In the early days of the 1890s the valley between Pike's Peak and the Sangre de Christo mountain range was largely uninhabited. But by the time Cripple Creek was incorporated in 1892 there were 5,000 residents in the district that included Cripple Creek and the town of Victor ten miles due south. By 1900 the gold-rush was on and the population of Cripple Creek had swollen to 35,000, and Victor to 5,000. At that time Cripple Creek had 49 grocery stores, 20 meat markets, 14 bakeries, 5 livery stables, 90 doctors, 2 undertakers, 73 saloons and 16 churches. 15 newspapers were published in the district -- 8 in Cripple Creek, five of which were dailies.
But by 1965 Cripple Creek was largely a ghost town. There were maybe 650 residents but the physical town remained as an abandoned grid of homes, businesses, whorehouses, churches and a jail -- like history suspended in amber. It was the country's largest inhabited ghost town.
During the Summer of 1965 I was in Cripple Creek, Colorado, working as the publicity director for "Daddy Was a Lady," a summer-stock stage-play about murder and transvestites. The star of the show was Rae Bourbon, a 72-year old cross dresser who produced pansy party records, and was a crony of Mae West's.
Shortly after "Daddy was a Lady" had opened, playing to audiences of two or three a night, Tony Aleman, the Sicilian who managed the bar and food service facilities for the Grubstake Hotel, pulled me aside and said he wanted to put a couple of working girls and gambling upstairs in order to increase revenue.
"Or maybe, just out of habit," I thought.
Tony and I were in the room behind the bar area, and he was fiddling with a large kitchen knife.
"I've put a call in to the Boys in from Hot Springs," he said. "They'll arrange everything. Put in the slots and a roulette wheel and get a couple of whores out here. I'll bring in Upstairs Rose to keep the girls corralled. We'll manage it all from this end. They'll make boodle and we'll get a decent taste," Tony oozed.
"It's time someone generated some green in this fuckin' shithole!" he snarled, and added emphasis by chunking the knife across the room and embedding it into a door jam splintering wood and my nerves.
"Hot Springs is sending representatives to check out the operation this weekend!" spit Tony.
The following Saturday three toughs in sharkskin suits and dark glasses sauntered through the swinging doors into the Grubstake and took seats at the bar. Tony poured drinks and the four of them hunched together as Aleman, in low tones, revealed his plan.
Tony was hardly into his scheme when Pat Lee, Rae Bourbon's 18-year old lover, minced into the barroom and squealed "Oh, my stars! Look at the BIG STRONG MEN! It makes a young girl's heart skip a beat!" he warbled breathlessly.
Pat Lee took the stool next to one of the thuggy yeggs, dramatically crossed his legs, grabbed hold of the mug's arm and cooed "Oh mercy me. What BIG muscles you have!" Lee's grip moved from the gangster's arm and up his inner thigh as he chirped, "I'll bet you're big ALL OVER!"
God knows why Pat Lee wasn't cold-cocked off the bar-stool and beaten into perfumed hamburger? Certainly immediate primal retribution was currency here at the top of the mountain, where yahoos in buckskins openly packed firearms and Indians fueled by firewater and historical issues roamed skittish with nothing left to lose. And the Hot Springs toughs had no aversion to violence.
But it didn't happen. Maybe it was because there was a substantial wide-eyed audience seated transfixed at the saloon's tables.
We all knew that the mobsters were scheduled here on this day and we didn't want to miss the entertainment. Cecilia and I were there. As was the director, Larry Fisher. Also present were Octavia Powell, Dean Gattis, Princess Bodeen and the usual grizzled prospectors or two.
Not that there wasn't an explosion. But it was aimed at Tony Aleman.
The three thugs collared Tony, redressing their outrage for wasting their time in this backwater ghost town. Time that would be better spent extorting businessmen or pipe-bombing rival thugs back home. It wasn't so much that a flaming queen groped them as it was that there was clearly nothing here for them. No business. No loot to pillage.
The acrimonious three stormed out of the saloon warning Aleman to never contact Hot Springs again. And that, if he did, he would be dealt with harshly, with deadly malice.
He'd end up in the Spring.
Pat Lee pranced off. And Tony's Aleman's options -- in his field of criminal endeavor -- were rapidly diminishing.
Before Stonewall the queer lifestyle was clandestine, closeted away for reasons of self-preservation. This was especially true in conservative and religiously fascist enclaves like Colorado Springs. There were no rainbow flags, no inter-mutually sanctioned Gay Pride parades.
"The next great civil rights movement will be for homo rights" Rae Bourbon told me. "J.F.K. had fairies in his inner circle," he smiled.
Rae was full of stories about old Hollywood. Who was a fairy, who drank too much. James Whale, Roman Navarro and Spring Byington. James and Roman, fairys. Spring, alcoholic.
"I played a shepherd-girl in "Th