Tag Archives: Prostitution

Madam Millie and Me

8 Jul

This post is inspired by a recent post at Serendipity. Stop by there for a visit and stay awhile. You will be entertained and educated.

Before I started graduate school, I knew that I wanted my studies to focus on the American West. As I got further involved, the realization hit that the American West is a broad subject that needed to be whittled down. With a background in business, I became interested in the economic aspects of the West. I had grown up watching movies where cowboys rode alone across the Plains. It turns out that they were really working for huge corporations, and I found that totally fascinating.

With that in mind, I walked into my professors office and said that I wanted to research the cattle industry.

Nope. That had been done by many historians. I needed to pick something else.

The next choice was the mining industry.

Nope. That one has been covered.

What about the lumber industry?

That one was not going to work, either.

After several more rejections, I asked if he had something in mind. He did.

He suggested that I research the prostitution industry in the West.

It sounded good to me, and I agreed. After all, I had run out of ideas.

I researched, wrote and did all of the other things that aspiring historians are told to do. Fast forward a few years, and our story begins.

I got a call from George Harding, a local man who was quite the character. He loved being involved in politics and was most comfortable in the proverbial smoke-filled room. Most people do not realize the effect George had on our community because he mostly operated out of the public eye. He is the kind of man who would say anything and not care who heard him. A lot of people liked George, but a lot of other people did not.

I always liked him because he was full of good stories about people around town. One day, I got a call from him saying that he wanted to see me.

George had family in New Mexico, and they sent a book for him to read. That is one other reason I liked George. He loved to read about history. This book was called Madam Millie: Bordellos from Silver City to Ketchikan.Madam Millie

When he brought out the book and talked about reading it, I thought he was going to ask me what I knew about Millie. That is one of the problems with teaching history. People tend to think that if you are a historian, then you know everything. A wise man once told me that going far in graduate school means that you know more and more about less and less. I think that is an excellent description.

However, George was not there to ask questions. He said that he was reading through the book when he recognized a name. Opening to the page, he pointed to the spot where I was used as a source. Holy crap, I was deemed by someone to be such an expert in prostitution that they used me as a source in their book.

That was the first time I had ever seen my name in print and was pretty fired up about it. Immediately, I ordered the book, and, when it arrived, I took it to my parents.

I guess they were excited, but you could not tell it by the response.

“You have spent all of these years in school, and you are in a book with a picture of a naked woman on the cover.”

Yep, I had made it. I was an official historian of prostitution in the American West.

My iPod Has Issues – “Talking About Prostitutes is Tiresome” Edition

20 Feb

I cannot think of a single thing to write about. My mind has not been this big of a blank in a long time. Maybe it is frazzled. I have been giving my fabled “Prostitution in the American West” lecture this week, and the effort has drained me. I am also hungry. That could be a big part of it. On second thought, I think it is the prostitutes.Prostitute

Let us go ahead study the craziness that is my iPod.

“Rollin’ Stone” by Muddy Waters

“Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds

“In Bloom” by Nirvana

“Bring Your Love to Me” by Hubert Sumlin

“That Lady” by The Isley Brothers

“Train, Train” by Blackfoot

“OK, So What?” by Freddie North

“Nice ‘n Easy” by Frank Sinatra

“Satan is Her Name” by Steve King

“The Look of Love” by Isaac Hayes

“If Anyone Falls” by Stevie Nicks

“Your Love is Amazing” by Robert Ward

“Back Home Again” by John Denver

“America” by Neil Diamond

“Don’t Forget That You’re My Baby” by The Spidells

“Truck Drivin’ Queen” by Moore and Napier

“With a Little Help From My Friends” by The Beatles

“Got Me Under Pressure” by ZZ Top

“(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” by The Clash

“How Long” by Ace

Now, I am off to get some food and get some sleep.

If I Can’t Read a Newspaper, Then I Will Read a Book About Women’s History

26 Nov

There is a semi-serious post floating around in my brain. It is from something that I read in the newspaper. Those are the things that have been around for years but are slowly fading away. The world will be missing something when we can no longer read the news from folded paper that leaves ink on our hands. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to the death of newspapers, but I will miss them when they are gone.

I only have one pet peeve when it comes to newspapers. I don’t mind the ink. I don’t mind when a page is cut wrong. I absolutely mind when someone folds a newspaper in unnatural ways. You aren’t making origami. Turn the pages like they are supposed to be turned. Don’t flip it and flop it. Keep it in order like a civilized person would.

The Civilized Way

The Civilized Way

Anyway, I didn’t mean for this to be an ode to newspapers. All of that just kind of spilled out of my mind. I meant to say that I have this semi-serious post floating around in my brain, but I don’t feel like writing about that topic. In fact, I don’t really have anything to write about.

I was just handed two books to review. One of them is about drug abuse and prostitution in Tennessee history. Long ago, I began researching prostitution in the American West, so this will fit in with some of my area of expertise. The other one is about women in the Progressive Era. I am not as certain about this one, but I will give it a shot.

Speaking of books, I have some favorites lining the shelves of my office. One is about Pauline’s, a famous brothel in Bowling Green, Kentucky. I know a few men around town who spent some formative evenings there.

There is also a book about Pretty Shield, a Crow medicine woman. It is a fascinating account of Native American life. The students in Expansion of the United States are going to read it. They need to find it just as fascinating as I do.

Parlor Politics is awesome. It is about the women who helped build culture and society in the early days of Washington, D.C. If you think deals are made at cocktail parties, then you should read about what was going on back then.

That’s it. I’m not going to write anything else.

My Favorite Search Term of All Time

23 Apr

It is always interesting to see how people find their way to this blog. Like most bloggers, I look through the search terms and come away amazed at some of the stuff that gets typed in. At times, I wonder how they got here, and that’s when I search it to find the trail from them to me.

Recently, a search term popped up, and there was no reason to go looking for it. I knew exactly how it led them here. It is probably my favorite search term of all time, and I am proud to claim it as part of the Surrounded by Imbeciles experience. What could be so great? Take a gander at this.

where is all the whores in tunica ms

It is great on so many levels, but you must understand that it is not a surprise. I have written about Tunica, the gambling capital of the south. I have also written about whores. In fact, I have written about whores more than once. Therefore, if someone is looking for a prostitute in Tunica, then a search engine will bring them to me. It really is something to be proud of.

Here’s the thing, though. I have been to Tunica countless times, and I have never seen someone who I thought was a working girl. That doesn’t mean they are not there. Heck, there’s lots of money in Tunica, so it only makes sense that prostitutes would be there to get some of it. I just haven’t noticed them. Of course, it could be that I haven’t seen anyone that I thought should be paid for sex. Unless the guy (I assume it was a guy) on the prowl is fond of the Hoveround type.

Put in a quarter, and it will vibrate.

Put in a quarter, and it will vibrate.

Simply, Tunica is not the place to go to find a whore. Want to eat at Paula Deen’s? Go to Tunica. Want to play some Blackjack? Go to Tunica. Want to see people smoke a cigarette while wearing an oxygen mask? Go to Tunica. Want to have a high-class escort for the weekend? Don’t go to Tunica. Go to Las Vegas!!!

Although prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas, escorts can be found everywhere. In fact, I used to make a game out of it and see if I could guess who was and who wasn’t. There is this one little casino that is kind of a dive. When I go in, I always get a Blackjack seat close to the bar. That way I can watch the people and figure out what is going on. It’s easy to see a woman walk in alone and walk out with someone in a matter of minutes. It is even easier when she makes her way back.

It’s a little more difficult in the larger casinos. These places don’t want the women hanging around, and security is everywhere. That means that the women at the bar have to be more discreet. It also means that many escorts arrive with their clients. If a man and woman walk into a casino together, then how can you prove that she is getting paid? Of course, there can be suspicions. When an 80-year-old man walks in with a 25-year-old woman who looks like she stepped out of a magazine, something is up.

To help the person who searched – where is all the whores in tunica ms – I have some advice.

1. Don’t look for a whore in Tunica. Go to Paula Deen’s buffet instead. You will get more bang for your buck.

2. If you want to find a whore in a casino, then go to Las Vegas. Just sit at a bar by yourself and see what happens.

3. Try to find a prostitute who has a degree in English.

She can also help you with your Longfellow.

She can also help you with your Longfellow.

Once your few seconds are up, she can help with your sentence structure.

Dance Hall Days

18 Jan

Several posts ago, I chronicled my graduate career and how I came to study prostitution in the American West. It’s not the industry that I meant to study, but I have found it to be an interesting topic for myself and my students. A few posts later, I began to share some of my research by introducing my readers to the women who worked in the brothels, the highest level of the industrial “whorearchy”. This post leaves the brothels and follows the women into the next work place, the dance halls.

In the American West, the younger and least experienced women worked in the brothels, the houses that catered to the wealthier men of a community. When the earning abilities of these women faltered, they moved from the brothels and into the dance halls, or saloons. The mythical representation of these establishments are depicted in almost every western movie, and saloon women are often used as background for the movie scenes. This is not too far removed from reality as saloon owners hired women to do just that – serve as scenery. Women were hired to be part of the decor and to attract customers. They danced with patrons for a fee and sometimes entertained by singing for tips. They had conversations with men who may be sitting alone and typically pressured them to uy watered-down drinks at inflated prices. (Not unlike Hooters) The dancing fees and obviously the drinks went into the coffers of the dance hall.

Women in these establishments did not earn as much money as those in the brothels because men usually did not go to saloons looking for sex. They were there to gamble and drink. If they wanted to have sex, then they would have gone to a brothel or, if that was unaffordable, to a crib, which I will blog about later. As a result, saloon women had to work hard to induce men to take them upstairs and pay them for sex.

Saloons and dance halls were everywhere in the West, but perhaps the most famous of the time was the Birdcage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona, a town famous for the Gunfight at the Ok Corral. The theater derived its name from the balcony boxes, which resembled birdcages, that overlooked the floor and the stage. Due to a lack of rooms, prostitutes performed their services in these boxes with the curtains drawn. Last summer, I visited Tombstone and toured the Birdcage. It is an interesting tour and showed firsthand that the boxes are aptly named.

A Historian’s Office

6 Jan

Two days of constant meetings have melted my mind, and the only sounds I can hear over the drone of voices are my brain cells screaming as they leap to their deaths. As I sit in my office in an attempt to recover, I  can’t think of anything clever or interesting to write about. Therefore, I am going to take the easy way out and describe what I see – my office.

My office has turned into a popular hangout on campus, and I sometimes describe it as the El Paso train station. People are always coming and going. Students and teachers drop by to visit on a regular basis, and they often comment on the things I have scattered about. Of course, that is once they get past the darkness of it all. I keep all lights off except for one desk lamp. I have been accused of being a vampire; of trying to be mysterious; and of being a cave-dweller. I usually reply that I do my best work in the dark, but the truth is that the bigger lights hurt my eyes. Whatever the complaints and smart comments, people must like my office because someone is always in it.

With that in mind, I am going to attempt this blog experiment to test my descriptive skills. I am going to sit at my desk and describe the things I can see. We will do this in categories.

Category 1 – Wall Hangings

As I look to my left, there are four things hanging on the wall.

1. An old print of a cattle drive that I stole out of one of the classrooms. The teacher in that room is a Native American, so I figured he didn’t want cowboys in there anyway. Two cowboys are riding hard to stop a stampede that began with a lightning storm.

2. A photograph of Ulysses S. Grant. It is an iconic photo of the general as he leans against a tree. The best part is his original signature that is matted underneath.

3. A collection of Confederate money. There are six Confederate bills – One, Two, Five, Ten, Twenty, Fifty – matted and framed. There are a lot of Sons of Confederate Veterans members around here who wish the money was still good.

4. A photograph of Adolph Hitler and a Nazi arm band. It is a typical picture of the tyrant in civilian clothes. Like the photo of Grant, the most interesting part of this item is the document included with his original signature. I explain to everyone that I am not a Nazi. I simply think it is a remarkable piece of history.

Now, I move to the wall in front of me.

1. Above the door, there hangs a panoramic of the Tennessee Maneuvers. When the U.S. entered World War II, the military believed that troops needed to be seasoned with war games before going to Europe. Tennessee is geographically similar to where they were going, and the area was selected for that purpose. My university was chosen as the headquarters, as troops fought battles; liberated cities; and built bridges across rivers.

2. A plaque given to me after serving as honorary coach for our men’s basketball team. It was a resounding victory.

3. A plaque given to me in recognition for serving on the community council of a local bank.

4. A plaque given to me as the “Most Outstanding Faculty Member” for last year. I was proud of this because I beat my mentor before he retired. He had won the award a million years in a row.

5. A certificate honoring me as a Colonel Aide de Camp for the governor of Tennessee. They pass these things out like candy. It is the same certificate given to Harlan Sanders in Kentucky. He wasn’t a real colonel. He was  a fake one like me.

6. A drawing of the old county courthouse. It was consistently voted the ugliest courthouse in Tennessee and was demolished before I was born.

I hope this is not getting monotonous. On to the wall on my right.

1. My favorite plaque. It reads, “On This Site In 1897 Nothing Happened”. I got it at the Longwood Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. Some of you may know it better as the home of the king of Mississippi in “True Blood”.

2. A license of prostitution given to Rosita del Oro in 1876. This probably attracts the males to my office because it is included with a photograph of a nude woman playing a harp.

3. The next item covers a lot of the wall. I took a lot of pictures of the Dumas Brothel when I researched it in Butte, Montana. Upon my return, I had a local artist paint a few of the photographs. This one depicts the interior of a crib, a one room shack that prostitutes would work out of. A woman is sitting by the window in an attempt to draw customers. I will blog more later about the women of the cribs.

Finally, the wall behind me.

1. Another painting of the Dumas depicts the outside of the building. It is a two-story brick building that the artist placed in a Victorian setting. I am not real happy about the woman in the window. She looks a lot like Morticia Addams.

Category 2 – Filing Cabinet Decor

1. A magnetic fish with legs and Darwin written inside of it. I picked it up in Santa Fe and have to hide it when my parents come around.

2. A sticker of George Washington with a dialogue bubble that says, “I grew hemp.” I believe he was the largest producer in the colonies.

3. A magnetic voodoo doll that I bought in New Orleans. I haven’t tried it out yet, but people better watch out.

4. A bumper sticker with an alien on it that says, “You Don’t Scare Me. I’m A Teacher!” It came from the UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico, one of the greatest museums ever.

5. On top of the cabinet sits an original World War I German helmet – the kind with the spike on top. They would jab it into the ground and use it as a cooking pot. They used it as another got of pot as well. You can use your imagination.

Category 3 – Bookshelf Without Books

Top shelf first.

1. A miniature of the Roman Coliseum. I got it in Rome.

2. A candle from the San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona. An ex-girlfriend got it for me, and I finally visited the site last year.

3. A model of the Mayflower, the boat filled with pilgrims searching for religious freedom. Ugh. The real story of the Mayflower is a lot more interesting.

4. Two bobbleheads. One is a sheik wearing sunglasses. The other is a Muslim woman wearing an abaya. This is not an attempt at a political or religious statement. They were given to me by an ex-girlfriend who moved to the UAE. They sold them. She bought them. I displayed them.

Next shelf.

1. A textbook on Western Civilization. This is very outdated.

2. A book called, “Pauline’s: Memories of the Madam on Clay Street”. It was given to me by the university president and chronicles the life of a madam in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

3. Another book titled, “Life of Tom Horn”. He was a prominent figure in the cattle wars of Wyoming. Bad ending, they hung him.

4. And another book called, “Intimate Papers of Colonel House”. I have not read this. It is an old book gifted to me by a professor who passed away.

5. A little set of nuns and priests playing poker. This is from the same ex-girlfriend who gave the candle to me. These little guys came from Italy. I wouldn’t want to sit across the table from any one of them.

5. Along side those things is my Masters thesis about prostitution in mining camps of the American West. I don’t have much to say about this, except that I finished it.

The bottom shelf (I know. Thank God!)

1. A replica of a statue on campus. It was built to honor the laborers who built my building during the Great Depression. It is meant to symbolize the New Deal and other aspects of the era. Unfortunately, it is out of proportion and looks like a midget.

2. A brick from this building that was dislodged during renovation. It was originally laid in 1936 and looks like it.

3. A beer stein decorated with John Wayne pictures. I can’t help it. John Wayne is my all time favorite actor. Inside the stein, I placed glass sunflowers that a weird female student once gave me. Don’t ask.

I suppose this should end, but I can’t describe a historian’s office without listing a few books. We all have to have books. So, I will name the first book I see on each shelf.

Category 4 – Books

1. “Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West” by Anne Seagraves

2. “The Pueblo Revolt of 1680: Conquest and Resistance in Seventeenth-Century New Mexico” by Andrew L. Knaut

3. “Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government” by Catherine Allgor

4. “Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, and Other Stories of the World’s Greatest Unexplained Phenomenon” by M.V. Ingram

5. “Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People” by Jon Butler

6. “Mining Town: The Photographic Record of T.N. Barnard and Nellie Stockbridge from the Couer d’Alenes” by Patricia Hart and Ivar Nelson

Thankfully, that’s it. Oh, you may be wondering about my desk. Classes haven’t started yet, so there is nothing on it except sunglasses and a lamp.

Victorian Brothelese

23 Dec

That’s a strange title isn’t it? I heard that term while taking a tour of a brothel museum and, through my travels and research, have not seen or heard that term since. The owner of the museum threw it out there and, I assume, made it up. However, it is a good way to describe the experience of many in the Red Light Districts of the American West. When people hear the word Victorian, they think of a historical era of proper manners, speech, fashion and writing; a time of economic prosperity and technological advancement. Of course, brothelese brings to mind houses of prostitution. Put those two words together, and you have a good start at understanding the brothels that I have studied.

Prostitutes of the West worked in a hierarchical class structure, or a “whorearchy” (my term), in which the brothel was the highest rung. Also called parlor houses, they provided elaborate surroundings, luxuries, amenities, and the protection of a male bouncer if the clients became too rough. At the dawn of the twentieth century, one house in Colorado used electric lights, running water and a telephone. A staff of seven, including a bartender, a maid, and a musician, provided services other than sex. Of course, there were always five or six prostitutes. The Dumas Brothel in Butte, Montana was a three-story brick building that contained forty-three rooms and used pocket doors to create large rooms for parties.

Brothels differed in size and location, but the business structure for each remained basically the same. Respected businessmen owned most of the parlor houses but did not want their financial involvement to become commonly known. To accomplish this, they placed deeds under false names or in the names of their wives.

Madams were hired to oversee the day-to-day operations. These women usually emerged from the ranks of older prostitutes with experience in the profession and the knowledge and skills to recruit employees and customers. In fact, a few madams owned their own businesses.

Madams oversaw the business aspect of the brothels while the prostitutes did the work. A work shift began with the woman put on display. Therefore, when a man entered an establishment he found the women lounging in a parlor room. Here, he could choose someone in which to spend some time. When a customer chose a prostitute, he gave the money to the madam or someone else charged with the task. The amount paid depended on several factors, including house rate, the amount of time, and the beauty and skill of the woman.

Brothels built their business on pampering and catering to men who could afford the services. On average, a quick “date” cost five dollars, and an entire night cost between fifteen and thirty dollars. Owners depended on volume for profit by running twenty-four hours a day. With a shift of twenty-four hours, a women could conceivably have sex with twenty-five men and produce a tremendous amount of money. The house collected most of the fee, while the girls kept tips, sold photos and drinks, and stole from their customers. From this amount, the prostitutes paid their expenses, including clothes from local merchants at inflated prices, taxes to the local government, and bribes to the police.

Of Red Lights and Research

19 Dec

When I began my career as a graduate student in History, I knew that I wanted to focus on the American West. While popular culture has developed the myth of the lone rider traveling the region with absolute freedom, I realized that the truth was more complicated than that. People who went into the West were not looking for freedom. They were looking for economic opportunity. Therefore, I became interested in the economic aspects of the West rather than the typical subjects, such as gunfighters and outlaws. Of course, economics encompasses a great deal, and I was informed by my guiding professor that some limitation were in order. Then, the following transpired.

I would like to study the cattle industry.

There’s already a lot of research on that. What else are you interested in?

The mining industry was huge. How about that?

That’s been done to death, too.

Ok, what about the lumber industry?

That won’t work either.

(This is when I realized that I should go ahead and ask him what I should do.)

Ok, what should I do?

Did you ever think about researching prostitution? People are just not starting to look into it.

Sounds great to me. Thanks.

With that short conversation, I began life as an expert on prostitution in the American West. Through the years, I have read, researched, written and spoken about the economics of prostitution in the West and the everyday lives of the people involved in the industry. When people (especially men) find out about what I know about, they immediately start in. What are the brothels in Nevada like? Leave it to you to study whores. Ever study the whores on Dickerson Road (a notorious spot in Nashville)? I am left to explain that I have conducted scholarly research about dead prostitutes – not ones that are currently working. And, I did not choose the topic because I am a pervert. With this in mind, here is a synopsis of my life as a historian of prostitution in the West.

I went to graduate school in Tennessee, and my fellow students said only I would choose a topic halfway across the continent to research. People usually research something more conveniently located. However, I was not going to pick the Civil War or Andrew Jackson over the American West. I read all I could locally but knew that I would eventually have to travel. Luckily, I found two brothel museums fairly close together. The first was the Dumas Brothel in Butte, Montana. I spent several weeks in Butte and came to know the city quite well. Actually, there’s not much to know. I spent a lot of time at the Dumas, the archives and the Denny’s. I met some great people who helped me considerably and learned a great deal about the history of the city and of the Red Light District.

Wallace, Idaho sits just over the Idaho/Montana border and was home to the second museum, the Oasis Rooms. I only spent a few days in Wallace, but the people there were more than helpful. I took some great pictures and got some greater information.

With the information gathered from these locations and documents about the industry throughout the West, I was able to write a concise history about prostitution. In the midst of getting my graduate degree, I was hired at my current teaching position. As a new faculty member, students had no idea what to expect. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect either. But, I was determined not to let the research go to waste. I was going to talk about whoredom every chance I got. The first class was stunned when I gave the lecture on the 19th Century sex industry, and it was not long before word got around. I was the cool teacher that studied prostitutes instead of something uncool like regular History. From then until now, my classes constantly fill, and my office is always busy. They come by to see the photographs of prostitutes and the paintings of brothels on my walls.

As a small university, we are also expected to speak to community groups and perform other types of community service. This has created some interesting speeches for me. I am a member of the local Rotary Club and was asked to speak when I first joined. They insisted that I talk about my research. I tried to warn them that it wasn’t all fuzzy stories about Miss Kitty and the “whore with the heart of gold”, and they said it was fine. So, I gave them all the gory details. I think half of the audience was gone by the time I was finished, as several women walked out in disgust. Interestingly, no men left. I learned something that day. While people say they want to know history, they would rather not know the darker sides of the subject. I toned down the presentation after that experience.

Many people think that if I know about prostitution in the 19th Century American West, then I also know about prostitution at all other times as places. A retired colleague thought that and told the Daughters of the American Revolution that I would speak to them. When I said that they probably know more about the revolution than I do, he replied that I should talk about prostitution. I knew nothing about prostitution in the American Revolution, so I did some research. But, with the Rotary experience behind me, I was nervous about talking to a room full of elderly women. To make it go smoother, I used a historical code word – camp-followers – instead of a more descriptive term. As I spoke, I heard the following conversation between told ladies in the back.

What’s he talking about?






Oh, now I understand.

So, now I am famous in my little town as the expert on whores. An older man in town, who has since passed away, came to me with a book that he had read about a madam in New Mexico. He had found a name in it that he recognized – mine. I was used as a footnote in the introduction, which was written by the professor who sent me on the journey through the Red Light Districts. I was proud to see my name in print and, for the first time, felt like a real historian. I bought a copy for my parents. They looked at it, and my mom said, “All those years of study, and you are in a book with a picture of a naked women on the front of it.”

Yep, I had made it.