Summit’s Historic Yesterdays: Soiled doves and sweet swindlers: Old Montezuma’s ladies of the night
Editor’s note: This tale comes from Mary Ellen Gilliland’s humorous local history, “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods.” The book captures the high-spirited antics of shysters and shady ladies, swindlers and rogues of 1800s Summit County mine camps. Old-timers interviewed by Gilliland provided most of the book’s savory stories.
Last week, we took a discreet look at Dixie, the resident red light lady of the old town of Montezuma, a silver city near today’s Keystone Resort. Montezuma had other red light ladies, but Dixie outlasted them all, riding the boom-bust cycle of the mine town with aplomb.
Her understated behavior stood in sharp contrast to the flagrant invasion of Breckenridge by local strumpets in 1909, just four years after the police magistrate had run all the floozies out of town. With high hilarity, the ladies of the night, decked out in Merry Widow hats, feather boas and bare shoulders, took a wild ride up and down Breckenridge streets in a fancy hired rig. After stopping in the saloons for fresh courage, they descended upon the stores to shop. Respectable shoppers fled, according to Mark Fiester in “Blasted, Beloved Breckenridge.” The spree ended when the sheriff showed up with some strong-armed aides and returned the ladies to their proper domain.
Montezuma’s magistrates adopted a more lenient attitude toward Dixie, who was allowed to shop in Mr. Domedian’s grocery store. And though she favored bright scarlet and orange scarves, along with outrageously large hats, she prudently avoided baring her shoulders — outside her place of business.
Dixie’s business competitors included various strumpets, trollops and painted ladies who failed to leave footprints on the path of history. However, one woman of ill repute earned a place in the memories of Montezuma old timers, and her story remains. Her name was Rosie.
A SHAM ARTIST
Sidestepping ill will was not the strong suit of a hussy in lamb’s clothing who alighted from the Montezuma stagecoach on a blithe summer evening and managed to fleece the town flock.
Rosie had inquired of the stage driver about Mrs. Bianci, a kind Montezuma woman who had sheltered Rosie and her siblings after their mother died. Now married to a husband who had suffered from an illness for many months, she found herself destitute with six small children at home. Once more, she needed help.
Mrs. Bianci had died, but her daughter, Isabella Black, remembered some pathetic dark-eyed children who had once shared their home. Touched, she rallied the townsfolk to help Rosie. Donations poured in. Mrs. Black fed and housed the tender and defenseless young Rosie.
Hearts and pocketbooks alike opened to sweet Rosie. The town hosted a Friday night benefit for Rosie’s children, according to Elizabeth Rice Roller in “Memoirs from Montezuma, Chihuahua and Sts. John.” She herself sang a hit song of the day, “When I Lost You,” while party-going miners tossed her their silver dollars. Next day, donors suggested that residents of nearby Sts. John might also contribute. Sts. John, the mineral camp that launched silver mining in the area as early as the mid-1860s, prospered from its rich Comstock vein. Rosie trudged up the track to Sts. John on Glacier Mountain and at sundown had not yet returned for her free supper at Mrs. Black’s.
Finally she strutted down Glacier Mountain on the arm of the Sts. John mine manager, known for his courtly ways but also his dissipation. Ignoring the shocked townspeople, they headed straight for the saloon. Hours later, the pair emerged. Most of the town’s inhabitants, Rosie’s benefactors, steamed with rage as the couple disappeared into Dixie’s establishment.
When Rosie and her paramour stepped from the parlour house on Sunday morning, she was unceremoniously escorted out of town. For months following, Montezuma citizens chafed when they heard Rosie’s hit song. They renamed it, “When I Lost My Dough.”
Next week, tune in for the story of Breckenridge’s most memorable madam, a true character. She coped with dwindling customers and plummeting profits at the end of the gold rush in a gutsy and colorful manner.
Mary Ellen Gilliland’s “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado,” has captured the colorful gold rush. She details the misbehavior of history’s miscreants in her “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods” and recounts the story of the region’s first town in Breckenridge. Gilliland is also the author of the popular guide,”The Summit Hiker.” All are available from The Next Page Bookstore or online at alpenrosepress.com.
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