Tuesday, September 26, 2017


I love language memes and jokes that highlight the importance of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Perhaps you’ve seen the joke where two sentences are given:

Let’s eat Grandma
Let’s eat, Grandma

With the line following that says, “Punctuation saves lives.”

In some cases typos can causes feuds. In TALES OF BAD MEN, BAD WOMEN, AND BAD PLACES, by C. F. Eckhardt, he demonstrates why spelling, grammar, and punctuation matter.

In 1886 in El Paso, Texas on what used to be known as South Utah Street (now South Mesa Street) was the center of the city’s red-light district. The queen of the district was Alice Abbott, known as Fat Alice. She was six feet tall and weighed over 300 pounds.

Editor Frank Brady of the El Paso Herald suggested that if P.T. Barnum was looking for a mate for his elephant Jumbo, he need look no further than a certain address on South Utah Street. Alice was not one to forget—or forgive—such a slight.

Across the street from Fat Alice’s place there was a house run by a woman named Etta Clark, who was called Little Etta. She stood about five feet tall and probably weighed less than a hundred pounds. The fight began when a woman called Bessie Colvin decided to leave employment at Fat Alice’s and work for Little Etta.

At about five-foot-two Bessie was petite—except for her figure that had and especially well-endowed bosom. Fat Alice objected to Bessie leaving because Bessie was a drawing card for the house. In addition, Alice had invested money in fancy clothes that would only fit Bessie.

Etta agreed to give Bessie a chance. When Bessie went back to get her clothes, Fat Alice tried to stop her. Bessie got away and ran across the street and locked herself in Etta’s house.

When Alice pounded on the door, Etta made a mistake. She opened the door and said, “She doesn’t want to see you.” Alice charged through the door and grabbed Bessie by the wrist. Etta whacked Alice with the lighter she used to light the gas lights and got knocked across a hallway by Alice’s ham-sized fist.

Bessie Colvin

Outside, Bessie broke away and ran back to Etta’s. By this time, Etta had pulled herself together and stood in the door with a nickel-plated Iver Johnson Bulldog .44 in her hand. When Alice turned around to pursue Bessie once more, Etta told her to stop. Alice didn’t. Etta fired.

The slug hit Alice in the pelvic area, not a life-threatening injury under normal circumstances. The doctor who treated her gave her a 50-50 chance due to the unsanitary conditions at Alice’s establishment. Etta surrendered herself to El Paso police immediately and was charged with attempted murder and posted a $2,000 cash bond. It took a jury only fifteen minutes to acquit her.

The news of the shooting went immediately to the El Paso Herald. The location of the bullet hole was a problem to describe. Newspapermen decided to describe the wound as being in the “pubic arch”. The typesetter made a slight error and described the injury as to the “public arch”.

Alice decided the description was deliberate and announced she was going to blow “a hole a horse could walk through” in Frank Brady. Shortly thereafter, Brady took an editing job in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Probably a wise move on his part.

An unidentified brothel
entry and parlor

Alice Abbott died April 7, 1896 in El Paso. 

Etta Clark died in Atlanta, Georgia at the home of her sister, Eva Mercier, on October 25, 1908. In 1890, Etta's brothel was appraised at $79,300. (Knowing this, I wonder at what Fat Alice's place was valued.)  

No one knows what happened to Bessie Colvin.

El Paso, Texas in 1881

Caroline Clemmons is an Amazon bestselling and award winning author of historical and contemporary western romances. Her latest is a Christmas story, MISTLETOE MISTAKE, now available for pre-order and releasing Friday, September 29, from Amazon.

Photos from Google commons


  1. Well, this was entertaining! Never heard of either woman, but it is a great story.
    And thanks for the punctuation lesson...we could all benefit from that.

  2. Great story! I'll have to get Mistletoe Mistake. Love the cover.

  3. Love the story you presented. I think I liked the comma where it seemed we were about to eat dear ol' grandma. Ha ha
    I want to wish you all the best with MISTLETOE MISTAKE. Congratulations on its upcoming release.

  4. Jake's death certificate says he died on a "pubic road". That kind of sloppiness on an official document, and a phrase undoubtedly used a bajillion times a year, would infuriate his sensibilities. When he was 4, I caught him writing in a book - a cardinal sin in our house. Turns out he was correcting the punctuation. And he was correct! Perfectionist from the beginning,lol.

  5. Thanks,Caroline, for an entertaining read! Good Luck with your new release!


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