Formidable Colorado Pioneer Women

Tough and hardy, pioneer women did what was necessary to survive.  They stood by their men or alone and fought Indians, the elements, starvation, and toiled endlessly in the fields and at home.

However, hard they fought at home, they continued their fight for schools, churches, and bringing the law into the wilderness.

Many single women who homesteaded the new territory, took on the responsibility of men, working their own land and acquiring jobs such as mule skinners, hunters and trappers, and working cattle ranches. Notable Women in the new Colorado territory became famous as wives of miners who struck it rich during the Colorado gold rush of 1859.

Baby Doe Tabor, one of the most famous pioneer women and married to Colorado millionaire Horace Tabor, lived in excess and died in poverty.

The “Unsinkable” Molly Brown and her husband became rich when he struck a huge gold vein west of Denver.  Molly became famous for her part in the greatest maritime disaster in history, when the Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912, and sank. There were infamous women in Colorado history as well.  Cripple Creek’s Pearl de Vere, was the madam of the most elaborate “gentlemen’s club” in the Pikes Peak region of the gold rush.

Colorado bad girls features three Colorado women were sent to jail for breaking the law and their “mug shots” sent all over the state.

Famous Hunter, Martha Maxwell, was known as the “Colorado Huntress” by using unusual methods of bringing down the game and displaying her handiwork.

One of the outspoken Colorado women against the treatment of Native Americans was Helen Hunt Jackson.  She traveled the country in an attempt to make people realize the plight of the Indians at the hands of the government.

Pioneer women longed for the opportunity to vote and by the late 1800s had earned that right in four western states.  Caroline Churchill was one of the founders of the women’s movement in Colorado.

Whatever job the pioneer women took on, whether female outlaws or pillars of the community, they followed through and became even greater assets to the establishment of Colorado as a state than men.

Caroline Churchill

Fights for Women’s Rights in Colorado

One of the first ladies of women’s equal rights in the west, Churchill used her newspaper, the Colorado Antelope to support women.

Caroline Churchill
Caroline Churchill photo courtesy of Time Life Books

An ex-teacher, she used political reporting, poetry, and outright anger to keep women appraised of their rights and encouraged them to get involved.

Caroline started her newspaper in 1879, without a cent and but with tenacity.

The plucky woman wrote from the heart believing in women’s rights and the abuse of men to the “fairer sex.”

She met with opposition by the dominant male population of Colorado.  Many thought her feminism to be brought on by “mid-life changes.”

Others laughed at her exploits and avowed that she would drop this nonsense when she got it out of her system.

In 1882, she changed the name of her Denver newspaper to the “Queen Bee” and started weekly publications.

She relentlessly pushed for education for young ladies and pensions for mothers with children.  Due to Caroline’s efforts, women obtained equality in Colorado in 1893, while back east, the idea was scandalous.

No matter what was thought about Churchill’s values, she was a pioneer woman ahead of her time and a great asset to women’s rights.

Pearl de Vere

The Cripple Creek Madame

Pearl de Vere, the famous madam in Denver, moved her establishment to the rich goldfields of Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Gold fever was everywhere along the Pikes Peak region and miners were earning thousands of dollars a month for their labor and spending it just as quickly. Ms. de Vere set up her “house” on the outskirts of Cripple Creek on Myers Avenue outside of town, in the middle of the red light district.  A fire three years later destroyed most of the town, including de Vere’s house, but Pearl rebuilt and was back open within weeks.

A classy lady, she decided she wanted an opulent establishment painted pink and loaded with expensive furnishings.

Called the “Old Homestead” the place became known for a hundred miles around, even to Denver.  It was an expensive and elaborate residence.

To gain entry to the house, the front door was in charge of a crisply dressed maid who took the admittance fee charged of $50-$100.  A letter of introduction was also required.  Pearl’s place was open to only the most affluent of customers.

Champagne flowing, fine food prepared by a chef, and elaborate drinks kept the festivities going, as well as a piano player in the foyer. Hand-painted screens were scattered through the floors of the house.  Velvet wallpaper and damask curtains set the mood. Crystal chandeliers blazed and red velvet plush furniture filled the rooms.  Paintings of scantily dressed women adorned the walls.

Many new-fangled gadgets were introduced to guests for the first time.  One such item was the Edison Standard Phonograph.  Listening to music already recorded was an auditory miracle.

The introduction of electricity made gas lamps obsolete and in every room of the house, lights were on day and night.

Pearl had bathrooms with running water installed.  This was a luxury most could not afford.  Her staff of at least seven people kept the liquor cabinet stocked and saw that the culinary morsels were always available.

Pearl had a short life in Cripple Creek.  She moved there in 1893 and died in 1897 from an overdose of morphine.

The Old Homestead still exists on the outskirts of town and is preserved by the historical society in all its elegant glory.