When one thinks of the Wild American West, one likely thinks of names like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Wild Bill Hickock. Only slightly less remembered are names like Calamity Jane and Big Nose Kate. In most saloons across the Western States women called many of the shots at the card tables and many ran the brothels as Madams. In Chris Enss’ new book, Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous and Wayward Ladies from the Old West the tales of some of the most scandalous women of the day come forward to take their place at the table.
Enss compiles tales from San Francisco to Deadwood, and all the places in between. Women like Squirrel Tooth Alice (named for her pet prairie dogs), Tessie Walls and Belle Cora lead houses of ill repute and gambling better than any man of their day. What they all seemed to succumb to was the love of a wicked man. Many of the women started out as mothers and homemakers, only to be left completely alone when their man skipped out on them or died at the hands of the law. These women took matters into their own hands, and by doing so their incomes.
Enss’ writing is comprehensive, as well as sympathetic. While she never hides the crimes of these women, she does tell of them in an entertaining way that finds the reader nose deep in the book and unable to turn away. It is difficult to put down Wicked Women and even more difficult not to talk to those around you about it.
Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous and Wayward Ladies from the Old West is a delightful look into the Old American West for those who want to read a history that isn’t just menfolk at the OK Corral.
Wicked Women: Notorious, Mischievous and Wayward Ladies from the Old West is available from Global Pequot Press February 24, 2015.