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Sat, March 23

Book Review: 'Wild Women of Prescott' a fascinating look at city's past

"Wild Women of Prescott," by Jan MacKell Collins

I thoroughly enjoyed Jan MacKell Collins's book, "Wild Women of Prescott," which not only presents factual information, gleaned from extensive research, concerning the underbelly of Prescott's history, but also gives it to readers in the form of colorful and fascinating stories surrounding the events. Mackell Collins is not only a historical researcher, but a wonderful storyteller, piecing together from archives, interviews and records, the characters and plot lines behind the many historical dramas that took place in saloons, brothels, courtrooms of our area.

According to Mackell Collins, "Unlike in so many other cities across the West, Prescott's red-light ladies enjoyed unheralded freedom." Most citizens were accepting, and for a very long time, Prescott officials found ways to get around regulations being imposed from afar by Arizona Territory and then Arizona State. This allowed several enterprising prostitute-turned-madams, such as Annie Hamilton, May Ackerman, Gabe Wiley, and Lida Winchell (who was said at one time to have "more diamonds than most banks had money in their vaults") to become extremely wealthy. Unfortunately, for many of these shady-lady entrepreneurs, their lifestyles and circumstances did not always allow them to remain wealthy.

Though a few might have escaped, even temporarily, the worst aspects of their ancient professions, life for most others was extremely hard. Even if they weren't murdered or beaten by pimps or lovers, many became addicted to alcohol and drugs. The 2004 archaeological dig of the red-light district that took place before the parking garage was constructed found that of the 348 bottles recovered, roughly 75 percent of them once contained alcohol or drugs.

There are so many more stories than I have room for here. There is the story of Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday's lover; the historical debate over whether Wyatt Earp's wife, Josie, was really Sadie Mansfield; the incredible stories of Gabriell Wiley and of Mollie Sheppard; and the story of how respectability finally won out. It is a book you will want to read for yourself - and you might want to drop in on the Peregrine Book Company on Saturday, May 23, at 3 p.m. and hear what MacKell Collins has to say.

Peregrine Book Company, 219-A N. Cortez St.,

is in downtown Prescott.


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