The Victorians, who had a euphemism for everything to do with sexual activity, called prostitutes “daughters of joy”–among other misnomers. This is a story of one such woman, who worked at the Crystal Palace during the heyday of Tombstone, Arizona–and of the murderous path down which her profession led her.
Nobody but God knows her real name, but when she first came to Tombstone she was known as Little Gertie, presumably for her small stature. Later, a customer casually remarked that she had hair the color of the tiny one dollar gold coin with which he bought her services, and Gertie adopted a new name: Gold Dollar.
Under either name, life was hard for Gold Dollar and her sisters in the profession. They worked for long hours for low pay, faced dangerous johns who would beat and disfigure or kill them just for the hell of it, caught terrifying diseases, and turned to alcohol or drugs to alleviate their misery.
Gold Dollar, at least, had one compensation many of her coworkers lacked. Perhaps he bought her services one night, and was kind where others were brutes; perhaps they met in passing, but she fell in love with a newcomer to town named Billy Milgreen, a tinhorn gambler, cheap, showy, not especially lucky–certainly not one of those elegant gentlemen we think of as Old West gamblers in their boxback coats and flat-crowned hats.
Billy seemed to return her affection. She worked at the Crystal Palace, across the street from his preferred gambling establishment–the notorious Bird Cage Theater. The Bird Cage, it’s said, had the highest rollers, the loveliest ladies (who doubled as waitresses and showgirls), the finest imported beers, champagnes, cigars, in the West. It was also a notoriously violent place. Tour guides to this day can show the curious bullet holes in the punched-tin ceiling from gunplay that began at the gambling tables and ended with one or more patrons making that long last trip to Boot Hill outside town.
When Gold Dollar was between customers at the Crystal Palace, she would often sneak across the street to spend a minute with Billy, who could usually be found at the faro table. A quick kiss, perhaps, and thus reassured she would go back to work, dreaming of a day when they could leave town together, leave the sporting life for good.
By all accounts all was well with Gold Dollar and Billy until the day a gorgeous Mexican prostitute known only as Margarita came to Tombstone. She found immediate employment at the Bird Cage. She also found something else; she fell madly in love with tinhorn Billy Milgreen, and lost no time in setting out to take him away from Gold Dollar. Billy may not have reciprocated, per se, but neither did he reject her advances.
Gold Dollar had friends among the girls at the Bird Cage, who kept her apprised of every flirtatious flattery and flagrant familiarity with which Margarita favored Billy. Gold Dollar’s visits to Billy, now spurred by jealousy, increased in number. God forbid that Billy was at fault; it was all that slut’s doing! On one such visit she let Margarita know, in no uncertain terms, that Billy was her man, and if Margarita didn’t back off, Gold Dollar would cut her heart out.
Margarita didn’t take the tiny blonde seriously. She was tall and strong, much bigger than Gold Dollar; how could the little twit possibly harm her?
She didn’t know that Gold Dollar had begun carrying a keen, deadly stiletto tucked into her garter.
One fine evening, when the Bird Cage was rocking as usual with its various vices, Gold Dollar walked in to find that Billy was as usual at the faro table–and that Mexican hussy Margarita was sitting on his lap, showering him with kisses and nuzzles and promises of bliss.
Maybe the gold in her hair bespoke Viking ancestry. Gold Dollar went berserk.
She rushed Margarita, shrieking incoherently. Before Billy or anyone else could move, she body-slammed Margarita down on the faro table.
And, as she had threatened, she cut the beautiful Mexican girl’s heart out.
Pandemonium broke out, of course. Gold Dollar stood panting for a moment, then took advantage of the ruckus to slip out the back door into infinity. She was never seen in Tombstone again.
They had to call the local doctor/coroner from the bar; he laconically announced he couldn’t do a damned thing for Margarita, pronounced her dead without so much as a second look, and went back to the bar to order another whiskey. Margarita’s body was taken away, the blood was cleaned up, and the Bird Cage roared on.
The legend says that some months later Billy Milgreen too quietly left Tombstone and was never heard from again. Perhaps he and Gold Dollar got together in some other riproaring mining town, their bond sealed in blood; perhaps their paths never crossed.
Tombstone is now a tourist town, and the Bird Cage one of the most notoriously haunted locations in the United States. Among other energies detected by tour guides, psychics and tourists at the old nightspot, there is one feminine energy who definitely does not like men. One incident will suffice: in the 1970s, Bird Cage owner Bill Hunley was participating in a seance in the building when, without warning, he began choking and gagging, unable to breathe. His wife noticed his distress and began screaming, which broke the medium’s trance and also broke up the seance. It took some time for Bill to recover.
There are those who think this feminine energy is that of murdered Margarita, seeking vengeance against Billy Milgreen, the cause of all the trouble, by attacking another man named Bill.
I wonder if it’s not Gold Dollar, come to the realization that Billy wasn’t worth the murder she committed in a white-hot rage.
It’s worth noting that there has been a phantom image of a blonde, captured by a surveillance camera, in the Bird Cage’s Liquor Room.
Ah, just a sad tale of lust and murder, predictably sordid and depressingly ordinary? Consider this: in the 1980s, it’s said, someone found an oldtimey stiletto in a dusty weedy patch out back of the Bird Cage. . .
a stiletto very like the one legend says Gold Dollar used to cut out Margarita’s heart. . .
where Gold Dollar probably threw it, a century and more before, as she fled Tombstone with blood on her hands.
To hear this tale of love and murder best, you really need to see the Tombstone episode of the old Haunted History series, where Bird Cage owner Bill Hunley and Tombstone historian Ben Traywick tell it with chillingly deceptive simplicity.
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