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Julia Bulette - Virginia City Madam In The Old West
Legendary Darling of the Comstock Lode
In the 1800s women from all walks of life in America, joined the westward movement for a new life in the frontier. Whatever their fate or fortune was, they faced it with courage and determination. Julia Bulette, Virginia City madam, was one of these women who helped, in her own way, to settle the west.
Jule "Julia" Bulette was born in London, England in 1832. She was of French descent. Not long after the great silver strike in 1859, Julia moved to Virginia City, Nevada and became a popular figure with the miners and local firefighters. She quickly became the legendary darling of the Comstock Lode. She supposedly was the first unmarried white woman in the mining boom town of Virginia City. The firefighters loved her so much that they made her an honorary member of Virginia Engine Company Number 1. She was often seen riding the fire engine to fires, with her fireman's hat on, supervising the men during their tasks, and often working the water pump.
Julia was the favorite prostitute of the miners and firefighters. Living in a small cottage near the fire station house, she competed with the more elaborate brothels and women of her trade. She exhibited great generosity to the firefighters with ample gifts of necessary equipment.
When Julia was still quite young, she emigrated with her family to New Orleans. She later married a man named Smith, but they soon separated. When she was about twenty, Julia moved to California and lived in various cities. When she moved on to Virginia City, she took up residence in her little cottage and became very sought after by the miners and firefighters. She was the favorite of the men in the area.
Julia was a tall, slim and beautiful brunette with dark eyes. She had a refined manner, a quick wit and a great sense of humor. She was a colorful and controversial figure of the community. On January 20, 1867, there was kind mention of Julia in The Territorial Enterprise, the Virginia City newspaper:
Most Likely Written by Mark Twain, who was the Newspaper Editor at the Time
..."belonging to that clan denominated "Fair but frail," yet, being of a very kindhearted, liberal, benevolent and charitable disposition, few of her class had more true friends."
Despite Julia's profession and status in life she did achieve a considerable degree of respectability, because of her kind-hearted personality and generosity. In her time, prostitution was an accepted part of local society.
She considered the miners and firefighters her friends, and as a devoted friend stood by them in times of trouble. When several hundred men became ill from drinking contaminated
water she took care of them. Once when an attack by Indians appeared imminent, Julia chose to remain behind with the miners instead of seeking shelter in Carson City.
Julia also raised funds for the Union cause during the American Civil War. Her profession is what she did to survive in a time when it was not easy for a woman to financially succeed on her own. Her dedication to her community and country seems to have made her a woman of substance, with the heart of a Patriot.
Virginia City, 1867
Beauty by Current Standards
Though some people of today who researched and wrote about Julia dispute that she was "slim and beautiful", one must remember that back in the days of Julia's life, she was considered beautiful. Women considered attractive then are not necessarily so by today's standards or opinions. Back then, a tall buxom woman was beautiful. Take a look at history and the women who were considered beautiful in their time.
Gloria Swanson was considered a fashion icon in the 1920s and one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood..
Mae West was considered beautiful and a sex symbol from the 1920s through the 1950s.
Marilyn Monroe was a much sought after actress and considered very beautiful by everyone who ever saw her.
And then there was Twiggy in the 1960s. From teenagers to older women, every one wanted to look like Twiggy. The short, simple dresses was all the fashion on skinny women.
All these women were beautiful in their own way, their own time. What is considered beautiful in fashion and figures seem to change with each era - so, one must take into account these changing opinions over time and look back to Julia's time, and what was the opinion of people back then. If Julia had had the magic of Hollywood and the makeup artists and stylists, she would be just as beautiful as any actress today.
One must remember that beauty first comes from within and Julia had an inner beauty that shone forth.
Beauty of Women
Do you think the opinion of what is a beautiful woman changes with time?
Murder and Outrage
In the early morning hours of January 20, 1867, Julia Bulette was murdered. She was strangled to death in her bed by a thief. The thief took her jewels, clothing, and furs, then left her alone in her little house. She was not discovered dead until over six hours later.
The town went into mourning. The mine, mills, and saloons closed down as a sign of respect for Julia. On the day of her funeral, thousands formed a procession of honor behind her black-plumed, glass-walled hearse. The firemen followed behind her, then the miners followed. The Nevada militia also followed and played funeral songs. Julia was buried in the Flower Hill Cemetery.
The Territorial Enterprise ran an obituary article and called Julia "the darling of the Comstock".
A little over a year later, Julia's murderer was caught and hanged for the crime. He was a French drifter whose name was John Millain. On April 24, 1868 he went to the gallows, swearing he was not guilty of having killed Julia, but had been only an accomplice in the theft of her jewels. However, a trunk he had left with a baker in town, contained Julia's jewels, clothing, and furs. Among the thousands who gathered to witness the hanging, Mark Twain, was there.
Virginia City, Nevada in Julia's Time
Lore and Legend
Like most famous and controversial figures, legends and lore spring up like wild fire after their deaths. It is reputed that Julia charged $1000.00 a night for her "company". Other lore tells of how she used her earnings to build a magnificent mansion in the Rococo style and named it Julia's Palace. It was said she imported French wines, women and beautiful clothes for her "girls" to wear.
Whether all the lore is true or not, Julia was loved and respected by her community. Her profession was an accepted part of life back then. She was always ready to help where and when needed to the benefit of Virginia City.
I have visited Virginia City at least twice a year since the early 1960s and have never seen "Julia's Palace". I have seen an old faded picture of her up high on a wall in one of the saloons. I have also often seen a wispy, floating image of a ghostly figure in the second story windows of the Washoe Club in town where prostitutes lingered. Does Julia still linger where she was once loved?
Murder of Julia Bulette
© 2010 Phyllis Doyle Burns