The relationship between Colorado’s longest-working madam and her dog.
When looking through Colorado history books, one will find Laura Evans described as Salida’s most prominent madam, and one of Colorado’s most rambunctious sex workers around the turn of the century. Her life embodied the wild spirit of the American West, and her adventures made her into a larger-than-life figure. From chariot races through the streets of Leadville, to smuggling $25,000 in a dress bustle to scab workers in a mine, her story is not one that reflects the lives of most women in twentieth-century Colorado.
She lived a life with bold disregard of social convention, but behind the brothel and the wild stories lies a down-to-earth woman. Sources differ on where Alice Chapel Reed (Evans’ given name) was born and when. Some say she was born in Missouri in 1871, others indicate that she was born in 1874 and came from Alabama. Wherever she was born, she was undeniably a woman who loved a little dog.
Images of her with her beloved dog from the History Colorado collection reveal several photos of “Mister Pimp Powers.” These images show a softer side of the legendary lady that contradicts the stereotypical lens that she is often seen through, a side that any dog owner today will recognize no matter their profession.
Evans eventually came to work as a “sporting girl” (a euphemism for sex workers) in Leadville around 1894. She was forced to skip town in 1896 after striking miners discovered that she had smuggled payment to scab workers during a labor dispute. This discovery led to her rapid decline in popularity as a sporting girl in Leadville, as miners were a large percentage of her clientele. After settling in Salida, Evans soon worked her way up from “crib girl” to madam of her own parlor house at 129 Front Street (now called Sackett Avenue), a position she held for forty-nine years.
Exactly when Laura was given the small brown and black chihuahua known as Mister Pimp Powers is a mystery, though Colorado historian Tracy Beach claims he was a gift. What we do know is how the small dog came into Laura’s care. Evans’ long-time attorney and amateur historian Fred Mazzulla conducted an interview with Fern Pedro, one of Evans’ “working girls,” in January 1954, and it was during that interview that Mister Pimp Powers’ story came to life:
“Lillie Powers sent it to her in a box. She didn’t find out until quite some time afterwards who had even sent it. This is the reason she called it Little Pimp Powers.”
Lillian “Lil” Powers was another one of Colorado’s well-known madams. She once operated a parlor house in Denver known as “The Cupolo” on Denver’s infamous Market Street, known for its red-light district. She would later work in Victor, Cripple Creek, and Salida, and ran her own parlor house in Florence for forty years until she was shut down in 1950.
Powers had worked for Evans for a few years in Salida before deciding to leave the small town and make her own success elsewhere. It is likely that Powers sent the small dog as a going away gift after being close to Evans for years.
Evans and her friends spent their free time traveling together in one of her various cars. They visited the Royal Gorge, Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, and other modern tourism hotspots with little Mister Powers along for the ride. In Evans’ photos from the History Colorado collection, Mister Powers can be seen sitting in the front seat of a car, relaxing at a picnic, and enjoying affection from a variety of women. He was apparently a well-tempered chihuahua, and was apparently fond of being held. The small dog seems to have been constantly surrounded by friendly faces, and it is easy to imagine that he pictured himself as the head of the house instead of Evans (as dogs seem to do).
Mister Pimp Powers lived a long life. Fern Pedro told Mazzulla:
“He lived to be fourteen . . . I remember that they were telling about the night that Mister Powers died. He was covered up in a chair in her [Laura’s] room. And right in the middle of the [paganini] game [he died].”
After the little dog’s death, Pedro claimed that Evans didn’t have the energy for another dog. But she continued to have a love for animals as she owned turkeys, cats, rabbits, a donkey, a cow, pigs, and other livestock.
The photos of Evans doting on Mister Pimp Powers give us a canine-shaped window into the private life of a woman whose line of work is continuously stigmatized in society, even as her vibrant story has elevated her to a larger-than-life status for many admirers. Today we live in a society that adores and shares an abundance of pet photos. Seeing historical figures with their beloved pets opens up a window of relatable humanity, and shows us that they were real and complex people. It also shows us that throughout the history of the state, the people of Colorado have always loved dogs.