Updated: Sep 28, 2020
In 1888 French Canadian brothers Joseph and Arthur Nadeau invested in developing a large brick hotel on Butte Montana's East Mercury St. – the booming mining town's entertainment district. The investment would pay off as the hotel was a glamorous front for housing women of ill repute.
In the 1870's ladies would sell sexual services on the main thoroughfare through town and eventually would erect tents and false front buildings to ply there trade. As Butte grew, so
did other businesses and eventually the ladies of Park Street, as they have become known, transferred their work to the south side of town. Butte was notoriously dangerously wild and gambling houses, saloons and brothels sprung up to serve the thousands of miners working nearly 18 hours a day in the copper, silver and gold mines.
The Dumas Brother's purchased a plot of land on one of the busiest streets that entertained the miners, but their goal was to attract not only the hard working miners, but also the bourgeoisie of Butte and so a red brick hotel, with all modern fixings was erected on East Galena Street, among the hundreds of other Brothel's that made up what locals called “The Twilight Zone”
Joseph Dumas named the business after his wife, Delia Dumas and registered the hotel with city officials as The Dumas Hotel. And with a wink, the hotel madam, Delia Dumas, was noted as madam. The following month they purchased hand made furniture and fixings for the hotel. The Dumas' frequented other dancing halls in the Montana territory and brought in a number of working girls.
In 1890, the Dumas Brothel, err umm, hotel, was officially opened for business. The opening night was a success and guests marvelled at the grand design and architecture noting its two story level, with large skylights and wooden spiral staircase. Drinks flowed freely and music played as guests were entertained by a number of high-class and unique looking ladies including one black prostitute who, at the time, was a rarity in Montana.
The Dumas Hotel was connected to other businesses via underground tunnels so that high-end clientele, such as city officials, lawyers, reverends and those about to commit adultery (a crime punishable for up to 2 years in prison) could visit the high-end brothel without notice.
But the hand carved furniture, the amazing architecture and well-paying clients could not hide the fact that the hotel held much misery. The girls, often as young as 15, would work in shifts serving sexual favors of all deviant kinds to dirty miners and sadistic city officials alike.
The average pay for the girls was less than a living wage, and part of their pay was room and board. Many girls did not have enough for a stage coach or train ride out of town, if they wanted to leave. They were, once in the business, trapped.
Drug and alcohol addiction was prevalent as was disease. Girls would works hours upon hours turning tricks every eight minutes. They would finish with one, wash their privates in the low hanging sinks in the room and invite another guest in – hour after hour.
Pregnancy was also an issue, as no, or very little birth control would have been used. Girls that did discovery they were pregnant were ordered to have an abortion with the procedure usually performed by another experienced prostitute or madam. The cruel and unusual methods of abortion usually resulted in a lot of harm done to the mother, not only physically, but mentally as well. The unborn babies were dumped into shallow graves or mining pits just outside of town. Due to the barbaric procedures, many women who became pregnant bled out and died days later.
In these working conditions it is no doubt that many suicides also took place as the women felt it was their only escape.
It is not known what happened to the Dumas brothers, but it appears they sold the venture to another owner ten years later or perhaps they were simply silent partners. Some speculate they were ran out of town by other brothel owners, including one that would later be a State Senator.
In 1900, the Dumas Hotel was ran by Madam Grace McGinnis who had a servant and four full-time prostitutes occupying the cribs or rooms in the hotel. Other prostitutes could rent out rooms on a as-needed basis. The cost for a deluxe poke was 0.50 with the prostitute making a mere .20 as the Madam would take the majority of the money. In today's money, that is about $7 for the working girl.
As the mining operations increased and as patrons were typically miners this low fare was attractive and the Dumas Hotel needed to expand to accommodate its clientele. The basement, that was used mainly for storage was now retrofitted with a number of small cribs or rooms. In these rooms were the lower-priced girls, those less desirable, and those that would take abuse from the men that frequented the establishment. The Dumas basically had a class system, with the lower class in the basement, the and the high-end girls working high-class men on the upper floor.
The low-end offering were popular by the low paid miners and in 1912 the Dumas was expanded again to serve this vary clientele. A back addition was added that would allow easy passage from what was known as Venus Alley, were street prostitutes offered sexual services. The main floor that was a large parlour was divided up into cribs to serve middle-class men. Again, the Dumas invited these working girls to use the new addition, the basement and the ease of access to attract and serve clients.
The Dumas's business and those like it were criticized by a number of people who sought to reform the red light district. Reverend William Biederwolf condemned Butte as "the lowest sinkhole of vice in the west," and that he saw "enough legitimate vice in Butte to damn the souls of every young man and young woman in it."
Biederwolf held revival services for residents which attracted "rounders, gamblers and habitués of the red light district".
However, the local business benefited and even depended on the support of the sex workers at the Dumas and other establishments like it. The prostitutes would buy their dresses at local clothiers, frequent the city's dry cleaners and would patronize Chinese herbalists, looking for birth control potions and venereal disease remedies. To ensure that their operations were unhampered, the girls at the Dumas would pay the city's police and governance five dollar "fines".
Instead of the closing or relocating the red light district, the mayor and police of Butte ordered that the women wear longer skirts and high-necked blouses and that they "refrain from any indecent exposures." After these ordinances were put in place, the Butte Miner reported that "nothing was seen in the district except long dresses and long faces. What the women say about the matter is not fit for publication." By 1910 the people were petitioning Mayor Charles Nevin to shut down the district; with the district contributing two thousand dollars to the city's coffers every month, the efforts eventually died. Many of the city officials, including mayors, police chiefs and law makers were also clients.
World War I and the Prohibition impelled local lawmakers to initiate a crackdown on Butte's red light district and by 1917 the district was effectively closed.
Signs saying "Men Under 21 Keep Out" were commonplace and in the next census, prostitution had completely disappeared as a declared profession in Butte.
The Dumas, however, remained in operation. In 1925 Anne Vallet began overseeing the Dumas for the Nadeau family, and in the 1930s, operations had passed to Madam Rose Davis. In 1940 Lillian Walden and her husband Dick began running the brothel,raising the price of sex at the brothel to $2.
Federal law makers ordered all brothels shut down during WW2 to help prevent death and disease to young soldiers about to fight. The Dumas remained opened, however, changing its business listing as a boarding house. Two large steel doors were added with a sliding peep hole so that no one would gain entry without being identified first. It was now a semi-private club.
In the 1950s rates went up to a staggering $5 with a series of madams in charge. The Nadeau Brothers finally sold the operation at this time and Elinore Knott became owner and Madam.
But her time at the Dumas was short. Her husband had died of a heart attack and with a history of depression, she overdosed on a host of drugs and committed suicide in the basement leaving the Dumas vacant. Police at the time took this as an easy way of finally shutting down the business and they worked on raiding The Windsor, Hotel Victoria and the Dumas. Girls would be fined and Madams and owners jailed. The raids were irrelevant as girls were tipped off by police and payoffs were made. It was all theatre and a way to put a little more money into corrupt officials hands.
Ruby Garret, a local resident of Butte for some thirty years, had purchased the Dumas. Ruby was not only a local celebrity, but she was known federally as well. In 1959, she walked into a Butte Bar with a handgun, pointed it at her husband and shot him five times as he gambled killing him instantly. But those in attendance did not who was pulling the trigger, as Ruby was so badly beaten by her common law husband they could not recognize her.
Garrett faced a first-degree murder charge but the jury convicted her of manslaughter. She was sentenced to four years, but served only nine months. Yet people familiar with the case say Garrett was the victim of severe spousal abuse and that pent-up frustration had reached a boiling point.
Garret would pay local police officers and officials $200 to $300 a month in return for their silence about the Dumas's activities. Under Garrett, the cost of a prostitute was $20 but she would come upon financial difficulties and had not paid taxes in several years.
She was charged with tax evasion in 1981 and in 1982 the Dumas Brothel was finally closed. In 1982 Ruby Garrett, the last madam of the Dumas, was convicted of federal tax evasion and served six months in prison. The brothel was closed soon after, but not before a robbery took place there.
When it closed, it was the longest operating brothel in the United States, having operated for 92 years, long after prostitution was outlawed.
The Dumas was then sold to antique dealers and then to a couple who wanted to open a museum. The museum opened but the owners were operating it with great difficulties having using the premises as a hoarding operation.
Stories about the Dumas Brothel began circulating as these owners heard disembodied voices, saw furniture move on its own accord, felt cold spots and apparitions throughout the three floors. Soon paranormal celebrities and ghost hunters started flocking to the derelict building. During the years that followed, many visitors to the museum also witnessed paranormal activity, from cold spots to hearing ghostly voices from the cribs.
The previous owners had, like previous operators failed to pay taxes on the property and city officials were demanding payment. One of the owners had a criminal past involving drugs and was clearly suffering from mental health issues and drug abuse or a combination of both.
On the Ghost Adventure show this particular individual was noted by viewers tweeking out on drugs, but of course, Zak Bagans does not acknowledge this – but instead blames the ghosts for these strange interactions. Sadly, Michael Piche died in 2018 leaving his business partner to hand over the building to city officials who put the building and its contents up for auction. You can visit the Historic Dumas Brothel in Butte Montana both day and night and take an in-depth tour with the new owners who are currently cleaning up, repairing and maintaining the building. And it appears it is in good hands as they are focusing in on making the building historically accurate.
On our tour in the upstairs left bedroom I heard a distinctive female voice say “Can I help you?” There is a great deal of emotion, sadness, contempt, and wonder one feels when walking through these old hallways and peering into the cribs. It was both exciting and horrifying for those who once lived and visited the Dumas Brothel and clearly, both those emotions are felt by visitors today.
The Museum is located at 45 E Mercury St. In Butte, Montana and tours are available for those interested in the historical or paranormal aspect of the old building. Tours range from $5 to $10 and last between 45 minutes to over and hour.
Because the Dumas Brothel has changed hands much of the contact information, web sites and social media pages are outdated and have been abandoned. Please use the current information below to retrieve information and schedule tours.
Dumas Brothel Contact Information: Website: www.dumas-brothel.com
Butte Montana is a great place to visit if you are interested in the Old West, Mining and the ups and downs of frontier life. There are countless museums and historical attractions in Butte and we recommend you spend at least one day exploring the sites. The Dumas Brothel is undergoing renovations and as such, hours may be shortened or there may be days it is not opened. It is best then, to book a room at one of Butte's hotels. Rates are very accommodating, even for the budget traveller. Look below to see our picks of accommodation in Butte, Montana and be sure to stop back as we will have more travel information and destination guides about Montana coming shortly.
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