Copper City call girls

Butte’s history of prostitution can be traced back to a Gold Rush ballad that observes “first came the miners to work in the mine, and then came the ladies who lived on the line.” Often situated below a mine yard, the line generally consisted of a row or two of shabby tents that temporarily housed migrant workers who had moved west with the expansion of an industrialized America. In uptown Butte, this temporary housing ultimately gave way to permanent buildings along the main thoroughfare of what is now Park Street. Less than a decade after the establishment of Butte’s first mining camp, sex workers began flocking to the richest hill on earth to sell their bodily wares to the rapid influx of miners and railroad workers that lived on the line.

 

The ladies of the line have been historically cast as harlots who plied a flesh trade to the men considered responsible for turning Butte into an incorporated cityscape. But it can be argued that these anonymous businesswomen were integral to the development of Butte’s early commercial infrastructure, as they took advantage of the opportunity to make a profit for themselves and poured their wages back into the local economy. Some of the more ambitious ladies of the night joined ranks and founded legitimate, self-sustaining brothels. These working women often regulated safer business practices and ensured operational standards, which should certainly come as no surprise considering Butte’s long history as a union town.

 

At the turn of the century, Presbyterian evangelist W.E. Beiderwolf rallied against public prostitution and bestowed upon Butte the distinction of being the “widest open town in the wide open west.” He was, of course, referring to the city’s lax restrictions regarding morally ambiguous but wildly popular establishments such as saloons, cat houses, and opium dens. One such epicenter of alleged vice in Butte was the Dumas Brothel, a bordello so successful that city officials allowed it to continue operating under the radar for four decades despite a federal mandate that it be shut down. At the time of its eventual closing in 1982, the Dumas Brothel was longest-running brothel in America.  

 

Historically, houses of such ill-repute attracted as much support as they did condemnation. For example, Charlie Chaplin famously remarked that “Butte boasted of having the prettiest women of any red-light district in the West, and it was true.” City officials rightly believed that keeping brothels up and running was an effective distraction that prevented union workers from violently rising up against Butte’s early political corruption. Most importantly, the ladies of Butte’s earliest line were able to carve out a commercial space for themselves that allowed them the agency to fend for themselves in a climate that was otherwise unforgiving.