She rolled her own
WITH ONE HAND
by Jan MacKell
It's a simple story really, beginning with her birth in Missouri in the early 1870s. How she got to Cripple Creek is unknown but it is thought she first spent time near Fairplay or Alma, Colorado. That, she said, was the place where she found some beautiful raw garnets along the South Platte River. All that is known for sure is when she appeared in Cripple Creek in 1896, she was known as Lelia Stowell, widow of Frank, and renting a room at 310 Warren Avenue.
At the time, Warren Avenue was home to a variety of people from all walks of life. Lelia's address however, was just a block away from notorious Myers Avenue where such houses of ill-repute as the Old Homestead and the Mikado thrived. Even so, Lelia continued living on Warren through 1900. She may have even been there in 1909 when she married Earl Loveless, a miner's son and long-time resident of the Cripple Creek District. He was 31 and she was 30 as stated on the marriage license application. On the license Lelia also claimed she hadn't been previously married. It was not the first time Lelia fibbed about her past, but those scattered facts and a few precious memories are the only things left to tell her story.
Nothing more is known of the Loveless union until 1915 when the Cripple Creek Directory lists Mrs. Lelia Loveless residing at 518 Irene Avenue. Earl is conspicuously absent and it is interesting to note that Lelia chose to live in the vicinity of her old neighborhood. She was in fact destined to live in that area for years, buying and selling homes along Whiting Street, beginning in 1918.
(This is not Lelia but an actress of her day.)
By 1920, Lelia was taking in boarders for income. That year however, with husband Earl in Oklahoma, the census noted only one male lodger and it wasn't Earl. Difficulty in locating her husband may have been the reason Lelia waited until 1923 to obtain a divorce. Others speculate she may have filed for divorce in order to marry Franklin J. Wicks.
Born in 1869, Frank Wicks was well-known in the district by the time he married Lelia. Frank's first wife Lillie died in 1919 from the flu epidemic, leaving behind six children. One of them was Martha Margaret who married into the Tremaynes, another pioneer family from the nearby Four Mile community. Martha Margaret had one child named Arthur who in 1918 also became sick with the flu but unlike his Grandma Lillie, he survived.
"I remember I found out she and Grandpa were married, it didn't bother me a bit." recalls Arthur Tremayne, who was about 6-years old at the time. It also didn't bother his mother who remained so close to Lelia that she braved Myers Avenue in order to visit her. Art recalls on one visit he noticed some women in the second story window of a brothel waving down at him and his mother. Art waved back. "I thought they were the nicest people," he remembers. Art's mother knew better, she grabbed her son's hand and rushed down the street and out of sight of the "shameful" women.
Years later, Arthur's wife Loretta theorizes that Frank might have patronized a restaurant Lelia ran for a time that catered to miners. While the men ate breakfast, Lelia would prepare their lunch pails before they went to work. "She was a very good cook," Loretta remembers. "Man alive, she always had something on the stove: stew, or ham and beans." Where Lelia met Frank and even the exact date and location of the marriage remains unknown. A record of the union exists only in a 1925 property transaction where it states, "Mrs. F. J. Wicks, formerly Mrs. Lelia Loveless," sold one of her properties on Whiting Street.
If Martha Margaret were here today, she could possibly explain why Lelia purchased yet another house on Whiting Street in 1928, why she appeared to be residing there alone in 1930, why she was cleaning houses for a living and why she listed herself as divorced. Whatever the implied troubles, they appear to have cleared up by 1935 when she was able to pay delinquent back-taxes on her properties. All was well until 1938 when Frank Wicks dies.
Even after Frank's death, Art's family and Martha Margaret continue to visit Lelia.
Arthur's wife Loretta remembers first meeting Lelia at The Home Cafe, now Bronco Billy's Casino. The two women hit it off and the Tremaynes visited Lelia regularly after Loretta and Art were married in 1944. "She was fun-loving," say Loretta. "She lived life to the fullest as long as she could." Loretta remembers Lelia's house on Whiting as being cozy and cute. She also remembers Lelia hauling her own water. Her prized possessions included her garnets and a kewpie doll along with an ornate clock dating back to the 1840s that included a calendar and weathervane.
Despite living the typical life of a 19th century woman, Lelia made a poignant confession one night. In her younger days, she said she'd loved to sing and dance and that she once worked as an actress. In fact, she had even worked on the stage at the Mikado, the notorious brothel on Myers Avenue. Were the Tremaynes shocked? Hardly. Lelia's fondness for the party life was no secret and Art and Loretta were accustomed to bringing a six-pack with them on visits to her home. "Lelia liked her beer and her cigarettes," says Loretta. "She could roll her own cigarettes with one hand."
Both Art and Loretta concede that Lelia's career as an actress may have included dabbling in prostitution. In her day, more than a few actresses doubled as prostitutes for extra income. It was easy enough for a gal to perform in a theater, gather her tips from the stage, then meet with her admirers after the performance. This is why it was not permissible in decent society to socialize with actresses back then.
For the Tremaynes however, such thoughts never crossed their minds. Lelia was accepted and loved without prejudice by Art's family even though his mother obviously disapproved of the girls on Myers Avenue. "She was a fine person," Art said of Lelia. "We all got along, she was family." Lelia's friends also included a few women who were known to have worked on Myers in their younger days. Loretta even speculated that Lelia might have met Earl Loveless or even Frank Wicks that way.
But however shady her past, Lelia had her decorum. For her frequent excursions to The Home Cafe, "She dressed like a lady," says Loretta. "Gloves, hat, scarf, her hair all done." Once at the restaurant, Lelia could sit for hours spending the evening with friends. "She never over-indulged but she had fun." Loretta emphasizes. "She drank and smoked and had a good time."
In 1945 Lelia began disposing of her property along Whiting Avenue. One property went for back-taxes, the rest were deeded over to Art and Loretta. One morning in 1954 a friend came to visit and found Lelia dead. Per her wishes, she was buried in Denver's Fairmount Cemetery. Loretta speculates she wanted to be close to the grave of Martha Margaret.
Art and Loretta sold Lelia's last house for a few hundred dollars, furnishings included except for a few personal items such as Lelia's beautiful old clock. Amazingly, the clock still runs but Art states, "it's been on retirement though so it will have a longer life."
The Old Homestead (then and now) was the most popular house in Cripple Creek during its heyday.
Pearl de Vere, its famous madam, sometimes charged as much as $1,000 to entertain the men of the district.
Click on the left photo to go to Cripple Creek and the right photo will take you directly to the Museum's webpage.
Click on the ladies to email Ms. MacKell-Collins
Books by Mackell-Collins
The Hash Knife Around Holbrook
For more than 140 years, the Hash Knife brand has intrigued Western history lovers. From its rough-and-ready-sounding name to its travels throughout Texas, Montana, and Arizona, the Hash Knife sports a romance like few others in the cattle industry.
Several outfits have been proud to call the brand their own, and the stories behind the men who worked for these companies are the epitome of Western lore and truth combined. Beginning in 1884, the Hash Knife owned by the Aztec Land and Cattle Company came to Arizona. The brand left a lasting impression on places like Holbrook, Joseph City, Winslow, and the famed OW Ranch while shaping Northern Arizona.
From its historic roots to the famed Hash Knife Pony Express Ride that takes place each January, the Hash Knife has left its mark as a beloved mainstay of the American West.
Amazon.com will take care of your orders for this 2014 publication by McKell-Collins.
Other books by this author:
The Cripple Creek District, on the back of Pikes
Peak in central Colorado,
first found fame through Bob Womack, the cowboy who publicized his knowledge
of gold in the high country and drew thousands to the area. Gold fever
allowed the region to flourish while strikes, fires and economic hardships
threatened the district's survival.
Buy it now: $24.95 ($5 s/h)
humor, respect and compassion are among the merits of this book.
Although other authors have flirted with Colorado's commercial sex trade in
the early years, Jan MacKell provides a detailed, carefully written
overview of how sex was "marketed" in Colorado's infancy.
paperback $18.95 ($5 s/h)
Throughout the development of the American West, prostitution grew and flourished within the mining camps, small towns and cities of the nineteenth century Rocky Mountains. Whether escaping a bad home life, lured by false advertising or seeking to subsidize their income, thousands of women chose or were forced to enter an industry where they faced segregation and persecution, fines and jail. They also battled the hazards of disease, drug addition, physical abuse, pregnancy and abortion. They also dreamed of escape through marriage or retirement but more often found relief only in death.
are stories of early prostitution in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New
Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and each state had its share.
Cripple Creek history,
The scene on
Bennett Avenue, July 4, 1899.
you're enjoying now, depending on your bowser, is entitled "Frog-I-More Rag"