Nine “Soiled Doves” Who Changed the Face of the Old West.

The Bella Union Saloon and Theater in Deadwood South Dakota, where Mollie Johnson met her bigamist husband. Wikimedia

Mollie Johnson

Mollie Johnson was another Deadwood madam who operated as the main competition of Dora DuFran for many years. Mollie came to Deadwood from Alabama, where she had begun working as a prostitute at the age of 14 or 15. In Deadwood Mollie became known largely through her own self-promotion as the Queen of the Blondes. Her sobriquet was based on her employing three blonde women who worked in her brothel as well as maintaining separate boarding houses for itinerant miners and other drifters through the camp.

Mollie’s brothel was known as a loud and sometimes dangerous place, as the women there were competitors both for renters in their boarding houses and customers in the brothel. Frequently this competition led to physical confrontations between the women, often to the entertainment of the customers.

By 1878 Deadwood had a facility presenting touring shows and other entertainment known as the Bella Union Theater. Mollie met Lew Spencer there when he was performing as a comedian. Spencer was an African American touring performer and he and Mollie were married in 1878, although Spencer continued to tour as a performer and Mollie continued to work as both madam and prostitute.

While on tour Spencer was arrested for shooting a woman later identified as his first wife, evidently the marriage to Mollie was an act of bigamy. There is no evidence that Mollie ever saw Spencer again.

Mollie suffered at least three fires which destroyed her brothels in Deadwood, rebuilding each time. By 1883 business in the mining camp had largely fallen off and Mollie left Deadwood to vanish from history. Stories of her bordellos and the women who had worked in them were common in the Deadwood newspapers up until the time she left town for parts unknown, and many can be read today.