These women are often left out of historical accounts, and when historians do write of them, they use elusive terms such as demimonde, fallen frails, soiled doves, daughters of sin, fast women, fast girls, occupants of bed houses, doves of the roost and cyprians.
The term "dance hall" was a polite name for a place where men could meet these women.
Early Dodge City had more than its share of prostitutes. Before the founding of the city, prostitution was demanded by buffalo hunters, railroad workers, traders and adventurers.
Though women were smuggled in, Fort Dodge couldn’t satisfy the wants of these men. The birth of Dodge City brought in the supply to meet their wants. Dance halls and women for hire were prevalent in establishments south of the tracks. Most of the saloons north of the tracks did not allow prostitution.
Early Dodge City was a town that awakened at noon and went to bed at 5 a.m.
According to the Hays Sentinel, every other house in Dodge City was a brothel and the dance halls were crowded with "lewd" women.
When the cattle drives began in the mid-1870s, accommodations that had been made for hunters, soldiers, traders and workers grew.
When soiled doves were arrested, it was commonly for fighting, stabbing, disorderly conduct and indecent exposure rather than for solicitation. A well known example involved a fight where the only visible scars were a "disjointed nose, two or three internal bruises, a chawed ear and a missing eye." In another incident Miss Frankie Bell "heaped epithets" upon Wyatt Earp who slapped her. Bell was jailed and fined $20 while Earp was accessed the minimum fine of a dollar.
One of the few times authorities arrested women for actual solicitation resulted in the Dodge City "Saloon War" which fortunately ended peacefully. The women in question were acting under the guise of "singers" in the Long Branch.
One of Dodge City’s most famous prostitutes was Squirrel Tooth Alice who owned, not a squirrel but, a pet prairie dog. Following in the path of many of her compatriots in the business, she ended up marrying a surveyor working for the Eureka Canal Company which built the Soule Canal.
In 1878, the city council passed an ordinance directing law enforcement to collect fines from individuals practicing gambling and prostitution. These fines were not intended to eradicate, or slow, either practice. Financial penalties were merely a cost of doing business in Dodge City and helped pay the salaries of the City Marshal and his assistants.
There were those who tried to halt this immoral practice. In July of 1873, a cattle herder brought a prostitute to the Dodge House bar. This ended badly for both the herder and the bartender who refused to admit her. The bartender was shot and killed while the offending herder was shot dead by a third party.
In 1879, Quaker judge and owner of the Alamo Saloon, Henry V. Cook, closed down a house of ill repute known as the Palour House. The Dodge City Globe said it was "closed for repairs."
Still, prostitution did not wane in Dodge City until the cattle drives ended in 1886. It was a simple case of supply and demand. Without the demand from Texas cattle drovers, the supply moved elsewhere.
Kathie Bell is curator of collections and education at Boot Hill Museum.