Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 8, 2013

Prostitutes’ headstones

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:19 pm
Tags: , , , , ,


(click on any photo to enlarge it)

Like many towns in the Rocky Mountains, Silverton, Colorado, got its start in the gold- and silver-mining boom of the 1870s. Mine bosses advertised in overseas newspapers to get workers, and ore was extracted at a frenzied pace; the town was gathering place, supply source, and entertainment headquarters. It was a rugged life for those determined enough to persevere through the brutal winters and in the perilous workplaces. Even the mules weren’t safe, as evidenced by the headstone pictured to the right.

An 18:1 ratio of males to females attracted women desperate for income, as the law looked the other way regarding prostitution. After all, prostitutes had to pay a fine of $5 each month to the city’s coffers and, with as many as 117 of them working in 1883, that steady revenue certainly helped balance the budget. They lived on the wrong side of the tracks and frequented the dance halls, saloons, and bordellos on that notorious east side of town.

In the quiet morning light, the town cemetery beckoned us to explore. Scattered beyond the imposing granite monuments of railroad tycoons and city fathers, a small collection of simple headstones marked where a few of these too-used bodies lay. The markers, softened today by dappled shadows, appear to have been purchased by the local historical or cemetery society.

I paused on the hillside, grateful that someone felt their lives and deaths were worth remembering, wondering whether most died alone in their anguish and despair, shaking my head at the pure calamity of it all. This is not the place for a tirade against the indescribable evil of the sex trade, which degrades and demeans women and children and destroys every shred of self-esteem and worth. The ongoing battle to free these prisoners belongs to all of us. Let me simply say that my heart was overwhelmed by these few tragic epitaphs describing women of Silverton. May they rest in peace.


  1. What a heart-breaking set of stones! “Degrades and demeans” is exactly right, proven by the number of these women who committed suicide.

    Comment by Roxie — September 8, 2013 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

    • I can’t stop thinking about May Rickard, probably in her 30s like the others, dying of drug/alcohol overdose in Mollie’s cabin, who was 63 at the time according to her birth year. And how many others did Mollie attend in their moments of quiet desperation, their choice to escape this life? This picture won’t leave me.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 9, 2013 @ 6:48 am | Reply

  2. This was so moving to me that I wrote a poem about it.

    Last Song of a Soiled Dove
    by J.L.Furtner

    My life ain’t endin’ now,
    it left the week
    I ate dirt and rumbled rocks for breakfast,
    found another for my pillow.
    A rolling dust, thick like fog
    stole my life’s love from me
    and his child.
    Her body limp in my arms,
    still warm,
    was cleaned by my tears.
    I wrapped them in my mama’s blanket
    buried them with my heart.
    Too far to turn back,
    I went on.
    With dollars gone,
    pretty blonde hair and one good dress,
    Mollie took me in, starving.
    I was good for the “gentle” men.
    There’s a pipe and a pint for the pain,
    a piano for the memories of when I loved to dance.
    But one day,
    one day soon,
    the top of the canyon will call me
    and I’ll jump down into heaven,
    where her sweet baby cheeks,
    and his warm kisses wait.

    Sept 9, 2013

    Comment by Lorraine — September 10, 2013 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

    • Such a gift you have, Lorraine. Thank you for sitting down to write this, and honoring the long-dead woman buried on the hillside in Silverton. I am so pleased.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 11, 2013 @ 8:15 am | Reply

      • Thank you, Kathryn. I hoped you would enjoy. I just kept wondering how they got to that place where it seemed their only option and my heart aches for them. I imagine it could easily happen to young women traveling west with a young husband, or a family that killed along the way. I keep wondering if Mollie was a kind old Madam clucking over her doves. It would seem a tombstone indicates that she was worth noting in the community. A great book about soiled doves and prostitution in the West is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

        Comment by Lorraine — September 11, 2013 @ 8:24 am

  3. Great history is a graveyard sometimes, unfortunately the problem of alcoholism/drugs/suicide amongst prostitutes is still an issue. And so many of them these days are just children really.

    Comment by Pam Leonard — September 12, 2013 @ 7:40 am | Reply

  4. […] to Mollie, and a few other Silverton prostitutes, through an article and photos on the blog Ranger Kathryn’s Arches. In her short post, Kathryn Colestock-Burke examines mining town life and the livelihood of the […]

    Pingback by The Soiled Doves of Silverton | Foundling House — June 26, 2016 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

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