By Jody Drake 

Back in the days when the railroad was connecting this great country, as a new section of rail was laid, a town would spring up nearby to service the needs of the rail workers. And, of course, the world's oldest profession was generally among those services. When a railroad employee was visiting one of these ladies, he would hang his lantern outside. That way if he was needed, he could be found. Now everyone knows the color of a railroad lantern. And the connection just sort of stuck. So as the pages of history began to turn forward we had 'The Red Light District'.

In the census of 1886 in the County of Yavapai, this researcher picked out one dozen women who were bold enough to list their occupation as prostitutes. But when I looked for further evidence of their lives, nothing could be found. Nothing. No birth records. No obituaries. No evidence that they had ever lived. One dead end after another. Just one line in the 1886 census of Yavapai County, Arizona Territory. Smith, Mary W F 22 Boarder Prostitute. 

With further research a few isolated stories were uncovered. But the full stories of their lives were always incomplete. One such woman was Juanita Maria Dean, simply known as Sammy Dean. She was an attractive woman with a bright smile and big eyes with a certain sad look about them. Those who knew her said she was slender and pretty, known to men and women to be very kind and friendly to everyone. She was from Texas and gracious in the same manner Texas women of the day were known. On July 7, 1931, she was found strangled at her apartment in Jerome near the Victory Market below Hull Avenue, on the edge of the Mexican Quarter. That day in July at 8:30 in the morning, a white man in a Panama hat was seen entering Sammy's house. The witness said Sammy had on a green dress. Early that evening Leo Portillo found his friend Sammy clad only in a slip with a blanket tossed over her body, dead. A lot of evidence pointed to one of the mayor's sons, but he was never questioned. Maybe there was a coverup, or maybe the police just didn't bother because Sammy was a prostitute and a 'grass widow.' A 'grass widow' was a woman whose husband had left her but did not support her. Sammy's husband was a gambler and so far as her family knew she had left Texas with him for Colorado. His name was George Dean, but what happened to him is not known. Nor is it known how Sammy landed in Jerome instead of Colorado. Her murder and life were nothing more than unanswered questions. 

Prostitution in Prescott was centered mainly on Granite Street. A few ladies were said to be found on Whiskey Row. But in the handful of prostitutes this researcher did uncover, the one common bond was unanswered questions. Not one complete life could be pieced together: where they had come from, where they were going, how they ended in this life of desperation. Who, what, when, where, and why? Some part was always missing. At best, speculative answers could be formed. 

Lack of education or job skills, desperation, who knows for sure? Some had better lives than others, but all were buried deep within "THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT." 

The History Under the Star's program at the Sharlot Hall Museum will be patching together the lives of some of these women. This exploration will take the form of a theater presentation called Soiled Doves. The shows will be presented on weekends in the month of June 1997. For more information about this show or five others to be presented this summer call the Sharlot Hall Museum at 445-3122. 

Jody Drake is the Director of the Blue Rose Players.

Illustrating image

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bub8069pc)
Reuse only by permission.

Patrons of the Union Saloon, located at the corner of Goodwin and Granite Streets in the 1890s, surround a probable prostitute.