Hard-drinking cowboys, cattle barons, outlaws, gold miners – the masculine heroes of the Old West are often romanticized, while independent women were often maligned and looked down upon - especially those women who made a business of selling their bodies. All the more so if they were successful at it. The stories of the madams in this volume reveal Miss Kitty of the long-running television series Gunsmoke as a faint shadow of the raucous reality of saloon girls. Enss successfully breathes a bit of life into some of the West’s most notorious women of the night.
The women left their mark on history starting with their aliases - Squirrel Toothed Alice, Big Nose Kate, and Madam Mustache. They were not afraid to use their wits or their guns to defend their hard-won cash - or their communities, for that matter. In 1837, Eleanora Dumont, along with ten other armed citizens, prevented a riverboat from fobbing off its smallpox-ridden passengers on Fort Benton, Missouri. They pitched in when natural disaster struck, as well. When a tremendous earthquake wreaked havoc on San Francisco in 1906, Jessie Hayman and her girls fed and clothed thousands of homeless people.
Enss touches lightly on the lives of a dozen women of the Old West. That is where the great disappointment of this book lies. It is much too short, less than a hundred pages. She whets the appetite for a more in-depth treatment of the owners of brothels, their mark on history, and changes in attitude toward them as the areas became more civilized. To her credit, Enss includes a short bibliography where readers may find more information. This is only a primer, and Enss forgets adults have outgrown primers.Josie Cabassi, born in Italy in 1923, tells the tale of a rural peasant life and the journey to Australia in 1937. It is a tale of hardship, endurance and, above all, family. Tally Hobs, on the other hand, was born to privilege in 1922 in Peppermint Grove. With the death of his mother and an absent father, he was left to the influence of his grandparents and eventually boarding schools. Dorothy Hewett, one of Australia’s famous poets and playrights, also born in 1923, gives the reader a glance at life in Western Australia for a child in the 1930s.