The Soiled Dove of Cripple Creek, CO
Updated: Mar 16
The life and legacy of one of my favorite historic Madames. Below is a full transcript of the podcast episode as well as photos. Enjoy Creeps!
It’s not a secret that history has not been kind to women, nor has society for much of human kinds existence. For too long women were seen as lesser or as a trophy to be paraded around that lacked any actual mental substance. I often think on what it would have been like to have lived in a time where I had no rights, where my only job in life was to marry well and to be honest, I would have fucking sucked at it. I've always had a mouth despite how well mannered I can be. I absolutely do not think I would have been good at playing into societies norms which is probably why I’m always so drawn to historical women who broke the rules, who mocked society, who never quite fit in. Those women, even if in some small part where all instrumental to paving the way for the women of today.
In 1871 in Quebec, Canada a woman's job would have been that of most women in the civilized world; be seen and not heard, don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself, mourn when necessary and often since it's the 1870s and people died constantly. But one woman who remains unnamed, decided to say, "to hell with all of you! I am not a gargoyle stuck on the side of my house, I want to see the world and the world is going to fucking see me!" So she rented a hearse, one of those beautifully ornate glass ones that only the Victorians could produce and she had a driver ride her around town while she laid in the back smoking form her pipe. It’s not confirmed that this was a political statement but how could it not have been? She’s literally having herself paraded around town in a glass box, untouchable, alive but not allowed to live. It’s women like her that put a little mischievous smile on my face.
That smile grows larger when I think of another woman, a true female pioneer who would ultimately succumb to the worst of life's tragedies but during her time would be a very complex angel for a Colorado mining town.
Creeps, it’s time we tell the tale of Madame Pearl De Vere.
There is so much emphasis put historically on the western gold rush that people often forget that a Silver rush ALSO happened, and for places like Colorado who's gold rush in the 1850s didn’t last long, the Silver Rush is what made many a Coloradoans money. Denver profited greatly from the Silver Rush and people became overnight millionaires when Congress passed a bill that allowed the purchase of astronomical amounts of silver in 1878. It is in Denver that we first meet Pearl who at that time was known as Ms. Martin.
Eliza Martin was a redheaded, beautiful prostitute who was….gifted and made a small fortune profiting off the wealthy men of Denver. There is not a ton historians know of her beginnings except that she was originally from Indiana and unlike most working women, she came from a good and borderline wealthy home. From bits of correspondence we know her family thought she worked as a dressmaker for wealthy women. I have no idea why she chose the life she did except perhaps she saw the money she could make selling her body instead of clothes. Whatever journey led her to the path she was currently on, it was about to change.
In 1893 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed and the going rate for silver plummeted. The wake of this change would become what is now called the Silver Panic or the Panic of 1893 and many millionaires lost everything in a matter of days. Not only that but stock prices dropped, businesses closed, the unemployment rate sky rocketed and the American landscape was temporarily altered.
Eliza, now 31 and being the forward thinking woman she was who always kept her ear to the ground, knew that a large deposit of gold had been found in Cripple Creek, a mountain town just a few short hours away from Denver on the other side of Pikes Peak. She packed her bags and her real name and made her way there where she promptly purchased a house on Myers Avenue and opened her own brothel under her new name, Madame Pearl de Vere.
Gold always reigns king in my opinion and the wealth acquired by the men of Cripple Creek was on another level. Men from all over the country were flocking to Cripple Creek and to meet with the, shall I say, demand, houses of ill repute were popping up all over the mining camp but Pearl’s place was different. She didn’t take in just any girl, they HAD to be beautiful, clean, intelligent and she paid them well. Not only that but she paid for them to have monthly medical exams which is huge for the time.
Perhaps it was her upbringing that gave her the confidence she had but the woman was ballsy. Cripple Creek had a lot of wealthy men and many that would visit from Denver. Most of these men had wives, who very much knew Pearl and very much despised her. So much so they wouldn’t even walk on Myers avenue and if their children did, they were instructed to shield their eyes. Pearl, being Pearl, didn’t care and she would drive around town in her infamous open air carriage pulled by four black horses in dresses the high society women couldn’t even afford. Her and her ladies would confidently shop on Bennett Avenue which was basically the Rodeo Drive of the town. The snobby high class women complained so much that they were brushing elbows with soiled doves as they shopped for like, their gloves that Marshal Wilson had to step in….sort of.
He told the ladies they could continue shopping but on the off hours and required each girl to pay a $6 monthly tax and each Madame was required to pay a $16 monthly tax. That sounds like nothing but when you consider the average daily wage of a miner was $3, it sort of falls into perspective. But for Pearl and the girls who were being paid handsomely, it did nothing to deter them.
Now, just because Pearl was a Madame, it didn’t mean she wasn’t searching for love and she would find it a mill owner named C.B. Flynn. They married in 1895 and he must have either been very pro women’s rights or just really into the amount of money the brothel made them, but Pearl kept running the house even into marriage. Tragedy would strike the town in the same year when a fire would destroy pretty much everything, including Pearl’s house, Flynn’s mill and the majority of the miners housing.
A couple interesting things happened at this moment. Pearl was far from ruined financially from this and she rebuilt almost immediately. The new brothel was 2 stories, made of brick, decked out in some of the most beautiful imported Parisian wallpapers and hardware. Literally the door hinges were ornate. No detail was spared, she even had electric chandeliers put it. the new brothel would be dubbed “The Old Homestead” and its grandeur would be unparalleled.
At the same time, Flynn, Pearl’s husband, was ruined financially and took a job in Mexico smelting steel to try and get back on his feet. So this begs the question, was he too proud to ask his wife for help in rebuilding his mill OR was Pearl not willing to give her husband any money? Whatever it was, Flynn was gone down in Mexico, sweating it out and Pearl is in Cripple Creek killing it, although technically they were still married and I believe always stayed so.
She is now running the most successful brothel in town but if you wanted to enjoy her services, or her ladies, yes she was a working Madame, you would need to pay up. The cost for a night with one of her girls was $250, thats close to 10k in todays money. I have no idea what it would have cost to have spent a night with her but I'm assuming it was at least twice that. But first, you would have had to have proven, you were good for it. To be considered to be serviced, you would have to bring in proof of income, if approved you would then get to view the girls behind a viewing window, after all of that, you would THEN be allowed to indulge in whatever fantasies and fetishes you so desired with your chosen dove.
June 4th, 1897 Pearl appears to be in the height of her success. Her husband is still away but that doesn’t mean there are any shortages of men in her life. One particular admirer, a wealthy man from Denver, helped throw a party at the Old Homestead that would be the party to end all parties. He paid to have French champagne and caviar brought in, food from all over the country, orchestras from Denver were paid for and brought to play at the brothel and for Pearl, an $800 pink chiffon gown from Paris. This admirer is unknown, unnamed but very important to this story. It is said that Pearl made her appearance at the party late, despite it being in her home, wearing the gown he’d bought her. She appeared to already be intoxicated and the two allegedly got in a fight so bad he stormed out and left for Denver and Pearl retreated back into her room. When no one had seen her for awhile, some of the girls got worried and went to her room where they found her breathing heavily and unresponsive. A doctor was called immediately and before long, on the morning of June 5th, 1897, Pearl, only 36 years old would be declared dead.
Next to her bed they found morphine which she would use on occasion to help her sleep. Seeing as though she was already intoxicated, it wouldn’t have taken much for the pills to send her into an overdose. Many wanted to call it a suicide but historians argue that she had too much to live for and think it was an accident.
I would argue that she didn’t have as much as you’d think.
When she died she was brought to the town undertaker who wrote to her sister in Indiana who promptly got on the train to head out there. Keep in mind, her sister still thinks Eliza is a dressmaker. When she arrives to Cripple Creek, she’s exhausted, heartbroken and then stunned when she learns of her sisters true trade, her alias, hell even her red hair was fake. She was so upset, so disgraced, so angry that the undertaker had summoned her out there that she leaves without her sisters body and without paying for a proper burial for her sister.
Now you may be thinking, Pearl was rich, she could afford to pay for her own funeral. Except….she wasn’t. When Pearl died, her true financial situation was brought to light and it was dire. Turns out that fancy house she was running cost her almost everything in lavish furnishings and decor. Not only that, but Pearl was known in the town for helping out her fellow neighbors financially when they needed it. She’d provided loans and when a miner died, it was said she was the first to show up at the miners widow’s home with condolences and money. Thankfully, that kindness so many of her neighbors profited from her during her life, would now be repaid in her death. As her corpse lay waiting, the townspeople started to organize a funeral fund for a proper burial for Pearl. Then a letter arrived from Denver from the very admirer who’d stormed out the night of her death. In the letter was a check for $1000 as well as a note requesting she be buried in the pink chiffon gown he gave her.
The funeral of Pearl de Vere is something the locals still talk about. Her lavender casket was paraded down the street to the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery in a funeral procession the likes of which have never been seen since. It was lead by the Elks band, 4 mounted police officers rode at the front, women from the “row” the name given to the row of brothels and bordellos in the town walked alongside her funeral carriage, miners followed behind and when they laid her body in the grave, red and white roses filled the hole.
The wooden marker that was originally placed on her grave got worn with time and in the 1930s, when tourism in the town picked up and the Old Homestead, having served as a brothel until 1917, now a boarding house and private residence, a request was made to have her headstone replaced, this time with marble and the original now hangs in the Cripple Creek museum.
Pearl’s legacy has become synonymous with Cripple Creek. Her Old Homestead now restored to how it was during her life and a museum where people can come and learn about the woman with the funeral people still talk about. To me, Pearl’s life is yet another example of a woman's complexity. We will never know why she chose the path she chose or if her overdose was accidental. We can not pretend to understand the mind of a woman who bettered the lives for so many others of her sex yet somehow, perhaps, never quite managed it for herself.
I had the great honor to be invited to visit the Old Homestead and was able to film some of it which you can watch in my pilot episode of Grave Hunter. I remember being taken with an overwhelming sense of sadness in the house. Pearl’s room is how it would have been the night she died, her bed even still there. Many people claim to see her ghost in that room and although I didn’t see her myself, personally, I think I felt her and all It felt like was heartbreak.
Pearls life and story lives on through everyone who visits her home. So many people feel connected to her that they had to build an iron fence around her grave. Yet that hasn’t stopped the offerings of flowers, mini booze bottles and jewelry that litter her grave.Perhaps there is something people are drawn to in her story, a common thread that connects them to her. For myself, I’m just happy to share her story, to spend a few minutes retelling the life of a woman who just like all of us, was searching for love and a better life.