Arrow-right Camera
News >  Idaho

Huckleberries: Wallace native’s book pulls back curtain on Silver Valley sex trade

An image from the cover of Dr. Heather Branstetter’s history of the infamous sex trade in Wallace, Idaho: “Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business of Doing Pleasure.” (Courtesy of Dr. Heather Branstetter)
An image from the cover of Dr. Heather Branstetter’s history of the infamous sex trade in Wallace, Idaho: “Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business of Doing Pleasure.” (Courtesy of Dr. Heather Branstetter)

Many Inland Northwesterners have heard of Maggie “Molly B’Dam” Hall, the prostitute with a heart of gold who is buried in Murray, Idaho. But few outside of Wallace have heard of Dolores Arnold, one of the most influential and prominent Wallace community leaders and madams of her day.

We snicker about the open prostitution formerly allowed in Wallace. But know little about it. Some might know the names of the last four houses: Lux, Luxette, Oasis and U & I. Or may know that the last house shut down in 1991 shortly before the FBI raided illegal gambling places in the Silver Valley. But the closure had more to do with the struggling valley economy and AIDS than the raid.

Now, Heather Branstetter, a Wallace native who began her research in 2010, has published a book that will fill in the large gaps about the notorious sex business in Wallace.

“Selling Sex in the Silver Valley: A Business of Doing Pleasure” is neither sensationalized nor romanticized. Huckleberries has received an advance copy. It will be available for purchase May 15 (History Press, $21.99). The book is divided into three sections: straightforward history, Branstetter’s commentary on the Wallace sex trade, and firsthand, oral history accounts. (Warning: The third section offers some R-rated, eyewitness testimony.)

Branstetter explains the why of the sex trade as well as the who.

First, the why. From the start, she explains, Wallace embraced the idea that town prostitutes saved local women from rape at the hands of hardscrabble miners, many of whom were traveling single men. The town, including elected officials, resisted attempts at reform as the local sex business evolved and became regulated. Women received regular exams to prevent the spread of disease – and they kept to their rooms rather than walking the streets. Importantly, the madams and houses supported roads, schools and charities through the fees charged them – and their own generosity.

Secondly, the who. Dolores Arnold, an erstwhile Rosie the Riveter who arrived in 1943 as a sex worker and later became a madam, was renown for her donations to charity and the schools. As she prospered, she bought a 1958 baby blue Cadillac Coupe de Ville, which she drove with a standard poodle named Mikey riding shotgun. She was often compared in looks to the late actress Hedy Lamarr. She was loved by many.

If you want to learn more, buy Branstetter’s book.

Huckleberries:

Poet’s Corner: Of all sweet smells/that May renews/my favorite is/the barbecue’s – a poem titled “Fragrance of Spring” (from “The Bard of Sherman Avenue: Poems by Tom Wobker”) … Shoutout: Attention (Coeur d’Alene) area: Gross Donuts (445 W. Cherry Lane) has the best bacon maple bar I’ve ever tasted. You’re welcome” – Nic Casey, of Coeur d’Alene … Poll: Coeur d’Alene officials received a ringing endorsement from my Huckleberry blog readers for their plans to buy the old Atlas Mill site (47 acres for $7.85 million) between Seltice Way and the Spokane River. The proposal got 81.5 percent approval from Hucks Nation.

Parting shot

In the poem “Hook Houses,” from her book, “Wallace, Idaho,” Wallace native Linda L. Beeman validates many of the conclusions reached by Branstetter in her book mentioned above. The poem begins: “every 12-year-old charged/with selling something to benefit anything/knew like the Lord’s Prayer/the first steps you climbed led to brothel doors.”/soft hearts and canny calculations resided/at the Oasis, Lux and Sahara/yielding huge profits for fresh/faces with good causes to support.”

D.F. “Dave” Oliveria can be contacted at daveo@spokesman.com.