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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Two Sides to Every Story: The Women Who “Settled” The West

two sides

Today I have the opportunity to welcome not one, but two authors to the Two Sides to Every Story series!  I don’t get to do that every day!  I have had the great pleasure of working with M.K. McClintock several times in the past with her Montana Gallagher series and she brought Samantha St. Claire with her to discuss the two sides to the women who settled the western United States.  I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have!

The Women Who “Settled” The West: For Good or Bad

Samantha St. Claire ~ The Good

Putting the morality of prostitution to the side, I’d like to consider how the institution made positive contributions to frontier development. Yes, positive contributions, by soiled doves and working girls.

Working camps brought the men first; the women followed. Scattered shacks and tents transformed to towns upon arrival of the fairer sex. Money became the common denominator as both sexes came seeking fortune. The women, especially those serving as madams, often succeeded where the men did not. Many were shrewd business women investing their earnings in land and new businesses in these boom towns. Some even acted as loan agents, providing banking services.

However, it is their charitable acts that make these women noteworthy. Let’s start by considering Annie who as a young girl traveled west with her family in search of a better life. Both parents died of cholera, leaving the orphan to find a way to survive. With her tall, slender body and flaming red hair, she thrived the working girl life in a variety of camps. Moving to San Francisco, she came into the employ of the celebrated Madam Mina Hayman. The young woman, showing an aptitude for finances, soon became Madam Hayman’s protégé. Taking over the business years later, Annie, now calling herself Jessie Hayman, expands the business. When the San Francisco fire of 1906 ravages the city, she provides the victims food and clothing.

“Diamond” Jessie Hayman was not alone in her charitable deeds. Laura Evans of Leadville, Colorado fame was reputed to be “tough as nails” but stories abound testifying to her generous heart. She provided food to families of injured or out-of-work fathers. Most remarkable was how she disguised her girls in nurses uniforms during the flu pandemic of 1918, sending them to care for the sick.

Often, our obituaries say much about how we used our days. When Virginia City’s Madam Julia Bulette was murdered, all the mines and saloons closed out of respect and her funeral was attended by thousands. Like others, she was remembered best for nursing victims of influenza and donating to miners suffering hardship.

Julia Bulette
Julia Bulette, Virginia City Madam
Credit: Public Domain

MK McClintock ~ The Bad

Mary Katharine Haroney, Mattie Blaylock, and Molly Hall all sound like the names of respectable women, but names—and appearances—can be deceiving. These were the fallen women, soiled doves, and sportin' women in what we commonly call the “Wild West.”

Sure, some of these women who braved the west went onto become millionaires and national heroes, building towns and helping others, but at what cost? Some were outlaws and thieves like Laura Bullion, who joined the Wild Bunch gang. Many others died from childbirth and disease, plying their trade from the back of wagons, shacks, or grubby tents for little more than $0.25. If they were lucky, they might pull in up to a dollar or more. Many died violently, became addicted to drugs, or committed suicide, preferring that to a slow and miserable death.

Maggie Hall, a young beauty from Dublin, arrived in America and found it difficult to secure a job. She became a saloon girl then fell and love and married a wealthy man whose father cut him off when he found out. At her husband’s behest, Maggie started to entertain men so they could bring in more money. When she finally left her husband and became a high-priced prostitute, there are some who would say she was redeemed by helping a small town through a small-pox epidemic. Soon after, she died from consumption.

Maggie Hall
Credit: Public Domain

Most of these women were young and illiterate, though not all, and while it’s optimistic to think of the grand madams being respected and praised for their contributions to building the west, those powerful and wealthy were far and few between. Then there were the poor souls forced into the sex trade by family, captors, or husbands, with little choice to spend their short lives as working girls, addicted to opium.

The more populated the West became, the more respectable the women who arrived. With them came more close-knit communities, families, churches, and more respectable men. And criticism toward prostitution grew.

Would the “Wild West” have boomed and built up if these ladies of the night found another way to earn a living? There’s no denying that some of these women were in it for business and knew how to make a lot of money, earn respect, and become prominent citizens. But what about the young women who worked for them? Who searched for a better life out west, and instead of being told they were too good for that way of life, started on a path of misery from which few escape.

No matter which side of the story you choose to believe, there’s no doubt that the working women contributed a great deal to “settling” the West.

Samantha St. Claire is the alter-ego and pen name of an author of YA historical fiction. Kat's Law was her first venture into romantic historical fiction. With residences in both Washington and Idaho, she's spent long hours traveling the route of the old Oregon Trail, gathering inspiration for her novels along the way. The second book in The Sawtooth Range Series, High Valley Promise, released in 2017. She is currently at work on her next story.  Learn more at https://samanthastclaire.net/

High Valley Promise_SamanthaSt.Claire
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In this thrilling and romantic conclusion to Kat's Law, Dr. Kathryn Meriwether must deal with a Cholera outbreak threatening the residents she cares for in Snowberry, Idaho, a killer not armed with a gun as the one whom ex-Texas Ranger Jonathan Winthrop pursues into the Sawtooth Range, but just as deadly and unpredictable. Once again, each will handle the crisis with the skills they've been given, but ultimately will find a greater strength in facing their future together. A high valley promise will unite them as an undeniable force to meet the challenges of their frontier home.

Buy the Book: Amazon

MK McClintock is an award-winning author who has written several books and short stories, including the popular "Montana Gallagher" series, the "Crooked Creek" series set in post-Civil War Montana, and the "British Agent" series. She spins tales of romance, adventure, and mystery set in bygone times. MK enjoys a quiet life in the Rocky Mountains. Learn more at www.mkmcclintock.com.

Journey to Hawks Peak_MK McClintock
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One woman's desperation to escape would become the greatest journey of her life.

Amanda Warren arrived in Briarwood, Montana with one satchel and a dream. After death destroyed her happiness, she fled, unwillingly to believe that was the end, yet her weary spirit thought only of survival.
Then she met the Gallaghers.

They took a chance and gave her a home and a family, but is she strong enough to make a new start?

Ben Stuart has seen more of life than he wants to remember, but with the Gallaghers he had found a place where he could forget times gone by and live the life he always wanted. When Amanda arrived at Hawk's Peak, Ben saw a woman hiding from secrets and running from her past. Will he be able to convince her that the journey is over?

Buy the Book: Amazon

Copyright © 2017  by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Thank you for having us at The Maiden's Court. The Two Sides of the Story post was a lot of fun, and we hope the readers enjoy it as much as we did!

  2. Never thought about drug addiction in the Wild West. This was quite informative!

    1. I feel like it had crossed my mind but I never really sat and thought about it before.


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