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Sep 24, 2021 by Megan Rohleder

By: Ethan Anderson, Government Records Archivist

Every once in a while, an item in the collection piques our interest and we can’t help but investigate further. Such was the case with the below photographs of two women known as Squirrel Tooth Alice and Timberline. The descriptions for both images simply state that the two worked as prostitutes in Dodge City in the 1870s. Though documentation of transient sex workers can be especially difficult to find, we nevertheless decided to do some digging in an effort to tell the stories of the women behind these unusual aliases. As prostitutes in the American West played a crucial role in the growth and economic well-being of frontier towns, studying these women can give us a better understand of the demographics and social norms of these burgeoning communities.

Squirrel Tooth Alice’s unforgettable moniker and long career may explain why so much is known about her. She was born Mary Elizabeth “Libby” Haley in Belton, Texas in 1855. Her wealthy family lost nearly everything in the Civil War and in 1864, further tragedy struck when Comanches raided the family farm and kidnapped her. She spent three years in captivity. Libby’s family paid for her release, but they hardly welcomed her back with open arms. As Libby later recalled, “Through no fault of my own I was seen as a marked woman after my release. Though only 13 years-old most people assumed that I had been ‘used’ by the Indians during my captivity and I was shunned and ostracized from society.” She managed to overcome this stigma and soon fell in love with a much older man. However, when she brought him home to meet her family, her father shot him dead on the front porch. Unable to further tolerate this oppressive environment, Libby ran away to Kansas. With few economic opportunities available to women on the frontier, she became a dance hall girl in Abilene and later moved to Ellsworth and Dodge City. The surprisingly amusing 1870 U.S. census documented Libby in Ellsworth, where she occupied a “house of ill fame.” Perhaps reflecting her irreverent humor, Libby’s occupation was listed as “diddles,” a 19th-century slang term for intercourse. [1]  

Libby most likely worked in a dance hall such as Varieties, pictured above, while in Dodge City. In 1879, the Ford County Globe reported that the town had fourteen saloons, two dance halls, and 47 prostitutes for its 700 inhabitants.[2]

Soon after arriving in Kansas, Libby met William “Texas Billy” Thompson, a gambler, gunman, and cowboy. Due to the nature of the couples’ work and Billy’s run-ins with the law (he accidentally killed Ellsworth Sheriff Chauncey Whitney in 1873), they moved frequently between towns in Kansas, Colorado, and Texas. The two finally settled down in Sweetwater, Texas, where Libby owned and operated a brothel and dancehall. It may have been in Sweetwater where Libby acquired her unusual nickname. Like many prostitutes in the American West, Libby went by an alias: Alice. This eventually morphed into Squirrel Tooth Alice due to a small gap in her front teeth and her fondness for prairie dogs, which she kept as pets. A drunken man one night mistook the animals for squirrels, gave Libby the nickname, and it stuck. She continued to work as a madam until retiring in 1921 at the age of 66. Libby later moved to Los Angeles, California, where she died at a rest home in 1953.[3]

Unlike Squirrel Tooth Alice, frustratingly little is known about the woman in the above photograph known only as Timberline. She does not appear in any census, birth, or death records, Dodge City police dockets, court records, or even newspaper accounts of the day. This photograph seems to be the only evidence of her time in Dodge City. 

 

Many of Dodge City’s prostitutes plied their trade in the brothels, saloons, and dance halls of the town’s red-light district, located south of the ATSF railroad tracks.

It is widely accepted that Dodge City’s Timberline is the same woman who later worked in the silver mining boom town of Creede, Colorado in the 1890s. She must have done well for herself in the intervening years as writer Perry Eberhart states she was not merely a prostitute by then but one of Creede’s top madams. A February 3, 1893 article in the Creede Candle newspaper provides the only contemporary written account of Timberline. According to the paper, her real name was Rose Vastine and her alias was a reflection of her imposing height of 6’2”. Sadly, the Candle relates that Rose “became weary of the trials and tribulations of this wicked world” and attempted to take her own life with a 41-calibre pistol. Doctors were quickly summoned, and the self-inflicted gunshot wound to her chest did not prove fatal.[4]

Suicide was not uncommon among prostitutes of the time and Rose’s brush with death may not have been her first or last. Writer Jan MacKall says doctors also revived her after an intended overdose, while Eberhart claims she climbed into the hills above Creede one day and shot herself an incredible six times.[5] Unfortunately, these suicide attempts are all that is recorded of Rose Vastine. It appears that well-behaved women are not the only ones who seldom make history.

Sources:

[1] Marshall Trimble, “Squirrel-Tooth Alice,” True West Magazine, March 16, 2021, https://truewestmagazine.com/squirrel-tooth-alice/ (accessed May 5, 2021); Kathie Bell, “Remembering Squirrel Tooth Alice,” Dodge City Daily Globe, September 25, 2017, https://www.dodgeglobe.com/news/20170925/remembering-squirrel-tooth-alice (accessed May 5, 2021); U.S. Census Bureau, Schedule 1, Inhabitants of Ellsworth in Ellsworth County, Kansas, 1870. Libby’s fellow boarders listed their occupations as “does ‘horizontal’ work,” “‘squirms’ in the dark,” and “’ogles’ fools.” Perhaps to protect her true identity, Libby listed her birthplace as Missouri rather than Texas.

[2] “Sparks from Dodge City,” Ford County Globe, September 2, 1879, 4.

[3] For an image of Sheriff Chauncey Whitney, see 213083; Trimble, “Squirrel-Tooth Alice.”

[4] Rose Vastine was not the only prostitute of the era who went by the alias Timberline. One of Irwin, Colorado’s resident sex workers was known as Timberline Kate. However, rather than a reflection of the woman’s height, the moniker referred to her thinning hair. Harry C. Cornwall, “My First Year in the Gunnison Country,” Colorado Magazine 46, no. 3 (Denver: Summer 1969): 241; Perry Eberhart, Guide to the Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps (Chicago: Sage Books, 1969), 402; Creede Candle, February 3, 1893, 4.

[5] Jan MacKall, Brothels, Bordellos, and Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007), 122; Eberhart, Colorado Ghost Towns, 402. 

Aug 2, 2021 by Megan Rohleder

By: Ethan Anderson, Government Records Archivist

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in full swing, we decided to take a look at some past Kansans who have left their marks on the Olympic Games. By our estimates, 76 Kansans have competed in the Summer Olympics, winning a total of 39 gold medals, 14 silver medals, and 13 bronze medals in events from basketball to swimming to weightlifting. Here are a few notable athletes from previous Olympic Games:

 

Josiah McCracken (front row, second from the right, holding a football) grew up in Garnett and briefly attended Cooper Memorial College, now Sterling College, before competing in the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. A devout Presbyterian, Josiah refused to compete in any events held on Sunday. He nevertheless managed to win the silver medal in shot put and the bronze medal in the hammer throw. (1) 

Wilson native John Kuck participated in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He not only won the gold medal in the shot put, but he broke the world record by nearly 13 inches – all while competing on a broken left ankle! (2)

From Jim Ryun to Wes Santee, Kansas has produced a number of phenomenal middle-distance runners. Glenn Cunningham of Elkhart was arguably the best ever. Glenn competed in the 1500-meter run in both the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. He finished fourth in 1932 but captured the silver medal four years later behind Jack Lovelock of New Zealand, whose winning time set a world record. (3)

Ten athletes with ties to the Sunflower State are competing in this year’s Summer Olympics:

Michael Andrew, Swimming – 50m Freestyle, 100m Breaststroke, 200m Individual Medley

Christina Clemons, Track & Field – 100m Hurdles

Mason Finley, Track & Field – Discuss

Adrianna Franch, Soccer

Bryce Hoppel, Track & Field – 800m Run

Derrick Mein, Trap Shooting

Bubba Starling, Baseball

Kelsey Stewart, Softball

Aliphine Tulimuk, Marathon

Leanne Wong, Gymnastics (4)

The last time the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo, 1964, Haskell Institute and University of Kansas alum Billy Mills pulled off a shocking upset by winning the 10,000-meter run. Here’s hoping this year’s group of athletes perform just as well!

For more notable Kansas Olympians, see http://www.civics.ks.gov/kansas/kansans/olympic-athletes.html.

 

Sources:

[1] French officials allowed qualifying results to count in the Sunday shot put finals, while the hammer throw finals were ultimately rescheduled for Monday. McCracken also finished 10th in the discus. Kenneth Wiggins Porter, ed., “College Days at Cooper Memorial, 1895-1898” Kansas Historical Quarterly 26, no. 4 (Winter 1960): 396; “Yankee Athletes Barred,” New York Times, July 16, 1900.

[2] “John Kuck,” Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, https://www.kshof.org/team/john-kuck (accessed June 29, 2021).

[3] For more on Glenn Cunningham’s Olympic career, see 312382, 312415, and 312449. “Glenn Cunningham,” Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, https://www.kshof.org/team/glenn-cunningham (accessed June 29, 2021).

[4] Tod Palmer and David Medina, “Kansas City-Area Olympians Who Have Qualified for 2020 Tokyo Games,” KSHB-TV, https://www.kshb.com/sports/kansas-city-area-olympians-who-have-qualified-for-2020-tokyo-games (accessed July 6, 2021); Sophia Lacy, “Olympians with KC Connections to Watch for at the 2021 Tokyo Games,” Kansas City, https://www.kansascitymag.com/olympians-with-kc-connections-to-watch-for-at-the-2021-tokyo-games/ (accessed June 29, 2021).  


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