Soiled doves, prairie nymphs, filles de joie & the old west sporting life
September 21, 2008 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Meet Dora DuFran and her cat house of Deadwood; Perle De Vere and the working girls of Cripple Creek; Annie Chambers of Kansas City; and Squirrel Tooth Alice of Sweetwater. In the wild west, prostitution was one of the few career options for women. Western history is filled with many colorful tales of shady ladies and legendary madams. posted by madamjujujive (15 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Great stuff. Don't forget Big Nose Kate, paramour to the legendary Doc Holliday.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:53 PM on September 21, 2008

Oh hey. I was just researching this!

(I was really researching it. I wasn't, like, "researching" it. So we're all clear.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:12 PM on September 21, 2008

(The article about Little Casino, fyi, appears to have been adapted from Thomas Knowles and Joe R. Lansdale's excellent The West that Was [1993], a handsome coffee table book/compendium of Old West history that is out of print but was, when last I checked, available on Amazon for the princely sum of eighty-two cents plus shipping. Can't recommend it highly enough.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:15 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh YAY a fun Sunday post from madamjujujive! Can't wait to explore the links.
posted by nickyskye at 3:37 PM on September 21, 2008

Oh, my throbbing anachronism!

I'd always wondered where the term "cat house" originated. I never suspected the origin was so innocent and literal.

[This is good]
posted by loquacious at 3:58 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why so many "become a police officer" google ads down the left side of the page?
posted by telstar at 4:07 PM on September 21, 2008

Excellent post. These women remind me a bit of the depiction of the benevolent madam in Gone With The Wind, business savvy, courageous and gutsy.

"Soiled doves". What a name! This is one happy madam.

A saga of painted cats and cattlemen.

You know it amazes me that simple sex business, like the old fashioned brothels of yore, never became a better integrated part of Western life, mainstreaming it. Nevada seems to be leading the way there and the gay community seems to have stood their ground in normalizing the acceptance of being gay.

What characters!

Afterwards, the 14 year-old ran away from home and traveled to Abilene, Kansas. With few options to support herself, she became a dance hall girl and prostitute. It was in this role that she earned the nickname “Squirrel Tooth Alice,” for two reasons – one the prominent gap in her teeth, and the second, an odd penchant for making pets of prairie dogs, which she kept on a collar and leash.

posted by nickyskye at 4:28 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Lost Sisterhood - Prostitution in America 1900-1918 describes how prostitution was viewed by early twentieth-century America, explains why some women chose to become prostitutes, and looks at the reform movement that developed before World War I. [complete text from Google books]

Thank you madam for the post.
posted by netbros at 4:59 PM on September 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can someone save me some time and tell me which link leads to the most explicit accounts of dirty, old-timey western sex?
posted by c:\awesome at 5:15 PM on September 21, 2008

Life was not that good for them - In other cases, such as that of Al Swearengen and the Gem Saloon, unsuspecting women were lured to Deadwood with the promise of respectable employment, only to find themselves stranded without money or means and without other options, virtually enslaved in the dance halls or brothels. Often these women faced violence and turned to drugs and alcohol as a means of escape. Opium, laudanum, and morphine, with laudanum being the most often used. Unfortunately, doctors often started the “girls” use of the drug to reduce the number of calls he would receive. At other times, it was their employers who got them started on the drugs, in order to better control them. Suicides were common in the camps.
posted by GrimJack at 7:09 PM on September 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

For a more recent account of a Western Madame, check out the biography of Mildred Clark Cusey, aka Madame Millie. She ran brothels from Silver City, New Mexico up to Ketchikan, Alaska. Millie started as a Harvey Girl but quickly saw she could make more money elsewhere. She went from working in a brothel to owning several. Her last one closed in 1968. Millie died in 1993.

If you read her biography, take it with a grain of salt.
posted by onhazier at 5:52 AM on September 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's the story of Madeleine, who became a working girl in St. Louis and Chicago, and eventually became a madam on the windswept Alberta prairies.
posted by medeine at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2008

For another 28 years the brothels continued to prosper until 1980 when the FBI raided them. The alleged cause were rumors that girls as young as 14 were being “sold” by biker gangs. After grabbing the girls and placing them in vans, the authorities then padlocked the four remaining open brothels.

So that whole story that these women are victims, being coerced to work for evil Svengali-like pimps has been around with us for a while then.

Interesting that Deadwood had pretty open whorehouses still operating as late as 1980 though.

Life was not that good for them.

Presumably, as today, they felt it was better than the alternative. And like other low-skilled industries, you could always take the time to learn the business and then strike out on your own as a Madam.

That Ruth Rosen book looks like an interesting read, netbros. Oneclicked.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:51 AM on September 22, 2008

Can someone save me some time and tell me which link leads to the most explicit accounts of dirty, old-timey western sex?

Howdy pardner!

Lament for a lost pardner.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:04 AM on September 22, 2008

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