Laura Evans was one of the last scarlet women to join the ranks of Colorado’s madams, and when she died in April of 1953, she was over ninety years old. According to Laura, she grew up in the South, married at age seventeen, deserted her husband and baby daughter, changed her name, and became a prostitute in St. Louis. Laura was about twenty-five when she hit Denver’s Market Street like a bombshell, making caustic comments about the houses run by Jennie Rogers and Mattie Silks. After a few years, she graduated to Leadville where the silver was pouring out of the mines by the ton. She was popular, vital, vigorous, and determined to gain plenty of money to indulge her tastes.
Laura was flamboyant and learned early in the game that it paid to advertise. She kept her name in the news by her wild escapades, and before long she was known from coast to coast. Leadville will never forget two of her capers. When the circus came to town, she offered a circus worker a bucket of beer to lend her and her friend, Spuddy, a pair of brightly gilded Roman chariots. Each chariot was hitched to three of circus’ best horses, in Roman style, for the girls’ chariot race. Laura and Spuddy raced with frantic speed down Harrison Street, banging the gongs on the front of the chariots and scattering people to safety. Laura turned a corner too sharply, smashed into a telephone pole, and lost a wheel, thus ending her brief career as a female Ben Hur. The law arrived but released the pair with only a scolding.
Laura’s enthusiasm for fast horses was still high. For the site of her next wild ride, she chose the famous Ice Palace, constructed in 1869 from blocks of beautifully carved ice by the proud citizens of Leadville. Laura hitched a nag called Broken Tail Charlie to a phaeton on runners, and then she and Spuddy plunged straight into the elaborate Norman structure, leaving a trail of cracked ice and destruction in their wake. Finally, Broken Tail Charlie broke loose, headed back for the barn, and left Laura and Spuddy buried in the debris.
But Laura was good for more than a laugh. A strike occurred at the Maid of Erin mine, as a heavy guard of union sympathizers, armed with Winchesters, encircled the mine and stopped all traffic. The mine owners could not bring in the payroll, so they asked Laura if she could smuggle it in to superintendent. Laura agreed, fastened the canvas bag with twenty-seven thousand dollars to the inside of her skirt, and rode off up Carbonate Hill. When a picket stopped her and asked where she was going, Laura answered, “The Maid of Erin mine. I want to see a friend that you fellows won’t let come down to town.”
Laura’s part in the Maid of Erin strike led to her being blacklisted by the miners’ union, so toward the end of 1896, she left Leadville for Salida, Colorado, a bus rail center on the Rio Grande Railroad. She was an immediate success in her elaborate new house. Her girls were the best lookers in the West, and she “outfitted them in the prettiest silks and boarded them in the plushest rooms.” Laura carried her money in a silk purse high on her left leg, while her girls “wore silk garters embellished with ten-dollar gold pieces, locked on their thighs with a gold lock and chain.” Although Laura prided herself on her graduation from the ranks, she remained available – for a price – and hers was the last house to close in Colorado, lasting until 1950.