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All The Major Towns Had Brothels

Sixth Streets Finest

Single women were in short supply in the American West and in all the major towns had brothels. Prostitutes also worked in saloons and dance halls. Their rooms were normally placed at the rear of the building. These women were rarely called prostitutes and went under the names of saloon girls, dancers, scarlet ladies, soiled doves and girls of the night. One census return said that one woman was a "ceiling expert" whereas another was described as being "horizontally employed".

Some of the people, who were welcomed most, in the wild silver camp of Tombstone were the ladies of the night. Some were part-time entertainers hoping to strike it rich, others were simply ladies of joy trying to make enough to retire and live respectably, and,others, of course, were just mercenary.

The arrival of these painted ladies was welcomed with wild celebrations. Their presence and their fancy houses added a bit of refinement. The women, themselves, offered pleasure, amusement, and companionship to the lonely men as respectable women had not yet arrived.

Many of the ladies of sin assisted in the making of history in the roaring camp of Tombstone during the turbulent '80's. Big Nose Kate is believed to have been the first madam to arrive in Tombstone. Her foremost claim to fame was as the girl friend of Doc Holliday.

She was the only woman who was ever to come into his life in the west. Doc met her while he was dealing cards in John Shanssey's Saloon in Fort Griffin, Texas. She was what she was and made no bones about it - Big Nose Kate Elder - a dance hall girl and prostitute.

True, her nose was prominent, but her other features were quite attractive. Her curves were generous and all in the right places. Tough, fearless, high tempered, and stubborn, Kate was a prostitute because she liked being a prostitute. She belonged to no man and was controlled by no madam, but operated as an individual in any manner she chose.

Kate kept Doe from decorating a hang tree in Fort Griffin, and for that he was eternally grateful. The two of them lived together for awhile, but the quiet life was not for Kate. She went back to the bright lights and excitement of the dance halls and gambling dens.

Still when Doc headed west Big Nose Kate followed him to Tombstone. She arrived in the same stage with Rowdy Kate Lowe and her common law husband, Joe Lawe. All three of them had been invited to leave Dodge City or else ... Doc found Kate living quarters sandwiched between a funeral parlor and the Soma Winery on the north side of Allen at Sixth Street.

Soon after her arrival in the "town too tough to die" Kate went, into business. She bought a large tent, rounded-up several girls, a few barrels of whiskey, and opened Tombstone's first sporting house. Her partners in this venture were Joe and Rowdy Kate Lowe. Their only rule was to make sure no one left the premises carrying any money. The manner in which they separated the customers and their cash was unimportant.

Money rolled in so fast from the reckless miners that Kate bought a frame house at the edge of town. Business was even better here. She served the worst whiskey in the Territory and her prices were determined by how drunk she thought the customer was.

Kate and the Lowes made a business of putting knockout drops in the drinks of customers, who were foolish enough to flash a bankroll. The victim was robbed then thrown into a wash behind the house to sleep it off and later wonder what happened.

Doc and Kate began living together again, but Doc continued his drinking and gambling, and Kate her business as a prostitute and madam. One night she got drunk and became unusually profane and abusive. Doc had had enough so he threw her out, bag and baggage.

In her angry desire to get revenge on Doc she swore that Doc had been involved in a stage coach holdup. Doc had enough witnesses as to his whereabouts on the date in question to clear him. However, that was the end of the line as far as he was concerned. He gave her $1,000 and put her on a stagecoach leaving town. This paid his debt to her in full; he never saw Big Nose Kate again.

By 1881, ladies of joy were quite numerous in Tombstone. A number of the more attractive prostitutes worked as performers at the Bird Cage Theatre. Older and less attractive women worked the dancehalls and saloons, caging drinks from customers, for which they received a percentage. Almost all the night ladies lived in cribs or houses an Sixth Street, which was a restricted area. All the girls made money at their profession because women were scarce and their favors were much in demand.

Several times a year traveling shows arrived in town and the showgirls, took a large slice of the prostitutes' business, at least temporarily. Probably the best remembered of the showgirls is Lizette, the Flying Nymph. Lizette was an uausually beautiful girl and her act was simply that of floating over the stage supported by wires so small that they could not be seen by the audience. Apparently Lizette had unseen problems as she became a confirmed alcoholic and soon disappeared from Tombstone into the limbo of time and history.

May Davenport was another who arrived with a traveling carnival. She quickly left, show business when she saw that a woman with beauty, brains and no moral character could name her own price in the old silver camp. She abandoned Tombstone when the big copper boom hit Cananea down in old Mexico. There, she opened a fancy sporting house that was soon known as May's Place. It was famous, for its, beautiful women and plush atmosphere, all over the West.

Along in 1884, the French moved in on Tombstone's prostitution business. It I was apparent that the houses were controlled by a well organized syndicate. The first madam they, sent to Tombstone was a lovely; young woman known as Blonde Marie. She was a very good businesswoman and strictly a madam who did not indulge in the business under any circumstances.

Marie's place of business was a large, white house on Sixth Street. She ran her place with pride and quiet dignity. Every girl employed by her was French and exceptionally attractive. There was no bar, no drunks, and no fights as she only entertained the high class gentlemen. Her girls were exchanged frequently so that the men of Tombstone had no opportunity to tire of the merchandise offered them. By the mid 1890's Blonde Marie had made and saved enough money to live in the style she desired. She retired and returned to France.

Another madam the French sent to Tombstone was Madame Moustache. She was given that name because of the dark hair growing on her lip. This female was no beauty and did not have the elegance of Blonde Marie, but she knew her business and did well as a madam. When she felt that Tombstone was fading she packed up all her-girls and went to San Francisco. The manager of all the French madams and their houses was a man called the "Count." He appeared in Tombstone approximately every three months, checked on busineea, brought new girls, and took the old ones to other towns.

A direct contrast to the elegant French madams and prostitutes was Crazy Horse Lil. She was big, she was tough, and she knew and used language that would make a Barbary Coast sailor blush. Her greatest pleasure was to get roaring drunk and start a fight. She had no preference - she would fight man, woman, or beast. A great deal of her time was spent in jail for disturbing the peace or breaking up the fixtures in saloons.

When she left Tombstone she settled in Brewery Gulch in Bisbee. The miners at Bisbee and Lowell loved her Amazon good looks and her rough style. Consequently, she made money hand over fist. Sad to say Lil and her gentleman friend of the moment, Con O'Shea, grew greedy and masterminded a number of local robberies. When the law drew close they both disappeared from Arizona and were never seen again.

decorated the bar
A portrait of Fatima, who belly-danced to acclaim at the Bird Cage in 1882.

A Combustible Mix Of Women And Whiskey

One of Tombstone's most raucous and combustible night spots was the Bird Cage Theatre, which offered a smorgasbord of delights ranging from imported vaudeville acts to prostitution. The smoke-filled establishment was named, with heavy frontier humor, for the 12 tiny balcony boxes where soiled doves plied their trade behind curtains. When uncaged, the painted ladies pursued less profitable sidelines such as shilling drinks and dancing with drunken cowboys, hardhanded miners, and nimble-fingered gamblers and gunmen.

The theater's owners, Billy and Lottie Hutchinson, prudently requested that incoming patrons check their hardware. Observance of the rule was uneven at best: before long, more than 100 bullet holes dappled the theater's ceiling, walls, and even the huge painting, hung in tribute to a popular performer named Fatima.

The casualties in all this gunplay were never totted up, though one visitor claimed to have witnessed a single shoot-out that left 12 men dead. Whatever the true tally, performers and patrons alike had good reason to fear for their safety. Once, a secondrate magician named Charles Andress told his audience that he would catch bullets in his teeth; as an assistant fired blank cartridges, he spit out slugs he had concealed in his mouth. Suddenly a besotted customer drew his six-gun and shouted, "Catch this one, Professor!" A quick-thinking spectator jogged the man's arm and the shot went astray, leaving the quaking target to make his exit with a minimum of dignity and a maximum of haste.

Paul Trachtman. The Gunfighters (Old West Time-Life Series) Time-Life Books Editors. Time-Life, 1974.

One of Tombetone's most unusual sometime-prostitute was Big Minnie. Her husband was Joe Bignon, Manager of the Bird Cage Theatre. She often performed there and Joe billed. her as: "Big Minnie - six feet tall and 230 pounds of loveliness in pink tights." She frequently acted as the bouncer, too.

The Bignons arrived in Tombstone in 1881 and were employed by Billy Hutchinson, the owner of the Bird Cage. When Billy left Tombstone they bought it from him. By 1890 the boom was over - Tombstone was dying. The Bignons sold the Bird Cage and bought the Crystal Palace. Soon after gold was discovered nearby in Pearce and business really faded in the old silver camp.

Minnie and Joe went to Pearce and opened Joe Bignon's Palace. Many people from Tombstone were already at the new gold camp and several entire houses were moved from Tombstone to Pearce. Even the first man killed in Pearce was from Tombstone. Both Big Minnie and Joe lie in eternal rest in the cemetery in the ghost town of Pearce.

On some occasions the arguments of the girls in the red light district ended in violence. Such was the story of Gold Dollar or Little Gertie. Little Gertie, the Gold Dollar was the trade name of a Sixth Street prostitute. It is quite possible that this name came about because, at the time, the U. S. mint was producing a coin that was smaller than a dime and valued at one dollar. As her name indicated the girl was of diminutive stature and had golden yellow hair. It was also well known that the tiny girl had to be assessed strictly in monetary terms.

The women of Tombstone's heyday were quite sensitive about their men and Gold Dollar was no exception. She had taken a fancy to -a local tinhorn gambler, Billy Milgreen, and fully intended that no other woman get her hands on him. They were living together and Billy was considered Gold Dollar's man by the denizens of the red light district. That is, up until Margarita came to town. She was tall, dark, and willowy; a direct contrast to the tiny Gold Dollar. The Mexican prostitute took one look at Billy Bilgreen and began to move in on Gold Dollar although she knew the relationship between Billy and the little dance hall girl.

Billy, when taken to task by Gold Dollar, solemnly promised that he would have nothing whatever to do with the sultry Margarita. One evening Billy felt the urge to play a few hands of poker and, after much persuasion, Gold Dollar agreed to let him do so, providing he stay away from Margarita.

Billy promised and headed for the Bird Cage where a game was already in progress. Actually, Billy was sincere in his promise to Gold Dollar because he took a seat and was apparently interested only in the fortune of his cards. Still Margarita, miffed because Billy ignored her, teased and fiirted with him while he played poker, and she was an attractive girl.

Gold Dollar; who was working at the Crystal Palace, was not entirely convinced that her boy friend was going to be the angel he had promised to be. Therefore, she was soon back in front of the Bird Cage doors where she could glimpse Billy as each customer entered or left.

As fate would have it, she looked in to see Margarita strutting around the table teasing Billy. Suddenly she plopped herself down in Billy's lap and began kissing him. That was all Gold Dollar needed. She burst into the room and screamed, "Get away from him, you chippy! I've warned you before!"

She grabbed a handful of Margarita's long hair and yanked her away from Billy. The Mexican girl fought back with sharp nails and flying feet. But she was no match for her infuriated adversary. Gold Dollar pushed Margarita over a table, then reached for the knife in her garter. Raising the wicked blade high, she stabbed Margarita in the side. Margarita was dead by the time the doctor reached her. No action was ever taken against Gold Dollar, but she soon disappeared from Tombstone.

One prostitute, Irish Mag, was much more fortunate than most of the Tombatone ladies of joy. While entertaining a customer one night, she was quite surprised when the man unexpectedly asked her to grubstake him so he could go prospecting.

Mag had never seen the man before, but on an impulse she dug into her meager savings to loan him the money. The prospector took the money and left neglecting to pay for her favors. She berated herself for some time for lending money to a complete stranger. After awhile she decided that the money was gone and that was that.

Several months passed and one day the stranger returned. Mag was stunned when he told her that he had struck it rich and that a half million dollars now rested in Wells Fargo, deposited in her name. Irish Mag quit the business, took her money and returned to Belfast, Ireland to live respectably the rest of her life.

During the height of the silver boom there were several hundred Chinese in the old camp. A fat, healthy Chinese woman, who wore heavy, expensive silks and rare jewelry, was the absolute ruler over all the Oriental population. She was known as China Mary and was married to Ah Lum, a partner to Quong Kee in the Can-Can Restaurant.

China Mary not only controlled Hoptown, but virtually owned every Oriental in Tombstone life, body, and soul. Her word was undisputed law. Practically all the cooking, washing, and housecleaning was accomplished through Chinese labor. If any person wished to hire a houseboy, servant or a Chinese prostitute, they went to China Mary and made the necessary arrangements. No Chinese in Tombstone could be hired except through her. Not only did she hire them out, but she guaranteed their honesty and willingness to work.

Mary handled all the narcotics in Tombstone and the peddling of human flesh that was done in the Chinese section. She also operated a store where she sold Chinese delicacies and objects of art. In addition she ran Chinese gambling games, mostly fan-tan in the back of her store.

She was influential in tong affairs and was most likely connected with the Six Companies of San Francisco. In addition she owned several opium dens and supplied opium to the girls in the red light district uptown. Regardless of all her shady operations, China Mary was respected and well liked in Tombstone. She loaned money to any who impressed her as honest and hard working. No sick or injured person was ever turned from her door. At her death she was buried in the Chinese section of Boothill.

One of Tombstone's madams earned the title "Queen of the Red Light District." She was "Dutch Annie," the belle of silver boomtown and friend to everyone. Although she was a soiled dove Annie was looked upon as a camp angel. Numerous times she was known to take a miner down on his luck and give him a new start in life.

When she died all Tombstone mourned and turned out to bury her in Boothill with dignity and splendor. Prominent business men and citizens, along with members of the underworld and girls of the red light district attended her funeral. Over a thousand buggies followed her to her final resting place. Like almost all Tombstone's ladies of sin, no one ever knew her real name. Consequently, her grave is marked with a simple epitaph which reads "Dutch Annie 1883."

These lusty, busty women were a part of the history of Tombstone; equally as important as the prospectors, the gamblers, and the ranchers. Many a man had the ladies of sin to thank for the stake that darted them out.

Ben T. Traywick Associate Editor. Tombstone's Ladies Of The Night. Tombstone Epitaph. April 1979.


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