Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Tenderloin District of Baker City

by Shanna Hatfield

Research for my soon-to-be-released fifth book in the Baker City Brides series unearthed some interesting details.

I generally assume any town in the old west probably had more than its share of brothels and houses of ill repute, but I hadn't looked into much history of what would have been found in Baker City, Oregon, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

From the details I could find, Baker City was no exception to that general rule.

Baker County Library District
The above photo shows Baker City in 1900. In the middle of the photo is an impressive looking mansion. In fact, that building served as a popular brothel for many years. To the bottom right of the photo where sloped roofs of what looks like shacks are visible, is part of Chinatown, where more than twenty "cribs" existed.  In the center of the back of the photo, the Geyser Grand Hotel is visible, standing tall over the other buildings in town.

Some of the brothels were simply called "female boarding houses" which must have been confusing to people who didn't know what the businesses really were. In fact, one such establishment had a sign out front that said "Furnished Rooms to Let."

Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon
This photo is of a working girl and her son, circa 1900.

In an effort to keep the "unsavory" businesses from running amuck through town, those who engaged in certain "illicit" business were eventually relegated to a section of town that became known as the Red Light  or Tenderloin District.   Reportedly, some of the cat houses even had red lights shining in their windows when they were open for business.

Some of the city officials were determined to keep the bawdy houses away from prominent business buildings and to be out of sight of “respectable people.” One article even reported the arrest of a young man flaunting a red tie, known for his "procurement" work with houses of ill repute, for living off the wages of a working girl.

In Lightning and Lawmen (Baker City Brides Book 5), the hero of the story, who also happens to be a deputy in town, goes to one of the popular bawdy houses when there is a shooting.
Dugan returned to the girls who had gathered around Jenny. “Was anyone else injured?”

“One of our customers tried to wrestle the gun away from him and took a bullet in the leg. He’s still upstairs.” A girl Dugan thought went by the name of Trixie spoke.

Dugan nodded at her and carefully edged around Jenny’s body before he rushed upstairs. A man Dugan was taken aback to see in a brothel sat propped against a door in the hallway and tried to staunch the blood flowing from his leg with a spotless white handkerchief.

“Surprised to see you here, Mr. Mayor.”

The man glared at Dugan. “I’d prefer my presence at this establishment remain unknown, Deputy Durfey. 

“Not my place to say anything. I am a little curious, though, how you’re gonna explain the bullet wound to your wife. Why aren’t you at the opera house this evening?” 

Lightning and Lawmen will release June 28!

     After spending her formative years on a farm in eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky heroes.
     When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

     Shanna loves to hear from readers. Follow her online at:
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