The Real Culprits?

In August of 1907 a fire nearly razed an Oklahoma City bawdy house to the ground at 312 E. Grand. Several people died and two were injured. Victims were Lillian Raye, Vergie Wallace, Sadie Ward and Walter Ward. Two escaped by jumping out a 2nd floor window and sustaining serious injuries. These were C.R. Clark and Rose Jones. Several local men were initially jailed for investigation but the eyes of the local law soon looked elsewhere. The owner of the business was a woman who had been in operation, to a great success, since the original land run April 22, 1889. Oklahoma City had a love-hate relationship with its vice and seemed to reflect the words of Augustine who prayed "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet." Oklahoma City was in conflict with its better self and it was so easy to point the finger at the people providing certain services rather than the people keeping them in business! SO the saloons, the gambling dens and the sporting houses (houses of prostitution, ill repute, disorderly houses, etc.)stayed open with minor fines until, as one early citizen described it, the city suffered a periodic 'spasm of virtue.' This usually occurred whenever one political party was trying to oust the other! The general belief expressed by one Democrat was that the city could tolerate vices if they acted with some decorum and respected the law in serious matters. It was, simply a matter of business. It was good for business to have some places open and operating for the citizens and the visitors who brought business to town. So, despite serious problems in the theory, in January 1, 1908,Anne Bailey, the owner of the establishment was arrested, along with the African American porter there, Judge Peters. They were charged with murder, poison and arson in particular with specific charges in the murder of Lillian Raye. The mass murderer Belle Gunness was in the news and the local D.A. even dug in basements of Anne's earlier resorts to see if she too had buried victims. An unidentified body had been found with a bottle of carbolic acid half buried in a sand bank in September of the previous year and blood stains had been found at the burned out wreckage. Poison, murder, and arson...the local candidates and political parties had a field day. 'We have trouble, right her in...' In March of 1908 Harry McCuen and Fannie Richey were brought, in heavy shackles, to Oklahoma City from Denison, Texas where they had run away ... the very night of the fire. Apparently, McCuen had jilted Fannie and went to Texas. Fannie did not like this and so gave the whole affair away. The two erstwhile criminals claimed that Anne Bailey, aka 'Big Anne', had been at the bottom of the trouble. She had advised them to commit the crime of murdering the stranger who had come to collect money owed him and to have the porter set fire to the building to hide the crime. The logical inconsistencies aside, early on in the story, police suspected the couple of the crime, as well as locals in the African American community, until, the story was fashioned by the local political machine to become a crusade case to illustrate the need for a city government 'tough on crime' and the criminally immoral segments of the society. The jury that heard the case apparently saw through the attempt to deflect attention from the actions of McCuen and Ritchie (who was also known as Richards). The die was cast, however, and the attention stayed on Annie. They were determined to get her for something....anything. In the story aspects that were ignored included the fact that the blood stains apparently came from a wound acquired earlier by one of the victims (perhaps in a fight with a customer?). Anne Bailey had an injunction against her and had had to move her business off Harlot's Lane (400 block of W. 2nd, now Kerr). The construction was not totally finished and parts of the downstairs were still a little rough. Why would Anne had suggested poisoning her staff and customers? Why would she knock them out during prime business hours at the house of ill repute? Why would she suggest the porter set a fire to hide blood stains and possibly burn down the building she had just sunk funds into? She was far too smart and clever, how else had see survived nearly 20 years running several successful houses, acquiring real estate and leverage in Oklahoma City politics? If this Fannie Ritchey is the Fannie Richards who once worked for Anne she learned 'How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is. To have a thankless child.—Away, away! Let it be a wicked child who mocks the mother who cares for it.' Or maybe, what goes around...comes around. ---(c) Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015. Part of an ongoing project on the life of 'Big Anne' of Oklahoma City.



Most of the attention, deserved or not, in the early days of "Hell's Half Acre" went to Madam Annie Wynn Bailey aka "Big Anne" or "Big Annie."  There were lots of competitor's, however, and here is a working list of some of the Madams and Working Girls found to date:
In 1896, Daisy Clayton and 6 of her 'inmates' were arrested for disorderly conduct. Madam Daisy was at the "Red Onion" on Hop Blvd.
The main Madam who appears to have held sway over the girls and joints on Alabaster Row and just over the city line, east of the Santa Fe tracks on Grand was a woman named Martha Fleming, known to local police and public by the sobriquent, "Old Zulu".  Zulu warriors had been making the news in the 1890's and papers were filled with stories of these exotic, effective and somewhat romantic fighters from Africa engaged in a battle for their freedom.  At 6 feet, with a dynamic and deep voice, and packing a large pistol, Martha more than earned the nickname, especially when she had too much to drink or was using heroin or cocaine.  She and the police seemed to enjoy the notoriety and she often reminded them it took eight police 'bulls' to lock her up one time.  A colorful woman who also served as an early business woman, community organizer, and voting promoter.  She died in about 1914 in Oklahoma City but little beyond her birth in Virginia and her life seen through court records and newspaper accounts is available.
Are these there real names?  Sometimes. Like many women in similar lives, they changed names and histories like some changed shoes. A woman might become someone new on leaving one location. Maybe as a way to start fresh, to hide, or pretend.
In 1898, a Lillian Day was fined for running a house of prostitution but no location was given.
The Vendome, Bunco Alley (24 1/2 W. Grand now Sheridan)  in Hell's Half Acre, was the most elite establishment with Brussels carpets and fine furnishings was run by Ethel,sometimes called Eva, Clopton. They also had a woman there known as "Sportive Lizzie."
In about 1890, most of the houses were moving out of "Hell" and going 'uptown' taking over W. 2nd (now Kerr) between Harvey and Hudson Streets. That area was called "Harlot's Lane" and many large houses did enthusiastic business there on both sides of the street: Etta Woods Creole Girls, The Arlington (an elegant established owned by Big Ann but run by Madame McDonald), Nina Truelove's place, a circus atmosphere prevailed at the building shaped like a ship called 'Noah's Ark' run by Big Liz aka Mary Belle Everhardt and sometimes Evans and Big Anne's Place 444 managed for her by Effie Fisher until she died by a mysterious assassin in 1903.
In 1905, Jean (Julia) Lamonte, aka Madam Brentlinger was heading the "Red Star" at 431 W. 2nd (now Kerr).  She had come, with Big Anne, on the day of the run in 1889.
In 1906, Eva Ryon's house of prostitution was at 28 1/2 W. Grand when she was fined; Irene James was fined for operating a house but no address or name given in police court records. At the same time Naomi Harris, Emma Bryan, Bernice Daniel, and Mary Mangold were fined for working in a bawdy house. That same year, it was recognized that one Ethel Preston was an 'inmate' of the Corn Exchange at 326 W. Grand, when one man shot and killed another over her favors.
In 1907, a 'high tone house' was being run in April by a "Mrs. Summers" at Broadway and Washington. The City Directory lists a widow Sara L. (Mrs. John) Summers at 129 W. Washington who may or may not be the same woman.
In 1909, the inmates of a house at 31 W. Washington were fined...Mary Johnson, Nell Johnson, and Grace Davis.
There was also the Foss House at Washington and Robinson, south of Reno. Many of these streets were eradicated or renamed over time.

--(c) Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015

Suicide of a Wayward Girl

The haunting title, rising from the pages of a newspaper over one hundred years old, was enough to send chills down the back. The brief summary of a life of morphine addiction, hopeless love, and final lonely desperation were touching. Gertie Nye, approximately 27, had taken a room at The Red Onion in Oklahoma City. She had apparently had a rocky life and had spent some time in the Insane Asylum at Norman, Oklahoma to take a cure for the morphine habit. So on a fall day she took a small room above a questionable business and October of 1902, she wrote a note to her dear love, "Jessie" expressing her deep and lasting friendship and  sharing just how lonely she now was. 
Beside the letter was a photo of "Gertie and Jessie" and on the back was the notation "To Nellie" and the note that Gertie was born Jan. 23, 1881 in Louisville, KY.  She told Nellie, a friend or sister?,  to learn from her mistakes and not make the same.  Then she lay on the bed and took an overdose of morphine.  The news article indicated her father John Nye lived in Guthrie, Oklahoma and she might have to be buried in a potter's field due to earlier family situations. They reported that the message had come from Guthrie about the girl having been 'enough trouble'. 
A haunting story of someone's pain, loneliness and lack of connections with others that made their problems seem too great to bear. If you know someone, or have these feelings yourself, there are people who can help.  One such place is National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number at 1-800-273-8255.
(Source: Weekly-Times Journal OKC), Oct. 31,1902, pg. 6).

The MOST Notorious Place in Hell's Half Acre in OKC

On Monday April 22, 1889 the Oklahoma Land Run gave turbulent birth to what would become Oklahoma City.  By day's end there were already in place establishments to get a drink, get a girl and just plan get in trouble.  Some started small and would grow into significant entities in the new community in the next 20 years and others, well they seemed to have gone in grown and stayed as a throne in civic affairs.
Early community records from the 1890's indicate the establishment considered the worst of all of them was on a lane called Hope Boulevard in "Hell's Half Acre".  "Hell" was basically where the modern convention center, Myriad Gardens and a hotel now stand. It was bordered on the east by Front Street (now Santa Fe) , north by W. Grand (now Sheridan), west by South Broadway, and south by California.  Inside this square of sin were other smaller lanes and labels that identified particular sections. These included Hop Boulevard, Bunco Alley, Maiden Lane, Alabaster Row, and Battle Row.  It does not need a crystal ball to explain the significance of these but businesses where not limited and soon spread over these early and often unidentified early businesses.  They were placed just across the street from the depot of the Santa Fe rail line and for many years that served as the eastern boundary of the town. Beyond it were other places and dives but they were a county or U.S. Marshall affair and only received mention when people where killed in fights or the law was hunting a wanted criminal.
The area of present Bricktown was the general area of a military encampment that served to help keep the peace in the earliest days. It is the site of the first cemetery but no one knows where that was other than it was by the river and the river tended to change course over the decades until taken into hand by the Army Corp of Engineers much later.
The most notorious place was on Hop Blvd. in the middle on the south side of the little lane between Front and Broadway and was called "The Red Onion."  And in the early years (1890's) it was operated by Madam Daisy Clayton.  In 1896 Daisy and 6 of her "girls" were arrested for 'disorderly conduct' and were bailed out by another madam in town, Anne Wynn (Mrs. Bailey).    Apparently there was either a bond of friendship among the houses or Anne Wynn, known to be buying real estate, may have been the behind the scenes owner. 
There were "Red Onions" scattered across the American Southwest and it is uncertain if they were begun by the same people or if they were named such because of the instant recognition the name might provide for would be customers.  In 1892, in Colorado, Tom Latta, a city alderman opened "The Red Onion".  In 1897, in Skawag, Alaska a "Red Onion Saloon"  opened. Today it is a restaurant with a museum, complete with costumed guides. They will gladly share the tales of bygone good times.  It is claimed the term, "red onion" was a colloquial one meaning something rare and special. The glamour was wearing thin by 1905 when the city had grown so much that residences began to ring the old "Hell" and the public, at least some, called for the law to clean it all up.  Of, course the same rhetoric can be found in newspapers from as early as 1894. Things, sometimes, are slow to change.

--Marilyn A. Hudson, c2015


The Mystery of "Kid" Bannister, Early Land Run Gambler

When he was killed in a confrontation with the owner of the notorious, "Turf Club" in Oklahoma City on July 4, 1903, an interesting and colorful of the Land Run of 1889 passed into history.
At noon on Monday, April 22, 1889, the Land Run commenced with an estimated 10,000 rushing into the area of the "Oklahoma Station", meager the collection of shacks, railroad station and post office, that would be the foundation for Oklahoma City.   Mid-afternoon, however, already saw the gaming tent of one "Kid" Bannister, a well-dressed gentlemen gambler, up and running and a handmade sign outside announced the opening of the first bank in Oklahoma City.  Of course it was a Faro Bank and was soon eclipsed by a real bank but for a brief time the honor stood. Bannister had set up his tent directly across from the Santa Fe RR station on the west side of what would become Front Street between California and Sheridan, or Grand as it was known then.
A Kansas tavern keeper named John Burgess was at the corner just to Kid's north. An empty space was between the two establishments until the afternoon arrival of the train and Madame Annie Wynn arrived to claim the spot.
Over the next fourteen years, Kid Bannister would make a nuisance of himself up and down the streets, in the saloons and gaming rooms of "Hell's Half Acre" (approximately where today's Cox Center and part of the Myriad Gardens is now).
Until that July 4, 1903 when he seemed to be looking to start a fight and found a ready opponent in Mr. Cook of the Turf Club.  So with a flash and bark of a  gun, the life and legend of Joseph "Kid" Bannister came to an abrupt halt.  His first name seems to only appear as he looses his life and their seems little details in local papers about the man, his origins, or even where he might have been buried. Who was Kid Bannister and how did he come to make the Land Run and start the first ....Faro bank...in Oklahoma City?



On the 1900 Oklahoma Territory Census for Oklahoma City, she was listed in the house overseen by Annie Wynn at 444 West 2nd (now Kerr between Hudson and Walker).  The area was known as "Harlot's Row" due to both sides of the street being primarily filled with houses of ill-repute of both the major and the minor levels.  Effie Fisher, like all the other women in the house, proudly identified as a "prostitute' on the survey.
At some point after 1900 and before 1903, she was given the task of managing "Big Anne's Place 444" at 444 West 2nd for the owner Annie Wynn. Wynn had several properties, covering a variety of businesses, across the city.
In 1903, Effie Fisher was assassinated by persons unknown as she sat in her bedroom conversing with one of the employees of the house, a woman named Sadie.  The weapon used was a double barreled shotgun and she was killed instantly and the woman with her injured but not seriously. Just days before she had made a will and rather publically said if anything happened to her look to her ex-lover, Ed Filson.  Filson was dually arrested and charged but the inquest jury acquitted him.  He may be one of the 'Filson toughs' mentioned in a 1899 Guthrie newspaper.  He had been shot the previous year in brawl by John Wilkins and in the same fight his brother was killed from a doorway by an unknown person who disappeared.  According to local papers of the region, Effie's remains were shipped to Centraila, Illinois for burial.
In a previous post I offered the theory that the famous ghost of the Skirvin Hotel might really be Effie. The risqué actions of the alleged ghost seem to be the playfully frank actions of a woman of the world rather than the housemaid done wrong of the local legend. What with all that nasty urban renewal that destroyed all her old stomping grounds, what else was a girl to do but find somewhere elegant and sophisticated to stay?  http://mystorical.blogspot.com/2014/05/skirvin-hotel-effie-ghost-and-theory.html

--c Marilyn A. Hudson, 2015


Who Was Annie Wynn? Part 1

Anne Wynn was born in 1863 or 1865 (depending on the census response) in Illinois. According to early records and accounts she was one of 18 children and left with a friend on a stage coach headed west in 1880 when she was 17.  Either as an eloping bride or a runaway daughter, she ended up in the mining camps of Colorado. Some claim she married a man named Wynn there in Colorado and others suggest she might be the mysterious Anne Ferguson who bought out a madam in Denver.  Whichever was the case, she worked about seven years managing a “house” or brothel in Leadville before the 1889 Oklahoma Land Run called. 

It is known that in the late 1880’s life in the Colorado regions began to get a little less welcoming for establishments of the type Annie knew.  Businesses such as houses of prostitution, gambling dens, and saloons were being pushed out of sight through laws, fines, and social pressures. The mines were making people money and that brought in civilization and society standards began to elevate to the point that people could begin to pretend they did not use the businesses along the lanes and roads labeled the “red light” districts. Every community had several women such as Jennie Rogers who was 6 ft. tall, Rubensque and said to have blackmailed her way to fame against her major competitor, Mattie Silks.  She built a brothel in 1889 in Denver that had, it is said, tunnels leading directly to the state Capitol!  So there was plenty of inspiration for Annie as she headed to Oklahoma Territory.

Laws, environment, and business, however, all began to change.  In addition, some of the long standing leaders of the houses began to die off or move away.  Like so many others in the era, loading up savings, grabbing a few friends to staff a new establishment, she set off to find her fortune somewhere else.
It is often assumed that claiming land in the run required a male of legal age, so some source writers assume that she had some male with her and there is a suggestion she might have come with a husband. Any single woman of legal age, married women and widows could also make the run in hopes of staking a claim. There was even a special caveat for a widow and some discrepancies for town lots as opposed to section lands that might have allowed her, and othr women, to acquire city lots with the same ease as a farm.  What is known is that she came in on the afternoon train from the south, arriving about 3 p.m. and she saw right across from the crude Santa Fe depot the perfect spot for her to start her empire.  North and south looking west from the wooden platform of the rail depot was a wide wexpanse of dirt soon to become known as “Front Street”.   Already in place, its faro wheel buzzing in the tent covered space to the south was “Kid” Bannister’s Faro Bank. He proudly displayed a sign informing one and all that his establishment was the first “bank” in the new town.  There was a space and then another crude tent was flapping in the warm dust filled April air.  “John Burgess’s Joint” was readying to offer something to wet the whistle after a busy day of racing, fighting, claiming and more fighting. 
The area would win the label “Hell’s Half Acre” for the number of saloons, brothels, and gambleing dens crammed into a small area. Hell’s Half Acre was bounded, primarily, by Front Street (East), Grand (subsectioned into an area called ‘Bunco Alley’ for obvious reasons and now called Sheridan (North), California, with its ‘Alabaster Row’ (South) and Broadway (West).  It spilled over into just beyond the tracks to the East to the domain of the African American Madame, Old Zull aka Martha Fleming.  Town limits were the tracks so she operated just over the tracks and out of some police jurisdictions most of the time. In present Brick town was the Military Reserve Camp where , at the time of the run, members of the 2nd Co. Infantry and Calvary elements from the 5th and 10th groups under Captain Stiles stood ready to assist in keeping the peace in the huge and bustling mass of people.
Big it was!  Estimates were that anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people were jostling, jockinging and   jibbing as they tried to claim a lot of land.   Annie eyed that space between two such fine and upstanding businesses as perfect for her establishment.  She would have potential customers passing from both directions every hour of the day and night. Add to that its proximity to the train and nothing could be better.  There is no good clues as to how soon she went into business, but from a photograph of the area within a week or ten days and there is a distinct third tent in place between those two other establishments.
Big too were some of the women filling these roles as courtesans, soiled doves, prostitutes, whores, and other terms used to describe women who worked in the sex trade of the 1800’s and early 1900’s.   She was called “Big Annie” because physical descriptions of her indicate she weighed about 200 pounds and may have been tall as well.  This was not unusual in her profession; indeed, in Leadville and Colorado, many of the most prominent soiled doves were larger women of a decidedly tall or Rubenesque physique.  Photos from one house shows the range of women working there and most are 6 feet and larger in form.  Annie was not alone in this label in Oklahoma City.  “Big Liz”, aka Mary Belle Everhardt, was said to tip the scale at nearly 400 pounds.
At some point she developed a partnership with her opposite in the African-American community, “Big Zulu.”  Together they apparently promoted some specific political activities, offices, and individuals who no doubt helped protect their own assets and operations.  She may have kept notes and names in order to protect herself and her girls in the event local police, politicians, community people, business leaders, or even the U.S. Marshalls became too moralistic.  This might explain how that in nearly 20 years of operation she never appeared to suffer any great restrictions or punishment for illegal activities until just before she left town as the community began to change in major ways.

In the 1890's her name appears in several early newspapers and most of it was, surprisingly, related to real estate deals.  In April of 1896 she and another woman, Kitty Nelson, were found guilty of keeping bawdy houses. It was noted the sentences were 30 days in jail or a fine of not more than $500.  It was not clear if the two women were being charged for the same bawdy house or represented two different establishments. In August of 1896 she and C.G. Frost faced off at a Sheriff's Sale concerning city lots #20,21,22,29, 30 in Block 64, Oklahoma City.  In late February of 1901 S.R. Cook sold Lots # 29, 30, Block 64 for $200 to Annie. It appears some of her notoriety may have stemmed from , not so much from the bawdy houses and beer pavilions she ran but on her daring to step into the business of buying real estate like the other wheeler-dealers in the new community.
(c) Marilyn A. Hudson, "Who was Annie Wynn?", Mystorical, 2015.
To be continued.
[Author Hudson, who is also a storyteller, is working on a solo performance highlighting this woman's fascinating life]

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