Dora DuFran ran houses of ill-repute in Deadwood, Sturgis and Rapid City. The story below is an example of the many told of her during those wild and woolly days of Deadwood’s infancy. She never had any children although she did marry. You can visit her grave at Mt. Moriah, it is located very close to Wild Bills and Calamity Jane’s grave sites. If you go you will see a small marker near hers, that of her parrot, Fred. She had him buried there as he passed before she did.
Dora DuFran, famous Deadwood madam. She had her parrot Fred buried in her plot at Mt.Moriah.
PHOTO COURTESY ADAMS MUSEUM, DEADWOOD
One Version of Why Brothels Became Known
by G. Sam Carr – reprinted from Deadwood Magazine with permission
It was a bright October morning in 1878 when an odd-looking stranger stepped into the Deadwood Pioneer office and said, "My name is Cornelius and I'd like to place an advertisement."
I introduced myself as Richard Hughes, reporter, and asked what type of ad he wished to place.
Towering above me at least six-foot-two, the stranger was broom-stick skinny with a hook nose and bulging eyes. In a very serious voice he replied, "I wish to purchase a dozen cats."
"What are you going to do with a dozen cats?" I asked.
"Rodents," he answered. Reading the puzzlement in my face he explained that he was an attorney who presently was employed as a piano player at Dora DuFran's Green Front Hotel. And, like the other establishments on lower main street in Deadwood Gulch, the Green Front was crawling with rats.
"Consequently, the ladies are unable to concentrate on their work and the customers are complaining, " he said.
"You're not going to find any cats in Deadwood," I told him. "A while back we had a couple, but they wandered into the woods and the coyotes got them."
Cornelius lifted his top hat and scratched his head. "Now that is frustrating. It's essential I locate and purchase at least a dozen cats. Do you know anyone who could bring some cats into town?"
I thought for a second, then told him Phatty Thomson would be pulling out for Cheyenne soon and might be able to accommodate him. "I'll take you to Phatty," I offered.
As we walked down the street, Cornelius explained he planned to put a cat in each of the Green Front rooms.
Three days after Phatty Thomson delivered the wagon load of cats for $1.00 a head, the Green Front was the only rat-free brothel in Deadwood. The girls were happy again, the customers were back, and Dora's business thrived.
But her competitors weren't at all happy watching customers line up in front of Dora's place while other houses were going broke. Joining forces, they convinced the mayor and city council that legal action was needed to stop the public nuisance created by crowds forming at the Green Front.
Evidently the city clerk didn't understand the agreement. The ordinance he drafted outlawed all houses of prostitution within the city limits. By the time the politicians discovered the mistake, their wives insisted the ordinance be passed as written.
City hall was packed with spectators when the law was unanimously adopted. All the madams, including Dora, were ready to kill. Seeing Cornelius's top hat sticking above the angry crown, I pushed my way to him as he pulled a red-faced Dora toward the door. Funny part was, he looked pleased, as if he'd won a victory.
I followed the two of them outside where Cornelius was trying to calm the fuming madam. "Dora, you've got to trust me. Didn't I get rid of the rats for you? Haven't you cornered the market? Now I can prove that I'm not only a great pianist, but I'm also a great lawyer."
Soon after the law went into effect, the sheriff closed the Green Front and arrested Dora for violation of a city ordinance. Her trial was scheduled for the following Tuesday.
I was on my way to cover the trial when Phatty Thomson tapped me on the shoulder.
"Mr. Hughes, could you give Cornelius a message?"
"Sure," I said. "What do you want me to tell him?"
"Just let him know I'm back in town and I'll have my wagon parked where he told me to." Phatty turned and hurried down the street.
Cornelius and Dora were standing before the judge, who was waving a sheet of paper at the unrepentant madam.
"Miss DuFran. You are charged with violating the city ordinance that prohibits houses of prostitution. How do you plead?
Cornelius answered. "Your honor, the accused pleads not guilty and waives her right to a jury trial."
Turning to the city attorney, the judge asked, "Mr. Halpin, are you ready to proceed?"
Halpin stepped forward. "The city is ready."
I watched as witness after witness testified to the nuisance caused by hordes of men lined up in front of the Green Door all hours of the night and early morning. Much to my surprise, Cornelius declined to cross examine a single one of them.
The prosecution rested. Cornelius, looking like a well-dressed string bean, rose to his feet and ambled to the bench.
"Your Honor, I move that the charges against my client be dismissed for lack of evidence."
Spectators buzzed like a swarm of yellow jackets. Looking puzzled, the judge pounded his gavel. "Mr. Cornelius, do you take me for a fool? You sat there without saying a word while prosecution witnesses testified against your client. Before I deny your motion, kindly explain why you feel the prosecution failed to make a case."
Cornelius folded his long arms. "Thank you, your honor. My reason is quite simple. A house of prostitution must be inhabited by prostitutes."
The judge, looking as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing, responded with an impatient "So?"
Cornelius pointed to the prosecutor. "Mr. Halpin did an excellent job of establishing the popularity of my client's place of business. However, he failed to prove that the Green Front's popularity was due to the presence of prostitutes."
The judge growled, "You're trying my patience, Mr. Cornelius. If the Green Front is not a whorehouse, then what the hell is it?"
Cornelius smiled. "I sincerely appreciate your indulgence, your honor. Quite simple, the Green Front is a residence for felines. Very special felines. In fact, Miss DuFran is so fond of these little four-footed friends that she provides a personal guardian for each and every one of them.
A roar shook the rafters. The judge pounded, pounded and pounded his gavel. When the uproar finally abated, he leaned across the bench to stare at Cornelius. "Do you really expect me to believe that line of bull.....?"
Cornelius stepped closer to the bench. In a loud, clear voice he said, "Well, yes sir, I do. If I'm not mistaken, it was just a few days ago I observed you during your visit to the Green Front. You were holding and petting Miss Trixie's little black and white pussy cat."
The judge plopped back in his chair. Cornelius winked at me as he said, "I'm sure, your honor, we all know you would not have been in Miss Trixie's room if you did not also share Miss DuFran's love for cats."
In the front row, the judge's wife jumped to her feet, shaking her fist at her husband.
He lowered his head for a moment, then looked up with a gleam in his eye, gave a sharp tap of his gavel and made his ruling.
"After reviewing the facts, I find this ordinance is not applicable to cat houses. Case dismissed.
I pushed through the crowd to give Cornelius Phatty Thomson's message. He lifted his long legs to stand on a convenient chair, then yelled out in his clear, crisp voice: "On the corner of Main and Wall Streets, my associate has available for a limited time, 185 of the finest felines ever seen in Deadwood Gulch, selling for a price of just $50.00 each."
Like a herd of stampeding buffalo, the madams raced for the door.
The Green Front Theater located at 603 Main Street c.1910. The exterior gave no indication of the excitement found inside.
PHOTO COURTESY CENTENNIAL ARCHIVES, DEADWOOD PUBLIC LIBRARY
See also the people and places of Deadwood.