No. 424
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 23, 2019

Duel of the Divas

May 30, 2011
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English Franciscan John Forest was burned at Smithfield on this date in 1538 … the undercard to the simultaneous “execution” of a downthrown idol of Saint Derfel Gadarn. The latter had been ripped from its shrine at Llandderfel in Gwynedd, Wales: the place gets its name from Derfel himself and its devotion to its Celtic […]
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Executed Today - 5/22/2019

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Coming in May! Warps and Wefts is excited to announce the publication of “Dressing Miss Lizzie”, a collection of paper …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 4/23/2019

via Newspapers.com Phantom cats and a mysterious death. Who can ask for more in an old newspaper story? The "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," March 13, 1886: Ghost stories from the credulous and nervous gentlemen who draw salaries as guardians of the peace in the precinct covered from the Graham avenue station are becoming frequent. Last week they saw the ghost of an Italian. On Thursday night a
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Strange Company - 5/22/2019
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
In July 1890, a man came into the 126th Street Police Station in Harlem, New York City, to report a conversation he had overheard in an elevated train. A young man and woman sitting near him were talking about the mysterious disappearance of Miss Goodwin from the Storm King flats on East 126th Street. They believed that she had been foully dealt with by “professional malpractioners.” The woman
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/18/2019

I’m not the first old sign enthusiast who came across this beauty of a beer sign on the tenement at 317 East Fifth Street. Grieve wrote it up back in January, and I’m sure other fans walking along this quiet East Village block noticed the ancient signage, too. “S. Cort Wines & Lager Beer” the […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/19/2019
[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