No. 440
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
September 18, 2019

Duel of the Divas

May 30, 2011
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To whom much is given … BEIJING — A man who in 2009 killed six of his family, including his own children, was executed Friday [September 16, 2011] in Beijing. Li Lei, 31 years old, stabbed his parents, two sons, wife and sister to death on November 23, 2009, at their home in Beijing’s Daxing […]
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Executed Today - 9/16/2019

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By Jo Anne Giovino with photography and research by Barbara Morrissey and Kristin Pepe *(All rights reserved, August 2019) Although …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 7/31/2019

Nicholas Monsarrat had a long and distinguished career as an author. He is probably best remembered today for the 1951 novel, "The Cruel Sea," and 1952's "The Story of Esther Costello." When he was visiting a Quebec shooting-lodge in 1953, he was told a story which was as compelling--and far stranger--than anything in his fiction. Some time later, he wrote an account of his eerie
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Strange Company - 9/16/2019
Jeff and Joe Soapy Smith buries Joe Simmons The Illustrated Police News April 9, 1892 (Click image to enlarge) oe Simmons was a tall, slender gambler known to many as “Gambler Joe” Simmons, a member of the Soap Gang who managed Soapy Smith's Tivoli Club in Denver, 1890, and Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede, 1892. According to William Devere’s poem "Two Little Busted Shoes," Simmons
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 3/25/2019
Charles G. Corlis kept a bowling saloon on Broadway between Leonard and Franklin Streets in New York City. On the evening of March 20, 1843, several bowlers saw a woman wearing a veil and a straw hat, enter the saloon. They saw her leave the place with Henry Colton, owner of the Colton House hotel, a few doors away on Leonard Street. Sometime later, witnesses saw Charles Corlis talking with
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Murder By Gaslight - 9/14/2019

Just when you think you’ve seen every old-school manhole cover that still remains in New York, you discover another you’ve never noticed before—with a new name embossed on it and a different design. This lid, made by M. Dattner, is a new one for me—spotted on East 78th Street between First and Second Avenues. That’s […]
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Ephemeral New York - 9/15/2019
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Belles of the Bowling Alley | Post 5

Duel of the Divas

Nevada, 1890s -In an age when the closest thing to mass media was a cigar box label both Lillian Russell and Lola Montez were international superstars. Both were stage actresses and performers and both were known for their beauty. The question of which was more beautiful was settled by two cowpokes in the Nevada dessert in the 1890s.

300px-Lillian_Russell-young

Lillian Russell

Born Helen Louise Leonard in Clinton Iowa, in 1861, Lillian Russell travelled to New York in 1878 hoping for a career in the opera. She found herself, instead in the chorus of H.M.S. Pinafore. By 1880 she was starring on Broadway and traveling between New York and London for singing engagements. In 1891 she was the star of the Lillian Russell Opera Company.

Though she preferred oysters and champagne at Delmonico’s in New York with her long-time companion Diamond Jim Brady - he stuck with her when four husbands did not - Lillian Russell did perform in the old west and it is known that she sang in the opera house in Virginia City, Nevada.

lola_montez

Lola Montez

Lola Montez, like all great pop stars, invented herself. She was born Elizabeth Rosanna Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland in 1820 and traveled as a child to Calcutta, India. Fearing she was growing up wild in India, her mother and stepfather send her to live with relatives in Scotland where she became known as the “The queer, wayward Indian girl.”

After a failed marriage and a torrid affair with an English soldier Eliza Gilbert went to Spain to learn flamenco dancing. When she returned to England Eliza was now Maria Dolores de Porris y Montez - better known as Lola. She was not a great dancer, but her signature move, the “spider dance” shocked audiences around the world. After three marriages and some scandalous affairs with European royalty she came to California. Like Lillian Russell, Lola Montez performed for prospectors in the old west, but she did it a generation earlier.

While it is possible that cowboys Dave Colfax and Jose Madero had actually seen their idols, Lillian Russell and Lola Montez perform on stage, it is more likely they knew them only from cigar box portraits. Dave carried a picture of Lillian Russell in his bedroll and often displayed it in saloons. He would turn ugly when anyone disagreed that Miss Russell was the most beautiful woman in the world. Madero, who believed Lola Montez was Spanish, declared that she deserved that title. He went to his saddle bag and returned with a tattered picture of his beloved Lola.

The argument became heated and Madero drew his revolver and shot a hole through Lillian Russell’s nose. An enraged Dave Colfax pulled out his own revolver and shot Jose Madero dead. Dave Colfax was tried for murder. The jury was shown the pictures and after seeing the damage done to Lillian Russell they returned a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Resolved in a court of law: Lillian Russell was the most beautiful woman in the world.


Sources:

  • Burke, John. Duet in diamonds; the flamboyant saga of Lillian Russell and Diamond Jim Brady in America's gilded age,. New York: Putnam, 1972.
  • Mahon, Elizabeth Kerri. Scandalous women: the lives and loves of history's most notorious women. New York: Penguin Group, 2011.

Lillian Russell Papers

Lola Montez