The History of Brothels in Wyoming
Wyoming history is rich with tales of gambling, saloons and vice. Long before the Cowboy State was even a state, ladies of the night practiced the world's oldest profession. Here's a look back at some of Wyoming's most infamous houses of ill repute.
The Hog Ranch in Fort Laramie - Originally built as a trading post along the Oregon Trail, this historic site was likely home to several brothels before it became a frontier Army post in 1849.
After soldiers arrived to protect travelers heading west, the Hog Ranch was established. For two dollars, men were given a token which could be exchanged at the bordello. For three dollars, travelers could spend the evening at the Hog Ranch. We're not sure how the brothel became known as the hog ranch, but it couldn't have been a flattering term for the ladies who plied their trade in the area.
Downtown Cheyenne - When the railroad came to Cheyenne in the late 1860s, it quickly developed a reputation as the one of the wildest outposts in the West. During the "Hell on Wheels" era, saloons and brothels were among the biggest businesses in town.
The most popular attraction was James McDaniel's Theatre, located on what is now Pioneer Avenue. McDaniel owned most of the block, including a gambling saloon and a stake in the "House of Mirrors", which was widely regarded as the classiest brothel in Cheyenne before the McDaniel's block burned down in the late 1880s.
The Tivoli Building, which still stands on Lincolnway, was a popular saloon and brothel for decades. During prohibition in the 1920s, it served as the city's most popular speak-easy while ladies of the evening entertained guests upstairs.
The Second Story Brothels of Laramie - Like Cheyenne, the Union Pacific Railroad reached town in the late 1860s and it quickly become another lawless wild west outpost. Notorious gunman Steve Long was among the city's first settlers, establishing a saloon and brothel named "Bucket of Blood".
In 1869, a vigilante group led by Sheriff N.K. Boswell stormed the saloon, lynching Long and his three brothers in the streets. The incident helped city leaders establish a sense of law and order in Laramie. However, the 'soiled doves of Laramie' continued to operate freely in the infamous second story brothels on "Block 20."
The Sand Bar District in Casper - In the 1890s, Center Street was home to several brothels who served the wealthy cattlemen in the area. When Casper experienced an oil boom in the 1920s, many of the brothels moved to the Sand Bar neighborhood. While the city's population more than quadrupled in size, many speakeasies popped up in the district, operating with the support of local law enforcement, who were among their most loyal clients.
The Yellow Hotel in Lusk, Wyoming - Widely known for their "girls of the gulch", the town of Lusk was a hotbed for lust in the early 20th century. The most notorious brothel in town was the Yellow Hotel, which was run for nearly 60 years by legendary madam Dell Burke.
Burke came to Lusk in 1919, just in time for the nearby Lance Creek oil boom. Over the years, her relationship (and discretion) with political and economic leaders across the state would help her become a well respected member of the community.
Lusk is also home to Wyoming's only public monument to a lady of the evening. "Mother Featherlegs" was a working girl who was murdered in a 1879 robbery. In 1964, the city built a monument at her grave site, honoring her famous "ruffled pantalettes", which made her look "like a feather-legged chicken in a high wind".
The Occidental Hotel in Buffalo - One of Wyoming's most historic hotels operated as a brothel in the late 1880s, catering to prospectors and miners in the area. Legend has it, the building is still haunted by the daughter of a working girl who died in her room on the top floor.
Main Street in Sheridan - After the Burlington and Missouri Railroad arrived in 1892, Sheridan quickly become the biggest, and most affluent town in northern Wyoming. Saloons, billiards parlors and brothels were the most popular business on Main Street, along with Buffalo Bill Cody's Sheridan Inn, which served as the headquarters for his traveling Wild West show.
The Willis House in Encampment, Wyoming - Built in 1908, the house of ill repute was operated by Lydia Willis, one of the most well respected businesswomen in Johnson County. The historic structure is now a popular attraction for tourists in the area.