- The Dumas Hotel is what remains of a
once-thriving area of "commerce" in old Butte that
was almost as lucrative as the mines. Authorities turned a blind
eye to gambling and prostitution in this district. It allowed
miners a place to vent their enthusiasms and empty their pockets,
keeping them broke enough to apply themselves to their work during
their shifts in the mines.
Here was "The Line," Butte's Red Light District, which
included this block of Mercury Street and Galena Street one block
to the north.
Designed by the French and French Canadian Nadeau Investment
Company, the buildings opened into a discreet alley, known as
Venus Alley, where hundreds of prostitutes plied their trade
from rooms or from spaces in the walls called "cribs"
that were equipped with callboxes for ordering drinks or food
from nearby bars and noodle parlors. Evidence of these cribs
can be seen in the narrow doorways of the building across the
street from the Dumas. One place alone, The Casino, employed
Pimps and whores followed the miners to Butte from all corners
of the earth. Prostitutes usually went by generic names such
as Jew Jess or Mexican Maria and their pimps were referred to
as "John McGuimps" or "secretaries," a more
refined epithet that was peculiar to Butte.
More sensitive to the rights of working people than to those
who exploited them, the local police were especially hard on
pimps and would often run them out of town when they were identified.
Parlor houses that rimmed the block like the Dumas were built
for more discriminating clients. The Dumas was designed with
tall windows facing the street so customers could examine the
"merchandise" before stepping in the door. The Dumas
continued to operate as a roost for "soiled doves"
until 1982. That's no typo either. The Dumas was shut down in
1982 when madam Ruby Garrett's parlor house was finally shut
down for violations of federal income tax laws.
Charlie Chaplin, who came to Butte to perform during his vaudeville
days, took away many vivid memories of Butte's Red Light District.
He commented later in his autobiography about the unusual beauty
and variety of the women who worked there. Up on the corner of
Galena and Wyoming stood the Copper Block, which served as the
main office for the Nadeau Investment Company. It was also where
many of the girls on the Line lived and picked up their mail.
In later years, the Stockman Bar on the ground floor of the Copper
Block was run by "Dirty Mouth" Jean Sorenson. Old timers
tell how she could outcuss a muleskinner if any man was foolish
enough to mistreat the girls. Some patrons still remember the
petrified walrus penis she kept behind the bar as a sap. She
went to prison after she shot a man in the bar. She was released
early. They say she got time off for good behavior because she
was "good with the girls" at the Women's Prison in
For details about what is going on in the Dumas these days, check
out their web site at: