“Luck never gives; it only lends.” Anonymous
A tall, hump-shouldered man with gray, bushy hair and a hang-dog look on his long, lumpy face pulled a stack of chips from the middle of the poker table towards him. Minnie Smith, the gambler who had dealt the winning hand, scowled at the player as he collected his earnings. “You’re sure packin’ a heavy load of luck, friend,” Minnie said in a low, clipped tone. “Luck had nothing to do with it,” the man replied. “You may be right at that,” Minnie snapped back. She pushed back from the table a bit and eyed the bullwhip curled in her lap. The man gave her a sly grin, “You’re not sore about losing,” he asked? “No,” Minnie responded calmly. “I get mighty sore about cheating though.” A tense silence filled the air as Minnie and the gambler stared each other down.
In the split second it took the man to jump up and reach for his gun, Minnie had snapped her whip and disarmed him. In the process of jerking the weapon out of his hand a breastplate holdout that had been tucked inside his jacket sleeve dropped onto the floor.
The man looked on in horror as the face cards attached to the hidden pocket scattered around him.
“I hate a cheat,” Minnie snarled. All eyes were on the dealer as she reared back and let the whip fly. After a few painful strikes the man dropped to his knees and desperately tried to find cover from the continued beating. Minnie was relentless and finally had to be subdued by the other card players around her. The gambler was helped off the floor and escorted to the town doctor.
That kind of violent exchange wasn’t unusual in the rowdy railroad town of Colorado City, Colorado in 1887. What made the event unique however, was that a woman was the aggressor. The public display further enhanced the quick tempered reputation of the madam and sometimes gambler, Minnie Smith. There were very few in and around the area that hadn’t heard of her.
Virtually nothing is known about Minnie’s formidable years. The first historical recording of the hot-headed Smith occurred in 1886 in Colorado City. She was recognized throughout Colorado not only as Minnie Smith, but also as Lou Eaton and Dirty Alice. She used a different pseudonym in the various locations across the state where she owned bordellos and saloons.
Like many madams, Minnie felt the alternate handles gave her a sense of mystery which ultimately brought in business.
Customers who frequented her two-story parlor house on the south side of Colorado City were impressed with her card playing skills and the way she ran the establishment. She always managed to hire the most exotic beauties to work for her and kept patrons entertained dealing cards in between visits with her employees. Minnie herself was reportedly unattractive. Residents described her as a “slender woman, not good looking and a vixen when aroused.”
The numerous run-ins she had with the law could have been avoided if she’d been able to control her fiery temper. Her career was mired in arrests for disorderly conduct and assault. She took on anyone who crossed her, male or female. She nearly beat an attorney to death with the butt of a gun for the disparaging remarks he made about her profession.
On January 24, 1891, Minnie traveled to Denver to recruit ladies to work at her new brothel in Creede. While visiting the booming metropolis she stopped into a tavern for a drink. As the evening wore on the more alcohol she consumed. By the early hours of the following morning, Minnie was drunk.
In addition to that, she was loud and belligerent to the other customers which prompted the bartender to contact the sheriff. Minnie’s disposition had not changed by the time the authorities arrived. She was arrested for intoxication and later released on the condition that she return to pay a fine. The moment she was let out of jail she fled the area and refused to make financial restitution.
Minnie stuck with her plan to set up a sporting house in Creede and it paid off. Customers flocked to the bordello. She hoped to duplicate her success with a third business in Cripple Creek. The laws against such places were restricted there, but Minnie found a way around the situation by calling the bordello a “rooming house.”
Competition for business was fierce in the gold mining camp. The other madams operating houses in Cripple Creek and Creede were considerably younger than Minnie and able to attract a regular cliental. Minnie was 45 and few took notice of her now. In late 1893, after falling into a deep depression, she decided to take her own life. She committed suicide by swallowing a large dose of morphine.
Minnie Smith’s body was laid to rest at the Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs. She left a substantial amount of money and property behind, but no one knows what became of her estate.