Mayhem at an Elko Brothel
by Jerry Schimmel
2020 Second Place
WOMAN WOUNDED IN ELKO FEUD
Elko, Feb. 22 . - A feud in the restricted district came to a disastrous end last night when Maxine La Fond, proprietor of the Classy Inn, shot Ollie Day, proprietor of the Day House, wounding her seriously. When placed under arrest the La Fond woman appeared to be in a stupor and was unable to make any statement.
The woman who was shot, is said to have a fair chance for recovery. It is said the women have been enemies for some time. The shooting occurred about three o’clock this morning. Witnesses say that the La Fond woman came into the Day House and began shooting without warning. She fired four shots, three of which took effect.
Reno Gazette-Journal, Reno, Nevada, February 23 1927
Ollie had to be in serious condition after three rounds at point blank range. Lost over the years are the followup stories, if any, covering Ollie’s condition or action by law enforcement. At the time Ollie was 46 and Maxine 32. Well before the 1930 Census both had returned to their houses, Ollie with a complement of five harlots and Maxine with four.
Census data 1910 through 1930 show that Elko was lively with brothels. In 1910 Ollie Day’s, Jean Field’s and Annie Handlon’s were listed; in 1920 Ollie Day and Olive Wright; and by 1930 Ollie Day, Maxine La Fond, Gladys Collier, Maud Rogers and Irene Walker. No doubt there were others. Today Elko has four legal bagnios: The Desert Rose, Inez’s D&D (dancing and diddling), Mona’s Ranch and Sue’s Fantasy Club, all described on the internet.
Few towns are as isolated as Elko. Nearly mile high it lies about 250 miles from Boise, Reno, and Salt Lake and more than 400 from Las Vegas. The town’s current population is about 20,000, but in Ollie’s time it was more like 3,000. The city is the seat of sparsely inhabited Elko County, which covers a territory of sagebrush flats and jagged snow-capped peaks in the northeast corner of the state. Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut would easily fit into Elko county with space leftover for Hawaii.
With the arrival of white men in the decades after the Civil War, mining emerged as the county’s chief occupation. Their task was the grueling and often dangerous work of extracting gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc from the county's rugged territory. Nearby settlements acquired names like Bullion, Gold Creek and Midas. After a week of pickaxes and stubborn ore carts, most of the miners could descend on Elko for cheap booze, faro tables and wild female companionship.
The companionship was already in place by Ollie’s time. The California Gold Rush of 1849 was the starter, bringing men with money from everywhere on the planet. Women from the East and South had been arriving first by ship and then by transcontinental railroad after 1869. Major gold and silver strikes in Montana, Alaska, Arizona, and Nevada since the 1860s, guaranteed that the houses would always be fully staffed.
Women of minimal or non-existent education soon learned that you made lots more money as a hooker than a maid or washerwoman. French girls were trafficked to the West Coast by a sort of mafia. Chinese girls were essentially slaves. By and large, non-Chinese women were free to come and go, and the houses worked best with women staying for a time and then moving on, ad infinitum. A few like Ollie had a knack for running a house and getting rich.
Ollie’s, Maxine’s, Jean’s, and Maud’s Tokens
- Aluminum 28mm beaded borders, Hoskins et al #Ec-16e.
O: ∙∙∙ / Ollie / -∙- / Day / ∙∙∙ / s.l. stamp co.
R: Good For / (orn.) / ★ 50¢ ★ / (orn.) In Trade
- Bronze or copper 24mm beaded borders, Hoskins et al #Ec-8b
O: - The - / Classy / - Inn - (Maxine LaFond)
- Brass 24mm line border obv., plain rev. Hoskins et al #Ec-28d
O: (orn.) / Jean Field / (orn.)
R: Good For / 25¢ / In Merchandise
- Aluminum 30.5mm beaded borders, Hoskins et. al Ec-42b.
O: Maud Rogers / ★ 25¢ ★ / Cents / Elko, Nevada
R: Lucky / ★ 25¢ ★ / Cents / Strike
If the number of “brass checks” issued by Elko’s madams are any indication, more brothels existed there in the early 20th Century than almost anywhere in Nevada. My token collection includes 17 bits of stamped metal dispensed by ten Elko houses between 1900 and 1940. Shown here are images of four issued by Ollie, Maxine (The Classy Inn), Jean Field and Maud Rodgers.
Tokens were always paid for in advance by men and handed over at the point of assignation. Later they were turned in for the girls’ cut, usually 50 or 60% of face value. The term “brass checks” was commonly used in the West for a variety of tokens of different metals employed in stores, saloons, dance halls and brothels.
What services were provided in exchange for these small pieces of metal can only be imagined.
In the 1900 census Ollie was registered as 19 years old, born in Nevada or North Carolina. (The census listing for that year is garbled.) By 1910 she was 29 and operating a house staffed by four women and a Japanese cook. Next door another madam, Jean Field, also 29, ran a two girl shop. The typical contingent in most Western bordellos was five or six.
Ollie had a bad year in 1916, a foretaste of the 1927 affair. As stated in the Elko Independent, she paid a midnight visit on April 17 to Elko Hot Springs not far from town, accompanied by a young woman named Lizzie and saloonkeepers Frank Turner of Elko and Frank Golden of Lovelock. At about 2 a.m. as they headed back to town in Ollie’s new Overland sedan they found the way to Bullion Road blocked by a big log. Turner, the driver, got out to move the barrier when two armed masked men in overalls scrambled down the bank from above, one in front of the Overland and the other behind.
At gunpoint they ordered Ollie and her guests out of the car. The taller of the two took their cash and jewelry nervously waving his gun. The smaller bandit “continually clicked his pistol and vilely cursed,” according to the newspaper, “commanding him ( the taller of the two) to ‘bat Miss Day over the head.’” Then they shoved the log aside and drove off in Ollie’s car, later found abandoned a half mile north of town.
The article went on “From remarks passed, it was evident they (the brigands) knew Miss Day, as she was most thoroughly searched and was the object of most of the abuse.” The revelers admitted “they feared that they would be commanded to jump into the big hot springs.” One of the springs was hot indeed - 150 degrees Fahrenheit!
After a hike back to town, Ollie gave police a detailed account of her stolen items “Five solitaire diamond rings, the stones varying from two to three and one-third carats; one cluster ring of twenty diamonds; one ring set with turquoise surrounded by diamonds; a pair of earrings, each set with a one and a half carat diamond; one fleur-de-lis pin set with three diamonds; and a diamond-set gold watch.” Overlooked were two bracelets and $35. An earring was later found on the road, dropped by the highwaymen.
Lizzie lost a turquoise and diamond ring, Golden a diamond ring and $135, and Turner, a gun he never fired with a small amount of cash. All told, the take was worth about $4500, in today’s money perhaps more than $100,000. “It is evident that the robbers knew of their plans and followed them,” the article declared. “From remarks passed it is evident that they knew Miss Day.”
The story was picked up by the Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune for July 22, 1916. Added at the end of its version, “The robbery is generally thought to have been a frame-up.” This unattributed assertion implied that Ollie may have had a hand in promoting the holdup. Maybe the reporter mistakenly confused “frame up” with “inside job.” Maybe he had a bad time at Ollie’s.
In the same issue The News and Weekly Tribune published the following account of another horrendous event occurring five days later:
$65,000 FIRE IN ELKO
Two big houses in the red-light district of Elko, said to have been among the finest in the west, owned by Jean Field and Ollie Day, have been completely destroyed by fire which started from a short-circuited wire. The Field place was valued at $30,000 and the Day house at $35,000. There were 20 women in the two houses and all lost their clothes, jewelry and personal belongings. Miss Field stated that she had lost over $2,500 in jewelry. One woman was badly burned while trying to rescue her dog.
The News and Weekly Tribune, Goldfield Nevada, July 22, 1916
By 1920 Ollie, then 39, seems to have recouped her losses and was managing a new house of six women. Among the personnel was Maxine La Fond, age 25.
The overwhelming events in Ollie’s life leave questions that may never be answered after a century. What drove Maxine, at that moment, to stagger out of her house in a “stupor” and nearly bump off her former boss? Why did Ollie carry that seriously expensive jewelry to the hot springs? How did the holdup men find out about Ollie’s excursion - and the jewelry? Were they ever caught?
From the Census sheets Ollie must have been “the” senior madam in Elko, a kind of “mother superior,” so to speak, with twenty years plus among Elko’s brothel women. I suspect she knew everyone else as well. Perhaps she knew too much about people, more than someone could tolerate. Maybe the gunmen had been ejected from her house for ‘drunk and disorderly’. Ollie and Maxine likely had a falling out when Maxine worked at Day House.
There was no listing for Ollie in the 1940 census, at least not for Nevada. A search made by my old friend Lynn Ludlow and his associate found no death notice after 1930 and nothing in Nevada newspapers. Ollie just vanished. My pal said to me:
“I imagine she changed her name at some point, possibly through marriage or a desire to lead a normal existence. She would have been about 50 in 1930. It's not uncommon for madams and sex workers to change names, especially if they want to get out of the Life.”
Nothing more was found about Maxine. Other women’s names found on Elko tokens include Nan Raymond, Dixie Stevens and Jessie Ward.
Elko Independent, April 17, 1916.
Goldfield News and Weekly Tribune, July 22, 1916
Nevada Trade Tokens, by Len Hoskins, John Schilling and Hal Dunn, Columbus Industries, Reno 1990 (Sorry, I had no access to the more recent Haddock book.)
Reno Gazette-Journal, Reno, Nevada, February 23 1927 p. 2
U.S. Census for 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930.
My thanks for editing and suggestions go to Lynn Ludlow, retired Op Ed Page Editor for the old San Francisco Examiner and his associate, Maureen Mroczek Morris, who liberated much Ollie and Maxine information from the internet “cloud”.