(CRIPPLE CREEK, Colo.) — Did brothels bankroll the Westward Expansion? One brothel-turned-museum, board member says, “yes.”
As you pass through Cripple Creek and the once-thriving town, you’ll see what’s now a museum. In the late 1890s, however, the Old Homestead was a thriving house of ill repute.
The house burned in the mid-1890s to be rebuilt in 1896.
The madam of the house, the most famous and possibly one of the most generous entrepreneurs of Cripple Creek, was Pearl de Vere. “Pearl de Vere rebuilt this house to make it the most fabulous parlor house probably in the state of Colorado if not at least in Cripple Creek,” said Kirstie Crawford, President of the Board of Directors of the Old Homestead.
“She was known to take care of the hard-knock miners in town. If she heard that one of them got hurt, she would make sure the family, if they had a family, was taken care of or, if she heard one of the kids in town, maybe the hospital needed money, she would gladly donate that money to them even though she wasn’t accepted,” said Crawford.
The Old Homestead wasn’t a bargain bin brothel in the town either, in fact, it was the opposite with an elite customer base who had to fill out an application before being considered for a night with one of the girls.
According to Crawford, if accepted, gentlemen had to pay $250 for the night, or roughly $9,000 in today’s money. “Cripple Creek did have about 25 millionaires coming out of the gold rush, so it was quite popular.”
Crawford said the towns with brothels tended to stay safer. “If a town was smart, they would allow these brothels to stay and hang out in their town. It kept crimes against the good women in town down. You were seeing fewer women beat up and raped in the town behind the alleyways if the gentleman had the release and time to have a good time down here.”
The high earners of the gold rush weren’t found in the fields. “A miner, at least here in Cripple Creek, at least made anywhere from $1 to $3. A girl in this house was making around $100 a night.”
It was the money of the working gal that funded the expansion of the town. Once a month, the gals had to see a doctor, and if they passed, they then paid a tax to City Hall based on how much they charged their gentleman callers.
“Here in Cripple Creek, they used the money to pay for the city police department,” Crawford said as she reviewed the licenses hanging on the walls. Noting through her research, some of the money used for brothels in other parts of the country were used to create sewer systems.
At one point, 50,000 people called the mountainside town home including; miners in search of gold, families seeking a new life, and women trying to survive.
The town of Cripple Creek holds an annual Pearl de Vere celebration. This year “Pearl’s Follies” will take place on Saturday, March 4th. You can read more about the Old Homestead house and the annual celebration in the link above.