Saloon Girls and Whores of the Old West by Sylvia McDaniel

The_Burnett_Brides_BOXED_SET_72dpi_2Yeah, I knew that would grab your attention right away, and I aim to please. If you were around in the sixties and even the seventies, I’m sure you saw Gunsmoke with Marshal Matt Dillon. And who else…Miss Kitty.

Did anyone else realize that Miss Kitty ran the saloon and would have been a well dressed whore? I was only five years old, how would I have known that she was sleeping with the cowboys for money. And why didn’t the sheriff ever marry her?

Since I like for my westerns to be as historically accurate as possible, I do a lot of research on the west. One of my favorite books is Hell’s Half Acre by Richard F. Selcer. This book is about the half acre of Fort Worth, Texas back during the height of the cattle driving days. He talks about prostitution back in the old west and how it contributed to the local economy. Women were not allowed in most saloons, but they were close by. Most women rented rooms above the saloon where the randy cowboys would pay them a visit.

While we like to think of a prostitute in the old west looking like Miss Kitty, most were between the ages of fourteen and twenty and were hardened women with names like Big Nose Kate, Squirrel-Tooth Alice, Irish Kate and Monkey. Yes, can you imagine a cowboy coming in and asking for Monkey?

There was also a row of shacks in town that was known as “the line.” They were wooden cubicles ten to twelve feet deep and were rented by the week. A crib girl could be had for pocket change and her rent for a cubicle was twenty-five dollars a week. At fifty cents a tumble, she’d have to do more than fifty cowboys a week to survive. That’s hard living. Mr. Selcer discredits the myth that eventually most of these women found husbands and married. There is no statistical evidence to support this myth, and many died very young.

Another book I have, Saloons of The Old West by Richard Erdoes talks about Hurdy Gurdy Girls. I’d never heard the term, but it’s a saloon where the men went to drink and dance with a good-looking woman. At eight o’clock, the men filed in, paid the ante for the first round of drinks and their partner. Then they’d grab a hurdy gurdy girl and dance either a sovienne, waltz, mazourka or a schottische. After their allotted time, the women would take their partners to the bar where they bought another round of drinks and paid for their next dance. A good hurdy-gurdy girl could net twenty-five dollars plus her share of the drinks. Better than the crib girls were doing in Fort Worth. And sex was not expected.

Tell me what do think of when you hear the term soil-doves from the wild west? Or a saloon girl? Did you know about Hurdy Gurdy Girls?

Sylvia McDaniel is the author of the best-selling western historical series The Burnett Brides. She loves stories with good-looking cowboys, action, humor and romance.
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11 thoughts on “Saloon Girls and Whores of the Old West by Sylvia McDaniel

  1. Yes, I saw all of those westerns as a kid, and I never thought of Kitty like that until I was much older. lol No, I never heard of the Hurdy Gurdy girls. Very interesting post.

  2. I loved Gunsmoke. Miss Kitty was a unique bird because the law was her friend and the women of the town didn’t look down on her. She also ended up owning the saloon in the later episodes. She wore her heart on her sleeve for Marshall Dillon and it’s too bad that they didn’t work things out. No happily ever after there!

  3. A fascinating blog post, thanks Sylvia. You’ve certainly done your research! Recently I thought of Miss Kitty, and the realization of her true profession dawned on me. She was the heart of that show. I never heard of Hurdy-Gurdy girls, but I’m sad for the Fort Worth gals. What a miserable and thankless life.

  4. Very interesting. And I did know about the hurdy gurdy girls, but did you know that the tradition of hurdy gurdy girls dates back to medieval Germany?

    I’m afraid I must disagree about Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. A couple of years ago, while rehabbing from a serious injury, I made it my mission to watch every episode of “Gunsmoke” and every episode of “Marshal Dillon” (the half hour version). I even listened to a few seasons of the radio show. And there are two things I can tell you for sure – 1) Chester Goode was a far better sidekick than Festus Haggen; and 2) Miss Kitty was no whore!

    It is clear that Kitty had a checkered past, and she probably had been at least a hurdy gurdy girl or a whiskey girl, if not worse, but during the events of Gunsmoke, Kitty was a no-nonsense business woman.

    Let’s not forget that while females owning and operating saloons was rare in the west, it was actually pretty common for women to own drinking and gambling establishments in New Orleans, going back to the times of pirates and before. And Miss Kitty was from New Orleans, and returned to New Orleans several times during the show, and ultimately returned there to retire (after one too many let downs from Matt).

  5. Kitty was matts woman, she told the girl one the trsin that. He was her man that episode when he was shot by the spine, the didnt have sex scenes on tv then , you had to assume, which wasnt hard to do cause matt killed like 70 dudes over her.

  6. I love westerns so much they’re my favorite. Love Gunsmoke. I have Season 1 through 12. Not able to find 13 To 20. But can’t afford them. Times are very difficult. Any western with James Arnez. I love. Like Larame to Bonanza. Rawhide. And many more. They’re the best of all time.

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