Tuesday, September 8, 2015


by Celia Yeary
Fannie Porter (February 12, 1873 - c.1940) was a well known madam of the 19th century. She was best known for her association with famous outlaws of the day, and for her popular brothel, Fannie Porter's Sporting House.

Porter was born in England and traveled to America around the age of one with her family. By fifteen she was working as a prostitute in San Antonio, Texas. 

By the age of 20, she had started her own brothel. She became extremely popular for her cordial and sincere attitude, her choosing only the most attractive young women as her "girls", her requirement that her "girls" practice good hygiene, and for her always immaculate personal appearance. 

Her brothel was located at the corner of Durango and San Saba streets in San Antonio.

By 1895, her brothel in San Antonio was one of the most popular of the Old West. It had by that time become known as a frequent stop off for outlaws on the run from the law. 
Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Kid Curry, and other members of the Wild Bunch gang frequented her business.

It is possible the Sundance Kid and his girlfriend Etta Place, whose true identity and eventual disappearance from history has long been a mystery, first met while she worked for Porter, but that has never been confirmed. Wild Bunch gang member Laura Bullion is also believed to have at times worked for Porter between the years of 1898 and 1901.
Porter was well respected for her discretion, always refusing to turn in a wanted outlaw to the authorities. She also was known for being extremely defensive of her "girls", insisting that any who mistreated them never return to her brothel. She generally employed anywhere from five to eight girls, all ranging in age from 18 to 25, and all of whom lived and worked inside her brothel.

By the early 20th century, the tide had begun to turn against active, openly operating brothels. Eventually, she retired, and faded from history. It is not known as to where she went following her retirement. Most agree that she retired semi-wealthy, but it is unknown to where she might have gone. Some stories indicate she returned to England with a wealthy husband, but that has remained unconfirmed.
The Sporting District was established in 1889 by the San Antonio city council to contain and regulate prostitution. The area became home to brothels, dance halls, saloons, gambling parlors, and other illegal, or at least vice-oriented, businesses. City officials did not officially condone the activities but rather unofficially regulated them. The area also included many legitimate businesses including hotels and restaurants.

NOTE: In my fourth and last Dime Novel, Kat and the U.S. Marshal, Marshal Diego Montoya arrives in San Antonio where Katherine Garrison lives. He'd met her the year before at her brother's ranch, (Angel and the Cowboy) and his assignment to find an outlaw in the city gave him the opportunity to visit Kat.

Diego visits the San Antonio Sporting District in search of the outlaw. To create a sporting house, I found information about the real District and a real Madam named Fannie Porter. 
(For the story, I created "Miss Hattie's Sporting House.")

Today, the old location of the Sporting District in San Antonio is near the fashionable historic neighborhood called King William.

An Aside Note: One reader suggested my heroine, Kat Garrison, as a single woman, might not live alone in a city and own a house. However, in Texas, from the days of the Republic, single women could buy and sell property, live alone, and had many rights usually designated to men. But when a woman married, her property became his and her rights somewhat diminished. Even with this much freedom, Texas would not give women the right to vote until 1918.

Another Note:
The San Antonio red-light district became known as The Sporting District in 1889 when the city council voted to contain and regulate prostitution. 
In addition to brothels, the district contained dance halls, saloons, gambling parlors, hotels, and restaurants.
Businesses in the area provided the city with tens of thousands of dollars annually in licensing fees.
*The district was shut down in 1941 by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who at the time commanded Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.    

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas
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  1. Great blog, Celia. A lot of stories could be created with this information. Thanks for an enjoyable read to start a Tuesday morning.

    1. Thank you, Linda. You are so right. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  2. The brothels in so many cities were the center of so much activity. Fannie is fascinatings. The story goes that when a prostitute wanted to get married or leave the business she would 'die' and resume life with another name. I've yet to follow that story to its end, but given time, I can hopefully find out the truth of that.
    Thank you for another interesting post. I love that women could own property, but shame on Texas for taking some of that away when they married. Oh well. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-Author

  3. I love a good mystery, so of course, it intrigues me that no one really knows where Fannie Porter went once she retired or if she married. I'd like to think she married a good man and returned to England to live out the rest of her life happy and carefree.
    I rather think it interesting that the law knew about the brothels and lawlessness and decided to designate an area, like a red light district, to restrict these activities to better control them. The idea gave some semblance of order to the rest of the town.
    Eisenhower was a visionary. He realized the United States needed super highways to enable people to evacuate and move rapidly in case of danger or invasion. I was a kid in the days when he was president and maybe that's why I felt it was a happy time in history--at least for me.
    Terrific blog, Celia. Thank you for including how this research helped you create the ideas for your story, Kat and the U.S. Marshal. I liked that story.

    1. Yes, I think I was a young married woman when Eisenhower was president. I still believe, like you, he was one of our better ones. We have had too many who were self-serving.
      Glad you like Kat and the U.S. Marshal!
      Thank you.

  4. Romance author...long retired...LaVyrle Spencer wrote one story about a young woman who went West to find her younger sister who ran away. She find the sister in a brothel..tagging along is the young sister's spurned bridegroom. Not only does the older sister find love...well, you might want to read the story, so I won't tell the ending.
    So, yes, the soiled dove shedding he fa├žade and returning as a new person would be a great plot. I hope you can create such a story.
    Thanks for visiting me today!

  5. Celia, I so enjoyed your blog (as always) and thanks so much for sharing all that great information. I give Fannie a lot of credit to keep law and order in her place. Oh, another story has just popped into my head and is screaming to be written. It was a fascinating time in our history for sure and I can appreciate all the hard work and effort it took for the madams and owners trying to maintain a clean and safe and "respectable" atmosphere. Must have been rough and tough to maintain. I think I missed Kat and the U.S. Marshal--will look that one up for sure.


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