Single women were in short supply in the American West and in all the major towns had brothels. Prostitutes also worked in saloons and dance halls. Their rooms were normally placed at the rear of the building. These women were rarely called prostitutes and went under the names of saloon girls, dancers, scarlet ladies, soiled doves and girls of the night. One census return said that one woman was a "ceiling expert" whereas another was described as being "horizontally employed".

According to a man who toured western towns during the summer of 1871, Wichita had ten brothels "in full running order and three more under way." However, he claimed the worst town was Newton: "Here you may see young girls not over sixteen drinking, whisky, smoking cigars, cursing and swearing until one almost loses the respect they should have for the weaker sex. I heard one of their townsmen say he didn't believe there were a dozen virtuous women in town. This speaks well for a town claiming 1,500 inhabitants."

The historian, Joseph W. Snell has argued that it was rare for prostitutes to be over the age of thirty. His research suggests that most were in the late teens or early twenties. He also found examples of prostitutes being as young as fourteen.

Some prostitutes eventually got married to customers. Wyatt Earp married a prostitute in Wichita in 1874. It would appear she continued to ply her trade as she paid a monthly fine to the authorities for prostitution. Others committed suicide when they reached the end of their working life. One prostitute in Newton shot herself in the stomach when the man she loved refused to marry her. He arrived soon after she carried out her threat and the Kansas City Times reported that "her eyes never left him from the moment he entered until the film of death shut out all sight of the outer world."

Some women became prostitutes after being deserted by their husbands. Mattie Baylock resorted to prostitution in Tombstone after her husband Wyatt Earp went off with the saloon girl, Josephine Marcus.

State laws made it possible for prostitutes and brothelkeepers to be punished by fines of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of six months. These laws were rarely enforced although prostitutes were often fined $8 a month for their activities. These fines suggested that Wichita had around fifty prostitutes in 1874.

In 1883 Larry Deger was elected mayor of Dodge City and soon after gaining power he attempt to ban prostitution in the city. Two days later the local police arrested female singers being employed in the Long Branch Saloon and accused of being prostitutes. When Luke Short, the owner of the saloon, complained, he was run out of town.

Timberline of Dodge City
Timberline of Dodge City

Primary Sources

(1) Tombstone in Nevada.

Here lies the body of Virginia Marlotte,

She was born a virgin and died a harlot.

For eighteen years she preserved her virginity

That's a damned good record for this vicinity.

(2) The Pueblo Chieftain (June, 1878)

The cowboy is apt to spend his money liberally when he gets paid off after his long drive from Texas, and the pimps, gamblers and prostitutes who spend the winter in Kansas City and other large towns, generally manage to get to the point where the boys are paid off so as to give them a good chance to invest their money in fun.

The people who own Dodge City and live there do not look with favor on the advent of these classes, and only tolerate them because they cannot well help themselves. They follow the annual cattle drive like vultures follow an army, and disappear at the end of the cattle driving and shipping season. It is this feature of the business that makes people averse to the Texas cattle business coming to their towns, and Dodge has already a strong element opposed to cattle coming there to be shipped.

(3) W. E. Stanley, county attorney of Sedgwick County, wrote a letter about prostitution in Wichita in 1880.

Houses of prostitution are advertising themselves, by open doors on some of the most public streets of our city, prostitutes in half nude forms take their morning airings under the eyes of many of our most respectable citizens and flaunt the indicia of their "trade" in all public places and gatherings without hindrance from the authorities.

I am of the opinion that the time has come when these places of vice must be at least regulated if not entirely suppressed, and I am also of the opinion that as they are "city institutions" and as the city has received large financial benefits from this source, that they should be regulated through the city courts and by the city officials.

(4) Dodge City, Ordinance No. 70 (26th April, 1883)

Section 1: Any person or persons who shall keep or maintain in this city a brothel, bawdy house, house of ill fame, or of assignation, shall upon conviction thereof be fined in a sum not less than Ten nor more than One Hundred Dollars.

Section 2: Any person whether male or female, being an inmate or resident of any brothel, bawdy house, or house of ill-fame in this city, shall upon conviction thereof be fined in a sum not less than Five nor more than Fifty Dollars.

Section 3: Any person or persons as defined in sections one and two of this ordinance found upon the streets or in any public place within the corporate limits of the city of Dodge City, for the purpose of plying or advertising her or their calling or business as defined in section one and two of this ordinance, shall upon conviction thereof be fined in a sum not less than Five nor more than Fifty Dollars.

Section 4: The general reputation of any such houses mentioned in the foregoing sections, or of its inmates and residents, shall be prima facie evidence of the character of such houses or persons.

(5) Ford County Globe (1st May, 1883)

All day, armed groups of officials, both city and county, might have been seen by the least inquisitive, and the very determined look of their countenances indicated to the most confiding that they meant business, and business it was. In order to show why this determined stand was being made by the authorities, we must go back to the passage of sundry ordinances by the new city council, to which some exception was taken by those whom it seemed to press down upon most heavily the same being "an Ordinance for the Suppression of vice and Immorality within the city of Dodge" and another "to Define and Punish Vagrancy" passed April 23d 1883. It was not the ordinance itself that was objectionable to those it was calculated to reach but the partial manner of its enforcement as they think, which caused the trouble.

Saturday night the first arrest was made under the new ordinances, the same being that of three women in the long branch saloon. This was peaceably accomplished and without any resistance so tar as we are enabled to learn. Yet, later in the night, Luke Short and L. C. Hartman met upon the street and paid their respective compliments to each other by exchanging shots, fortunately no one was hurt. Hartman, it seems, was a special who helped to make the arrests. Short was one of the partners of the saloon from which these women were taken. It was claimed by the proprietors that partiality was shown in arresting women in their house when two were allowed to remain in A. B. Webster's saloon, one at Heinz & Kramer's, two at Nelson Gary's, and a whole herd of them at Bond & Nixon's dance hall, and if this is true, it would be most natural for them to think so and give expression to their feelings. No doubt they spoke unpleasant words toward our city government, that may have caused them to rise in their majesty and cause the arrest on yesterday of Luke Short, Thomas Lane, saloon keepers, and half dozen others known by the professional name of gamblers. All were hustled into the city bastile without any resistance on their part, and were allowed to languish there until the arrival of their

choice of trains, both east and west come along, when they were invited to take passage without any further ceremony or explanation. The women who had been jugged Saturday, were all brought up before his honor Bobby Bums and he imposed a heavy fine on each one of them for their disregard of the law.

Thus the shouldering volcano has burst forth in all its fury, and has stricken terror to the hearts of the inhabitants that so closely surround it and causes one to reflect as to whether or not it will be followed up by a St. John cyclone and sweep away in its train the dispenser of ardent spirits, and thus give us another evidence of the moral and temperance element of our citizens and show that the righteous must and shall prevail in the city of Dodge.

(6) Dodge City Times (3rd May, 1883)

The city has been under an intense commotion for several days, growing out of the ordinance in relation to the "Suppression of gambling and prostitution." On Saturday night an additional police force was put on, and the work of enforcement was commenced. Three prostitutes pretendedly employed in Harris & Short's saloon, as "singers," but employed evidently to evade the ordinance in relation to prostitution, were arrested and put in the lockup. This action engendered bitter feeling, and City Clerk Hartman who was on the police force, was afterward met by Luke Short, and his assassination attempted. Short fired two shots at Hartman, the latter replying with one shot, none of the shots taking effect. Short was arrested and placed under $2,000 bonds. Mayor Deger, learning that a conspiracy had been formed, which had for its object the armed resistance to the enforcement of the law and consequent murder of some of our best citizens, organized a police force on Sunday, and on Monday the plan was carried out. Luke Short was the first one arrested and placed in the calaboose. Subsequently, five others were arrested, as follows: W. H. Bennett, a former New Mexico desperado. Dr. Niel, a gambler, Johnson Gallagher, a gambler, and L. A. Hyatt, a gambler. These men, Hyatt, being retained a couple of days, were given the "choice of trains," and on Tuesday, under orders of Mayor Deger, were sent out of town. Short, Lane and Gallagher went east, Bennett went west, and Niel went south.

As a precaution, about one hundred and fifty citizens were on watch Monday night, and a large police force is still held on duty night and day. Mayor Deger, the police force and the citizens of Dodge City are determined that the lawless element shall not thrive in this city. No halfway measures will be used in the suppression of either lawlessness or riot. Mayor Deger is a resolute, fearless and obstinate officer. All good and law abiding citizens are standing by him in this trying emergency.

It must be understood that no foolishness will be allowed in the conduct of city affairs. Let the people employ their pursuits peacefully. And evildoers must stand the consequences of their lawless conduct.

(7) Governor George Washington Glick, letter to George Hinkle, Sheriff of Ford County (12th May, 1883)

It is also represented to me that this mob is in the habit of going to the trains armed, searching for people that may be coming to their homes, and for the alleged purpose of driving any persons away, or threatening their lives, who may seek to return to their homes, and to their business. The further statement is also made to me that instead of its being disreputable characters that were driven away for the purpose of peace, it is simply a difficulty between saloon men and dance houses, and that the mayor of the town with his marshal has taken sides with one party against the other, to drive them out of business, and instead of the mayor enforcing the ordinances against lewd women visiting saloons, it is reported to me that he has called to his assistance those who were running dance houses with women in them, and entered saloons to drive out men who were keeping other saloons, and that he has set himself up as the judge as to who may violate the ordinances and who shall not, and that he proposes to permit certain parties to violate the ordinances of the city, while others are driven from their homes for violating ordinances, and not prosecuting others according to law for the violation of the ordinances.

I hope this is all untrue, and that the mayor has not been guilty of any such offenses. I cannot believe these statements of the mayor of Dodge City, as I believe him to be a clear-headed, honorable gentleman, and would not become a party to such transactions, or permit any such things to be done. I hope to learn from you that he has been wrongfully represented to me. His own good name, and the good name of the state, that is placed in his hands for protection, certainly would be sufficient inducement to him to see that such charges could not be truthfully made.

It is represented to me also that at this very time, and ever since this pretense of the mayor that he was trying to enforce two ordinances against women visiting saloons, that he has prohibited it only as to one saloon, made arrests in one case, and permitted that ordinance to be violated every day and every night, to his own personal knowledge, and that of the marshal and police officers of the city, by other men who were running saloons where women are permitted to visit, and sing and dance.

(8) Luke Short, letter, Daily Kansas State Journal (23rd May, 1883)

They speak of Mr. Harris being a man without character and that he is living in an open state of adultery with a prostitute, which is an infamous lie, and I will venture to say that there is not a man in Kansas who knows Mr. Harris but will say that he is an honest and an honorable man, and a good citizen, and can buy and sell every man whose name appears on that official list. As to his living with a prostitute, I consider that a rather broad assertion to make and consider such things his own private affairs and no body's business. I can say however that if the accusation is true it is nothing more than what Sutton, Webster, Diger, Chipman, Hartman, and others of that outfit have done in the past, and are doing at present. Webster abandoned his family for a prostitute, Nixon did the same, and there are only those who cannot get a prostitute to live with, who have not got them, and it is a conceded fact by all who have any knowledge of Dodge, that all the thieves, thugs and prostitutes who have been in the town in the past two years have been directly and indirectly connected with the city government. These assertions I am prepared to prove in any court of justice in the world.