Author: Don’t forget ladies of night from Colorado’s early days
For a lady of the night in 19th-century Colorado, Denver was where it all began and Colorado City a “lucrative” place, author
Jan MacKell told a full house of about 90 people in a presentation July 26 at the Old Colorado City History Center.
But the discovery of gold in Cripple Creek put that mining town at the top of the list. By 1900, Cripple Creek was believed to have 300 “soiled doves,” with an estimated 600 in the mining district as a whole.
MacKell spent part of her talk telling the story of Laura Belle McDaniel, who was the best known madam in Colorado City. “She's my favorite lady,” said the author of the recently released book, “Brothels, Bordellos, & Bad Girls.” “She's the one who got me started (on writing the book).”
Laura Belle came here alone at age 27, after an incident at her former home in Salida in which her second husband (Tom McDaniel) had shot a man dead. She went on to become the “reigning madam in Colorado City for the next 30 years,” MacKell recounted.
Laura Belle's chief rival in those days was Mamie Majors. “Both were very astute businesswomen,” the author said.
Laura Belle's former home on Cucharras Street is now the site of an elderly care center, which would have pleased the notorious woman, because she liked helping people, MacKell said.
A generous spirit was typical of many of the women who wound up in prostitution in Colorado, the writer pointed out. Frequent contributions to their communities and to charity proved that many were “whores with hearts of gold.”
Although often alcoholic or drug-addicted, such women also were frequently literate, socially adept and good at poker, singing and dancing. “Most were aspiring to marry,” MacKell said. “They hoped to find someone to take them away from all this.”
The taming of the West in the 20th century led to the diminishing of that way of life. With higher numbers of women moving to this part of the country, prostitutes were, pragmatically speaking, less in demand. And, Prohibition in the early 1900s meant the “demise of the red-light districts,” which at one time were found in all but two towns in Colorado, MacKell explained.
The result was that “many tried to forget” how things had been. In Colorado City, “Cucharras Street suffered greatly,” she said. “People didn't want to live in these homes.”
But MacKell thinks it's important not to forget, and she included a plug to help save the financially embattled Homestead, a historic building in Cripple Creek known as the classiest brothel of its day.
She doesn't believe prostitution in Colorado should be glorified - during her talk she gave numerous examples of how unromantic and confining a “bad girl's” life could be - but at the same time “it helped form the West,” she said. “It was a necessary evil. We should remember these women for who they were, not what they were.”
Westside Pioneer article