In almost every town in the old West lonely cowboys could find entertainment in a red light district. Fort Worth’s seedy part was bigger and a lot rowdier than most. Due to the notoriety, it became known as Hell’s Half Acre and it comprised Tenth to Fifteenth Streets while Houston, Main, and Rusk (now Commerce) crossed. Boarding houses (wink, wink,) gambling parlors, hotels and saloons lined the avenues and it became a hideout for outlaws and violent criminals. The murder rate was high on a nightly basis. But if a woman had enough guts and could stomach the hard life, she could make a good living.
One woman was Mary Porter. She was born in Ireland in 1844 and came to Fort Worth about 1885 where she operated a high-end brothel. She employed four girls: Kittie Wilson, Etta Daniels, Mabel Thomason, and May Keller.
From 1893 to 1897, Mary was arrested 130 times but never spent a night in jail. Her clients were the wealthy and powerful and they made sure they kept her in business. Her fines usually ran around $100 but she viewed that as the price of doing business.
She operated within the laws—didn’t advertise, kept fighting to a minimum, got regular medical checkups for her girls, and kept a clean house. She was well-respected as someone in that business, and her girls sang her praises. Still, depression, suicide, and murder were things they all faced.
In 1887 following the famous shootout between Jim Courtright and Luke Short, a prostitute named Miss Sally was discovered nailed to an outhouse door. The murderer was never caught.
As the years passed, Madame Mary Porter’s fame and coffers grew. But somewhere before the turn of the century, a committee made up of ladies of the Union Bethel Mission and accompanied by two officers paid her a visit. They demanded that she vacate the premises by Monday, that her house was needed for other purposes. If she refused to leave, she would be the subject of a grand jury investigation.
Mary thought long and hard, then told her girls to start packing. She moved out all right—into one just a few doors down. The committee didn’t bother her again. On the 1900 census, she listed her occupation as “boardinghouse keeper.”
She once entertained the Wild Bunch led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid plus other notable outlaws.
June 10, 1905, Mary suddenly died leaving an estate valued at $20,000 ($500,000 in today’s currency.) They buried her in an unmarked grave in Oakwood Cemetery. Then in 2009, over 100 years of her death, a group of citizens got together and bought her a gravestone engraved with the simple words, “Call me madam.”
I love stories that give colorful accounts of what life must’ve been like before we became “modernized.” I can close my eyes and picture this seedy part of Fort Worth and the rough and tumble daily existence. I wish I knew more of Mary’s story and what led her to prostitution. Maybe she got trapped in it as so many other women were who found themselves alone. Occupations for women were very limited.
Can you imagine how scary it was for a woman alone back then? Especially if she had no one to turn to. What do you think of Mary Porter?
It’s almost time! Longing for a Cowboy Christmas releases on September 24th! Six heartwarming stories sure to put the Christmas spirit in your heart by Leigh Greenwood, Rosanne Bittner, Margaret Brownley, Anna Schmidt, Amy Sandas, and me.
Life on the open range could be a discomforting experience, what with outlaws popping out from behind the sagebrush without the slightest provocation, nesters “accidentally” mistaking a cattleman’s range for the quarter section they’d purchased, steers stampeding wherever they pleased, and wild animals running amok in settlers’ vegetable gardens—not to mention all those Indians to keep track of.
Things weren’t much easier for townies. For one thing, outlaws didn’t confine themselves to the countryside. Drunks stumbled out of saloons with reckless abandon, ladies of questionable virtue roamed the streets at will, and barbers pulled teeth or performed surgery like they knew what they were doing. Even church socials sometimes got out of hand.
At least folks in town could count on the law to keep things somewhat under control, right?
Finding a reliable lawman was anything but easy. El Paso, Texas, discovered that when it hired Dallas Stoudenmire as city marshal. Stoudenmire, a deadly gunman with a mean temper and a fondness for strong drink, insisted on starting fights and shooting people—some of them even criminals. As a young man, famed lawman Wyatt Earp stole horses. Between gigs as a county sheriff, town marshal, and city policeman, Earp ran faro tables, owned brothels, got arrested for a number of crimes, broke out of jail, led a vigilante group, and otherwise made a nuisance of himself. Pat Garrett may have been a straight arrow legally speaking, but he was unpleasant to be around. Even his fellow officers objected to his disposition: a refreshing mixture of arrogance and surliness.
Some men found a badge to be an excellent disguise for nefarious activities. Take these guys, for example:
In 1856, at the age of 24, Plummer became the marshal of Nevada City, Calif., the third-largest settlement in the state. In 1859, the marshal killed the husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair. Sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, he received parole in six months and immediately joined a gang of stagecoach robbers.
In January 1862, Plummer formed his own gang and began hijacking wagons transporting gold out of mining camps. When that enterprise petered out in January 1863, Plummer relocated to the newest gold rush in Bannack, Montana. There, he formed the Innocents, a network of road agents that numbered more than 100 men within a few short months.
In May 1863, Plummer lost a sheriff election and subsequently threatened his rival until the man high-tailed it, fearing for his life. Plummer took over the sheriff’s job and right away appointed two of his Innocents cronies as deputies. Oddly, crime dramatically increased. In about nine months, more than 100 murders occurred and robberies, assaults, and assorted other crimes reached unprecedented levels. All the while, Plummer—under the guise of cracking down on lawlessness—hanged witnesses.
On January 10, 1864, having had enough law enforcement for a while, fifty to seventy-five vigilantes rounded up Plummer and his two deputies and hanged them in the basement of a local store.
Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles
In the 1890s, Alvord and Stiles served as deputy sheriffs in Willcox, Arizona. Unsatisfied with their salaries, the two began robbing Southern Pacific Railroad trains to supplement their income. Emboldened by pulling a number of successful jobs, they undertook their most daring escapade on September 9, 1899, in what came to be known as the Cochise Train Robbery. Instead of clinging to tradition and stopping the train on a lonely stretch of track in the middle of nowhere, Alvord and Stiles had five members of their gang blow up the safe while the train was stopped in the town of Cochise. Alvord and Stiles, maintaining their law-enforcement decorum, were part of the posse that unsuccessfully attempted to apprehend the robbers in the Chiricahua Mountains.
About five months later, on February 15, 1900, the gang struck again, in broad daylight in the tiny town of Fairbank, Arizona. While the train was stopped at the station, the Alvord-Stiles gang approached the express car, guns drawn, only to find the messenger responsible for the safe unwilling to abide such rude behavior. During the gunfight that erupted, two of the five gang members were wounded and one ran away. The messenger, also wounded, hid the safe’s key before losing consciousness. Unable to find the key and without a single stick of dynamite between them, the rest of the gang vamoosed.
Once again, Alvord and Stiles rode with a posse to track down the outlaws, one of whom was injured so badly he had to be left behind about six miles outside town. Despite Alvord’s and Stiles’s attempts to misdirect the pursuers, they stumbled across the wounded man. Before he died, the outlaw fingered Alvord as the ringleader. Stiles confessed and turned state’s evidence, allowing him to remain comfortably outside the bars while Alvord cooled his heels inside. A short while later, Stiles broke Alvord out of the hoosegow and the two of them lit a shuck for Mexico.
The Arizona Rangers invaded Mexico and, in 1904, engaged the two now-expatriates in a gun battle. They captured Alvord, but Stiles got away. After a brief stint in the Rangers under an assumed name, Stiles was killed a few years later while working as a lawman in Nevada, also under an assumed name. Alvord did two years in Yuma Territorial Prison and took it on the lam for Panama upon his release.
In 1898, Fort Worth, Texas, Assistant Police Chief Grunnels talked a gang of Oklahoma bank robbers out of robbing a local diamond merchant and into robbing a train in Saginaw, Texas, instead. Grunnels masterminded the operation, planning to apprehend the bandits after they made off with the money, then collect the reward and keep the loot.
The Apple Dumpling Gang might have performed the train heist with more aplomb. While crawling across the top of the coal tender to reach the engine, the gang’s leader slipped and accidentally discharged his pistol. His minions mistook the misfire as their signal to hop on the train and commence whatever mischief their roles required. Chaos ensued.
Meanwhile, Grunnels and a cadre of Fort Worth police officers not in on the plan raced to the rescue of a train that had yet to be robbed. The discombobulated robbers scrammed. The Fort Worth Police Department became suspicious when it discovered Grunnels reached the scene of the crime before the crime had been reported. Grunnels was fired and indicted, but he disappeared before trial.
The heroes in the two novellas that compose Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts could give lessons in how to fail at outlawry to all of the compromised lawdogs above. So, here’s my question for this month: If you were going to commit a crime in the Old West, what crime do you think you could pull off? Bank or train robbery? Horse or cattle rustling? Murder for hire? Spitting on the sidewalk? Something else? I’ll give an e-book of Robbing Banks, Stealing Hearts to one of y’all who’s brave enough to expose your criminal dreams.😉
Everyone should have career at which they excel. At failing to commit crimes, nobody is better than Laredo and Tombstone Hawkins. Maybe they can bumble their way into love.
The Worst Outlaw in the West
Laredo Hawkins has one ambition: to redeem his family’s honor by pulling the first successful bank robbery in the Hawkins clan’s long, disappointing history. Spinster Prudence Barrett is desperate to save her family’s bank from her brother’s reckless investments. A chance encounter between the dime-novel bandit and the old maid may set the pair on a path to infamy…if either can find a map.
Haunted by his kin’s tradition of spectacular failure, bank robber Tombstone Hawkins is honor-bound to prove his family tree produced at least one bad apple. When carnival fortuneteller Pansy Gilchrist tries to help, she accidentally summons a pair of dishonest-to-goodness ghosts. Getting into the spirit of a crime is one thing…but how do you get the spirits out?
Many dishes that are prides of the American table today once were ways to avoid wasting food. Shipping of all but basic staples didn’t begin until the latter half of the 19th century; perishables weren’t shipped at all until refrigerated containers, or “reefers,” were invented in 1869. Even then, perishable cargo could be carried only a few miles before the ice melted.
The first successful long-distance reefer transport occurred in the early 1880s. The first grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1916.
Consequently, settlers on the American frontier and American Indians used every part of the animals and plants they grew or gathered in order to avoid starvation. Frontier and farming families stewed poultry necks, tails, and wings because the meat and bones offered precious protein. Slaves in the American south prepared animal innards like chitterlings (intestines) and vegetable leavings like potato skins in a variety of ways because their masters considered those things offal. Anyone who has visited a restaurant in the past twenty years recognizes chicken wings and potato skins as trendy appetizers. At “soul food” eateries, chitlins are standard fare. (Yes, I have eaten them. No, I won’t do so again.)
Because carbohydrates offer a quick source of energy, bread, too, was a precious commodity. Many frontier families baked with cornmeal or corn flour. The latter was obtained by repeatedly pouring cornmeal from burlap sack to burlap sack and shaking loose the fine powder left clinging to the bags. Bread made with wheat flour was a treat…even though merchants in frontier towns often “extended” wheat flour by adding plaster dust. Frontier families might make a multi-day journey into town for supplies once or twice a year.
Since the early 11th century, “po’ folks” have turned stale bread into bread pudding in order to use every last ounce of food they could scrounge. Originally, the concoction was a savory main dish containing bread, water, and suet. Scraps of meat and vegetables might be added if the cook had those on hand.
What we think of as bread pudding today came into its own in New Orleans in the early 1800s. Creative cooks turned the dish into a dessert by combining stale bread with eggs, milk, spices, and a sweetener like molasses, honey, or sugar. Some also included bits of fruit, berries, and/or nuts.
My family and friends talk me into baking bread pudding each Christmas, and sometimes for other special occasions during the rest of the year. They don’t have to do much arm-twisting, because the rich dessert is easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and delicious.
One thing to know about bread pudding: Making it “wrong” is darn nigh impossible. Any kind of bread can be used, including sweet breads like donuts and croissants. Likewise, spices are left to the cook’s imagination, fruits and nuts are optional, and sauces are a matter of “pour something over the top.”
Through years of trial and error, I’ve created a recipe that works for me. Have fun experimenting with the basics (bread, milk, butter, and eggs) until you come up with one that works for you. I prefer mine fairly plain, but you may want to add or top with raisins (a New Orleans classic), chocolate, bananas, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, rum sauce, caramel sauce, powdered-sugar drizzle, or almost anything else you can imagine.
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
(can be doubled for a crowd)
(makes 10-12 servings)
3 large eggs
1½ cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ cup bourbon
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3 cups milk
1 16oz. loaf stale French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
Heat oven to 325.
Stir together eggs, cream, granulated and brown sugars, bourbon, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla in a large bowl.
Place bread cubes into a lightly buttered 13×9-inch pan.
Heat milk and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until butter is melted. Do not boil.
Stir ¼ cup of hot milk mixture into egg mixture. When well-combined, slowly add remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.
Pour egg mixture evenly over bread. For a fluffier pudding, lightly press bread into egg mixture so all bread cubes are coated with the liquid. For a dense pudding, allow the pan to sit for 20 mins. before baking.
Bake for 45-55 mins., until top is browned and no liquid is visible around the edges. (The center will look soft. Don’t bother with the toothpick test—it won’t tell you anything.)
Allow pudding to stand for 20-30 mins. Top with bourbon sauce and serve.
(This will knock folks across the room, so be careful how much you pour on each pudding serving. 2 tsp. vanilla or other extract may be substituted for bourbon, if desired.)
1 cup heavy cream
½ Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon
In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.
Whisk together corn starch and water, then add the mixture to the cream, whisking constantly.
Bring the mixture to a boil.
Whisk and simmer until thickened, taking care not to scorch the cream on the bottom.
Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add more sugar and/or bourbon to taste.
Ladle sauce over each serving of warm-from-the-oven or room-temperature pudding.
Serve and enjoy!
Bread pudding wouldn’t be on the menu in the dingy cafe on the wrong side of Fort Worth where the heroine in my latest story works. The job is a big step down from her previous life as a pampered socialite. “A Long Way from St. Louis” appears with stories from seven other authors—including filly sisters Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—in Prairie Rose Publications’ new holiday anthology, A Mail-Order Christmas Bride.
A Long Way from St. Louis
Cast out by St. Louis society after her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger when she discovers the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.
Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.
When the debutante and the back-alley brawler collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.
Here’s an excerpt:
If the lazy beast lounging on a bench beside the depot’s doors were any indication, the west was neither wooly nor wild. As a porter took her hand to assist her from the railway car, Elizabeth Adair stared. The cowboy’s worn boots crossed at the ends of denim-clad legs slung way out in front of him. Chin resting on his chest, hat covering his face, the man presented the perfect picture of indolence.
Surely her husband-to-be employed a more industrious type of Texan.
Her gaze fixed on the cowboy’s peculiar hat. A broad brim surrounded a crown with a dent carved down the center. Sweat stains decorated the buff-colored felt. Splotches of drying mud decorated the rest of him.
Lazy and slovenly.
Pellets of ice sprinkled from the gray sky, melting the instant they touched her traveling cloak. Already she shivered. Another few minutes in this horrid weather, and the garment would be soaked through.
The porter raised his voice over the din of the bustling crowd. “Miss, let’s get you inside before you take a chill. I’ll bring your trunks right away.”
Taking her by the elbow, he hastened toward doors fitted with dozens of glass panes. Ragtag children darted among the passengers hurrying for shelter. Without overcoats, the urchins must be freezing.
She glanced around the platform. Where was her groom? She had assumed a wealthy rancher would meet his fiancée upon her arrival. Perhaps he waited within the depot’s presumed warmth. Her hope for a smattering of sophistication dwindled, but a woman in her circumstances could ill afford to be picky.
A group of ragamuffins gathered around the cowboy. As the porter hustled her past, the Texan reached into his sheepskin jacket and withdrew a handful of peppermint sticks. A whiff of the candy’s scent evoked the memory of a young man she once knew—a ne’er-do-well removed from St. Louis at her father’s insistence, and none too soon.
After depositing her beside a potbellied stove, the porter disappeared into the multitude. The tang of wood smoke drifted around her, so much more pleasant than the oily stench of coal. Peering through the throng, she slipped her hands from her muff and allowed the hand-warmer to settle against her waist on its long chain. She’d best reserve the accessory for special occasions. Judging by the people milling about the room, she doubted she’d find Persian lamb in Fort Worth unless she stooped to ordering from a mail-order catalog.
Mail-order. At least the marriage contract removed her from the whispered speculation, the piteous glances.
The shame heaped upon her by the parents she’d tried so hard to please.
Elizabeth put her back to the frigid gusts that swept in every time the doors opened, extending gloved palms toward the warmth cast by the stove.
Heavy steps tromped up behind her. Peppermint tickled her nose.
A gasp leapt down her throat, colliding with her heart’s upward surge. Her palm flew to the base of her collar. Bets? Deep and smooth, the voice triggered a ten-year-old memory: If ye were aulder, little girl, I’d teach ye more than how to kiss.
She whirled to find the lazy cowboy, his stained hat dangling from one hand. Her gaze rose to a face weathered by the elements, but the blue eyes, the crooked nose…
What’s your favorite holiday dessert?I’ll give an ebook copy of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)