Working Women of the Silver Valley

Not all the wealth of Wallace came from the mines. Some came from bedrooms of the working women of the brothels like the Oasis or the Bi-Metallic. As the miners extracted the ore from the ground, the second wave of workers arrived to mine the wages of the miners and provide an escape from the dark underworld in which they worked. The majority of the men who came to the mines were young, single, and hoping to become rich. The women who came to work above ground were had the same aspirations.

Western prostitutes were not necessarily victims. According to historian Paula Petrik, who refers to some Montana prostitutes as "capitalists with rooms," there were two types of houses in which women worked. Large cities had Parlor Houses where young attractive girls were employed. They were elegant and catered to a higher class of men. Out west women worked in the Volume Houses, where women were hired mostly for short periods of time by the Madams who ran them. Volume House gave the women more freedom and were more closely connected to the community than their larger city counterparts. This close connection to the community and the scarcity of marriageable women, meant that for many women prostitution was short-term and often led to marriage and a new, more respectable line of work.

Brothels in the Silver Valley started as far back as 1876. Maggie Hall, also known as Molly B'damn, was an Irish immigrant, who came to the Silver Valley and opened a brothel in Murray in 1884. Though well educated, the only work she could find was as a barmaid, and her first husband forced her into prostitution. In the Silver Valley Hall was known for her generosity and good deeds, including nursing the sick during the smallpox epidemic of 1886. Hall died from tuberculosis in 1888, and the whole town mourned her passing. Even today the town of Murray has Molly B'Damn Gold Rush Days days every summer.

By the late 1970's prostitution was reaching the end of the line in the Silver Valley. Mine closings, corruption charges and bribery allegations closed many of the brothels. By 1988 only one brothel remained open, the Oasis Room. On June 23 1988, 150 F.B.I agents descended on Wallace raiding businesses over illegal gambling machines. The eight ladies working at the Oasis were tipped off and fled before the agents arrived leaving everything behind including the shopping they had just brought in. That marked the end of prostitution in the Silver Valley. Today the Oasis is a museum and you can see it just as it was the day the women left--a snapshot of what brothels were like in this small mining town.