A Sad end For A Madam Of the Wild West

     Of this short series of the Gals of the Old West, I would like to once again point out I am using material found in the numerous books I own.  Also some of the information I also check out on Yahoo.com.  The material is there for your own perusal.  If I mention a name you might not have heard of before, I am sure you can find much more than what I choose to recount.

     Here is a neat epitaph I found.  “Here lies Charlotte, she was a harlot.  For fiveteen years she preserved her virginity, a damn good record for this vicinity.”


     Little Casino received mail under two names, Ida Lewis and Elizabeth McClellan.  But the madam of the toniest bawdy house of the Dakota’s in the 1870’s was known as Little Casino.  In the card came known as casino, the “little casino” was the deuce of spades.  It was the deuce of spades that emblazoned the large sign that identified her house of entertainment in Bismarck, Dakota territory.  It was also on her calling card which guaranteed her instant credit in any business in Bismarck.


      It was in 1873 when Little Casino stepped down from one of the first passenger trains to arrive  in the frontier settlement of Edwinton, local businessmen soon after changed the name to Bismarck, in hopes to lure the chancellor of Germany into investing in the community.  This wasn’t important  to Casino when she arrived from Brainerd, Minnesota where she was said to have wore out her welcome with the authorities there.

     Bismarck was the perfect place for her to start over.  It was the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, a steamboat landing and the jumping off place for miners and prospectors headed for the Black Hills.  And more important just across the Missouri river the U.S. 7th Cavalry was stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln.

      A news paper reporter at the time wrote “After the arrival of the seventh Cavalry the character of the town changed materially for the worse. New dance halls were opened on fourth street and demi-monde congregated there in large numbers, and there was no cessation in the daily and nightly routine of revelry and wickedness.”  “Bismarck at this time became notorious as one of the wickedest cities in the west”.

    In 1874 the actual population of Bismarck was only 1,200,  18 saloons stood open around the clock to serve the troops and passers-through.  Most of these were located on fourth street, known as Murderer’s Gulch or Bloody fourth Street due to the frequent shooting’s, knifing and bar fights.

     Casino located her place across the railroad  tracks on Front street.  It was the premier emporium it’s type in town. It’s reputation was enhanced by Casion’s acquisition of one of the first piano’s in town.  Muleskinners and bull-whackers would steal the tassels off her curtains and hang them off the harnesses of their lead team animals.  Casino kept buying new one to replace the stolen ones.

    She was a tiny demure woman who love elegant, conservative clothing.  She did nothing to attract attention to her self when she did her business across the track in the gentler side of town.  she tried to avoid publicity,  but often had to appear in court to bail out the girls who worked for her.  the Bismarck Tribune duly reported her appearances.  But Casino acquitted her self well in Bismarck.

     Her working girls, the regulars had such names as, Canada Nell, Big Rose, Gentel Annie and Be Jusus Lil.  

     Little Casino made money a lot of it, she also spent it by all accounts.  she unoffically gave $1,200 to the cause to make Bismarck the of the Dakota territory.  she was reported to be generous to those down on their luck.  She chartered a private rail car to travel to the St. Louis World’s Fair and had it parked on a siding for the duration of her stay as a private residence.  Rumors abound as to lovers, it is known for sure that she did not travel alone.

     In the days of her prosperity, casino invested in commercial lots in Bismarck, and several lots out side of town that proved to be rich in coal.  Predictably her good fortune came to a end.  As Bismarck became a respectable family community and state capitol, business venture’s such as hers were forced out of existence.  A mortgage forecloser in 1883 cost Little Casino her Bismarck real-estate.  She moved to her rural property, where she opened a small coal mine,  commonly know as the Little-Casino Mine.

     The mine never really made any money and mostly became a winter hole-up for down on the luck miners who barley eked out a small frugal living in it’s operation.

     No one from Bismarck would have recognised the tiny shriveled old lady who would come to the small town of Wilton for her weekly shopping in her later days.  One woman who used to see her described her :  “She reminded me of a little bed-ragged bird.  she always dressed in rusty black clothes of yester-years — skirts full and touching the ground.  she was old and looked weak, and had a rattling cough.  and I would guess she didn’t weigh eighty pounds.  she was dirty and unkempt.  Her tiny brownish hands, with dirty,uneven nails made me think of bird claws.”

     Casino drove to town in a topless spring buggy pulled by a bony black horse, followed by a procession of mangy hounds.  she bought larg eorders of grocery’s and supplies, paying in cash she secreted in a inner pocket of her skirt.  She never  wasted time on small talk, but conducted her business and left Town as quickly as possible.  Her voice was so raspy that small children were afraid of her.  Small boys hooted and jeered at her as she passed but stayed out of reach of the long buggy whip always at hand.

     Casion’s house near the mine was small and low, a hovel neighbors called it.  surrounded by trash and broken mine machinery.  The hanger-on’s she supported lived in the lower level and she climbed ladder like steps to the attic hole where she slept on a bed of rags.

     And so she lived until she suffered “a stroke of paralysis” according to her obituary in the Wilton News.  The report lists her death as September 16,1916, and lists her age as seventy-six.  When Wilton’s undertaker and his assistant climbed into the low loft to remove Casino’s body they were confused by the deplorable conditions they found.  He said he had never prepared a burial for so dirty and neglected a body as Casino’s.  Suspended between her withered breasts on a grimy ribbon he found a ring set with a beautiful two-carat diamond ring.  No one knows the significance of the object for her.

     The minister of the local Presbyterian church arranger for her christian burial.  It was attended by nine people including the pallbearers, no women were in attendance.

     One of the small boys who had kept his distance for the harridan with the raspy voice watched the procession from his yard across the street from the church.  In later years as a old man, he recalled, “What I remember best is that her hound dogs were trotting along behind the buggy.  they waited outside during the service, and then when the men started for the cemetery with the body, the dogs trotted right along behind.  It looked so pitiful that I never forgot.”

     In the capitol city of North Dakota, the offices of the Bismarck Tribune now sits on the site of Little Casinos bawdy house on front street.  Little Casino’s grave in Riverside Cemetery just outside Wilton, overlooks the Missouri, lay unmarked for years.  A play baised  on Little Casino’s life raised enough money for Wilton’s centennial project, to erect a headstone inscribed with LITTLE CASINO arched over her deuce of spades flanked with the dates 1840 and 1916.  The name ELIZABETH McCLELLAND is under the card with the deuce of spades,  under-scored by these words, “Gone but not forgotten-ye without sin cast the first stone”.

     Once again I have supprised my self with my long winded comments.  Guess you can chalk it up to old age, Huh?

      Gonna spell check this monstrosity and ramble on out of here.



6 Responses to “A Sad end For A Madam Of the Wild West”

  1. Barb Aeschliman Says:

    I stumbled onto your site just today (5/6/09) as I was researching for a series of historical fiction novels I’m working on. Although I’m now living in the Pacific Northwest, I lived many years in Arizona and southern Californa, and have a love of western history. My grandparents retired to Payson (both are gone now), my parents to East Mesa, and I spent many vacations in Prescott, Sedona, Flagstaff, Globe, Superior, and a childhood spent exploring the Bradshaw mountains by jeep, several times encountering intact ghost towns which looters had not yet discovered.
    Your posts on old west prostitutes are interesting and informative, and I found myself wishing I could sit down with you and have a glass of iced tea and share stories.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge.

    • ramblingbob Says:

      Thanks so munh for your comments. It means a lot to get feed back from some one like you, it makes the effort worth while. Will try to send you a E-mail later.

  2. Mike Glatt Says:

    Great story I live in Bismarck and love reading about these people and events. What are some of your sources, I want more ????

  3. Capt. Thomas N. Roberts (ret) Says:

    I attended UND in the early eighties, and moved to Bismarck in the latter 80s. Funnest city in the world, coolest place to explore the wild west

  4. Paulette Bullinger Says:

    Great info – I just published a Bismarck-Mandan historical fiction and I love this history! Nothing Hidden is the name of my novel.

  5. Patty Says:

    City of Wilton, ND. we were wondering if we could get permission to put your article on Little Casino on our website, we are looking for some history points about Wilton to put on it, Thank you

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