One of Deadwood's ‘madams’ - Black Hills Pioneer: Columnists

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One of Deadwood's ‘madams’

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Posted: Friday, March 9, 2012 11:00 am

A lot of the juiciest and most interesting stories often have to do with the unmentionable topics of polite conversation, and history is no different. Though it may not be the first thing that communities want to advertise in their history books, a lot of the towns in the Old West had famous saloons, outlaws and “soiled doves” in addition to their churches and libraries and places of business.

And, like it or not, the fact that these were important parts of the community make them an important, and certainly interesting, part of the history. Deadwood is known for its cast of colorful characters through history, and Dora DuFran is one of the names on the list.

Now, not to worry. This is a daily newspaper, and since those closest will tell you that even the thought of impolite topics of conversation bring a blush to my cheeks, I can promise that the following account of Dora DuFran will be as polite as possible, with anything too unmentionable simply censored. I will, however, present the facts that are relevant. And, the fact is, Dora found success in running a brothel.

Born Nov. 16, 1868, in Liverpool, England, Dora moved to the United States with her family when she was very young. Her parents, Joseph and Isabella Bolshaw, stopped first in New Jersey, but around 1876, they moved farther west to Nebraska.

Dora is said to have been a beautiful girl, and she started in her eventual career as a young teenager, moving to Dakota Territory along with others seeking fame and fortune. She worked as a dance hall girl at one point in Rapid City, using the name Amy Helen Dorothy Bolshow, and at the age of 15 when the Black Hills gold rush swept into Deadwood, she took on the title of madam and started a brothel.

While I won't go into the specifics of Dora's business practices, she opened several establishments throughout the years in different communities, including Belle Fourche, Lead, Sturgis, and eventually Rapid City.

Dora also married, which is where the name “DuFran” comes in. She married Joseph DuFran, said to be a “gentleman gambler,” in Deadwood, but that didn't stop her professional pursuits; she continued to own and operate brothels throughout the marriage. 

She also lived up to the frequently stereotyped “harlot with the heart of gold,” as she is remembered for being generous to those in need, offering financial help to miners and others down on their luck.

She is also remembered for her association with Calamity Jane, who supposedly worked as a maid for Dora occasionally when she was going through hard times. Dora would later publish a small booklet, entitled “Low Down on Calamity Jane,” under the pen name d'Dee, based on these experiences and her friendship with the infamous figure.

And I can't verify (and I'm not sure how one could) this, but I read that she coined the term “cathouse,” after the Deadwood stage delivered a wagon full of-you guessed it-cats, to her establishment. Now, I would love to know the story behind it, whether she ordered the cats to be delivered or if she wanted the cats or if there just happened to be a wagon that a bunch of cats randomly stowed away in and made it to Deadwood and she was just the kindhearted person who took them in-but it sounds like the makings of quite a tale.

Joseph died in 1909, but Dora lived until Aug. 5, 1934, when she died of heart failure at the age of 60. The couple is laid together, along with Dora's pet parrot, named Fred, at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.

There, now-that wasn't so bad, was it? I think I even safely got through writing this without a blush, and I hope no one's delicate sensibilities have been injured in the least. History ebbs and flows regardless of our sentiments, but knowing what's happened in the world empowers us to have a better understanding about it today.

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