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Notorious Ladies of the Old West
Distinctions between plains women and prostitutes sometimes blurred during this tumultuous time.
Fever in the Klondike
The miners gambled on hitting the mother lode and in the gaming roomsand they didnt stint the ladies.
The Red Light Life
The harlots, like the miners, wanted riches............Most.......were independent and insisted on living life on their own terms.........until they killed themselves, or died in poverty alone.
The Barbary Coast
The Barbary Coast!...The coast on which no gentle breezes blow, but where rages one wild sirocco of sin!
First Woman Killed in Abilene
A prostitute calling herself Louisville Lou was shot and killed by ...
The nickname "Mammy Pleasant" first appeared in a San Francisco newspaper who termed her, "the woman of mystery whose deeds are evil."
Belle Starr's Daughter
Notorious outlaw, Belle Starr died as she lived ...
"Wild Bill would have died rather than share a bed with Jane ...
and the Palace Grand
The pride of the Palace was a full production of "Camille"........
Wealthy Southern planters boarding the gangplanks in New Orleans, bound for St. Louis on business, were often accompanied by remarkably attractive Creole lasses of French ancestry.
Creek's Old Homestead
The wives of Cripple Creek, Colorado, hated Hazel Vernon ...
The Golden Courtesan
"Two bittee lookee, flo bittee feelee, six bittee doee" ...
The Hickok-Coe Gunfight
I never was a prostitute.
The long blade of a knife stuck out of the belly of Edward Bladock...
The Poker Bride
Old Warren, a booming gold camp in central Idaho, was almost inaccessible except for a wild, one way journey upon the white waters of the rugged Salmon River.
The Queen of Sporting Row
Until Julia Bulette arrived in Virginia City, the scarlet ladies were confined to C Street and a few cheap "cribs" in which to ply their trade.
Shady Ladies in the Heart of Amador County
"Worlds oldest profession flourished here for many years....."
Taxation in Exile
"If it (prostitution) can't be routed out, the vicious vocation should be made to contribute to the expense of maintaining law and order."
Wichita's Dixie Lee
The Civil War provided the most popular alias adopted by prostitutes in the old west ...
Winnemucca's Fight for Indian Rights
"I hate everything that belongs to the white dogs...Oh, I hate them so badly."
Romantic legends of America's Old West still fascinate the world, with wondrous tales of cowboys, trappers, frontiersmen, cavalrymen, and Native American warriors. Frontier women appear to be remembered in two distinct groups: the good, hardworking, plains woman and the infamous, treacherous outlaw or prostitute. These distinctions sometimes blurred in the lives of the women who lived through this tumultuous time.
Harry Sinclair Drago, author of Notorious Ladies of the Frontier, gave them grudging respect, "...the prostitute played an important role in the settling of the American West. Certainly the early ones shared the dangers and privations of the rowdy cow towns and crude mining camps, where for a time they were the only women. When epidemics of smallpox or outbreaks of cholera occurred, they nursed the sick and the dying. They were bold, tough-fibered, as they needed to be, but although they were strumpets, they should net be equated with their sisters of the profession who wallowed in the infamy of the Barbary Coast or the red-light districts of Denver and Seattle."
San Francisco's Barbary Coast and Chinatown were both prostitution centers which were founded on the slavery of women imported from China, estimated in the thousands at any given time. The Chinese women were younger than their white counterparts. As the hard life destroyed their beauty, they were resold to Chinese farmers for a few hundred dollars. A few of the bordellos in Chinatown were open to white men, but most were exclusive retreats catering to the pleasures of the Chinese businessmen who could not afford a concubine of their own. Opium dens also catered to their clientele by class, with the higher priced dens refusing entrance to women of all races and white men. The cheaper parlors allowed the both the genders and the races to intermingle. The majority of women who were addicted were white.
Chinese women were not the only slaves in California, as was noted in the Time Life book, The Old West: The Women, "The United States government did not openly enslave the Indians, but Indian children were sometimes forcibly adopted or simply impressed. As late as the 1860s in California, Indian children were taken from their parents and indentured as servants, a practice permitted by the state law. Moreover, whites considered Indians promiscuous, and Indian women were far more vulnerable to sexual abuse by white men and had more to fear from them than did white women from red men. Many Indian women were forced into common-law marriages with white men or simply raped. "
Slavery of women in California was not legally ended until 1916, two years after the Red-light Abatement Act became law. Donaldina Cameron led a group of women, without city or federal help, in a tenacious campaign to improve the lives of the women held in slavery. These ladies founded missions and lobbied to free the slaves from the cell-like "cribs" where they were forced to live and work. Gaining support from local Chinese businessmen, Ms. Cameron succeeded in, first, improving the lives and living conditions of these women and, finally, helping to set them free.
During this period, women were exported into other western states, such as Idaho and Nevada, where the practice of slavery flourished in the bordellos of their mining camps. Even when not held as actual slaves, prostitutes were vulnerable to corrupt law enforcement officials, unscrupulous pimps and madames, and subjected to frequent law and order campaigns to morally purify the towns.
Lydia Taylor, a former prostitute, wrote in her book, From Under the Lid. "I could tell you stories of girls' lives that are so horrifying you would scarcely believe me." Her own life was harsh and often desperate as she plied her trade in a number of Western towns.
A madame in Texas and Oklahoma described her life in the trade, "I've laid it in all of 'em, Borger, Kilgore...I throwed my fannie twenty-one times a night, five bucks a throw and time old red-eye come up, I was eatin' breakfast drunker'n an Indian."
As harsh as her description of the prostitute's life was, she had no trouble recruiting new girls. "Some girl gets mad at her pa 'cause he won't let her stay out nights...so she pulls out. She hits for the lights and tried to save money by staying in the flops. I can pick one out just by lookin' at 'em...they're so hungry, and wishing to hell they was back home and afraid to go. Some 'lady' ease up to her...and feed her a square...and give her a bed...Get her in bed once and she's with you from then on. Can't go back then and wouldn't if she could."
Sandra L. Myers, in Westering Women and The Frontier Experience commented, "Some girls entered the profession in order to advance themselves economically or to escape dull and dreary lives on isolated farms and ranches. Many were attracted by the bright lights and excitement of the mining camps and cattle towns and hoped to earn a little nest egg, meet a cowboy, farmer, or rancher, and eventually settle down to a respectable life. Others hoped to become economically independent and viewed prostitution as one of the few professions where women had some chance of financial success. As one Denver woman succinctly noted, 'I went into the sporting life for business reasons and no other. It was a way for a woman in those days to make money and I made it.'
"Some madames, and women who worked in parlor houses with a prosperous local clientele, did fairly well. A few acquired some real estate or other property and eventually retired from business. Others, like the famous La Tules (Dona Gertrudis Barcelo) of New Mexico, operated prosperous gambling and saloon businesses, while a few were in business with their husbands in joint ventures..."
"Brothel owners and operators and girls who worked in the better establishments generally scorned the dance hall and saloon girls who rented upstairs rooms over the taverns and the ëcribí girls who sold their wares from small two-room establishments with a bedroom with a window on the street and a kitchen in the rear. At the bottom of the scale were the women who walked the streets and who were often ill and frequently subjected to cruel and violent treatment at the hands of both customers and law enforcement officials. But whatever their social or economic level--madame, parlor girl, saloon or crib girl, or streetwalker--their life was a hard one. Many committed suicide, died of disease and alcoholism, drifted away into other occupations or, among the more fortunate, found a husband or protector. One survey of prostitutes in the Kansas cattle towns found that the average age of these women was 23.1 years, and very few were over the age of thirty.
The Klondike was awash in glittering metal during its gold rush heyday. Men came from around the world under the influence of gold fever, staking their entire lives on the gamble of hitting the mother lode. It was only natural they would continue gambling in the most popular places in town, making wagers for any reason. The gaming rooms never closed, and the gold never stopped circulating. Two oldtimers bet ten thousand dollars on their spitting accuracy, with a crack in the wall as a bullseye. Swiftwater Bill and John J. Healy made a mere side bet on a high roller game, losing five thousand dollars in the process. Bartenders grew long fingernails with which to scoop the gold dust into the scales, getting rich "mining" their overgrown talons after work.
The miners didn't stint the ladies either, as Diamond Tooth Gerty noted, "The poor ginks have just gotta spend it. They're that scared they'll die before they have it all out of the ground."
The dance halls and saloons in the Klondike invented the voucher system for payment to the ladies of the night. Seizing their partners, they either steered them to the bar or to a curtained box, ordering as much as the gentleman could afford. Every dollar spent earned them an ivory disk, which they quickly stashed in their stockings. All night the music blared with the bands playing waltzes, polkas, schottisches, and square dances. Callers competed with horns blowing and violins playing. The crowd roared their approval and spent their money. Come morning, legs lumpy from the accumulation of vouchers, the ladies cashed their ivory vouchers earned during the rowdy night.
Roddy Conner, a short, thick-set Irishman, literally danced his fortune away. Selling his claim on Bonanza Creek for fifty thousand dollars, he headed straight for the Front Street dance halls. He danced all night, from the first tune to the last. Often too weary to dance, he paid his dollar and walked the ladies around the hall, wearing them out one by one in the process. Two sisters, working in a team, had the stamina to clean him out. Popularly known as Vaseline and Glycerine, they took turns steering him to the bar and then waltzing him back out to the dance floor. Conners spent between five hundred and two thousand dollars a night. His last days were spent in a home for the needy.
The dance hall women usually disguised their true identities with a colorful alias, such as Sweet Marie, Ping Pong, or Caprice. One seductive nineteen-year old named herself Blanche Lamonte, after the victim of San Francisco's notorious belfry murder. They were as well known for their trademarks or physical attributes as their names. Daisy D'Avara was known for a Christmas present from a wealthy miner: a belt with seventeen twenty-dollar gold pieces. The Grizzly Bear, weighing one hundred and seventy pounds, had an eye missing. Rumor said it had been torn from its socket in a brawl with another dance hall queen.
It was said Oregon Mare got her name because she whistled and squealed like a horse when dancing. A handsome woman, she was one of the best known in Dawson. She made men stand aside when she walked past on the sidewalk. She was generous to them too, stepping up to the bar and crying out, "Here, boys. There's my poke. Have a drink with me, all of you." An ex-senator from California claimed he saw her spend a thousand dollars in a single hour at the roulette wheel. She wore a nugget chain, a gift from an admirer and was reputed to have fifty thousand dollars stashed away to pay off her mother's mortgage.
"The Girl with the Baby Stare" was not as innocent as she might appear. Flossie de Atley separated many a miner from his gold with her story of a sick brother in a sanitarium. She left town with enough money for several brothers. As one Klondiker remarked, "It was generally conceded by those in the know that Flossie could take a man to the cleaners a little bit faster and a good deal more completely than any other girl in town."
Cad Wilson made no secret of the fact she was in town to fleece the miner's pokes. Her stage emcee would introduce her by pretending to read a letter from her mother who advised her "to be sure and be a good girl and pick nice clean friends." He would then wave Cad on with a flourish, "I leave it to you, fellers, if she don't pick them clean." Cad sported the largest and most famous nugget belt in the Klondike. Men vied for her affections by throwing nuggets, gold watches and pieces of jewelry on stage. Running around, laughing, holding her dress out to catch the baubles, she managed to provide more than a glimpse of her legs while the band played her theme song "Such A Nice Girl Too."
The glitzy glamour did not hold true for all. In the early days, the common prostitute lived in "cribs" along Paradise Alley, but later were relocated to a bit swampland known as "Hell's Half Acre." They were white slaves in every sense of the word, heavily indebted to pimps for their passage money. Prior to Paradise Alley, they had been spread all over town. Their profession was identified by a red lampshade, a special color curtain, or a certain shape of cap. In spring and summer of 1898, they lived in open tents like "a small-town annual fair for breeding animals." one prospector said. Big Sal, the most notorious of the street prostitutes, painted her name in big letters on her tent, which was pitched right in the center of the road.
The Nugget regularly reported their suicides. Nineteen-year-old Stella Hill swallowed strychnine four days before Christmas. Her bartender boyfriend was seeing Libby White, who was later shot to death in the Monte Carlo by a Welsh miner in a fit of jealousy. He then took his own life. Helen Holden used chloroform in a botched attempt to end her life over her unrequited love for a saloonkeeper. Myrtle Brocee, whose sister also sang and danced at the Tivoli, shot herself to death in a room over a gambling house.
The coroner's inquest was filled with an odd gallantry. Half a dozen men took the stand to swear under oath that, while they had shared her bed, she had remained virtuous. The famous gambler, Harry Woolrich, who rented the room where she died, swore she was still a virgin, despite being his bed companion. Half of Dawson stood by weeping while her silver handled coffin was lowered into the ground.
Gamblers, pimps and dance hall owners were common sights at the stage station during the 1800s, meeting the women they had lured from back east with the promise of high wages and a good life, according to an account by New Mexico's Governor Otero, who often stood watching. "But when they reached their destination, they would find themselves forced to accept a life of debauchery, or be thrown into the street in a strange town, there to starve to death among the riff-raff."
"The harlots, like the miners, wanted riches, and they joined in gold rushes from camp to camp, until, too old and dirty and ugly to be desired by any but a sot, they killed themselves, or died in poverty alone, " Fischer and Opal Laurel Holmes wrote in Gold Rushes and Mining Camps of the Early American West.
"Most of these women were independent and insisted on living life on their own terms, winning new freedom and greater opportunities for all women in the process," is how they are described in the Time Life book, The Old West: The Women.
Most towns had two kinds of prostitution housing: cribs and parlors. Caroline Bancroft, in Gulch of Gold, said the parlor houses and cribs were sometimes on the same street but there was "a great distinction between the two. The cribs were single operations run by prostitutes in business for themselves...a bedroom with a door and one window fronted on the street. A kitchen/living room was to the rear, and a privy stood out back, often on an alley." The crib girls charged "from 25 cents to $2 depending on their age and attractiveness. Usually the charge was $1 to which was added the profit on beer sold and perhaps a tip. If they prospered, they moved up in the world to the extent that they would buy a small house and have their names engraved on the glass transom of the door...In the city the better crib girls built up a clientele that would follow them to a brick building with four or more apartments where each girl ran her own business. Instead of numbers on their cribs, they placed names over their doors..." The "Red Light District" was named after the lights or curtains in the windows of the cribs....usually known as "The Row" or "The Line."
Fisher and Holmes described the working conditions in the parlors. "In the parlor houses, the girls paid the madam for their board and room. Each girl had a 'handsomely furnished bedroom,' and a trunk that not only housed most of her clothes but served as a safe, and the girl who made change from that safe in the presence of her 'patrons' sometimes paid for her imprudence with her life...Bancroft says that an inventory of the Jennie Rogers house in Denver revealed that 'all the bedrooms had enamel or brass beds, dressers, commodes, slop jars, rockers, straight chairs, rugs, lamps, lace curtain, and some even had writing desks. In the top houses the girls lived well.'
"They were expected to dress in the latest haute couture, each girl having seven or eight evening dresses and several afternoon costumes. Her dresses 'were often priced higher than for "good women" even without the extra markup designed for the madam. The girls seldom saved any money for the future.' Among the heavy expense was the payoff in some camps to the police; in Denver the alliance between law enforcement and prostitution became a national scandal. Says Miller, 'During any number of occasions when I was looking through those old police files, I would see where evidence had been removed, or blurred out, or inked over--all sorts of things; and I would see, too, where pictures of arrested persons had been ripped out...Some of those policemen owned their own stable of girls, some of whom worked in the cribs, and others in the parlor house.
"The ëgirlsí generally worked on commissions, splitting their fees evenly with the house. Tips belonged to her. They received a cut on the drinks they promoted. Whores in Denver commonly earned five dollars for a 'quick date' and up to thirty dollars for an entire night. Out of her earnings, each woman had to pay rent on her room, normally five dollars a week. They were expected to dress fashionably, paying for their wardrobe out of their own earnings, although some madams would open an account with a dressmaker, then allow her girls to charge their items. This insured their loyalty through debt and afforded the madam a kickback.
"A successful madam, especially one who managed a classy sporting house in a substantial town, had to be both charming and a capable, ruthless businesswoman. The madam set the tone for her house, and the tone determined the quality of her customers. She had to be adept at public relations and the soul of discretion. To recruit and hold on to a staff that was volatile by nature, she had to be at once tough and motherly. There was always a rowdy customer to eject without a disturbance, a bar to look after and, in the fanciest places, a kitchen to supervise."
The madams paid the expenses of the house, payoffs for the police, and license fees. She paid salaries to the domestic help, bouncers, piano players, and kitchen staff. "Some of the more enterprising madams advertised what they had to offer, in the little Red Book which was so small that gentlemen could carry it in a vest pocket." Blanche Brown offered "Lots of Boarders. All the Comforts of Home"; Minnie Hall told the unhappy husbands that she had "30 Rooms, Music and a Dance Hall, Five Parlors and Mikado Parlor, Finest Wines, Liquors and Cigars, 20 Boarders and a Cordial Welcome to Strangers." Belle Birnard also welcomed strangers with boarders, "Strictly first-class in Every Respect."
Bancroft said the madams "had to have an expansive maternal instinct as well as the ability to discipline. Many of the girls were moody and frequently depressed enough to try the laudanum ( a liquid opium available in any drugstore for use as a painkiller and tranquilizer) route to suicide--a real dampener to business." Some of the girls "were temperamental and wanted to change houses repeatedly...Many more were fundamentally unstable..."
Despite the flow of money, making many rich, fate was not kind to most of them in their later years. Madams who were wealthy in their prosperous years often died destitute. Madame Moustache, so called because of hair on her upper lip, was typical, earning a fortune with her house during the gold rush years, but then dying poor, alone and forgotten.
Otero went on to say most of the crib girls were through by the age of 35 or 40 and many of them destroyed themselves with the slow death of drink or the faster death of poison. The records of the Deadwood undertaker, in the 1880s, listed an appalling number of suicides but were listed in the local newspapers as victims of pneumonia or mountain fever, according to a county inspector.
A prostitute calling herself Louisville Lou was shot and killed by Jenny Lyons, another resident of the Abilene brothels, in a quarrel over Quade Hill, the Applejack Saloon's faro-bank dealer. Hill had been dallying with both ladies of the night. The coroner's investigation revealed Luella Hines, aka Louisville Lou, had threatened Lyons with bodily injury, and the death was ruled a clear case of self-defense.
Hill, enraged at the verdict and the death of Hines, beat Lyons severely and broke off all connections to her. A few evenings later, a drunken and well armed Lyons burst into the Applejack during its busiest hour and opened fire, spraying the saloon with gunfire which shattered two expensive back-bar mirrors and a hanging ormolu lamp before she was subdued. Hines, whom she intended to kill, escaped unharmed from the fusillade of bullets.
Gunfire was a nightly occurrence in Abilene with drunken cowboys reveling in the streets. This gunplay was different, apparently frightening the townsmen. Saloonkeepers, in an effort to protect their businesses and their employees, reacted with a united front, banning all women from their premises. Despite its unpopularity, their unexpected semblance of authority had the desired effect: preventing a recurrence of any incident similar to the Applejack feud
"The sinister Mammy Pleasant," was how one historian described Mary Ellen Pleasant, the Barbary Coast madam who was said to be the wealthiest woman in San Francisco. The nickname "Mammy Pleasant" first appeared in a San Francisco newspaper who termed her, "the woman of mystery whose deeds are evil."
Mary Ellen was born a slave on a plantation near Augusta, Georgia, sired by a white father, out of the womb of a Haitian quadroon, bought for $ 650 at the age of ten by Americus Price of Price's Landing, Missouri, to be delivered to him in New Orleans in sixty days. Price appeared to have good intentions, dressing her in a proper wardrobe and registering her as white in the convent of the Ursulines to begin her education. A year later, with the nuns beaming approval at her progress, he arranged for her to live with a Christian family named Williams in Cincinnati, endowing her with an education in the best of schools. It was Mary's misfortune that Price died, and the money stopped. The Williams family immediately sent her to a relative on Nantucket Island to live life as an indentured servant.
It was in Nantucket that the comely young woman, still passing as white, attracted the attention of whalers and sea captains, almost all of which were abolitionists. At twenty-four, she left for Boston to become a full fledged member of the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves, risking capture and death. Moving from plantation to plantation in the Deep South, she helped slaves begin the long journey North to freedom. In the process, she found it necessary to darken her pale skin with walnut stain.
It is not known what transformed this courageous woman into the brutal madam of the Barbary Coast, as described in this account. "The mind reels as it confronts the known crimes that were committed in the House of Mystery. Babies born to unwed mothers were suffocated at birth; others were brought there to grow up in its depraved atmosphere. At least five men who were part of the household were murdered under its roof or followed when they left and were killed elsewhere. Sydney Smith, one of her collectors who had been caught cheating her, disappeared under strange circumstances and was never heard of again. Three of the others were Negro servants; the fourth was Thomas Frederick Bell. In each instance the murderer was Mary Ellen Pleasant. There were three other related killings that occurred at Geneva Cottage and in Bell's Bush Street house."
Mary Ellen shocked the city almost as much with the entertainment in her houses of prostitution, which flourished. Her Geneva home was the site of special entertainment for a few carefully chosen gentlemen, "an obscene voodoo dance, performed by ten comely young and almost nude Negro girls who danced to the savage rhythm of a jungle drum. When exhausted, they fled to the bedrooms, and the guests rushed in after them to satisfy their aroused erotic appetites."
Her critics harshly decried her habit of staffing her businesses with ex-slaves after the Civil War, claiming her seeming charity had an ulterior motive. As more and more blacks arrived in San Francisco, she began an employment agency offering servants for the homes of the wealthy. It was rumored she used them to ferret out secret scandals and used the information for blackmail, ruling them by fear through her claim to be a "queen of voodoo", having power over life and death, casting spells, reading the future, and curing the ill.
It is known she became wealthy through her friendship with Bell, an investment banker. "Through the years, Mary Ellen alternately badgered and cajoled him. In the process, largely due to her superior judgment, both became wealthy. Although she had received some formal education, her intelligence and native shrewdness, unhampered by moral inhibitions, served her better than the knowledge she might have acquired in a dozen classrooms."
Mary Ellen bought cheap, ramshackle properties just outside the red light district, gambling the harlot trade would expand to encompass her area. As expected, she was able to rent these for exorbitant sums or open her own establishments, reaping huge profits.
A large part of her fortune was gained by a stock market swindle. Very few shares in the Ophir mine were publicly available because the dividends were consistantly high and the stocks well regarded. Ben Holladay, a well known heavy investor in the mine, approached Mary Ellen with a proposal wherein he would sell off a few shares a day and circulate a rumor the main source of ore was dwindling. The price would plummet, and the timid would sell. Mary Ellen and Bell bought the stocks until the price rebounded; then Holladay drove it to record highs.
It was claimed she stopped at nothing in her unrelenting drive for wealth and power. "At least on four occasions, she took girls out of the houses of prostitution, transformed them into young ladies with a veneer of culture, and married them off to rich men. The next step was to blackmail them by threatening to reveal what she knew. If a man refused to marry one of her "proteges" after having had sexual relations with her, Mammy could rely on Willmore to produce a baby, bought or stolen, with which she could confront the alleged father and bring him to terms. She even resorted to that kind of trickery with Thomas Frederick Bell, her banker and business partner." according Harry Sinclair Drago, author of "Notorious Ladies of the Frontier."
Drago noted the full extent of her activities were not known until after her death in 1904, when the details were revealed by William Willmore, a black handyman described as "her most dependable and trusted agent."
"That sink of moral pollution," the San Francisco "Call" wrote, "whose reefs are strewn with moral wrecks, and into whose vortex is constantly drifting barks of moral life while swiftly down the whirlpool of death go the sinking hulks of the murdered and the suicide! The Barbary Coast!...The coast on which no gentle breezes blow, but where rages one wild sirocco of sin!
The newspaper cited the Board of Supervisors' report on the prevalence of venereal disease in San Francisco. Physicians and members of the Board of Health claimed there was no city in the world with as many diseased children, whose fathers apparently contracted their afflictions in San Francisco's infamous brothels.
The Call wasn't the only one crying for reform. In "Lights and Shadows in San Francisco" (1876), author Benjamin E. Lloyd, a crusader for civil and moral decency, wrote, "The Barbary Coast is the haunt of the low and the vile of every kind. The petty thief, the house burglar, the tramp, the whore-monger, lewd women, cutthroats, murderers, all are found here. Dance halls and concert-saloons, where blear-eyed men and faded women drink vile liquor, smoke offensive tobacco, engage in vulgar conduct, sing obscene songs, and say and do everything to heap upon themselves more degradation, are numerous. Low gambling houses, thronged with riot-loving rowdies, in all states of intoxication, are there. Opium dens, where heathen Chinese and God-forsaken men and women are sprawled in miscellaneous confusion, disgustingly drowsy or completely overcome, are there. Licentiousness, debauchery, pollution, loathsome disease, insanity from dissipation, misery , poverty, wealth, profanity, blasphemy, and death, are there. And Hell, yawning to receive the putrid mass, is there also."
Saloons, brothels, and concert halls vied for the trade of the sexually hungry with an ever increasing need to shock and stimulate. The Bella Union, the longest running and most popular resort on the Barbary Coast, while claiming to be the "Wicked Place in the West" was no match for its competitors despite the lewd performances.
Hell's Kitchen, termed "the abiding place of the worst criminals in town," was a special target of the Call, "The women....are of the lowest class. These females air themselves with offensive publicity and boldness...the wonder is that such exhibitions should have so long escaped the notice of those who ought to be able to suppress them, and have the authority to do so, but who do nothing."
The singing and dancing stage performers wore "timesaver" outfits which could be stripped quickly on their "breaks" when their real trade was plied in privacy upstairs. Consisting of a short red jacket, black stockings, ruffled silk garters, red slippers-and nothing else-these costumes insured their trade was lively. Bull Run Allen, the proprietor, was known to deliberately intoxicate his female workers until they passed out, then carried them upstairs to bed where, for a dollar or less, he sold the right to rape the helpless victim to as many men as desired the privilege.
Madam Mary Hastings, an alias, took a different tact. "Any girl who is good enough for a high-class house is too good for my joint."
Taking down the curtains in the front windows, her bawds exposed themselves, wearing scanty attire in the windows while others solicited on the front steps. Hastings boasted there was no act or perversion which any man could suggest that her whores could not or would not perform. One historian noted, "She revived the old, so-called 'circus' that had not been seen in San Francisco since the days of the Sydney Ducks, a sexual exhibition in which a woman and a small Shetland pony participated. These soirees were held twice a month, with admission twenty-five dollars. Early in 1887, a year after she had burst on the Barbary Coast, she was sent to prison for six months for 'abnormal practices' that shocked even a corrupt mayor and his political machine."
Six months later, she returned to stage another show, "Purchasing a young girl from a procurer who had lured her away from her Oregon home, she put on a performance showing how a virgin was 'broke into the business.' For the occasion two strapping Negroes were hired to do the breaking in. This time it wasn't the law that was outraged. The blast that she had overstayed herself in California came from six-foot, two-fisted Maggie Kelly, the terror of Pacific Street, who owned the Cowboy's Rest, a saloon and assignation house in the heart of the district....It was Madame Hasting's employment of Negroes in the entertainment she had offered that infuriated Cowboy Mag, not its degeneracy. To her myopic eyes, the woman had shamed the Coast, and she sent word ringing up and down Pacific Street that she was going to do something about it. Arming herself with a pistol, she threatened to kill Mary Hastings on sight. Madame Hastings must have believed that Cowboy Maggie meant it, for she left San Francisco for Chicago in a hurry..."
In 1906, the great earthquake and fire leveled the district along with most of San Francisco. Although it was rebuilt, it suffered a loss of popularity. "Savants shook their heads nostalgically and said that what the Barbary Coast had lost was its old-time, tarnished glamor. In a vain attempt to regain its lost popularity, it publicized its obscenity and depravity as it had never done in the past. Barkers were employed to harangue the passersby from a platform in front of the melodeons, and the Salome or harem dancers were brought out to give brief free exhibitions. Prices were cut. For two-bits (twenty-five cents), spectators at peep shows could watch a pair of Lesbians in a homosexual orgy.
"But the ballyhooing and free entertainment failed to bring back the jostling crowds that had once jammed Pacific, Morton and Kearney Streets. When the Red-Light Abatement Act became law and the City Police Commission was given the authority to enforce it, the Barbary Coast was soon as dead as a mackerel that had been out of water too long."
Notorious outlaw, Belle Starr died as she lived, ambushed on a lonely trail while returning to her outlaw stronghold known as Younger's Bend. Her estate consisted of a few hundred dollars and her homestead. Originally the headright of her deceased husband, Sam Starr (son of Tom Starr, the famed Cherokee dissident), the sixty acres could not be sold. Her son and daughter, Eddie and Pearl, could live upon the land as long as they pleased but if they left, it automatically reverted to the Cherokee Tribal Council.
Leave it they did, living for a time in Van Buren, Arkansas, across the river from Fort Smith. Eddie was sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary for bootlegging whisky to the Indians, leaving young Pearl on her own. A short time later, Madame Van's had a new "boarder" in her bordello, a young woman who called herself "Rosa Reed".
Working in the shadow of the Iron Mountain Railroad overpass, it did not take long for the newcomer to get "broken in" to nights filled with a procession of men willing to pay for a few minutes of her time and the possession of her body. Pearl aka "Rosa" soon proved her inheritance was more than a bit of land and a small stash of money. She had the same indefinable quality which men found so alluring in her less attractive mother. She became Van Buren's most popular whore, hoarding her considerable earnings as she planned her escape to the bigger and more affluent Fort Smith. In November, 1891, Pearl shed both Van Buren and her alias, leasing a house at 25 Water St. on "the Row", where Fort Smith's bordellos were located. There, at various addresses over a twenty-three year time span, she plied her trade as both prostitute and madam. Now boldly proclaiming she was Belle Starr's daughter, she exploited the commercial value of the name her mother had made infamous.
Fort Smith, enjoying its greatest boom, was also the home of long-established madams, such as Maud McGrath, Dot Parker and Laura Ziegler. With enough business for all, they helped her recruit "boarders" from Hot Springs and Memphis. The Row was located only three blocks from the courtroom of the famous Hanging Judge Parker. The gallows where eighty-six men were hanged stood in the courtyard below, which also housed the prison known as the scourge of the Border.
By 1892, Pearl had amassed enough money to hire expensive lawyers and was successful in freeing her brother. In 1893, President Harrison pardoned him. Eddie hurried to Fort Smith to thank his sister, only to spurn her completely when he learned how the money had been obtained. Outraged, he became Judge Parker's deputy marshal, operating in Indian Territory. Poor wages and great danger accompanied this job, and Eddie dropped from sight until October, 1896, when he reappeared long enough to kill the Crittenden brothers, also former Parker deputies, who were rampaging through the town of Waggoner where he had settled. The notoriety and whisky drove him to the little town of Claremore, where he ran two saloonkeepers out of their place of business. They returned, armed. Minutes later, Eddie lay dead.
In the meantime, Fort Smith was under pressure from its citizens to abolish the Row and the activities of freelance prostitutes. The town already had ordinances which could shut down the bawdy houses and streetwalkers if the city fathers chose to enforce them. To prevent this occurrence, the madams and their "boarders" had long paid a weekly tax of $ 15 per house and $ 5 per "boarder" which were used to pay for weekly medical examinations. Fines of five dollars were also levied upon streetwalkers who were arrested for soliciting, but this did not prevent new ordinances from being passed, as demanded. The new laws were thorough. One even made it a crime for prostitutes to "loiter in a city cemetery."
The moral upheaval didn't tame Pearl. In defiance, she placed a star-shaped sign, outlined in red and white electric lights, on the front of her house. The reformers demanded its removal. Pearl refused, even under police pressure. It's obscene welcome could be seen blocks away and became a Fort Smith landmark, making sure everyone knew exactly where "Pearl's Place" was located.
For years, Pearl was plagued with arrests and attorney's fees. In February, 1916, the city finally won, when Pearl agreed to leave town if the current charges were dropped. Under threat of immediate arrest if she entered the city limits, she was never to return,. "Rosa Reed" died on July 6, 1925, in the sleepy border town of Douglas, Arizona, whose residents were unaware of Rosa's true identity.
"Wild Bill would have died rather than share a bed with Jane," Colorado Charley Utter asserted after her death in 1903. Others, such as Joseph G. Rosa, Wild Bill Hickok's biographer, have also denied her legendary love affair with the infamous lawman. "Of all the women associated in any way with Wild Bill, she had the least to do with him."
While many tales which surround her life are disputed, these facts are not: An expert horsewoman, she drove a bull team, earning her living hauling merchandise and machinery to outlying camps. She also worked as a stagecoach driver, restaurant cook, and track layer for the railroad. She has been described as a woman who could "outcurse, outshout, and outdrink most of the men with whom she consorted....She appealed to men and, having no inhibitions, had spent the night under the blankets with many."
She was a loyal and fearless friend. The Deadwood Black Hills Pioneer called her "An Angel of Mercy," in the Fall of 1878 when "men were dying like flies" from smallpox. Jane had survived the disease years before and bore the scars upon her face. Immune, she worked tirelessly to administer to the sick and dying.
It is thought she acquired her nickname from Captain Egan, who was wounded while commanding troops in a battle at Goose Creek in 1873. She carried him to safety and cared for him, it is said, for which he dubbed her, "Calamity Jane, Heroine of the Plains."
Often thought of as coarse and masculine, her early photos reveal a pretty woman, with a well rounded figure. Her masculine attire was probably not a result of sexual deviation, as is often asserted. Harry Sinclair Drago, author of Notorious Ladies of the Frontier, wrote, "The Black Hills was a wild, lonely country in the years in which she was supporting herself by freighting to the different camps with her bull train. They were far apart. It meant bedding down on the ground where night overtook her. Certainly dressing like a man was the practical thing to do. As for her abhorrence of others females, the only ones to whom she might have turned, rough and tough as she was, were the girls in the red lights."
Born Martha Jane Cannary in 1852, her Mormon family crossed the plains in a covered wagon thirteen years later. Freezing rains and drifting snow stranded them in Montana. Her mother lies in an unmarked grave beside the trail. Her father died not long after in Salt Lake City. At the age of fifteen, Calamity was alone after her five brothers and sisters were adopted or drifted away, one by one.
Already strong and self-reliant, she followed the gold rush to South Pass City, Wyoming, where she fell in love with a young army officer, sharing his bed only to be deserted a few weeks later. Soon she was working as a dance hall girl, or prostitute, in Virginia City, Nevada, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. From there she drifted through Ogallala, Nebraska and on to Hays City, Kansas, where she claimed to have met and married James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok.
Whether the marriage actually occurred is disputed. Jean Hickok McCormick, claiming to be their daughter, produced a diary and a page torn from a bible. On it was written, "Enroute to Abilene, Kansas, Sept. 1, 1870, I, W. F. Warren, Pastor, not having available a proper marriage certificate find it necessary to use as a substitute this page from the Holy Bible and unite in Holy Matrimony -Jane Cannary, age 18, J. B. Hickock-31." It was witnessed by Carl Cosgrove, Abilene, Kansas, Rev. W. K. Sipes, Sarasville, Ohio; and Tom P Connel, Hays City, Kansas.
Glenn Clairmonte, in her book Calamity was the Name for Jane, wrote, "The samples of handwriting of the Rev. W. F. Warren were examined by the government handwriting expert, Rowland K. Goddard, and he certified: 'It is my opinion that they were written by the same person.'"
However, the diary gave details which caused the dispute to continue. Many biographers have claimed the diary could not have been authentic because Calamity's formal education ended at the age of ten. In the diary, Calamity wrote of leaving Hays City with Hickok after he killed three "toughs," riding on horseback to Abilene, and marrying along the way.
Drago relates Hickok's departure from Hays City a different way, "It was then that the often disputed showdown with the Seventh Cavalry occurred. In Tommy Drumm's saloon, he was jumped by five troopers, two of whom he killed. A third died later. Friends smuggled him aboard the next train east to Ellsworth, where he hid out in the home of his friend Harry Pestana until the hunt for him died down....Suffice it to say that she did not accompany him when he left Hays City and that he did not leave on horseback. She was not with him in Ellsworth and was unknown in Abilene, the first of the wild Kansas cow towns, where he was appointed town marshal on April 15, 1871, and served until December 13 of that year. It was there that he met Agnes Thatcher Lake when she brought her circus to Abilene." According to Drago, the preacher who signed the Bible page was the same preacher who married Hickok and Lake, making the authenticity of the Bible page signature doubtful.
Drago also recorded, "...she was one of the half dozen 'sporting women' employed by E. Coffey and Cuny at their 'hog ranch' five miles west of Fort Laramie on the north side of the Laramie River, was a widely traveled, coarse, slovenly, frontier whore...with her looks gone, she was reduced to finding employment in the various 'hog ranches,' the cheapest houses of frontier prostitution. The military permitted these to operate at a distance of five miles from an army post. Her scarred face may have been another reason why she turned to alcohol for escape."
Hickok's friend, White-Eye Jack Anderson, claimed Calamity and Wild Bill met for the first time on the trail to Deadwood, after Hickok had deserted Lake for the lure of gold. Thirty wagons, including a "load of whores," were rendezvoused in Fort Laramie on their way to the gold town of Deadwood, South Dakota. When Hickok refused to take responsibility for the wagon train, Charley Utter reluctantly accepted the job. He was to take another woman, who "had had a high time the night before and had been thrown into the guardhouse. It was Calamity Jane."
"She was nearly naked," Anderson claimed, "Charley and Steve Utter outfitted her with a buckskin shirt, buckskin pants, and a wide-brimmed hat. When she spoke to Wild Bill, she addressed him as Mr. Hickok."
Anderson saw the papers in question. "I don't believe it. I think these things are fakes...There were several years in which I did not know about Bill's doings nor those of Jane. But I do know that when she came into our train at Fort Laramie (1876) there was no friendship between Bill and her. She slept with Steve Utter, ate her meals with us, and helped drink Bill's whiskey."
No one has ever denied Calamity loved Wild Bill. Twenty days after arriving in Deadwood, Hickok sat playing poker in Carl Mann's Number Ten Saloon when Jack McCall shot him from the rear. Hickok's body was still on the saloon floor when Calamity rushed in, according to one account, "elbowing her way through the crowd...only to turn back when she realized that she had no rights to the long-adored body...She didn't dare to attend the funeral because her emotions were far from under control."
An alcoholic at twenty-four, she drank until her death in 1903. At forty-nine, she had become increasingly aware that her eyesight was failing, an affliction from which Wild Bill also suffered and kept secret. Drago wrote, "Medical authorities have expressed the opinion that in both instances the loss of sight could have been due to some long-forgotten exposure to venereal infection that had settled in the eyes. Whisky was her only means of escape from reality. She turned to it and, in her last years, was seldom sober."
Calamity's last words were, "Bury me next to Wild Bill." She was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery, a mere twenty feet from her beloved.
Opening night at the Palace Grand featured a banquet with a hundred dollar bill resting upon the plate for each of the 40 guests. Arizona Charlie Meadows spared no expense in building his ornate theater. Two steamboats were cannibalized, with the fine woods and adornments installed inside this Klondike theater known for its fine entertainment.
The pride of the Palace was a full production of "Camille" starring Babette Pyne as Camille, George Hillier as Armand Duval, and Nellie Lewis as Prudence. Hillier, an actor, was the divorced husband of Pyne, a dance hall girl. Pyne hated him, working herself into a state of nervous exhaustion at the thought of making love to him on stage night after night. Barely speaking back stage, her frosty lack of ardor was readily apparent on stage to the restless audience.
The actresses also worked as box hustlers during the intermissions and dancing that followed the performance. This brought its own set of complications. One night, the performance stopped dead when Camille called for Prudence. No answer. Over and over, Camille called until Lewis, her face flushed and hair tousled, appeared from behind the curtain of a gallery wine box. Her voice was nearly incoherent behind its high pitch. "Madame Prudence isn't here. Call all you like, but Madame Prudence ain't a-comin' tonight. Don't you think she's a-comin'"
Stagehands fetched her with force, but no amount of threats or cajoling could get Madame Prudence onstage.
"Steamboat a'comin." These words bring to mind paddlewheels, Dixieland bands, gamblers, and adventure during the golden age of river travel, roughly 1847 to 1870. Wealthy Southern planters boarding the gangplanks in New Orleans, bound for St. Louis on business, were often accompanied by remarkably attractive Creole lasses of French ancestry. With flawless skin and classic features, they traded their looks and vivacious personalities, restrained only slightly by a bit of genteel culture, for the luxuries which accompanied life as a mistress to the rich. Their presence on the floating hotels undoubtedly contributed to the slanderous whisperings in the North that the luxurious steamboats were floating bordellos.
But these young women were not the only ,filles de joie found on the river. With heavy competition and a traveling public which was 75% male, the steamboats vied for approval with music from five-piece orchestras, the finest in wines and liqueurs, and restaurants filled with delectable offerings. Often the delectable offerings included the additional "convenience" of a woman. Although the captains usually denied any knowledge, no courtesan worked without their permission. The captains assigned them staterooms abaft of the wheel, told them which parts of the deck were restricted, and forced them to dine alone before the doors were opened to the other passengers. Drunkenness and disorderly conduct resulted in being placed ashore at the very next landing. On the whole, they must have practiced great decorum, as this passage in "History of River Navigation," reveals, as Captain E. W. Gould discusses their "ladylike" deportment, "Families traveling together were seldom aware that there were scarlet sisters among their fellow passengers." High praise when considering the source: Captain Gould was a religious man and strict disciplinarian who did not tolerate what Captain Samuel Rider called "the whore trade."
Northerner's mistakenly termed these women "Creole Belles", thinking Creole meant a person of mixed blood. The women were actually quadroons, the offspring of a mulatto and a white. Tall, long-legged, and graceful, they possessed the legendary beauty which had become famed at the annual New Orlean's Quadroon Ball. By the standards of antebellum times, they earned "big" money both on the steamboats and in the river downs where men vied for the privilege of spending their money.
The wives of Cripple Creek, Colorado, hated Hazel Vernon, but could not stop themselves from envying her status as the best dressed woman in town. Hazel also enjoyed the distinction of owning the city's most popular whore house. Built of pressed pink brick, according to her specifications, it attracted the big spenders, also known as "the carriage trade." Her girls were the prettiest in town and earned the most money, largely because of the strict rules of conduct which insured the safety and privacy of their clients. Men might risk being rolled for their money in cheaper establishments, such as Ella Holden's The Library or Pearl Sevan's Old Faithful, but were safe even while drunk in Hazel's luxurious Old Homestead. Hazel sold the Homestead in 1897, intent on a comfortable retirement in California.
The new madam, Pearl De Vere, a young, willowy blonde, lost enough money to drive her into desperation, as discreetly reported in The Cripple Creek Times, "Pearl De Vere, madam of the "Old Homestead," died early today from an overdose of morphine. According to a denizen of the house, a gay party was in full swing when Pearl excused herself, saying that she felt indisposed. She refused to let anyone go with her to her room. She was in high spirits all evening, a woman said, and never seemed happier or more carefree. No one could offer any reason why the madam should want to end her life. The body was discovered...lying across the bed fully clothed."
Pearl's assets did not include enough for a proper burial and an appeal went out for donations "to give the little girl a real sendoff" in the words of one Bennett Avenue bartender. The funeral procession wended its way to Pizgah Cemetery accompanied by the Elks band, contingents from the local fire companies, and men from Union Hall. Women from the dance halls and the brothels rode behind in rented carriages. Reverend Franklin kept his eulogy short that cold January afternoon, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
"Two bittee lookee, flo bittee feelee, six bittee doee" went the chant in the Chinatown crib's of San Francisco's Barbary Coast. In the summer of 1850, the young and lovely Asian woman who is credited with this famous litany arrived by ship, one of thousands who were forcibly taken from their homeland of China. The fate of these slave women were a cell-like cubicles where their owners sent the men willing to pay for their sexual services. Younger than their white sisters, the hard life soon wore them out. When they began to lose their looks, they were resold to Chinese farmers for a hundred dollars or less.
Ah Toy's fate was different. Described as "the most famous of all...(a) almond-eyed, golden courtesan," she soon acquired a working knowledge of pidgin English and began to make friends with the men who suddenly found themselves wealthy in California's gold rush. Several of them pooled their money and gave her enough money to purchase her freedom. Opening her own crib, a dingy shack in China Alley, she thrived. By 1870, she was operating three establishments in San Francisco, one in Sacramento, and one in Columbia, a mining camp. She began importing her own girls from China and selling them into the trade. By age fifty, she was recognized as one of the most prosperous dealers in Chinese prostitutes in California.
Working under the protection of the Hip Sings, one of the most powerful of tongs, she regularly paid tribute to them. The tongs always returned the bodies of their own to the Celestial Kingdom of China, an obligation which could never be defaulted. The Sacramento steamer Yosemite exploded in October, 1865, killing twenty-nine Hip Sings, who were quartered below deck. Because of the large number, the tong was unable to fulfill its obligation, temporarily burying their dead in Rio Vista. Ah Toy could not rest with this broken commitment to her countrymen and donated a full half of the money needed to return them to their homeland. In the early 1890s, she too returned to China after disposing of her various businesses, living out her years in comfort.
"I never was a prostitute. I was a madam from the time I was nineteen-years-old, in Springfield, Missouri. I never worked for another madam. The girls who work for me are prostitutes, but I am and always have been a madam." Mattie Silks was twenty-three when she spoke. As the proprietor of Abilene's first parlor house, Silks employed the youngest and most attractive women in town. Among these was the dark-eyed brunette, Jessie Hazel, who sparked a deadly battle between the new town marshal, Wild Bill Hickok, and a Texas gambler named Phil Coe.
Coe, blond haired and six foot four, was a partner in the Bull Head Saloon. Hickok, resplendent in frock coat, ruffled shirt, string tie and red sash, cut a gallant figure walking down Main Street with his long blond locks flowing. He had already established his fame as a expert marksman and mankiller, having left Hays City rather hurriedly after killing two Cavalrymen. In the Spring of 1865, he had also killed Dave Tutt of Springfield, Missouri, in a feud over the charming Susanna Moor.
Although Moor was in Abilene, Hickok now fancied Jessie Hazel, who delighted in playing fast and loose with the Marshal while still pursuing her true love, Coe. The men were described as "two handsome, magnificent bulls...locking horns."
Hickok kept an eye on Abilene from his chair, back to the wall, in the Alamo Saloon. It was there Mike Williams, special policeman at the Novelty Theater, whispered to Hickok that Jessie Hazel and Coe were in the wine room at the Gulf House. Hickok rushed in, finding Jessie Hazel in Coe's arms. The unarmed Coe struck Hickok, sending him reeling backwards. No shots were fired, but threats were made. Coe promptly removed Jessie Hazel from the Silks' brothel and enthroned her in his cabin as his exclusive property.
Hickok appeared to lose interest, marrying Alice Thatcher Lake, the famous equestrienne, animal trainer, and owner of the Olympiad and Mammoth Circus. However, when the circus left town, Hickok remained.
The annual exodus of trail driving cowboys was underway when Coe sent Jessie Hazel to St. Louis, well endowed with money, promising to meet her later. First, he had to sell his interest in the Bull Head Saloon and intended to visit Texas with a score of friends. On October 5th, their last night in town, the cowboys went on a wild spree. Coe, who normally did not carry a gun, was armed. Things were soon out of hand as the group reeled drunkenly through every open bar. Hickok entered the Alamo from the back and stood watching the revelry through the plate glass front doors, where he was able to keep them in view most of the time.
The Texans, who had nicknamed Hickok "the pimp marshall," knew he was watching. A shot was fired into the air to bait him. Hickok rushed out and confronted Coe, who claimed he had fired at a stray dog, a claim which sent his friends into gales of laughter. The two men, only eight feet apart, suddenly began firing. Hickok, armed with a .44 caliber Derringer in each hand, hit Coe in the abdomen with his first shot. He also wounded several of the Texans. An armed man came running around the corner. Hickok whirled, shot, and killed him, not realizing it was his friend Mike Williams, the special policeman who was running to his aid.
Coe's first bullet passed between Hickok's legs; his second bullet lodged in the door frame at his right elbow. Coe died two days later. The body was taken to Texas for burial. Coe and Williams were the only two men killed by Hickok during his tenure as marshall of Abilene. On December 13, 1871, the town council discharged Hickok "for the reason that the city is no longer in need of his services."
The town, now empty of prostitutes and clients alike, tore down the cribs, which numbered in the hundreds. The lumber was carted away by people building farms on the prairie.
"I'm murdered!" The long blade of a knife stuck out of the belly of Edward Baldock as he burst out of the front door of Mexican harlot Belle Roqueraz. He staggered to the Cincinnati saloon, where Jon Duncan tried to help When Duncan pulled the knife out, Edwards fell, apparently dead. The doctor, who arrived moments later, found his body still shivering with convulsive tremors.
Witnesses at the inquest testified Baldock was a former lover of Belle's, who had lived with her in another town. He had arrived in Idaho City expecting the same privileges but was turned away. On Saturday evening, he had again demanded admittance and was told to leave. On Sunday, the evening of the stabbing, he had borrowed a fine pocket pistol from Duncan. Brandishing a large knife, he had wandered from saloon to saloon bragging about being a dangerous man and ranting because he was denied access when he pounded on Belle's door for a third time.
About 9:00 p.m, witnesses heard a racket inside her parlor. Minutes later, Baldock fled. While the doctor was examining him in the street in front of the Cincinnati, Doctors Hogg and Harris were summoned to Belle's home. Inside, they found another man, Ben Bloomer, who had been severely pistol whipped, sustaining acute head injuries. Baldock had kicked the door down and found Bloomer putting wood in the stove. Baldock attacked , striking several heavy blows before Bloomer could wrest the gun away. Just before gaining possession of the gun, Bloomer had drawn a knife and plunged it deep into Baldock's side. Bloomer was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.
Old Warren, a booming gold camp in central Idaho, was almost inaccessible except for a wild, one way journey upon the white waters of the rugged Salmon River. In its heyday, the population reached 3,000, roughly one third of which were Chinese who had relocated after the railroads were complete. There wasn't a single white woman in the camp which was rife with violence and bloodletting. Probably because of the rough passage, the women were all either Lapwai (Sheepeater) Native American girls, stolen or possibly purchased from their tribe, or Chinese slaves owned by big Jim, the boss of the Chinese colony. He worked his slaves as prostitutes. The most famous of these was China Polly, who Big Jim had bought, along with four other women, in San Francisco, taking them first to Idaho City and eventually downriver to Warren.
Legend alleges the beautiful China Polly was rescued and became a bride as winnings in a poker game between three Chinese men and a white man, Charley Bemis the gambler. Although Warren had a real "poker bride", it is doubtful China Polly was the lady in question. Her good friend, Jake Czikek, state mine inspector for the Salmon River District, visited eighty-year-old Polly at the Idaho County Hospital in Grangeville. While there, he told a correspondent for the Portland Oregonian, "The folks who put that yarn together got their facts mix up. Warren did have a 'poker bride, if you want to call her that, but it was a young squaw named Molly, not Polly Bemis. There was so few women in Warren that you had to take what you could get; you couldn't be particular. In the spring of '79, the Sheepeaters made off with a horse belonging to a man named Pony Smead. He and a couple of friends set out to get the animal back. They caught up with the Indians out in Chamberlain Basin and got the horse so easy they figured they was entitled to some booty. They saw this girl Molly and decided she would do. They brought her to Warren. All three of them wanted her, so they agreed to play a hand of poker and whoever won would be the man she belonged to. Smead won. He married Molly and they raised a big family, half a dozen children. Some of them are still living around Shoup and Salmon City. I suppose, because Molly and Polly sound so much alike, that whoever started the story about the poker bride got the names mixed up."
Czikek did not think the women were acquainted. "Polly has been telling me for years that she never knew Molly. And I believe her. It was in 1872 that Charley Bemis took her down to what came to be called Bemis Point, a few miles below Warren, and she never left there until after he died in 1923."
According to Czikek, Polly gained her freedom long before she married Bemis, "Big Jim was sitting out in front of his place one afternoon, sunning himself, when he suddenly toppled over. He was dead when he was picked up. The doctor said it was his heart. No regrets were expressed. We hated him because of the way he treated his girls. They were just cattle to him. I don't know how the Chinese handle their business affairs, but Polly and the other girls no longer belonged to anyone. For four of the five, it was just a matter of changing hands, and they continued their whoring. Polly opened a little restaurant and did well until she fell in love with Charley Bemis."
"Bemis was a strange, unfriendly man. He always went armed. If you stopped at his place at Bemis Point, he usually showed up carrying a shotgun. He treated Polly good enough, taught her to speak English and didn't work her to death in their garden, which was a big one and the best producer on the river. Of course he spent most of his time working his sluice boxes and making a good living."
By the time of Bemis death, Polly had seen nothing of the outside world for fifty-one years. Warren had faded into obscurity with only a smattering of residents scattered up and down the river. She remained at Bemis Point, grieving. Czikek and his wife tried to cheer her up by taking her to Boise, but the dazzling wonders of electric lights, motion pictures and radio frightened her so much that she asked to be taken back to the lonely canyon, remaining alone for the last ten years of her life.
Until Julia Bulette arrived in Virginia City, the scarlet ladies were confined to C Street and a few cheap "cribs" in which to ply their trade. A gay woman with considerable wit and charm, she crossed the Sierras from California and became a spokeswoman for the women forced to work in these shacks. With no other accommodations available, she took her place in one of the cribs but not for long. Soon she used her popularity with the affluent, masculine upper crust to prevail upon them to build twin rows of cabins on D Street, have the old cribs torn down and new ones built. The white washed cottages became the home of the more expensive strumpets, the cheaper women worked in the cribs below, farther down were the Chinese and at the bottom of the slope, the Indian mahalies.
It was rumored she imported the fairest of "frails" from San Francisco and Sacramento to work in her Virginia City establishment, known locally at "Julia's Castle." But her disciples claimed she was never a madam, operating merely as a champion for all working women.
Her roots appeared to be in New Orleans of French origin. Some said she was an escapee from the Barbary Coast; others disputed that she served her apprenticeship in that den of iniquity. It is known she had been one of the girls in a house of prostitution in Angel's Camp, California, made famous by Mark Twain's "The Jumping Frogs of Calavaras County."
Julia's cottage was surrounded by potted roses and geraniums, which made the more respectable women wonder how she could afford them at $ 10 a pot, but there was little she could not afford. Wells Fargo regularly delivered packages from San Francisco's most expensive furriers and Shreve and Company, if leading diamond merchants. One of her admirers presented her with a gift of prancing white horses and a gleaming phaeton. She was even given semiofficial status when she was elected a member of the Virginia City Engine Company Number One, the greatest social honor the town could bestow, a fact which enraged the virtuous females of the social set. Despite their disapproval, Julia marched in all of the company parades and responded to every alarm, often leaving the customer of the moment alone in her genial bed. One of these emergencies was caused by hot water cascading through the main shaft of the Mascot Mine, which was promptly dubbed the "Julia Mine" as in "too hot to handle."
Julia died in her bed, where she was discovered by her maid, obviously murdered for her jewels and furs. Although the "good" women of Virginia City objected, their husbands and fathers, thousands of them, marched in her funeral procession. The Virginia City Engine Company Number One decided it was only fit that they bury her, despite the outcry. "The members put on their light blue greatcoats, with pearl buttons like desert lilies and huge manly flap on their pockets, dusted off their tasseled silver bugles and marched behind the casket from church to cemetery."
Condemned as "an evil woman-a whore" by the righteous ladies of the upper crust, her murderers were nevertheless hunted with great zest by the men. The posse cornered and killed two of them, bringing the third back for trial after his dying partner fingered him as her strangler. While the men prepared the murder charges against the drifter named Jean Marie a Millian, their wives plied him with fried chicken, pies and other assorted homemade delicacies, regarding him as a savior against women such as the dead "Queen of Sporting Row."
Jackson, California, in the heart of Mother Lode country, was once a lively, roaring, gold camp. One hundred years later, civic pride still abounds but all that is left are a few old buildings. Three are large decaying frame houses, rich in history but in as much disrepute as their former occupants. Valentine's Day, 1967, seemed a fitting day for the town to celebrate this bit of history by embedding a plaque in the sidewalk on Main Street which ran in front of the homes of the town's shady ladies. The heart shaped monument carries a long inscription which begins, "World's oldest profession flourished here for many years..."
"If it (prostitution) can't be routed out, the vicious vocation should be made to contribute to the expense of maintaining law and order." In May, 1873, the hard-hitting, independent "Reporter" was spearheading a campaign to rid Ellsworth, Kansas, of its vices. Long plagued by the excesses of the Texas cattle trade, Ellsworth had placed saloons, already paying a federal excise tax of $ 25, under a heavy license fee of $ 500 and a local business tax of $ 10. The law had its desired effect, and the rowdy cowboys were limited to a mere thirteen bars thereafter. Gamblers were also taxed, and prostitution was confined to a district a half mile from the center of town, in the Smoky Hill River bottom known as Nauchville. Arthur Larkin, Ellsworth's leading merchant, and other prominent citizens supported the Reporter's demands. The city council agreed and enacted a tax on the exiled prostitutes.
It wasn't long before the Topeka "Commonwealth" reported, "The city (Ellsworth) realizes $ 300 per month from prostitution fines alone...The city authorities consider that as long as mankind is depraved and Texas cattle herders exist, there will be a demand and necessity for prostitutes, and that as long as prostitutes are bound to dwell in Ellsworth, it is better for the respectable portion of society to hold prostitutes under restraint of law."
The money collected from the licensing and fines amounted to more than all of Ellsworth's municipal expenses.
The Civil War provided the most popular alias adopted by prostitutes in the old west, Dixie Lee, not because the ladies were Southern but because these were the two most "romantic" names which they could adopt after the war. Wichita's Dixie Lee was the most popular madam in town, despite the fact her establishment could not rival the house at 33 Water St., the brothel of Besse Earp, wife of Jim Earp, elder brother of Wyatt.
Wichita was prospering, along its red light district and it's "soiled doves." Dixie Lee enjoyed a short but prosperous reign, dying in 1875 from "galloping consumption" and leaving behind an estate estimated between fifty and one hundred thousand dollars. Her alias clouded all knowledge of legal heirs and only after a considerable search had ensured did her lawyers locate her father. A country minister from Southern Missouri, his religious beliefs did not appear to present a problem in accepting the inheritance, even though he expressed shock over the manner in which the fortune had been amassed. As Whitey Rupp, owner of the famous Keno House, wryly noted, "The wages of sin are a damned sight better than the wages of virtue."
"I hate everything that belongs to the white dogs...Oh, I hate them so badly." Sarah Winnemucca had good reason. She wrote that white men had tried to take her sister and "abuse her" in front of her mother and herself. She watched her people, the Paiutes, suffer through a forced evacuation far from their homelands, despite their peaceful declarations, and severe neglect by the white men who were supposed to be protecting them on the new reservation. Unable to be silent, she began lobbying for the Indian agent's removal, brandishing proof of embezzlement of the food, materials, and money provided on behalf of her tribe by the federal government. The agent retaliated by producing a number of men who swore she was a common drunken whore who theybedded regularly.
Sarah was not deterred, traveling to Washington, D. C., to gain an audience with President Garfield Hayes, returning home with written orders for the release of her tribe from the reservation so they could return home. Despite her efforts, the agent refused to release them; they spent many more years suffering from cold and starvation before Sarah was able to force a resolution to the situation.
Sarah's first recollection of the white man was not favorable. It left her with nightmares which woke her in the night, screaming, "Oh, mother, the owls,...", a reference to her father's description of the white man's "big, white eyes staring from their hairy faces..."
Her grandfather told of a dream in which he foresaw the destruction of the Paiute people. Even though he had tried to be friendly, "they do not seem to think we are like them." In the dream, he saw, "my men shot down by the white people...and I saw the blood streaming from the mouths of my men that lay all around me."
Other Indian women were suffering too. Lucy Young never again saw her sister, who was kidnapped by a white man. Lucy was also kidnapped andused sexually, "I hear people tell 'bout what Inyan do early days to white man. Nobody ever tell what white man do to Inyan."
One Oklahoma Indian woman recalled running into the bushes with her sister to escape from the first white man she ever saw. "At that time, the older people told the younger that some time there would be no Indians, that eventually they would merge into the white race."
Sally McKillip, also from Oklahoma, was terrified of white people because of the terrible things that happened to the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. Sarah, who was well educated, devoted her life to lecturing and writing books in her efforts to liberate her people from the "dog face" enemy.
The daughter of a tribal chieftain, Sarah was well known for her bravery among Indians and whites alike. Once, when her father had been captured by the enemy, no men would undertake his rescue. She mounted a horse, traveled under cover of night, and entered the camp alone. Like fathers everywhere, he scolded her for the dangerous risks she had ignored in her successful effort to free him.
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