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Ladies of Denver: Jenny Rogers and Mattie Silks - Part Five

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Continued from "Ladies of Denver: Jenny Rogers and Mattie Silks - Part Four"

Jenny Comes to Denver

Hearing of the gold and silver rushes in Colorado. Jennie came to Denver. She bought her first house at 527 Market Street - from Mattie silks no less - for $4,600, and made that money back in less than a month. Now even though her house was successful, it was not run as cleanly as Mattie Silks ran hers. On several occasions, customers were arrested on her property for smoking opium, some of her girls were arrested for stealing property from the customers, and the general social outcry against the brothels led to a crackdown in 1886 against all the ladies and their houses, raiding and fining establishments regularly for a period of six months. Jennie was also the first madame – and possibly the only – who threw over the practice of keeping her house windows closed and covered. Not liking the stale air that came from perfume, alcohol, cigars, and of course, sex, Jennie had bars put over the windows instead so that she could enjoy the air of Denver while at the same time preventing robberies and “boarders’ from sneaking men into their rooms.

Jenny got herself involved in scandals in Denver almost from the time of her arrival. But some of these scandals could be no more than gossip, given the nature of the situation. The biggest of these is when Jenny confided in her then boyfriend that she wanted to have a bigger and more luxurious house than that of her competitor, Mattie Silks. According to the story, her boyfriend got the skull of an Indian woman, buried it in the yard of George Splevin, and donning a badge, went to Splevin’s house with a forged search warrant, which of course turned up the skull – the skull which the false officer claimed was the skull of Splevin’s first wife, who had gone missing shortly after her arrival in Denver. However, the false officer told Splevin, the charges would be dropped if this man would give Jenny Rogers the money to build the house of her dreams. And so Splevin did, apparently to the tune of $`17,780.

Whether that story was true or not, what is true is that on March 23rd, 1888, Jennie Rogers bought 1942 Market Street from Minnie Clifford, using the name Leah J. Fries to do so. The architect William Quayle was hired to remodel the building, adding five sculptured stone faces to the building, supposedly the images of those involved in the scandal that had provided the funds to buy the home. At this point, Jennie now owned what was called the biggest, brightest and most magnificent house of ill repute from the Mississippi to the west coast. IN the parlor, floor to ceiling mirrors were installed, the wall was opened between 1942 and 1950 Market Street (which Jennie rented), and the first floor of the building next door was decked out like a Turkish harem. The upstairs was for her female “boarders” and the basement became a dedicated wine cellar.

Jennie Rogers was now in a position to hire the best of the best. Girls with good looks, even better manners and even well educated were what she offered in her house. The finest dressmakers and milliners came to her establishment, and Jennie picked out the clothing for her girls. While this may seem magnanimous, it was not – Jennie made her girls pay for their own clothes, expensive though they may be.

Like Mattie, Jennie was also very fond of horses and owned her own stable. She was an excellent horsewoman, and could handle a carriage better than most professional drivers of the day. Every day, a carriage with a matching team of grey horses was brought to Jennie’s door, and she would spend the next hour riding about Denver, including the upper class neighborhoods so near her place of business. Jennie loved to shop and attend the theater, and it was on one of these outings that she met John A. Wood, a bartender at the Brown Palace Hotel. They fell in love, and in 1887, she bought him his saloon in Salt Lake City. Speculation is that she was trying to keep her business and social lives separate, which is why she set him up so far away. But Jennie was happily married and financially well off, so she often paid him surprise visits. On one such occasion, she found him being friendly with another woman, so she shot him in the arm. When asked by police why she had shot him, she proclaimed that she had shot him because she loved him. Woods wound was not fatal, and he told the police that her shooting of him was justified, and the police released her and dropped all charges. This ended their relationship for a time.

Continued in "Ladies of Denver: Jenny Rogers and Mattie Silks - Part Six"

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