Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Hans Stohlhaven’s Hurdy Gurdy Girls

While digging through some of my reference books for a topic of this post, I came across a story about Dutch Jo, an actress turned madam, who hailed from an area between France and Germany.  She began her acting career in the Barbary Coast, married, had a child, and took over her husband’s brothel business when he died.  She was headed to the gold country of eastern Idaho in 1860 with her daughter, body guard, musicians, and working girls when she found herself on the same boat headed up the Columbia River as Hans Stohlhaven and his family and 10 Hurdy Gurdy girls who were going to dance in his saloon when we set up in the gold country of eastern Idaho.

The two were rivals as soon as they met. Only Hans’ girl couldn’t go any farther with a man than a dance. They were to remain good girls and would be helped to find a husband after they paid off their debt to Hans. Hans’ dancers were German girls who promised to work for him for a year, giving him all the money they made when men paid for a drink and received a three-minute dance. This was their payment to Hans for paying their way to America and helping them find a husband.

When the sternwheeler the Colonel Wright was held over at Wallula, Washington due to too much ice flowing in the Snake River, it was decided that a party would be thrown.  Josephine’s girls and musicians along with Hans’ dancers were a hit with all the lonely business men in the area, the military men, and the gold seekers. The next morning, Jo had two of her girls leave because they had marriage proposals from a business man and a rancher. Both girls had told the men they wouldn’t go with them until they were married.
Hans didn’t lose a single dancer, but that’s because they had to fulfill their contract or pay him $5000, the amount he estimated they would make him in a year.  When a year was up he would help them find a husband and give them $1000 or a ticket back to Germany.

The two entrepreneurs weren’t happy when they learned the river was still not passable and the more men arrived to the area wanting another party. Dutch Jo didn’t want to lose any more girls and Hans feared even with his stiff penalties he could lose a girl. They beseeched the captain of the boat to at least move them up river enough that the lonely men wouldn’t  follow and that’s what the captain did.
Hans did establish a brew house in Orofino, Idaho and Dutch Jo didn’t like Lewiston and returned to Walla Walla where she set up am “entertainment parlor”.

Source: Outlaws of the Pacific Northwest by Bill Gulick

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