Topic Page

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.

More…

Related Pages

Virginia City, Nevada

Stories

Stories

The Hanging of John Millian

Virginia City, Nevada

Julia Bulette
6 images

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

Bodie, California

Lottie Johl
3 images

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

Murray, Idaho

Molly b' Dam
2 images
Molly was born as Maggie Hall in Dublin, Ireland on December 26, 1853.  Her father was an English Protestant and her mother was Irish Catholic. Both very well educated.  She had an above average home with a good education.  She was a lively out-going child, and made friends easily.  She grew into a beautiful young woman with golden blonde hair, blue eyes and a contagious laugh.  She was about five feet six inches tall.  She had a beautiful figure that was desired by men and admired by women.  She had plenty of proposals of marriage but eluded all of them and left to travel to America at the age of 20.  She felt like America would be the place to fulfil her dreams.  Her mother and father tried to talk her out of it but she had made up her mind. As she neared New York she was very excited and overwhelmed, she knew it was hers to conquer, but she was mistaken.  New York was a very cruel city and though she had a good education, spoke good English with just a hint of an Irish brouge, she still could not find employment.  She started working in a bar as a bar maid.  She had a great sense of humor which appealed to the men, but her upbringing kept her from straying.  At the end of the first year she was doing quite well, loved by the customers and her employers alike.  All of this changed one cold afternoon when a handsome stranger came in and she immediately fell in love.  The man's name was Burdan and he also was quite smitten with Molly.  On the third visit to the bar he proposed and Molly accepted.  she also found out he was the son of a wealthy family and also a womanizer.  When Maggie became Mrs. Burdan she changed her name because Maggie was too common.  They moved into Burdan's expensive apartment where she lived a life of luxauary and ease.  When Burdan's father found out his son had married a barmaid, he stopped his son's allowance.  They had to move from the apartment because they could not afford to pay the rent.  Burdan had never worked nor did he intend to.  He would not let her return to her former job because he had other plans.  He wanted her to "sell her body to other men", namely his friends from the saloons.  She refused at first but after his pleading she changed her mind because she loved him.  She did as she was told but her heart was broken.  She went to confession and was warned to discontinue her acts.  The next time she returned to confession she not only was denied forgiveness but was excommunicated from the church.  She believed herself to be dammed forever so she continued her life as before.   At the age of 24 she left her husband and went to the cities, mining camps and cow towns of the West.  She went to San Francisco then to Oregon.  She was seen in Chicago, Virginia City, Nevada,  and the Dakotas.  She was very expensive and had an expensive wardrobe which consisted of furs and nice jewelry.  She still was very restless although she was quite successful.  In 1884 she went to the Idaho Territory.  Molly had gotten off the train at Thompson falls, Montana where she bought a strong horse and  joined a pack train on its way to Idaho.  A blizzard started and slowed everyone down, a story states that Molly helped a young mother and her child by letting them ride on her horse with her.  When Molly arrived in Murray she saw the face of a young Irish man with a twinkle in his eye.  His name was Phil O'Rourke.  He became her friend for the rest of her life .When he asked her what her name was, she replied, "I'm Molly Burdan.  He misunderstood her and answered in a heavy Irish brogue..."Well now, fur the life o'me I'd never o' thought o' it.  Molly b' Dam". She was well known for being helpful and taking care of those who were less fortunate.  In 1886 a stranger arrived in Murray burning with a fever.  He drove his horse up the the saloon, drank a pint of whiskey and dropped dead.  He had smallpox and  the whole town was at risk.  There were some men that were sick, so Molly,  her girls and Phil worked tiressly to help nurse them.  She rarely ate and  didn't even take time to change her clothing.  As time went on there were less and less patients and less and less trips to the cemetery.  But Molly would never be the same.  In October of 1887 she became weary and listless and soon developed a constant fever and hacking cough.  O'Rourke was the first to notice her tiredness and weight loss.  By November she had become bed-ridden with a constant fever and a cough that never stopped.  The doctor diagnosed her with Comsumption, a disease with no cure.  Molly began to worsen and on January 17, 1888, Molly b' dam was gone. The Protestant Ministers who had been visiting her daily asked the Catholic Priest to give her absolution.  When he refused, they made the funeral arrangements.  On that day every blind was closed, the miners didn't work and all the saloons closed their doors.  Thousands of people came to pay their respects to the woman that had brought gaity and love to their community.  Exerpts taken from the book, "The Legend of Molly b' Dam with some information from the book, "Soiled Doves". Pictures from the collection of Mark Twain Book Store in Virginia City.

Rosa May, A Mining Camp Legend

Virginia City and Bodie, California

scan0001.jpg
7 images

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

Topic Details

Add Facts

Looking for more information about Colorful Ladies of the Old West?

Search through millions of records to find out more.

About this Memorial Page

This page is locked. Want to contribute to this page? Contact cwiseman

Contributors:
cwiseman
Created:
Modified:
Page Views:
29,759 total (267 this week)

×