By Frank Gibbard
Of all the madams who maintained houses of ill repute in Colorado's early days, few were more ill-reputed than Mamie Majors. For decades, she ran a series of high-class bordellos in Colorado's boom towns. To be associated with her was enough to tarnish the reputations of both ordinary citizens and statesmen alike. For a time she operated her business without much interference from the authorities, paying occasional fines as the other madams did. But eventually officials in Colorado City (a frontier town that's now part of Colorado Springs) grew tired of her illegal business ventures and obtained a conviction against her that required six months of jail time. Majors hired high-powered counsel and appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Who Was Mamie Majors?
Although little is known about Majors's early life, an intriguing possibility presents itself: the name "Mamie Majors" may be an alias. An 1893 Pueblo newspaper article stated that Majors's real name was actually Mary I. Jones. The same article referred to Mamie/Mary as a "keeper and proprietor of one of the gilded halls of Front Street" in Pueblo.1
The link between Mamie Majors and Mary I. Jones continued for many years. For example, in 1901 Majors was living at a brothel located at 615 Washington Avenue in Colorado City. Nellie White, the brothel's owner, had purportedly purchased it recently from one "Mary Jones."2 The 1900 census shows Mary Jones as the madam of the house.3
If Mamie and Mary were one and the same, this may provide us with some biographical details about Majors. A historical study of Colorado brothels reports that "Mary Jones" was 31 years old at the time of the 1900 census, and "was born in Indiana, could read and write, and listed herself as a housekeeper."4
But even if they were different people, other evidence tells us something about Majors's life in the Gay Nineties before her heyday began in Colorado City. A series of misfortunes seem to have followed her during this period.
First, she lost her adopted child. Sometime around December 1892 an impoverished woman in Pueblo named Sarah Milburn gave birth.5 Milburn was unmarried, had no nearby friends at the time, and was afraid to say anything to her relatives. Majors persuaded Milburn to give her the infant and to sign a consent to adoption. She later officially adopted the child through a county court decree.
When the child's relatives discovered what had happened, they sought to get the child back. The family filed for a writ of habeas corpus requiring Majors to produce the child in court. The presiding judge determined that Majors, described euphemistically as "the proprietor of a Front Street resort," was not a proper person to have custody of the child.6The judge removed the child from Majors's custody and awarded custody to a friend of Sarah Milburn's.
Then, a year or so later, in October 1894, an article in the Cripple Creek Morning Journal reported that "Mattie, a sister of Mamie Majors," who had been living in the alley behind the Gold King concert hall, had killed herself by drinking carbolic acid.7 The article speculated that Mattie had "quarreled with her lover."8
The Colorado City Trial
A few years after that, Majors settled in Colorado City. The 1901 Colorado Springs directory listed her address as 615 Washington Avenue.9 She later relocated next door, to a property at 617 Washington known as "the Mansions."10 There is some evidence that Nellie White was an absentee owner of those premises, and Majors operated it for her.
It was Majors's activities at this location, later identified as a "bawdy house," that led to her prosecution. An Information filed in El Paso County District Court on June 22, 1905 by C.C. Hamlin, district attorney for the Fourth Judicial District, charged Majors with keeping and maintaining "a certain house of ill fame and place for the practice of fornication, resorted to for the practice of prostitution and lewdness to the common nuisance of all the people." She pleaded not guilty on July 17,1905, and her trial was held the same day.
There is something a little odd about this trial. Most of the witnesses seemed reluctant, sheepish, almost embarrassed to be associated with the proceeding. The questions the prosecutor asked them about Majors's reputation and that of her business often elicited either denials or only vague responses.
John Rowan, a former Colorado City detective, stated he had known Majors for years. But when asked if he knew what her business had been in Colorado City, he replied, "Why, nothing only what I have heard. I haven't been in her house only on business. I understand it is a house of prostitution."12 The trial court struck the detective's statement about a "house of prostitution," and the prosecutor tried again. Rowan unhelpfully responded, "It is a place we never had any trouble with and there was no necessity for an officer there."13
Rowan admitted he had been there five or six times in the past 18 months. When asked if on those occasions he had made any observation of the type of house Majors was conducting, he replied that he "couldn't say" except "as to what I have heard."14 Over objections, the prosecutor asked Rowan what the house's reputation was, and he stated its "general reputation" was "what was called a 'sporting' house or a house of ill fame."15 When asked if he knew Majors's "general reputation . .. for chastity" in Colorado City, Rowan responded only that she was known for running the Mansions, which was classed as a sporting house.16 When pressed again about her personal reputation for chastity, Rowan replied, "I know nothing about her reputation there, only that she was in the house there. I never seen anything wrong when I was in the house."17 On redirect, over strenuous objections, Rowan testified that Majors had pleaded guilty at least five times to running a house of prostitution, each time paying a $25 fine.
George Birdsall, the Colorado City chief of police, stated he had known Majors for eight or nine years and had frequently been to the Mansions. The house, he said, was owned by Nellie White in Pueblo but Majors was in charge of it. He characterized her as White's employee.
Birdsall characterized the house as "a sporting house," or "a house of...