Fully titled Pistol Packin’ Madams: True Stories of Notorious Women of the Old West, this book is 87 pages of awesome. Best Friend’s mother sent it to me from Wyoming (I think?), where she and Best friend’s father are about halfway through a cross-country trip where they’re riding the Pony Express on horseback. As they view the West as it is today, I was able to see what it was like several hundred years ago.
Pimpin’ ain’t easy
Surprise, surprise, being a Madam in the Old West was not particularly glamorous. Although all of the women ran successful brothels, they were plagued by more than their fair share of cheating lovers and husbands, tough business rivals, and “morally concerned” citizens (although no mention of venereal disease, which is kind of what I was expecting).
Pistol Packin’ Madams has them all, from Jennie Rogers, the self-declared “Queen of the Colorado Underworld,” to Rose Ellis, the Last of the Old West Madams. Author Chris Enss uses her considerable knowledge of the Old West (including pictures from her own collection) to tell the sometimes-mysterious stories of these women’s lives.
Prostitution is by no means a profession I would attempt, and I admire these women for their guts and determination to be successful on their own terms in a time when the only way to be a “decent woman” was to be a housemaid or a wife. The women in Pistol Packin’ Madams lived difficult lives, but they lived them with strength and a healthy sense of humor. Most died practically penniless, but they all knew that they had played a part in shaping the American West. I tip my hat to them.
“If every man was as true to his country as he is to his wife — God help the USA.” -Needlepoint in the main receiving room of a San Francisco brothel, 1891
“ ‘There is so much bad in the best of us.
And so much good in the worst of us.
That it hardly behooves any of us
To talk about the rest of us.’ ” (Introduction)