Wyoming Cattle Baroness

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West.

 

As Ella “Kate” Watson sashayed down the crude staircase of the Rawlins, Wyoming saloon and brothel where she worked she inspected the potential customers in the smoke-filled bar. Eager cowboys eyed her hourglass form as she brushed by them. They sniffed the air after her, breathing in the scent of jasmine she left behind. Kate looked past the scruffy wranglers vying for her attention and fixed her gaze on a tall, lean, well-dressed man sitting alone at a table, drinking.

“I’m Kate,” she purred to the handsome gentlemen as she walked up to him. “Would you like some company?”

The man nodded, smoothed down his mustache, and slammed down another shot of whisky. “Jim Averill. I’m pleased to meet you.”

Kate had seen Jim Averill in the saloon before. He wasn’t like any of the other men who frequented the bordellos where she worked. Jim was a civil engineer and a gifted writer who had served in the army. His entrepreneurial spirit had driven him west to make his fortune in whatever venture presented itself. When Kate and Jim met on February 24, 1886, Jim was ranching. He owned a small spread along the Sweetwater River where the Rawlins-Lander stage line crossed the Oregon Trail. The supply store he had opened at the stage stop was very profitable. He sold groceries, whisky, and other items cowboys needed.

Kate had long since given up hope of ever meeting an accomplished man like Jim Averill. She was the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Smith County, Kansas and was accustomed to fine things. In her teens she married a man who promised to provide her with the lifestyle in which she was raised, but the marriage ended when she found him with another woman. By the time she was twenty Kate was divorced and earning a living as a prostitute in Wyoming. She preferred to work at houses in cow towns rather than bergs near army outposts because cowboys paid better.

Kate was too ambitious to remain a common percentage girl. She was always looking for new opportunities – opportunities that would lead her to a position of wealth and power. Jim Averill possessed the same drive and Kate fell in love with him. After the two enjoyed a few days of pleasure Jim rode back to his ranch. Kate was left alone in her room at the brothel praying he would return her feelings. But Jim Averill had other things on his mind for the time being.

 

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To learn more about the wild ladies on the rugged frontier read

Wicked Women:

Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West.

 

 

Virginia City’s Wicked Woman

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West.

 

 

The cold, grey January sky above Virginia City, Nevada, in 1867 unleashed a torrent of sleet on a slow moving funeral procession traveling along the main thoroughfare of town. Several members of the volunteer fire department, Virginia Engine Company Number One, was first in a long line of mourners following after a horse drawn carriage transporting the body of soiled dove Julia Bulette. The Nevada militia band shuffled behind the hearse playing “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” Black wreaths and streamers hung from the balconies of the buildings along the route which the remains of the beloved thirty-five-year-old woman was escorted. Miners who knew Julia wept openly. Out of respect for the deceased woman all the saloons were closed. Plummeting temperatures and icy winds eventually drove the majority of funeral-goers inside their homes and businesses before Julia was lowered into the ground.

Julia Bulette was murdered on January 19, 1867 at 11:30 in the evening in her home on North D Street in Virginia City. The fair but frail prostitute told her neighbor and best friend Gertrude Holmes she was expecting company, but did not specify who the company might be. Twelve hours later Gertrude discovered Julia’s lifeless body in bed. She had been beaten and strangled. Gertrude told authorities that Julia was lying in the center of the bed with the blankets pulled over her head and that the sheets under her frame were smooth. She told police that it appeared as though no one had ever been in the bed with Julia.

The authorities believed the scene had been staged. Marks on Julia’s body and tears on the pillow used to smother her indicated she struggled with her attacker. The murderer then set the room to look as though nothing was out of the ordinary. He covered Julia’s body in such a way that at a passing glance she would merely appear to be asleep. It had fooled the handyman she had employed to come in and build a fire for her each day. When the gentleman entered Julia’s home at eleven in the morning he believed she was sleeping. He explained to law enforcement officers that he was quiet as he went about his work and left when the job was done. A search of the modest home Julia rented revealed that many of her possessions were missing. The citizens of Virginia City were outraged by the crime.

 

 

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To learn more about the wild ladies on the rugged frontier read

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West.

 

 

The Dead Files

Tune in to the Dead Files on Saturday, August 12, and watch the episode

The Devil Inside. I provided the on-camera historical interview. 

Check local listings for the time when the episode will air. 

 

 

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Wicked Rosa

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Rosa May sat beside the bed of a dying miner and wiped the sweat off his feverish brow. She looked around his rustic, one-room cabin, past the sparse furnishings, and fixed her eyes on a tattered photograph of an elderly man and woman. “Those are my folks,” the man weakly told her. “They’re in Marshall County, Illinois. Where are your folks?”

The question stunned Rosa. No one ever asked about such things. No one ever asked her much at all. Conversation wasn’t what men were looking for when they did business with her. Rosa glanced out the window at a couple of respectable, well-dressed women. They watched her through the clouded glass, pointed, and whispered. She knew what they were saying without hearing it.
Rosa was just one of a handful of “sporting women” living in Bodie, California, in 1900 and she knew what people thought of her. It used to bother her years ago, but not now. It was an occupational hazard she’d learned to live with.

“Don’t you have people anywhere?” the miner asked. Rosa dabbed the man’s head with a cloth and smiled. “I don’t know anymore,” she answered. “If I did have they’d be back in Pennsylvania.”
Rosa’s parents were Irish – hard, strict people. Rosa had dreamed of the day she would be out of their puritanical household. She had left home in 1871, at the age of sixteen and soon found there weren’t many opportunities for a poor, petite, uneducated girl with brown eyes and dark, curly hair. She ended up in New York, hungry, homeless, and eager to take any job offered. The job offered was prostitution and five years later she came west with other women of her trade, hoping to make a fortune off the gold and silver miners.

Prostitution was the single largest occupation for women in the West. Rosa hoped to secure a position at a posh brothel with crystal chandeliers, velvet curtains, and flowing champagne. The madams who ran such places were good to their girls. They paid them a regular salary, taught them about makeup, manners, and how to dress, and they only had to entertain a few men a night. If a high-class brothel wasn’t available, Rosa could take a job in a second-class house and work for a percentage of the profits, turning as many tricks as she could each night. If all failed, she could be a street walker or rent a “crib” at a boardinghouse. Cribs, tiny, windowless chambers, had oilcloths draped across the foot of the bed for customers in too big of a hurry to take off their boots.

Rosa May arrived in Virginia City, Nevada in 1875 and went to work for a madam known as Cad Thompson. Cad was a widow who ran several parlor houses in town, including a three-story, brick structure called the “Brick House.” Cad and Rosa became fast friends, confiding in one another and talking about meeting their Prince Charming. “Whores dream of falling in love, too,” Cad frequently told Rosa.

 

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West

Wayward Ladies

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West

 

The effect of vice upon the destiny of the expanding western frontier was considered by some religious and political leaders in the mid-1850s to be a sign of a rotten and decaying civilization. In 1856, Methodist pastor John M. Chivington told a congregation in Nebraska that “the extravagant development of immorality, particularly the development of immoral women given to gambling, whiskey drinking and prostitution, marked the decadence of a potentially great nation.” Ernest A. Bell, the secretary of the Illinois Vigilance Association maintained that “from the day the serpent lured the first woman in the garden there have been few days and nights when some daughter of Eve’s has not been deceived into a wicked life by some serpent or other. It has not changed and will not change.”

In 1849, women of easy virtue found wicked lives west of the Mississippi when they followed fortune hunters seeking gold and land in an unsettled territory. Prostitutes and female gamblers hoped to capitalize on the vices of the intrepid pioneers.

According to records at the California State Historical Library, more than half of the working women in the West during the 1870s were prostitutes. At that time, madams – those women who owned, managed, and maintained brothels – were generally the only women out west who appeared to be in control of their own destinies. For that reason alone, the prospect of a career in the “oldest profession” – at least at the outset – must have seemed promising.

Often referred to as “sporting women” and “soiled doves,” prostitutes mostly ranged in age from seventeen to twenty-five, although girls as young as fourteen were sometimes hired. Women over twenty-eight years of age were generally considered too old to be prostitutes.

Rarely, if ever, did working women use their real names. In order to avoid trouble with the law as they traveled from town to town and to protect their true identities, many of these women adopted colorful new handles like Contrary Mary, Little Gold Dollar, Lazy Kate, and Honolulu Nell. The vicinities where their businesses were located were also given distinctive names. Bordellos and parlor houses typically thrived in that part of the city known as “the half world,” “the badlands,” “the tenderloin,” “the twilight zone,” or the red-light district.”

The term “red-light district” originated in Kansas. As a way of discouraging would-be intruders brazen railroad workers around Dodge City began hanging their red brakemen’s lanterns outside their doors as signal that they were in the company of a lady of the evening. The colorful custom was quickly adopted by many ladies and their madams.

 

 

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To learn more about the wild ladies on the rugged frontier read

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West

 

Squirrel Tooth Alice

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Notorious, Mischievous, and Wayward Ladies from the Old West

 

Libby Thompson twirled gracefully around the dance floor of the Sweetwater Saloon in Sweetwater, Texas. A banjo and piano player performed a clumsy rendition of the house favorite, “Sweet Betsy From Pike.” Libby made a valiant effort to match her talent with the musician’s limited skills. The rough crowd around her was not interested in the out of tune playing; their eyes were fixed on the billowing folds of her flaming red costume. The rowdy men hoped to catch a peek at Libby’s shapely, bare legs underneath the yards of fabric on her skirt. Libby was careful to only let them see enough to keep them interested.

Many of the cowboy customers were spattered with alkali dust, grease, or plain dirt. They stretched their eager unkempt hands out to touch Libby as she pranced by, but she managed to avoid all contact. At the end of the performance, she was showered with applause, cheers, and requests to see more. Libby was not in an obliging mood. She smiled, bowed, and hurried past the enthusiastic audience as she made her way to the bar for a drink.

A surly bartender served her a glass of apple whiskey, and she headed off to the back of the room with her beverage. When she wasn’t entertaining patrons, Libby could be found at her usual corner spot by the stairs. A large, purple, velvet chair waited for her there along with her pets, a pair of prairie dogs. As Libby walked through the mass of people to her spot, she saw three grimy, bearded men surrounding her seat. One of the inebriated cowhands was poking at her animals with a long stick.

“Boys, I’d thank you kindly to stop that,” she warned the unruly trio. The men turned to see who was speaking then broke into a hearty laugh once they saw her. Ignoring the dancer they resumed their harassment of the small dogs. The animals batted the stick back as it neared them, and each time the men would erupt with laughter.

Libby watched the three for a few moments then slowly reached into her drawstring purse and removed a pistol. Pointing the gun at the men she said, “Don’t make me ask you again.” The drunken cowhands turned to face Libby, and she aimed her pistol at the head of the man with the stick. Laughing, the man told her to “go to hell.” “I’m on my way,” she responded, pulling the hammer back on the gun. “But I don’t mind sending you there first so you can warn them,” she added. The cowboy dropped the stick, and he and his friends backed away from Libby’s chair. One by one they staggered out the saloon. Libby put the gun back into her purse, scooped up her frightened pets, scratched their heads, and kissed them repeatedly.

 

 

Wicked Women

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The Pinks Giveaway

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The Pinks

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Jack Zahran, President of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency

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The First Women Detectives, Operatives, and Spies with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency

 

Jack Zahran, president of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, wrote the foreword for The Pinks. I’m honored he contributed to the book.

When Allan Pinkerton founded the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1850, he not only became the world’s first “private eye,” he also established an organization that would set the global standard for investigative and security excellence for generations to come.

But the agency had only just begun the process of setting that standard when Kate Warne walked into Allan Pinkerton’s office six years later and asked for a job. Her request was well timed. Pinkerton was keenly focused on new opportunities and was consciously looking to make bold choices that reinforced his vision of Pinkerton as an innovator and a disruptor.

Warne’s confidence and persuasive skills were impressive, and Pinkerton’s flexibility and willingness to “defy convention” perhaps equally so. It is to his credit, and to the enduring credit of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, that it took Pinkerton less than twenty-four hours to inform Warne that he would hire her—a decision that made her the nation’s first female detective. It was a remarkable turn of events at a time when only 15 percent of women held jobs outside of the home, and contemporary ideas about what constituted “women’s work” severely limited employment opportunities for women.

Kate Warne, and the accomplished women who played such an important role in building the Pinkerton Detective Agency into an iconic global security and law enforcement institution, made it abundantly clear that the prevailing definition of “women’s work” was not just inadequate, but wholly obsolete.

Kate’s story, and the stories of all of these remarkable female operatives—presented so beautifully and in such rich detail here in this fascinating and important book—are not just a moving reminder of the achievements of a handful of bold pioneers, they are also a remarkable testament to the exemplary tradition of innovation that has distinguished the Pinkerton name over the course of more than a century and a half of dedicated service.

Allan Pinkerton was very clear about the fact that he wanted his company to be fearless and to have a “reputation for using innovative methods to achieve its goals.” What is remarkable is not just the aspiration, but the execution: This founding vision would grow into a long-standing tradition of innovation and a commitment to inspired service that became intricately woven into Pinkerton’s organizational DNA.

Pinkerton’s enduring legacy of bold moves, brave choices, and the relentless pursuit of excellence is much more than just an aging résumé—it is the foundation for an organization that remains on the cutting edge. Today, the company that predates the Civil War not only remains relevant, but has continued to establish itself as a dynamic and innovative presence on the world stage. Pinkerton is a recognized industry leader in developing forward-looking security and risk management solutions for national and international corporations. Remarkably, an organization that once protected Midwestern railways and pursued famous outlaws like Jesse James and Butch Cassidy is now providing sophisticated corporate risk management strategies and high-level security services for clients across the globe, setting a twenty-first-century standard for corporate risk management.

Now, as then, Pinkerton understands that combating new and emerging threats and serving its clients requires a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom, and embrace new assets and new ideas—whether they are the world’s first female detectives or new cybersecurity protocols. From investigative and private detective work to security and corporate risk consulting, Pinkerton prides itself on doing whatever it takes to keep its clients safe and to protect their assets and their interests. That resolve is one of the biggest reasons why an agency that was protecting Abraham Lincoln was also on the ground in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and why the principles and practices that were in place almost eighty years before the discovery of penicillin still apply to an organization that provides risk management services to some of the world’s most innovative enterprises in 2016.

As you read and enjoy these fascinating profiles of gifted Pinkerton operatives, you will readily see how their work and their character exemplified the agency’s values of Integrity, Vigilance, and Excellence. Ultimately, those attributes are at the heart of these tales, and at the heart of the larger Pinkerton story. It’s a history that spans three centuries, with compelling new chapters still being written each and every day.

The Pinks

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To learn more about Kate Warne, the cases she worked,

and the other women Pinkerton agents read

The Pinks:

The First Women Detectives, Operatives, and Spies with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency