The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties

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The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties
Series Title:
The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties
Holzhauer, Erin
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
Publication Date:

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Source Institution:
Auraria Library
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:19:51 PM] Home The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat CountiesThe Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat CountiesSubmitted by CLEAVITT on 12-2-2014 09:27 PMAuthor: Laurel Watson Publishing: The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit. By Laurel Watson. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2014. 127 pages. Black-and-white photographs, maps, bibliography, index. 6 x 9. $19.99 paperback.Reviewer: Erin Holzhauser Reviewer Affiliation: Sin makes a very eye-catching title, and the pictures on the cover of The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit painted women glancing seductively over their shouldersadds to the books mystique. However, author Laurel Watsons documentation of illicit activities in Colorados Routt and Moffat Counties delivers more than just a predictable rendition of rowdy tales. Having earned both a bachelors and masters degree in history as well as working as a professional local historian out of Steamboat Springs in Routt County, Watson not only recounts the bawdy tales expected in a book about red-light districts, but she also takes the time to describe the historical framework of these stories. With impressive contextual information and near complete thoroughness, Watson plays both historian and storyteller in this book. While The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit appeals to local history and to Wild West enthusiasts alike, the book provides more history than just sinful stories. The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit is a quick read at 108 pages of text; yet the book crams an impressive seven parts and twenty-two chapters into its pages, full of entertainment and information. However, Watson waits until chapter 5, page 37, to begin telling the specific stories of saloonkeepers, prostitutes, and gun-happy scandals. During those introductory pages, she provides historical background to red-light districts, western settlement, and the settlement of Routt and Moffat Counties. While this takes up nearly a fourth of the text, and may seem too extensive, Watson moves the information along with a clear and direct style and a logical flow, motivating the reader to make it to the exciting, sinful stories. She admits to the limits of her work, stating that the book is by no means a comprehensive study on the saloons and saloon people of Northwest Colorado. She also clarifies the context of red-light districts and history in general, explaining that the stigmatization [of Victorian era morals] created a problem in the lack of earlier attention to documentation of areas and businesses that were considered red-light or saloon districts (7). From this statementthat these illicit stories belong in the historical record despite inadequate documentationWatson briefly recounts the context of the growth of the western United States: the Homestead Act and Civil War, the quick growth of towns during the era of rushed settlement, and the initial tolerance for red-light districts and the entertainments that they offered. By the time readers delve into the juicy details of the book, they have an understanding of how these stories fit into the larger historical context of the American West, and for a text of this size, Watsons attention to both context and EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWhile on the Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776, Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco drew the first map of Colorado.


The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:19:51 PM] historical perspective is impressive, informative, easy to read, and important given the controversial nature of the subject. As the book moves from the introduction to part 1, Watson narrows her focus on Colorados northwest counties of Moffat and Routt. A map of these counties appears on page 15 to orient readers to the geography of the subject. As the most recognizable of the towns on the map, Steamboat Springs understandably receives more extensive attention through chapters 2, 3, and 4. After explaining the development and town culture of Steamboat, the bawdy characters appear. Even as she relates stories about these colorful people, Watson maintains a broad perspective, documenting their lives from beginning to end, or as much as possible. For example, she traces saloonkeeper Anton Kline from Germany and South Africa to his familys arrival in Routt (38). Sometimes she follows them out of Colorado to their tragic demise elsewhereas with the case of Hazel McGuire, who died in an asylum in Wyoming (50). With contextual information about Moffat and Routt Counties and an experienced historians perspective about the subject of the book, Watson proceeds to tell the stories of the sinners in Yampa Valleys sin circuit. From Steamboat Springs, the other towns documented are Yampa, Oak Creek, Hayden, and Craig. At this point, Watson releases her inner storyteller, relating colorful tales about the tragic Ward family (chapter 9), the hard-and-fast businessman Tom Piercen (chapter 11), and the scandalous trial of May Ray, who shot her husband, saloonkeeper and town constable James Ray, in Oak Creek (chapter 14). Watson continues to describe the full spectrum of these peoples lives; for example, Craig saloonkeeper Mike Smith ran as the Democratic candidate for state representative (chapter 21). Watson bases her storytelling on a vast array of archival documents, from various Colorado newspapers and state archives, as well as U.S. census records and secondary sources. However, one problem with the book perhaps results from these sources, and the cover photos hint at this omission: the faces looking at the prospective reader are all white. Watson mentions the presence of minorities in the introduction: redlight districts in western towns housed business from saloons, gambling halls, billiard rooms and boardinghouses of illicit reputation to residential areas of the working class, immigrants and people of color (7). Chapter 16, one page long, documents Hickory Flats, the red-light district of Oak Creek and home to mostly poor or of color (84). Also, Lem McApline, a Steamboat hotel and saloonkeeper and an immigrant from Canada, protested the local bathhouse when it charged red-light district residents $13.30 instead of $0.50 for admission, seeing this as unfair to the population of Brooklyn, which consisted of not only saloon people but also immigrants and new arrivals to town (54). Other than these few references, the reader must assume that all of the major players of these red-light districts were white or that no documentation of other ethnicities exist. While Watson has already explained that her text is not definitive or exhaustive on this topic, it would help if she addressed the issue more explicitly, explaining more precisely why all of the people mentioned in the book are white. However, this small lack of explicit articulation does not diminish the qualities of the book. The title promises stories of illicit people who moved to the West quickly and sought quick ways to make money, even if their businesses fell into societys morally questionable category. At the same time, Watson provides professionalism, extensively contextualizing the subject; she educates readers as well as thrilling them. Altogether, The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit is a well-written local history that will please a broad audience of western history enthusiasts. Reviewer Info: Erin Holzhauser is currently a graduate student in history at the University of Colorado Denver. She graduated summa cum laude from Regis University in 2006. Erin has worked in museum education for over


The Yampa Valley Sin Circuit: Historic Red-Light Districts of Routt and Moffat Counties | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/7/2015 3:19:51 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us ten years and has more recently worked as a research assistant.