The discovery of gold in the southern Black Hills in 1874 set off one of the great gold rushes in America. In 1876, miners moved into the northern Black Hills. That’s where they came across a gulch full of dead trees and a creek full of gold and Deadwood was born. Practically overnight, the tiny gold camp boomed into a town that played by its own rules that attracted outlaws, gamblers and gunslingers along with the gold seekers.
Deadwood was comprised mostly of single men, a ration of men to women as high as 8 to 1, never less than 3 to 1.The lack of affordable housing, the hostile environment, the high cost of travel, and the expense of living in Deadwood prevented many men from bringing their wives, girlfriends and families to the growing town. Hoards of prostitutes and madams came to Deadwood to capitalize on the lack of women. By the mid-1880s, there were more than a hundred fifty brothels in the mining community.
The most notorious cat house in Deadwood was owned and operated by Al Swearengen. Swearengen was an entertainment entrepreneur who opened the house of ill-reputed shortly after he arrived in town in the spring of 1876.Initially known as The Gem, the brothel was host to a number of well-known soiled doves of the Old West from Eleanor Dumont to Nita Celaya. The brothel was in continual operation for more than sixty years. The business changed hands a number of times during the six decades it was in existence. Among the many madams who ran the cat house were Poker Alice Tubbs, Mert O’Hara, and Gertrude Bell. The business also changed names a number of times. It was known as Fern’s Place, The Combination, and The Meoldian. When the brothel officially closed in 1956, it was known as The Beige Door.
In the spring of 2022, The Beige Door will once again be open for business. This time as a museum. The South Dakota Historical Society have invested in refurbishing the brothel and making it ready for the public to tour.
The book Deadwood’s Red-Light Ladies: Behind the Beige Door will focus on the infamous cat house, those that managed the business, their employees, its well-known clientele, the various crimes committed at the location, and its ultimate demise.
Chris Enss is an author, scriptwriter and comedienne who has written for television and film, and performed on cruise ships and on stage. She has worked with award-winning musicians, writers, directors, producers, and as a screenwriter for Tricor Entertainment, but her passion is for telling the stories of the men and women who shaped the history and mythology of the American West. Some of the most famous names in history, not to mention film and popular culture, populate her books. She's written or co-written more than two dozen books for TwoDot. And she's also a licensed private detective.