maud lee cowgirl magazine

Ottoman and Johanne Gotsch never knew what led their daughter Anna to a life of prostitution in the Black Hills. Born on December 2, 1859, in Saxony, Germany, she was a precocious child who enjoyed spending time with her five brothers and four sisters and possessed a talent for painting. The Gotsch family moved to America when Anna was four years old, and they settled in Iowa. For a time, Anna considered becoming a teacher, then she met a soldier from Illinois named Edward Piergue and decided to be a wife. The couple traveled from post to post between 1873 and 1879. Their son Lawrence was born in October 1879 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and their daughter Josephine in 1882 in Humboldt, Iowa. 

Not long after the birth of their second child, Edward decided to abandon his military career and take up prospecting. Gold had been discovered in Idaho, and Edward believed he could find a fortune. He left Anna and their children behind at her parents’ home. Within weeks of Edward leaving, Anna set off on her own. By the spring of 1884, she was working at a house of ill repute in Deadwood. 

Anna Piergue changed her name to May Brown, and, in time, she earned enough working for various madams in town that she went into business for herself. May’s house was small but a favorite of many men in the area. It wasn’t long until she opened a brothel in Rapid City. The local newspapers reported the numerous departures and arrivals via stage May took traveling back and forth between businesses. She often made the journey with fellow courtesans Lottie Bright and May Melville.

Lottie, Mattie Smith, May Melville, Flora Hogan, and May Brown were all members of the same profession and good friends as well. They had a reputation for hosting wild parties where alcohol was in abundance. After an all-night celebration in early May 1886, the women decided to literally paint the town red. They paraded up and down the streets with paint brushes and buckets of red paint and marked various buildings with the scarlet color. When May thought the behavior of the group she was with had gotten too far out of control, she attempted to put a stop to the frivolity by leveling her pistol at them and firing a couple of shots. The police responded to the gunfire and arrested the four. May paid a $10 fine for discharging her weapon in public. The others had to pay a similar amount for drunk and disorderly conduct.

Encounters with the law did not intimidate May Brown. Like many career sporting women of the time, dealing with the police and the courts was part of the job. She wasn’t surprised when she was taken into custody seven months after the pistol incident. It was Christmas, and a steady stream of customers had stopped by her house in Rapid City to spend time with the ladies who worked there. Authorities were called to May’s place to address a complaint made against the business. May was taken into custody along with two of the women who worked for her and one male patron. Madam Brown was fined $10 for keeping a house of ill fame. May Howard, May Melville, and Frank Hamilton were each fined $5. An article in the December 21, 1886, edition of the Rapid City Journal noted that additional warrants had been issued for the arrest of others who were employed at the bordello and those that frequented the business. “This move of the police is in the right direction, and it is to be hoped the officers will have the moral courage to keep it up,” the article read. “These women have flaunted their shame in the face of decency for so long unmolested that their effrontery has become almost intolerable. A few applications of the ordinances will have the effect of ridding the city of at least a part of the pest.”

May encountered several men who wanted more from her than a single evening. She spurned the affections of all but one. Early upon her arrival in the Black Hills, May Melville introduced May to a renegade named John Tilford. He had been involved in a series of petty crimes from St. Louis to Cheyenne. Tilford traveled to Deadwood to escape a breach of promise suit filed by a woman in Kentucky he left at the altar. He met May shortly after he arrived. The two were often seen together and he visited her at her brothel in town and in Rapid City. John spent time at other bordellos, too, and he was seldom civil during his visits. He was violent. Prostitutes Georgia King and May Melville, were victims of his attacks. In September 1886, both King and Melville had John charged with assault and battery. When the matter was finally brought before a judge, Tilford was given the option to pay a $5 fine or spend two days in jail. He paid the fine.

John Tilford, and his friend, John Hamilton opened the Headquarters Saloon on Lee Street on December 1, 1887. They offered fine liquor and cigars, and May made sure the establishment always had soiled doves present. She helped furnish Tilford’s saloon with customers, and he drove business her way in exchange. The steady increase in traffic at May’s led to the hiring of more girls. The brothel’s further gain in popularity did not go unnoticed by authorities.

In mid-January, May was indicted for keeping a bawdy house. She paid yet another fine and returned to work. The longer May’s relationship with John went on the more trouble the madam found herself. Authorities continually charged her for operating bordellos, and she was implicated in the theft of alcohol from warehouses in Sturgis. John Tilford and his cohort, Robert Lawrence, were arrested for the crime on August 21, 1888. The case was eventually dismissed when a key witness came up missing.

When Tilford was arrested two months later for conspiring to rob the pay train on the Black Hills and Fort Pierre railroad, May was in court again. Police believed she might have offered her help in planning the deed. Tilford and five others planned to first wreck the train and then rob the paymaster of the more than $12,000 reported to be on board. The planning of the crime allegedly took place at Tilford’s saloon. Law enforcement was alerted to the robbery and were able to stop Tilford and the others before the job was done. Members of the gang Tilford was with confessed to authorities the horses to be used in the botched holdup belonged to him. It was rumored that May aided Tilford in acquiring the animals and had fresh mounts in the waiting for the getaway.

Both May and Tilford denied involvement in the planned attempted train robbery. The article in the October 14, 1888, edition of the Rapid City Journal questioned their credibility given their prior run-ins with the law and noted that “it would seem, on the whole, that it might be amiss to give Telford [sic] and his female consort an opportunity to tell what they know of the whole affair, or if they know anything about it. It is a reasonable presumption, from all the surrounding circumstances, that they are not entirely in the dark.”

After a full investigation, Tilford was charged with larceny and his trial set for December 1888. May was in the courtroom every day during the hearing. Witnesses testified that after the criminals escaped the attempted holdup they met at May’s brothel. The evidence against Tilford proved to be overwhelming. He was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years hard labor at the territorial penitentiary in Sioux Falls. May and Tilford corresponded until his early release in 1894, and he returned to Deadwood.

May kept busy during Tilford’s absence. Her association with the convicted felon and allegations that she had a part in the attempted train robbery did not adversely affect business. The brothels in both Deadwood and Rapid City continued to do well. May managed to keep her name out of the papers until the summer of 1891 when she had a prostitute named Blanche Doe arrested for theft. Blanche stole a dress valued at $5 that belonged to May. The judge hearing the case was able to settle the matter quickly by ordering the defendant to return the garment and apologize.

May Brown, formally known as Anna Piergue, divorced her husband Edward on February 3, 1892. She had begun divorce proceedings four years prior before Tilford’s legal troubles became known. She had been too overwhelmed with that situation to file the paperwork and see it through at that time. The February 4, 1892, edition of the Black Hills Daily Times announced the decree for divorce had been granted and reminded readers May was “a member of the demimonde.”

Authorities marched May Brown and two of her employees, May Hamilton and Mollie Smith, before a judge in Rapid City on the charge of keeping houses of ill fame. The three were summoned to court after a nineteen-year-old boy was arrested for frequenting May’s brothels in Deadwood and Rapid City. The young man pled guilty and was fined $5, but his father insisted the madam and the other two women answer for their parts in the illegal activity. 

The police had warned Madam Brown in the past that she was not allowed to do business with boys, but she had ignored the order and now must suffer the consequences. She was fined $5 and had to pay the court costs. When she left the courthouse, the chief of police vowed to make life “a trifle burdensome for this class of our population.” When the wife of P. H. O’Leary learned he’d been spending evenings with May in the summer of 1893, she pressed charges against him for adultery. Friends of both O’Leary and May got word to the unfaithful husband that his arrest was eminent, and he fled to North Dakota. Law enforcement was still on his trail when Tilford arrived back in Deadwood in late August 1893.

May and Tilford took up where they’d left off and they were rarely seen without the other. It wasn’t long before the two were once again in trouble with the law. The violent incident involving the pair happened at May’s Deadwood bordello. “Shortly after midnight on Monday night, a shooting scrape occurred in this city in a house conducted by May Brown,” the May 2, 1894, edition of the Argus Leader reported. 

“After knocking beer glasses around promiscuously they proceeded to clean out the establishment, and during the melee which ensued, John Tilford appeared on the scene, fired two shots, one of which took effect in the ankle of Michael Mahoney, one of the participants. Mahoney was taken to the Exchange Hotel, where he had the wound dressed yesterday afternoon. 

“…No arrests were made until yesterday when Sheriff Zollars arrested John Tilford and May Brown on the charge of shooting with intent to kill. The parties were taken before Judge Worth when Tilford entered the plea of not guilty and waved an examination. He was bound over to appear before the grand jury in the sum of one hundred dollars, which was furnished. The case against May Brown was continued for several days.”

May was eventually acquitted of the charges. Tilford failed to show up for his court date, and his bond was forfeited. May and Tilford’s relationship appeared to have ended after the shooting. He left South Dakota and wasn’t heard from again until he shot another man during a card game at Fort Steele, fifteen miles east of Rawlins, Wyoming.

Lightning struck May’s Rapid City brothel in late July 1895. The fire that started as a result was quickly extinguished, and all the inhabitants escaped without injury. One of the boarders in the front room of the house was struck by the bolt of lightning, and for a time May feared the woman would die. The bolt struck her on the left shoulder, passed over the body to the right side, down the right leg, and tore the shoe from her foot. May was in the rear of the house at the time of the strike and was knocked out of her chair.

Life passed without incident for May over the next nine years. She was hospitalized at St. Joseph Hospital in April 1905 because she suffered with a disease called edema. May died on October 29, 1905. Her children traveled to Deadwood to retrieve her body. Her remains were sent to Dakota City, Iowa, where she was laid to rest.

Soiled dove Maud Lee worked at a house in Deadwood not far from May Brown’s business. Where she came from and what her real name might have been is lost in history. What is known is that she was a sporting girl who was employed at brothels in Pierre, Lead, Sturgis, and Rapid City. She arrived in Deadwood on December 1, 1885, and four days later was the victim of a beating at the hand of another prostitute. The assailant was arrested for assault and battery and fined $12.00 for her violent behavior.

Maud began the year of 1886 troubled with a medical issue. By the time she traveled to Rapid City to see a doctor, she was “dangerously ill.” She returned to Deadwood in April feeling better than she had in several weeks. She went back to work, alternating between the various houses in which she was employed.

A civil action was brought against Maud in June 1889 for nonpayment of a $35 bill. She claimed to have no money and couldn’t pay, but the complainant accused her of “fraudulent insolvency.” The businessowner to whom Maud owed a debt claimed she did have money but gave it to a friend to keep for her until the situation was resolved. After hearing the facts, the judge ruled in favor of Maud and dismissed the case.

In 1891, Maud was arrested for prostitution, along with three of her other coworkers in Pierre. They were ordered to vacate the brothel and leave the city. Maud moved her things to the bordello in Deadwood, but her career as a courtesan in Pierre did not end. On April 4, 1894, she had one of her customers, a man named Dick Williams, arrested for shooting up her room with a pistol. 

It came as a shock to the soiled doves in Deadwood and surrounding areas when Maud Lee died on September 25, 1895. The peculiar circumstances surrounding her death led authorities to launch an investigation. A coroner was summoned, and a jury was impaneled. A prominent female physician was suspected of performing an illegal procedure on Maud. At an inquest, the coroner’s jury agreed the courtesan died as a result of an abortion Dr. Alice S. Baird gave the deceased. The doctor was subsequently arrested for manslaughter. She was found guilty, paid a fine, and moved out of the Black Hills. Dr. Baird died in Mitchell, South Dakota, in November 1900.