MacKell, Jan 1962–

views updated

MacKell, Jan 1962–


Born January 3, 1962.




Historian, museum director, and writer. Cripple Creek District Museum, Cripple Creek, CO, director.


Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado's Gold Booms, Arcadia Publishing (San Francisco, CA), 2003.

Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930, foreword by Thomas J. Noel, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 2004.


Jan MacKell is a historian in Cripple Creek, Colorado, and has written about the area in her books Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado's Gold Booms and Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930. In her first book about the Cripple Creek district, which lies due south and slightly west of Denver, the author writes about more than the gold boom. MacKell presents previously unpublished stories and anecdotes about Cripple Creek and its populace, ultimately taking readers through to modern-day Cripple Creek. The book includes numerous photos. Mike Hurtt, writing on the CCHCC Web site, noted that the author's "research and efforts paid handsome dividends in this book."

In Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls, the author focuses on Colorado's long-thriving prostitution trade with a focus on mining towns, including Cripple Creek, Salida, and Colorado City. Using census data, maps, city directories, and host of official records, such as court and marriage records, the author follows the lives of prostitutes over the course of their careers. "Now here's a different kind of book," noted Gerald F. Kreyche in USA Today. "The topic is interesting—should one say titillating?—the author knowledgeable, the presentation nonjudgmental, and the work scholarly with end notes, bibliography, and index."

The author became interested in the topic in the 1980s when she was working as a bartender in Colorado City and met a bar regular named Red Buss. "Red was in his 80s when I met him, and came in the bar every day," the author told Bill Reed in an interview for "He remembered what the city was like as he grew up there, and seeing Laura Bell [the town's most famous prostitute] when he was young." The author also told Reed: "I'd like to think she's pleased that I'm telling her story. She was in this profession and yet she managed to maintain her decorum. She's described as being very regal and very sophisticated." In her book, the author describes how Bell's establishment was one of the fanciest in Colorado City, with customers being ushered through a tunnel behind the business front section, thus hiding the men's activities from people who may have been watching from the street. Bell, like many successful madams, had her own servants who showed the men in to meet the prostitutes.

According to the 1860 census, more than 32,000 men but only a little more than 1,500 women lived in Colorado. With men outnumbering women more than twenty to one, prostitution and red light districts quickly popped up throughout Colorado mining towns. The author uncovers these women's work histories, medical problems, and movement from town to town as they typically followed the boom-and-bust trend in mining. Reed wrote on that the author's "study of prostitution is marked by her respect for the women and compassion for their difficult lives."

The author follows the lives of many of the women all the way to the grave from their origins, which ranged widely from bored Victorian housewives to women who grew up in poverty and abuse. The author writes how, more often than not, these women lived sad lives filled with disease, physical abuse, drug addiction, and violence. In addition, MacKell goes into the details of the trade, noting the passage of various laws, how well they were enforced, the fines paid by madams and pimps to stay in business, and the politicians who often got them out of trouble. She notes that these women were often looked down on by many, which led them to lead segregated lives both from their families and within the towns they worked. Some towns even had certain shopping days designated for prostitutes to go out to shop. More often than not, the women were made to use side entrances and even had to sit in the back of the theatre when they attended shows. Nevertheless, many of these women were known to give to charities and help those in need.

Irma V. Montelongo, writing in History: Review of New Books, called MacKell's history of prostitution in Colorado "an interesting piece of Colorado's popular history," adding that it "enhances our understanding of some of the social relations that formed within the state's numerous mining communities." Montelongo also wrote that Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls "will appeal principally to a general audience" and commented that "the trajectory of MacKell's subjects [may be] useful for demographical analysis."

Other reviewers had even higher praise for the book. "Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls is an extensively researched local history, balancing both primary and secondary sources with intriguing references to interviews with (and respect for the privacy of) living descendents," wrote Andy Stine in the Historian. Stine went on to comment that the author "gives a well-deserved human face to these hard-working western pioneers."



Choice, July-August, 2005, P.W. Kaufman, review of Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930, p. 2050.

Colorado Springs Independent, June 12, 2003, Malcolm Howard, "Gambling with History."

Historian, spring, 2006, Andy Stine, review of Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls, p. 146.

History: Review of New Books, spring, 2005, Irma V. Montelongo, review of Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls, p. 95.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2005, review of Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls, p. 152.

Roundup Magazine, February, 2005, review of Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls, p. 20.

USA Today, January, 2005, Gerald F. Kreyche, review of Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls, p. 81.

Western Historical Quarterly, winter, 2005, Clark Secrest, review of Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls, p. 528.


CCHCC, (April 28, 2008), Mike Hurtt, review of Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado's Gold Booms., (April 28, 2008), Bill Reed, "Author Tells History of Shady Ladies."

University of New Mexico Press, (April 28, 2008), brief profile of author.

About this article

MacKell, Jan 1962–

Updated About content Print Article