Sunday, December 11, 2011
Bad Girls of the Old West
Prostitution has been around since the beginning of time, but did you know there was a difference in the old west between the "painted ladies" and "saloon girls?"
Although proper women assigned many names to others in their gender who held these jobs, names such as "fallen angels, soiled doves, daughter's of sin, or scarlet ladies," the 'painted ladies' were normally those who offered sex for pay, while 'saloon girls' were paid by the establishment owners to entertain clients with singing and dancing. No matter which position they held, women who worked in saloons and other similar places were looked down upon by 'proper' women simply for their association with drinking, gambling and whoring. Back then, even watching an animal mate shocked the sensibility of an upstanding lady.
The women who worked in saloons were generally lured there out of desperation. Flyers promising fancy clothing, fine pay, good working conditions, and protection played upon the female senses since job's were scarce and many husbands died unexpectedly by guns, horses, and disease. Life expectancy in the old west wasn't very long, and women without partners didn't have the choices we enjoy today.
Of course, I imagine there were some women who became whores simply because they enjoyed sex, and in some instances, 'proper' women considered 'daughter's of sin' a necessary evil. Sex wasn't often discussed between mothers, daughters or even among friends, so entering a marriage bed without any knowledge made the experience unpleasant, and sometimes, something to be dreaded. If romance authors wrote about true experiences, at times our books wouldn't be all that romantic. Thank goodness, we can stretch the truth a bit. :)
In my latest historical western release, Odessa, my heroine takes a job as a "songbird" in a saloon, much to the dismay of the hero. But, being a feisty gal, and finding all other options closed to her, Odessa soon finds she should have heeded Zach's warnings.
Here's a scene:
The crowd grew rowdier as the night progressed, and Alf had come to her defense several times when a few trail hands made inappropriate comments or tried to drag her onto the dance floor. Not wanting to draw any more attention to herself, she dropped her suggestive poses and stood with hands clasped at her waist. The jar atop the piano behind her was half-full, and now she’d find out if her singing or her sleazy stance had earned her the extra money.
She joined in on cue when he played Oh Susanna. She tapped her toe to the music and sang in her loudest voice, although she couldn’t help but wonder how someone came from Alabama with a banjo on their knee. The crowd clapped, and some even joined in the chorus. Odessa, caught up in the fun, did a do-si-do with a heavyset and obviously inebriated customer during a piano interlude. But when she sashayed back to her place, she realized he wasn’t ready to end the dance.
Odessa tried to brush off his clutching hands and continue with the song, but her actions only narrowed his eyes and flared his nostrils.
Alf leapt to his feet. “Hands off, mister.”
The drunk punched Alf and sent him sprawling, then blasted him with an icy glare. “Now get up and play, you bastard,” he slurred. “I plan to finish what I started with this here whore, or my name ain’t Augustus O’Reilly.”
People who had glanced over when the music stopped had gone back to their banter and drinks. Alf plunked out Red River Valley, but his gaze rested on Odessa. His face displayed the fear she felt. Time moved in slow motion. Visions of another encounter with an inebriated man flashed in her mind, only this time there was no Zach to come to her rescue.
Her racing heart echoed in her head and she felt helpless. Fingers bit into her skin. Odessa craned away from the burly man. “You’re making a mistake, Mr. O’Reilly. I’m only here to sing.”
“Right.” He guffawed, leering at her chest. “You ain’t showing off those pretty little titties jes to belt out a few tunes.”
This was the very thing Zach had warned her about. Or was it a nightmare?
If you want to find out how Odessa fares, you can find her story at Eternal Press and featured on Amazon (plus many other places you can Google).