The Real-Life Women of Deadwood Who Belong in a ‘Deadwood’ Movie

Deadwood, South Dakota
Deadwood, South Dakota

Mollie Johnson

Mollie Johnson was known as “Queen of the Blondes.” The madam ran a successful brothel in Deadwood with three blonde protégés, who also ran their own houses. The press loved to write about Mollie, who drew attention after marrying Lew Spencer, an African-American comedian who performed at the Bella Union Theater. Spencer later wound up in jail after shooting his second wife in Denver. Mollie also took to the streets to flaunt her riches, and her antics were often the top of the news. Oh, and the previously mentioned Dora DuFran was Mollie’s toughest competition. Mollie’s business was rebuilt multiple times due to fires. She was also arrested several times for running a club without a liquor license. The madam eventually hit the road, leaving Deadwood behind forever. Here’s an 1879 article one reporter wrote after encountering Mollie’s brothel on the street:

At the dead of night when all nature is hushed asleep,
this reporter is frequently regaled, while on his way home,
by the gentle cadence of sweet songs which floats out upon the stillness of the gulch like the silvery horns of Elfland faintly blowing. Vocal music, wherever heard or by whatever produced is entrancing to this sinner. Hence the aforesaid sounds are sure to arrest his step at the corner and compel him to lend his ear to the mellifluent melody which steals out from Molly Johnson’s Harem. But he does not draw any nearer, for he knows that where the sirens dwell you linger in XXXX, that their songs are death, but XXXX destruction please(?); and he travels on, disgusted with himself because his virtuous life possesses such a skeleton of fun, yet wonders that such a voluptuous harmony is tolerated by the divine muse of song to leave such a bad place.