby Cripple Creek and somehow found their way to the Victor Lowell-Thomas Museum. One time curator Mike Moore always claimed the cat became “unhappy” when Cripple Creek legalized gambling over twenty years ago, and somehow spirited its boney little body over to Victor. Thankfully, the mummified beast no longer appears in the upper story windows of either museum.

Other stories bear more explanation, including the likeness of a man who occasionally appears in an upstairs window of the Miner’s Union Hall. Most tragically, that building burned this last summer but the front facade remains intact as preservationists scramble to save what is left. No reports have surfaced, however, as to whether the man still appears.

Stories of the ghost of Eddie McDermott at the Victor Hotel are much more solid. For years the hotel was the finest in Victor and once sported a bar where the said Eddie liked to drink. As the mines around Victor slowed, the hotel became a semi-permanent home for miners like Eddie, who inhabited Room 301. When the historic hotel was first restored to its former glory in 1993, an increasing number of guests began complaining of a man who was hanging around Room 301. Former manager Bill Kemp once recalled a geology professor who said he was repeatedly awakened by the vision of an elderly man wrapping on the radiator. Around the same time, a woman reported seeing the same man fiddling with the knobs in the elevator. Both guests described their visitor as an older gent wearing a flannel shirt, old jeans and a baseball cap.

Yes, Victor’s main drag fairly brims with an unseen population. Renowned artist Charlie Frizzell once rented a room above the Monarch building, touted as the “finest gentleman’s club west of the Mississippi” when it was built in 1899. Frizzell said he felt some sort of “pressure” in the stairwell, which only subsided after the walls received a new coat of paint. A friend of Frizzell also claimed to have seen the apparition of a woman at his studio apartment. Other lodgers in the time since have reported people walking through empty rooms, the heels of their shoes making a distinct tapping on the floors as they pass by. June Bradley, who owned an exquisite art gallery on the Monarch’s bottom floor for many decades, once said that although she didn’t believe in ghosts, she did occasionally arrive at her shop to find paintings hanging at odd angles or rearranged on the walls.

Likewise the Fortune Club, also once a gambling resort and now a wonderfully nostalgic restaurant, is home to apparitions thought to be former working girls from the upstairs rooms. Two doors up the street is the Headframe Tavern which has served as a bar ever since the building was constructed. The tales in that place run amock, from bottles mysteriously lifting off the shelves and dashing to the floor to a small shadow which enjoys whipping through the place and startling bartenders.

One of Victor’s longtime tales centers on T. F. Dunn’s funeral parlor. Apartments now fill the eleven rooms upstairs, where Mrs. Dunn rented rooms long after her husband’s death. With Mrs. Dunn’s passing, residents of the building began hearing footsteps upstairs. The feeling of being watched is prevalent. Others claim to have seen a woman in black, and one man reported the apparition laughed at him. Still others say they have heard a baby crying. But Mrs. Dunn appears to be a friendly sort, if a bit mischievous. She favors stealing small items from residents and has even been known to tidy up a bit.

Outside of town is Sunnyside Cemetery, home to several more delightfully scary tales. Among them is the rumor that strange lights can occasionally be seen dancing on various tombstones at night. And while Victor remains relatively quiet both day and night, even the silence can prove a little eerie. For in the dead of night, on the random occasion, residents have reported hearing a train. The sound of the engine starts from far away, perhaps following the path of the tracks which once came into town. The noise appears to edge closer to downtown, growing slightly louder before chugging off again into the night. The passengers disembarking are surely members of Victor’s unseen population, destined to spend eternity riding a ghost train to nowhere.

The Miners Union Hall in Victor is pictured here during the tumultuous labor wars of 1903. Most unfortunately the building was severely damaged during a recent fire, leading one to wonder whether the ghostly apparition of a man still appears in an upstairs window.

The Miner’s Union Hall in Victor is pictured here during the tumultuous labor wars of 1903. Most unfortunately the building was severely damaged during a recent fire, leading one to wonder whether the ghostly apparition of a man still appears in an upstairs window.

Woman’s Work: A Look at Victorian Professions

c 2014 By Jan MacKell Collins

“One night I saw something that put a little sense in me…I was sitting at a little table eating when a woman came in…I looked up at her and thought she was the prettiest woman I ever saw in the Creek…As she got up to leave, I looked up at her and almost fell out of my chair with shock. The side of her face towards me, from her forehead on down to the neck, had been slashed three or four times with a knife. Her neck was slashed all on one side. It was terrible.”

~ Lizzie Beaudrie
Cripple Creek dance hall girl
circa 1898

Historically, romanticism has run rampant about women’s roles in the American West. Documentation such as Lizzie Beaudrie’s, however, tells us that women were not respected as a whole and were often victims of violence. And so, while the gentler sex was often regarded as such, the same were expected to make their way in a harsh world without fuss or fight.

A great many single women in turn worked hard to maintain some sort of lifestyle for themselves. The possibilities of employment were extremely narrow by today’s standards. Cooks, clerks, stenographers, nurses, dressmakers, maids, milliners, laundresses, prostitutes, teachers, wives—all were low paying jobs which offered no advancement and some inherent dangers. The combination of low income and a lack of services made for a hard and thankless life.

But although the woman’s wall of will constantly found itself up against the barrier of suppression, it somehow persevered. One feminist who proved this point was English travel-writer Isabella Bird. In 1873, Bird arrived in Colorado to have a look around. Amazingly she traveled alone much of the time and was unarmed, most extraordinary for a woman of her time. Her companions and hosts included the wealthy and the poor, desperados and ranchers. Most of these were men.

Isabella Bird’s determination to make it in a barren and primitive region would later serve as an inspiration to women like Emily French. Emily, initially a ranch wife on the Colorado prairie, was one of many women who suffered from an unresponsive husband. When she found herself divorced from Marsena French at the age of forty seven in 1890, Emily was forced to do housework in order to support her disabled sister and two children. Sometimes food was scarce. Other times, Emily ached so badly from the cold she could hardly perform her duties. Despite an educated background, Emily could find no other work. Emily did have the luxury of a set of false teeth made of wood, and managed to even secure a date now and then. For the most part, however, Emily spent many lonely days as a woman in a man’s world.

In fact, Emily French had it good compared to the lowest form of poverty. This included thousands of prostitutes, whose complaints often fell on deaf ears. A 1901 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported on the trial of Joe Huser in Cripple Creek: “The complaining witness was Cora Wheeler, a colored woman of Myers Avenue, who alleged that Huser struck her in the face with a hatchet.”

Violence and hardship aside, a number of women did strive to make a career for themselves. Many were successful; witness the number of female boarding house proprietors in the Cripple Creek District in Colorado at the turn of the century. There is no doubt that Mrs. Mollie Kathleen Gortner set precedence when she staked one of the first mining claims in the District in September of 1891. By 1893, the Women’s Gold Mining Company had also incorporated in Cripple Creek under the laws of Colorado. An ambitious undertaking, the Women’s Gold Mining Company included officers Miss A. Grimes, President, Mrs. A. Reynolds, Vice President, Miss Mary E. Gover, Treasurer, plus officers Mrs. Lucy G. Pierce of Peabody Massachusetts and Mrs. Joan Hanford of San Bernadino, California. The capitol stock of 800,000 was divided into single shares at ten cents each. It is no surprise that the principal mine of the company was known as the “She”.

More obscure professions fell to women like Mrs. N.H. Chapman, a writer who lived in Victor, Colorado in 1900. Anna Blair and Belle Miles were both artists who resided in Cripple Creek in 1902. Miss Fay Barnes was a “china decorator”. Mae Connor worked as a florist. Mrs. Julia O’Neill worked as a matron at the County Jail. Miss Mayme McAfee was among the musicians in Cripple Creek. Mrs. Kathryn Bates was a voice culture teacher.

As women toiled their way through the Victorian era, a light at the end of the tunnel appeared with the celebrated fame of Annie Oakley. Born in 1860, Annie overcame an abusive childhood to become one of the greatest sharpshooters in the west. During her career she literally made millions performing in exhibitions and traveling with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Annie’s modesty was overshadowed by her contemporary appearance: short skirts and a refusal to tie up her dark curls. Despite her outward appearance, Oakley made no secret of her conservative lifestyle and her devotion to husband Frank Butler.

By the time Annie passed away in 1926, the celebrated markswoman had amassed a lengthy resume and fortune. Surely as women around the world read the obituary of Annie Oakley, they somehow found hope and encouragement to continue taking charge of their lives.

Julia Skolas cropped

Julia Skolas was one of a number of women who found a way to make a living in a man’s world. During the 1890’s and early 1900, Skolas was a most prominent photographer in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Arequa Gulch: A Long Gone Town in Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

The name of Highway 67 in Colorado is a bit deceiving. The road was originally a thoroughfare that took folks to the famed Cripple Creek District. In Victor, the District’s second largest town, one could catch the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad into the southern part of the state. Later proclaimed as Highway 67, today’s road still travels through the Cripple Creek District. At Victor, the “highway” turns into the scenic dirt road of Phantom Canyon and follows the old railroad grade to Florence.

Drive over Highway 67 between Cripple Creek and Victor today and you will cross the Arequa Gulch Bridge, a behemoth stretch of steel and pavement traversing a great canyon. Built in 2001 for $8 million and measuring 250′ high, it is the tallest non-suspension bridge in Colorado. The bridge offers two vastly contrasting views: the gigantic dirt tailings from the Cripple Creek &Victor Mine to the north, and the untouched, pristine landscape of Arequa Gulch with a stunning view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the south.

Long ago, before the mine and before the bridge, Arequa was one of 25 towns once located in the Cripple Creek District. Arequa was not only the oldest community in the area, but also played an essential part in the formation of the district and the gold boom of 1891. 

Back in 1873, a man known as “Uncle” Benjamin Requa had a general store and eatery at Fountain, south of Colorado Springs. Requa, Croft & Co. did a booming business even then, advertising frequently in local newspapers. Born in about 1835 in New York, Ben Requa was quite the nomad. The year 1863 found him in California, where he enlisted to fight for the Union during the Civil War. By 1864 he was at Calabasas Arizona, an ancient Papago Indian village that had also served as a Mexican garrison before becoming a military base.

 Following his discharge at San Francisco in 1866, Requa next made his way to Colorado. He is first mentioned in newspapers in April of 1873, when the Colorado Springs Gazette noted he was visiting Colorado Springs from Fountain. He was active in local affairs and owned a lot of property, as illustrated by many real estate transactions around Fountain in the early 1870’s.

 Bob Womack, whose family owned a ranch south of Colorado Springs at the time, was certainly familiar with Requa. It was at Requa’s store that Womack chanced to meet up with Ferdinand Hayden’s U.S. Geological Survey party in the summer of 1873. Womack told the men of his gold discoveries in Cripple Creek and invited them up to take a look for themselves. It took a year, but Ben Requa was able to assist Womack in gathering nearly 100 men to make a gold-seeking trek to Cripple Creek. The group blasted a tunnel near Eclipse Gulch, located about halfway between present-day Cripple Creek and Victor. The area was christened the Mount Pisgah Mining District. Later, Requa’s party concluded that it was indeed possible there were rich ore deposits in the area. If only they knew that the District was destined to be the last of Colorado’s great gold booms!

It could be said that Ben Requa’s interest in mining did much to support Womack’s claims. Just a short time before his trip to the district, Requa discovered a silver mine on Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs. In September of 1874 he also filed a claim in the name of Requa & Brown Mining Co. in the Mt. Pisgah Mining District. Two years later, Requa & Croft purchased a mill at Silverton and assisted in forming the Colorado Springs Mining District. In December of 1876, Requa also took a trip up north to the Black Hills to have a look at some prospects.

Whatever his dreams of finding the mother lode, however, it appears Requa ultimately missed out on the gold at Cripple Creek. The last mention of Requa & Croft in local newspapers was when they sold more property, possibly their store, in December of 1877. The 1880 census, however, recorded Requa still living in Fountain. By then he was a widower (it is speculated he married twice and may have had two daughters), was still employed as a merchant and was living with the family of J.B. Riggs, another prominent citizen. It is believed Requa had other relatives in the area, but the man himself simply disappeared after 1880. He may have retired to Missouri, drawing from his military pension and living his life in obscurity. Whether he was even aware that the Requa Gold & Silver Mining Company was established in the Cripple Creek District in 1892 remains unknown.

What is known for sure is that, in honor of Ben Requa, the gulch nearest the Mount Pisgah Mining District was named Requa Gulch. The namesake town wasn’t far behind. By then Bob Womack’s family had relocated to the district and was living on the old Broken Box Ranch near the gulch. In February of 1892 real estate tycoons Horace Bennett and Julius Myers platted towns at both Cripple Creek and Requa. Lots were sold for a total profit of $320,000. Streets in Requa were gallantly named after past presidents of the United States.

Even at this early date, Requa and its nearby gulch somehow became alternately known as Arequa. No one can pinpoint just how that “A” got in there. Some attribute it to mispronunciation or even bad spelling on Bob Womack’s part. Either way, the name stuck even as confused pioneers continued referring to the area under both names. The town, meanwhile, continued to grow at a rapid rate. The Requa Savage Gold Mining company was established on nearby Beacon Hill in May of 1894. A post office was established at Arequa in July of 1894, but was discontinued a mere two months later. Postal records note “establishment rescinded” but give no reason. There was also a cemetery at Arequa. By December of 1895 Arequa consisted of about 90 acres in Requa Gulch and was already surrounded by several mines.

One of Arequa’s earliest claims to fame was that it may have been the very location from which Cripple Creek (the actual creek itself) was named. An 1896 article in the Quarterly Sentinel, while admitting to confusion as to the origin of the name, offered this story: “…a little old house, still to be seen in Arequa…was occupied by a family from Posey County, Indiana, who were one day invited to a dance by some distant neighbors. The Posey County lady answered that ‘We kain’t go; all broke up; Sam’s down with th’ rumatiz; Betsy’s got th’ fever; Jake’s got ‘is arm broke; old Pied (the cow) broker ‘er laig, and the hosses is run off…But if you all ‘ill come over to Cripple Creek, we’ll he’p ye out th’ best we can fur yer hoedown.’” Similar stories, often involving the Welty family who were neighboring ranchers to the Womacks, have also been handed down to explain the naming of Cripple Creek, but time and yarns have obscured the true origins of the creek’s name.

More mines bearing Ben Requa’s name continued to pop up. The Arequa Gold Mining Company was formed in January of 1896, followed by the Arequa Mill in 1898. Ben Requa’s name does not appear on the board of directors for either entity. Interestingly, advertisements for the mill were among the first to feature that mysterious “A”. And although the town of Arequa included the “A” by 1899, Requa Gulch did not. 

Despite its promising and primary status, Arequa never topped more than 100 residents. The terrain was too rough for building and the area too far from the mines. In time, Arequa came to be surrounded by the communities of Eclipse, Elkton and Beacon. In 1900, the total population of these four towns was 2,500. The town’s best claim to fame was actually the Arequa Mill, a chlorination plant built at a cost of $532,000. The mill was located at the end of the Gold Coin tunnel and was used to process at least some of the gold which came from the nearby Cresson Mine. A $500,000 hydroelectric power plant was also constructed to run electric trains in the Gold Coin tunnel. There was also the Gold & Globe Mill in Arequa Gulch.

Not much else of note happened in Arequa, save for an incident in 1904 when Mrs. J. W. Gladden shot her husband to death. The couple had been separated for several weeks. Gladden went on a drinking spree and assaulted his neighbor, Frank Harris, before violently storming into the couple’s home. Mrs. Gladden was arrested, and newspapers neglected to mention the outcome of her trial. In fact, so small was the community that it is recognized only in the 1910 census. The 99 residents there included 36 families. Most of the employed were occupied as miners, with the exception of two carpenters, two dairymen, three teamsters and 21-year old actress Maud Palmer. By 1914 the Gold Dollar Mine owned 52 acres of the Arequa townsite, although the Requa Savage Mines Co. was still in business as late as 1916.

By 1920, Arequa was considered a suburb of Victor and was pretty much abandoned. Arequa quietly melded into the handful of ghost towns favored by tourists until about 1971, when the Cresson Mine was purchased by the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company. The new conglomerate expanded its operations to include Arequa Gulch. The ruins of the Arequa Mill were visible as recently as 20 years ago, but are gone now. There is also no record of just when the occupants of the tiny Arequa Cemetery were uprooted and transferred to Sunnyside Cemetery in Victor (in fact, there is speculation that the older part of Sunnyside Cemetery is indeed the old Arequa Cemetery). As for the town, it was buried under tailings ponds decades ago.

Today, only one building is standing as a tribute to Arequa.