Colorful Ladies of the Old West
The early west had many colorful characters, but none moreso than the early day "Soiled Doves" and "performers" that set out west to make a better life for themselves.
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The Hanging of John Millian
Janurary 20, 1867 | Virginia City, Nevada
Living in a historical town ten miles from modern day brothels, and ten miles from Virginia City, Nevada, it is not uncommon to see our local "ladies" out shopping and either being driven in a limosine or driving a very expensive Mercedes Benz, and possibly living in a million dollar house somewhere close by. However it was not that lucrative to be a "girl" in Virginia city during the Gold and Silver Rushes of the 1800's. One was the famous was Julia Bulette who was a prostitute that was loved by the locals. Her dead body was found lying on her left side with her feet halfway off the bed. Sometime during the night she had been shot, strangled beaten and suffocated. It was written in the local paper that it was an "outrageous and cruel act". Several months after her funeral, John Millian was arrested. He was a French drifter. He claimed he did not murder her but knew that it was going to happen. It was hard to find a jury because he was so hated by the town folk. The officials could not find any men that were not unbiased and women were not allowed to vote. They eventually found a jury. He was tried, convicted and condemned to die by hanging. At dawn, April 27, 1868, John Millian was hanged and met his fate. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of a murderer, so folks came by stagecoach, horseback and on foot from the nearby towns. All the saloons were closed for the second time, the first when they had Julia's funeral. Forty deputies and the National Guard escorted the carriage carrying Milligan and Father Manogue, Priest of St. Mary's Catholic Church. Then there was the doctor's vehicle which followed the prisoner. then came the news media and a coffin draped in black accompanied by the undertaker and his assistants. Seveal thousand people were gathered and watching the gallows. The prisoner spoke a few words of french because he said he did not know enough english to defend himself. He kissed the priest, mounted the scaffold, and within two minutes he was declared dead. Julia's murder was avenged, and then the crowd returned to V.C to open the saloons and celebrate. Julia was never referred to as a woman of easy virtue. The people finally accepted the goodness in her, despite her profession. From "Women of the Sierra". The tombstone was moved at one point and so therefore no one knows exactly where she is buried now. They moved the fence and tombstone in the 1950"s because it was a tourist attraction. She was buried in the local cemetery., called the Flowery Cemetery. You will also notice she has a firemans hat next to her and is attired in a fireman's shield-front shirt. Belt and helmet are embossed with the ensignia of Virginia engine Company No. 1 of which she was their honorary member. As an addendum to this story after speaking to a local at a bookstore in Virginia City, there is a book being published with proof that John did not commit this murder. It is stated that it could have been a local fireman.
The Love Story of Lottie Johl
Jun 1882 | Bodie, California
Being interested in Nevada History I came to hear about Bodie due to another woman that I will write about at a future time, Rosa May. She was from the east and came to Virginia City, and lived in Carson City also. I pass by where she lived at least once a week. She went to Bodie and died there and was buried outside the city limits as so many of the ladies were. Upon going to Bodie I also learned of Lottie Johl. Bodie, California is 8,200 feet above sea level. This is a place where men of the 1800's dreamed of wealth and fortune. Bodie was well known for violence and death. Bodie's main street was one mile long with buildings on both sides. At least every other building was a gambling parlor or a bar. At least one man a day was shot and killed. Miners worked for $24 dollars a month. Lottie moved to Bodie from Iowa to further her profession and so it ended up that Bodie is also where she died. Lottie was born in Iowa in 1855. She managed to find herself a husband even though there were not many eligible men to choose from in Iowa. "She was an attractive, lovable girl with soft hazel eyes and light curly hair, and a mouth that curled up at the corners that seemed to be smiling all the time." (The Story of Bodie, by Ella M. Cain.) During the marriage a daughter was born. She divorced her husband and took her daughter and moved away. she found she could not support her and her daughter so she moved away and left the child with either her ex-husband or her parents. In 1882 at the age of 27 she arrived in Bodie on the stage. she asked for directions to the red-light district and even though she did not appear to belong there she was given directions. Bodie's red light district adjoined the twisted alleys of Chinatown. Here was an area of cribs, brothels an often a place of desperation. along these streets many women of all ages offered "love" for a price. They did not go downtown during the day because they were not welcome. But at night they dressed up in their best and went to the numerous dance halls that lined the town. There were two high-class brothels in Bodie: The" Highgrade" and the" Ozark" . Lottie was different from others because she cared. Lottie met a man who would frequent the bars and had fallen in love with Lottie. He was rough and simple. He was from Germany and was the co-owner of a local butcher shop. His name was Eli Johl. He started giving Lottie gifts and lots of attention. He knew she was a prostitute but did not care, he was in love with her. They were eventually married and moved into a five-room cottage on Main street, near the butcher shop. He bought her the best furnishings he could afford. Lottie was very proud of her home and her husband. They decided to have a party to show everyone how happy they were. Eli sent out invitations and Lottie cooked all kinds of food. No one came to the party and then Eli knew that no one would accept her in Bodie. He knew that this broke Lottie's heart. As the years went by the Johl's kept to themselves. Then one night Lottie became ill so Eli sent for a doctor who checked her out and ordered a prescription. After the first dose of medicine she became violently ill and died the next day. Everyone gossiped and said she commited suicide. Eli knew this was not true. He wanted an autopsy done and they found that she had been given poison. The authorities said it was an accident. The town would not let Eli bury her in the local cemetery due to the fact she was a fallen woman. Some of the townfolk stood up for Eli saying she had been a good and faithful wife. They finally decided to let him bury her at the edge of the cemetery, just within the fence. Eli even built a memorial for his wife, a high wrought iron fence around her grave. Eli continued to live alone in their house, visiting the gravesite daily. as the town declined he decided to leave Bodie. "Today, as the desolate wind blows over the desert, Lottie Johl sleeps on, Her tomb is a silent memory of a town that once boasted of the wickedest men and the wildest streets. in a place that is the last of the old-time mining camps." Excerpts from the book, soiled Doves by Anne Seagrove. Bodie, Californis is now a California Historic Landmark and an National Historic Landmark.
Molly b' Dam
1884 | Murray, Idaho
Rosa May, A Mining Camp Legend
1879 | Virginia City and Bodie, California
After visiting Bodie, California a few years back I was amazed at how lonely and desolate it seemed. It was hard to believe that it had been a wild and wooly town at one point in time. I actually had read about Rosa May in literature from Virginia city and Carson City. The images shown of the houses are right in the middle of town where I pass by weekly. These are old houses of prostitution from the 1800's. They are now residential homes. I tracked her to Bodie because as she got older she left V.C and Carson City and followed the big boom in Bodie. The road to Bodie is terrible even today unless some improvements have been made. I can imagine in the 1800's how long it took to get into Bodie. It is now a ghost town and a state park. This is where the once beautiful and kind Rosa is buried. she is buried in an "outcast" cemetery just beyond the barbed wire fence. Many visiters have searched out this lonely gravesite. It stands far away from the other sites, It is a rectangular piece of concrete. The top portion is very lop-sided. Her story is very sad, but not unusual in the history of most prostitutes from the early west. She had very stern parents who were not real intelligent and made little money. They were very unhappy so they took it out on the pretty and smart little girl whose zest for life was finally scolded and criticized out of her. She made up her mind when she could she would leave her family and never go back. In the mid 1870's she went to Virginia city, Nevada. She ended up on "the line" . She stayed in V.C for nearly 20 years until she wasted her youth. She now was not as attractive as she had once been. She had lines around her face and mouth and she had also put on some weight. Her once bright and shining eyes now had a "cold steely hardness from too many men." All of a sudden she found herself with no one and nowhere to go to. It was a known fact that the money in V.C was running out. From 1879 to 1882 Bodie was in it's heyday. Gold was plentiful and everyone was eager to get to Bodie. At one point there was 10,000 in Bodie, when the high grade ore disappeared so did about 8,000 miners and their families. They left for Colorado. During the 1890's the cyanide process was discovered and supported about 1,500 miners. So Rosa figured this would be a great place for someone whose beauty was fading, there would be less competion. She moved into a small house on Bonanza Street in Chinatown. For 20 more years she entertained men of all types, mostly the misfits that no one else would bother with. The women of the town hated her for who she was, the children loved her because she passed out dimes to them for candy. The men of course took her for granted. "She was simply a fact of life." One November when the snow was very deep and the wind blew hard, a few of her friends took her to bury her. The small amount of women that hated her got their revenge, they would not let her friends bury her in the higher cemetery where, the good folks were buried. The men who had been her clients for all these years of course did not take up for her in case they would embarrass their families. Her friends were forced to bury her on the lower slopes of the cemetery just outside the fence. On the stone marker is the year 1880, it is faintly written. It is felt that the stone was made many years later because there was no grave marker at the time. At the time she was buried a wooden fence was placed around the grave. Some parts of this story taken from book, Rosa May, The Search for A Mining Camp Legend by George Williams, lll