Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Julia Bulette of Virginia City, Nevada

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
More has been written about Julia Bulette, both fact and fiction, than any other woman of the Comstock era. She was a member of the ''fair but frail'' sisterhood and a prototype of all the fancy women in the Early West.
While other women of easy virtue drifted into obscurity, Julia was destined to remain a part of Virginia City's colorful history. It may be that Julia became a legend because of her brutal murder, not for her many generous deeds.
Virginia City sprang up in 1859 following the discovery of the fabulous Comstock Lode. It became an overnight boomtown, with the busiest saloons in the mining area. The inhabitants, mostly men under 20 years of age, were robust and free-living. There were very few women, single or married.
At the center was C Street, which consisted of businesses, saloons, and hotels. On the streets above C Street, the newly-made millionaires and elite lived in fine homes. Most of the unmarried miners, the prostitutes, and assorted working men lived below on D Street. The majority of the ''ladies'' could be found on the west side of D Street, in a five block area known as ''The Red Light District'' -- possibly the first use of the now-famous description. The women were required to keep red-colored oil lamps hanging in their front windows.
Julia's cottage was located at a prime spot on the corner of Union and D Streets where the miners and workmen passed daily. It consisted of a parlor and bedroom. The parlor could accommodate as many as a dozen visitors and had lace curtains at the windows, a Brussels carpet, comfortable furniture, and cheery stove. Her bedroom was dominated by a large bed and was darkened by heavy curtains. It also had a trunk for her clothing, a wash basin, and a spittoon. None of the other girls on the ''row'' had such elaborate furnishings. The cottages did not have indoor plumbing or kitchens.
She was exceptionally kind-hearted and had many friends on the ''row,'' but none worked for her. She was an attractive woman and considered a good sport. Very little is known about her personal life. She did know many men intimately and was considered a middle-class prostitute. Julia lived alone in her cottage, and like the rest of the girls, made no plans for her future. She usually saw but one customer a night and did not have to solicit. Men sought her out. Julia chose who she pleased and often received as much as $1,000 a night for her services. Many of her clients were wealthy and appreciated her charms to the extent that they gave her expensive jewelry and furs. A good part of her earnings were spent on clothing, fancy lingerie, and parties.
Julia always had a friendly word for the workers who passed her cottage. Her many kind acts for the hard-working miners and donations to charity earned her a measure of respect and gratitude. She was never too busy to sit by the side of an injured or ill man and help nurse him back to health. Julia cared about them at a time when they had no one else.
The day before Julia Bulette was murdered, in January 1867, was like any other in her life. She slept late, visited with friends, and went to see a performance at the opera house. Women of her class were required to sit in one of the boxes with the curtains drawn so they could see the entertainment and not be seen by the proper ladies. Julia was denied admission because she refused to sit in the section reserved for the ''red-light women." She returned to her cottage early to wait for an appointment with a client.
The next day her body was found lying on her left side with her feet halfway out of the bed. Sometime during the night, she was strangled, shot, suffocated, and severely beaten. Her trunk with all her jewelry, furs, and personal possessions was stolen. Julia was only 35 years old.
The press called her murder outrageous and cruel. The men and women she had befriended mourned her death and sought revenge for the brutal slaying. Her funeral was one of the largest and most expensive Virginia City had ever seen. Even the saloons closed.
Several months later, John Millian, a French drifter, was arrested for her murder. He was eventually found guilty and hanged.
Taken from the Women of the Sierra by Anne Seagraves


  1. Paisley, I had never heard of Julia, but enjoyed your post. Sad that she was murdered, but I'm glad her killer was caught.

  2. The thing I am noticing with the women who lived wild and exciting lives is that they die so young. I thought Julia seemed interesting because of her generous nature.

  3. Great post, Paisley. I just love Virginia City. A must-see place for anybody who loves to read or write Western fiction...isn't her murder depicted in a tableau in one of those tiny funky little museums there?

    We're going to Tahoe for our annual visit in the summer. Maybe the herd will want to explore V.C. again. Oh, and it always reminds me of Bonanza, my favorite show ever. Other than Dr. Quinn maybe LOL.

  4. Virginia City is just over the mountain from where we live. It's a fun place to explore. Haven't been there for years, but I can still picture it in my mind's eye.

    Have a fun holiday. Tahoe is beautiful. We are just too lazy to drive the hour to visit it anymore.

  5. I remember reading Juliet's story in an Old True West Magazine when I was a kid. I have always loved stories of western women.

  6. Hi Blanche. I have a stack of the Old True West Magazines that my mother used to get. I love hearing about the women of the west, too. It seems they had the grit to overcome a lot of adversity.

    Thanks for visitng our site today.

  7. Wow, what a tragic story. Can you imagine living a life like she did? Or any other of the protitutes, for that matter. I just cannot fathom doing this, and I wonder how many were forced into it by necessity, or how many chose it. I'm certain some did.
    I love the research you do in an area you know and love. Bringing us stories we've never heard is a real gift, and I thank you.
    My heart hurts for her. How sad.

  8. Thanks, Celia. The wild west brought out a lot of women who had no other choice but to face the hardships as best they could. I just can't believe how young a lot of them were when they die.


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