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Frontier Madam: The Life of Dell Burke, Lady…

Frontier Madam: The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk

by June Willson Read

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Yet another lady of the evening. Ms. Dell Burke (her professional name; real name was Marie Fisher), after a career as an “entertainer” in Juneau and Seattle, decided that the real money was in the administrative end of the profession. Scanning a map of the West for a likely business site, she misread the small town of Lusk, Wyoming as Lust, Wyoming, and it was kismet.

Author June Willson Read is a psychotherapist, in Greensboro, North Carolina; her family homesteaded near Lusk, hence the interest. This is not a very enlightening book. Ms. Burke was an extremely private person, having little or no intercourse with the townsfolk of Lusk outside of business hours – she wouldn’t acknowledge or speak to anyone on the street to save them and herself embarrassment. Thus Read is reduced to detailing Burke’s life through things like her check stubs – she bought a sewing machine at the Coast to Coast hardware for $222 dollars; assessor’s records – she ended up owning a substantial amount of land in and around Lusk; and whatever anecdotes Read was able to draw out of residents. Burke’s Yellow Hotel flourished into the 1980s – long after all the other sporting houses in Wyoming were closed – supposedly because Burke had purchased the entire bond issue for the municipal water and power plants and hinted with varying degrees of subtlety that if Lusk tried to shut her down she’d call in the bonds .

An intriguing question is why this sort of biography is so common. There must be more books on professional women of the West than there are about doctors, lawmen, schoolteachers, etc., combined. I imagine the notoriety fascinates; I’m a little disappointed Read doesn’t comment on what prompted her to write about Burke. Read is a specialist in marriage counseling, and you would think she might have some professional interest; however, although there are some supposed quotes by Burke to the effect that if the wives of Lusk took care of their men at home they wouldn’t be coming to the Yellow Hotel, Read neither censures or approves.

Not terribly interesting; accounts of a madam’s appliance purchases just don’t do it for me, somehow. The Yellow Hotel was still there in 2007, Lusk isn’t that far away, and the local geology is interesting; is suppose it might be worth a trip. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 8, 2017 |
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This is the first biography of Dell Burke, whose estate sale drew national attention when she died in 1981 at age 93. Painstakingly researched for over five years, June Willson Read?s landmark history tells the story of a broken young woman who saw opportunities in the Alaskan gold rush, the copper mines in Montana and the oil fields in Wyoming. But it wasn?t mining that made Burke?s fortune ? she focused on the entertainment needs of the lonely men who poured into the uncharted west to strike it rich. In 1919, the genteel and gracious Burke opened the Yellow Hotel brothel in Lusk, Wyoming, where she reigned for six decades, until 1978. Although condemned for her profession, she was beloved for her generosity and her devotion to the community. For example, during the Depression, Burke financed Lusk?s water-power system and single-handedly saved the town from going bankrupt. Read interviewed locals, historians, and Burke descendents to present a fascinating story of a little-known entrepreneurial powerhouse.… (more)

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