By Kristen Kauffman


In 1930s Prescott, kids were told to stay away from the dangerous red light district. Postmaster Gail Gardner wouldn’t even name it. To him it was “the restricted zone.” In her oral history archived at the Sharlot Hall Museum, Mittie Cobey recounts a night when she was a teen driving around with a boy after dark. They were not supposed to be near Goodwin and Granite Streets. But on this night, as they neared the alley behind the Hotel St. Michael, Cobey saw a man clutching his belly. Fifty yards behind him, she saw a man holding a gun. She was sure the one man shot the other because the victim was “bothering his girls,” as Cobey said, “the cribs were right there.”


Prostitution has a long history in Prescott, but most of what is discussed are the Wild West days of Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate. What many don’t realize is that Prescott was still notorious in the 1930s. One of the most notable prostitutes was a woman named Gabrille Melvin (sometimes called Gabriell, Gabrielle Dollie, or Gabrielle Wiley) who went by “Gabe.” Gabe started working on Whiskey Row in 1909. In 1915 she made the newspapers when her man stole her diamonds and left her for another woman. Gabe caught up with him in a liquor store in Los Angeles. Wearing luxurious silk, she confronted him and shot him through her fur muff. The bullet grazed his heart, so his bleed-out was slow enough for him to beat her unconscious before he died. 


While Gabe had to face trial for murder, she was acquitted. She later claimed that, in 1919, she married Bernard Melvin and “abandoned her life of shame” to lead an “exemplary, virtuous, honorable and righteous life.” This was part of her statement in the court case Melvin v. Reid (1931) when Gabe took a screenwriter to court for loosely telling her story in a movie called The Red Kimona (1925) – a movie which, Gabe insisted, sullied her reputation with friends who were unaware of her previous life. And because the movie was playing at the Elks Theater in Prescott, she was sure they all now knew. 


However, Gabe embellished the story of her 1930s innocence. In fact, until 1933 Gabe was listed as the proprietor of The Rex Arms Hotel, one of the most notorious brothels in Arizona history, where she served as its famous madam. The Rex Arms Hotel, located at the corner of Granite and Gurley (where Chase Bank is today), was one of the few such establishments in the state permitted to operate. By March of 1918, the Arizona Board of Health closed all brothels statewide to prevent venereal disease. The Prescott Journal-Miner, February 20th, 1918, reported that “sporadic efforts had been made to clamp the lid on the South Granite street badlands” but prostitutes were permitted to operate with “rigid regulation.” All “rigid regulation” meant was that the prostitutes would have regular doctor’s visits. According to Elisabeth Ruffner, the girls were seen at Dr. Looney’s office in the old Masonic Building on Cortez while Ruffner was his assistant. On one occasion, Ruffner held a poodle for a woman being inspected. In 1946 County Attorney David H. Palmer was elected to drive gambling and prostitution out of Prescott. The Rex Arms Hotel was no more by 1951. Cobey had no idea what happened to the man who was shot. She could not tell anyone she was there, and with law enforcement looking the other way, this incident would not have been featured in the newspaper. 


“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at for information or assistance with photo requests.