even half the legends passed down through generations are true, the Old West was
a riotous and exciting place. Whether heroes or desperadoes, these legendary people
all seem to have either been born in, traveled through, or fought for the great
Republic of Texas. Many books have been written, movies made, and cities named
after these men. |
But they didn't fight, shoot, and rustle all the time.
They needed rest. They needed relaxation. They needed love. And Fannie Porter
of San Antonio supplied these diversions.
This is her story.
Fannie Porter who tantalized men was a voluptuous, pink-cheeked widow with flashing
brown eyes and a pile of burnished brown hair piled high on her head. She stood
straight, like a dancer, and wore beautiful brocaded clothes that showed off the
tiny waist she was so proud of. She must have spent quite some time turning this
way and that in front of her looking glass to be sure everything was perfect before
descending the opulent staircase leading down to the front parlor of her, what
was it they called it? Oh yes, "boarding house."
of Fannie Porter|
Photo courtesy Kathie Weiser, Legends of America
and her family had emigrated to Texas from England
in 1874 when she was only a year old. Just 14 years later, she began her professional
life as a fallen angel in San Antonio
and earned her later reputation as a formidable, shrewd businesswoman before she
was out of her teens. It was at the tender age of 19, an age at which other young
women found themselves teaching school, nursing the sick, or married off, that
Fannie utilized everything she had learned and started her own brothel. One day,
it would make her a rich woman.|
Fannie, whose appearance was always immaculate,
supplied more than just pretty girls with whom men desirous of companionship might
choose to wile away the hours in a pleasant diversion from hunting, shoot outs,
and Injun fighting. One of the niceties she supplied was rare to sporting houses
in those days for Fannie's girls were free of diseases. This made her establishment
as safe to visit as a convent, and a lot more fun.
Fannie's brothel was
visited by both outlaws and lawmen because of her warm personality, the fact that
she chose five to eight extremely attractive young girls between the ages of 18
and 25, and her requirement that the girls practice good hygiene. At the time
of the 1900 U.S. Census, there were five ladies of the night living full time
in Fannie's "boarding house." Fannie herself was mentioned off and on in various
San Antonio city directories
from 1880 until 1902.
By 1895, her house was one of the most popular
in the Old West. By that time, it had become a frequent stopover for outlaws evading
capture and Fannie was vastly admired for her discretion. She emphatically refused
to divulge the whereabouts of any wanted man to the authorities no matter how
much pressure was brought to bear. Fannie knew well the meaning of the word "honor,"
unlike today's madams who will sell names from their little black book to the
highest bidder. Not Fannie. She remained mum.
Other reasons patrons enjoyed
Fannie's establishment were the elegant imported brass cuspidors, classy upholstered
furnishings and luxurious appointments. For some "special customers," she reserved
bottles of chilled champagne. That included members of the Wild Bunch.
Front row left to right: Harry A. Longbaugh, alias the Sundance
Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy;
Standing: Will Carver & Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry; Fort Worth, Texas, 1901.
Photo courtesy wikipedia.com
National Detective Agency|
Photo courtesy Library of Congress
one to discriminate, Fannie's patrons also included certain lawmen and she made
sure that any lawman who entered received the best treatment. As late as 1901,
William Pinkerton visited Fanny. He was son of the founder of Pinkerton ("We Never
Sleep") National Detective Agency. She was said to have been mighty partial to
William Pinkerton because he treated her like a lady. |
Fannie was well-connected
and ran her house generally without interference from the law; however, she was
arrested for “vagrancy” in the late 1880s, vagrancy being cop-speak for prostitution.
The arrest may have been occasioned by the fact that Fannie chased a police officer
from her establishment threatening to knock him senseless with a broom.
SPORTING HOUSE Built
in 1883, the two-storey building at 503 South San Saba* was advertised as a boarding
house, but everybody knew that it really was a bawdy house. Primly standing about
a block outside of the Red Light District at the southwest corner of Durango and
San Saba in San Antonio's Second Ward, Number 503 remained a working witness to
the wild and woolly West until after the turn of the 20th Century.
lavishly appointed sporting house served as hideout, rendezvous, and sometime
headquarters for the Wild Bunch and other outlaws for several years. Fannie operated
her house with the cooperation of city officials (San
Antonio issued licenses to such facilities) and local lawmen.
has it that Butch Cassidy made his famous bicycle ride up and down the unpaved
street in front of Fannie's place. It is not known if raindrops were falling on
his head at the time.
Fannie Porter's brothel is often confused with
the Fort Worth brothel of a madam
named Mary Porter. Despite their identical last name and profession, there is
no connection between the two women. Misinformation and the transposition of these
two madams' names and cities turns up in some sources, giving rise to the incorrect
notion that the Wild Bunch frequented the other Ms. Porter's place in Fort
*NOTE: In 1914, the building was purchased by the Carmelite
Sisters of Divine Charity and operated as a day care center. Today, 503 Urban
Loop (formerly known as San Saba) is the site of Girls & Boys Town of San Antonio.
The original building apparently still exists within the newer structure, according
to Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of 1904 and 1956.
was always exciting to hear Fannie say, "There's company in the parlor, girls"
because it meant good times, fast living and cash on the dresser.
bordello beauties loved her for insisting that any customer who mistreated them
would be forever barred from her house of good repute, and patrons loved her for
the gilded grandness with which she surrounded them. Not only was Fannie's place
laden with sparkling candle-lit crystal chandeliers and plush red carpeting, the
carved four-poster beds were dressed in imported silk sheets (unlike the girls
who were dressed rather sparingly). It is probably safe to assume Fannie insisted
all clientele, including members of The Wild Bunch, remove their sharp spurs before
climbing into bed, rather than risk snagging even one thread of such expensive
One could consider Fannie Porter's the eHarmony of
its day, since genuine matchmaking took place at her establishment with regularity,
creating quite a turnover of girls. Aside from operating as something of a Wild
Bunch dating service, the brothel offered the outlaws a haven where they could
relax, party down and unload some of their ill-gotten gains.
at Fannie's that Harry Longbaugh (the Sundance Kid) met beautiful young Etta Place,
as wild and exciting a girl as ever worked at Fannie's. Unless of course the other
story is true -- that he met her much earlier in Utah when she was dating Robert
Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy), about which we will soon learn more.
Kid and Etta Place (the only known photo of her)|
Photo courtesy wikipedia.com
Place is probably the most mysterious of all outlaw women. However, Doris Karren
Burton, of the Outlaw Trail History Center at the Uintah County Library, ran a
series of computer photograph analyses of Etta Place that she published in 1992.
The results linked Place to another colorful figure: Ann Bassett, the so-called
Queen of the Cattle Rustlers, who dated Butch Cassidy back in Utah. Burton's fascinating
research uncovers parallels in their lives too numerous to be coincidental. Based
on Burton's findings, together with the findings of Dr. Thomas G. Kyle of the
Computer Research Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory, there is no doubt that
Etta Place and Ann Bassett were one and the same.
match made at Fannie's was that of Harvey (Kid Curry) Logan, considered the most
dangerous member of the Wild Bunch, and his girlfriend, the slender Annie Rogers
with her high cheekbones and sassy ways. Annie was born Della Moore in Texas,
and also went by the alias Maud Williams. It seems women in those days changed
names as often as they changed hats. Wild though Kid Curry's reputation was, he
was on his best behavior at Fannie's and it has been speculated that he married
Annie or at the very least, they posed as man and wife.
And then there's
Will "News" Carver and Laura Bullion. Will was born in Coryell
County, Texas, briefly married to Laura Bullion's aunt, had a romantic involvement
with Ann Bassett/Etta Place, and also had a fling with another of Fannie's girls,
Lillie Davis, who later claimed to have married him in Fort
Worth. But his heart belonged, more or less, to Laura. Laura Bullion was born
in Knickerbocker Texas around 1876 and was of German and Native American descent.
She used the alias of Della Rose when she was a dance hall girl in Wyoming before
working at Fannie's. After Carver died of a posse-fired gunshot wound after a
bank robbery, Laura took up with his friend and fellow Wild Bunch member, Ben
("Tall Texan") Kilpatrick.
The last time that the Wild Bunch is
known to have visited Fannie's brothel was in February, 1901, when they were between
robberies, the First National Bank in Winnemucca, Nevada where they got $30,000,
and Great Northern Train in Wagner, Montana, which netted the gang $65,000. With
the law on their heels, the gang planned to split up and head out in different
directions. Before they left for the last time, Fannie threw them a memorable
going-away party that must've given them plenty to talk about as they rode off.
It wasn't long after this that moral reform became popular and "openly
operating" brothels were frowned upon, causing Fanny to gradually fade away together
with the Red Light District. Some historians believe that she retired a rich woman,
while others believe she married a wealthy man. Subsequent unconfirmed rumors
indicated that all went well with Fanny for many years -- until 1940, when she
perished in an El Paso
Life ended for Fanny Porter and she passed into legend
like the famous men she protected and accommodated in the house on Durango in
Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
September 25, 2007 column
San Antonio | San
Antonio's Blue Book |
of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
San Antonio Historical Society
Legends of America, Kathy Weiser
James D. Horan, Desperate
Men: Revelations from the Sealed Pinkerton Files (New York: Putnam, 1949)
James D. Horan, The Wild Bunch (New York: Signet, 1958).
Richard F. Selcer,
Hell's Half Acre: The Life and Legend of a Red Light District (Fort Worth: Texas
Christian University Press, 1991).
Mysterious San Antonio, by David Bowser 199
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
1904 V 1, p 32; 1956, Vol 1A, p. 49A