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Yuma County Pioneers:

Mattie Silks (Martha Thomson - Martha Ready)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mattie Silks

Mattie Silks, or Martha Ready (1848-1929), was a leading madam and brothel keeper in the latter part of the 19th century.

Early life

Born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, raised in Indiana, Silks began her working career in Springfield, Illinois. She was one of the best known madams in the west, having brothels in Dodge City, Kansas and Denver, Colorado, where demand for women was high due to the Colorado gold rushes.

Other stories say she was born in Kansas - had enterprises in Fairplay, Colorado -

You might look for her character in the Sharon Stone/ Gene Hackman / Gary Sinesi movie "The Quick and the Dead"  The minister in the movie is even named "Cort."  One scene - a wedding in Mattie's saloon - was cut.  It had the only cameo appearance by Bruce Campbell.

One neighbor, Art Armstrong, had the HX brand, and another, Thomas Ashton, had the HVV.  Cort registered for the HXX brand ! You can imagine the accusations.

                            (The Rattler on February 1, 1902 referenced "the old Armstrong ranch east of town."  - The 1900's references to the "Ashton Ranch" placed it east of Laird)

One Yuma person said "The Thompson's always sold more livestock than they raised."

Other expressions:

"Their cows always had twin calves.".

"They work best at night.". 
"Dragging the long rope"

Maverick Factory - A herd of cattle that increases faster than any normal rate of reproduction -- usually with a high percentage of suspicious-looking brands

Mattie discharged the foreman, known locally as Dirty Face Murphy, and hired in his place Jack Ready, a tall and handsome mountain of a man.


Name: Martha A Silks
Spouse Name: Cortez D Thompson
Marriage Date: 6 Jul 1884
Marriage County: Miami
Source Title 1: Miami County
Source Title 2: Index to Marriage Record 1850-1920 Inclusive
Source Title 3: Original Record Located County Clerks Office, Peru, INDIANA
Book: C 7
OS Page: 268

Cort loved horses, obviously. He gave Sam Shafer this rocking horse.

Harry Arthur Gant writes

My father dealt in horses of all types, quarter horses, harness horses, draft stallions, but mostly bought green range geldings and had crews of men breaking them for shipment to various city horse car companies. The latter part of the 1880s he ran a livery and sale stable in Denver, Colorado, on Wazee Street, between 16th and 17th. Had corrals that looked like a stock yard that ran within a few feet of the Denver Union depot on 17th Street which was the main street of Denver at that time, where the plodding old horse cars ran out to the east then south on Broadway. But the sign was up that the end of the horse car was near. Denver had cable cars on Larimer Street and electric on Lawrence. My father had some contracts canceled and had to dispose of a few cars to the farmers in Southern Colorado loaded with cattle. Claimed he "smelled" the panic coming on.

In his liquidation my father had three draft stallions. The leading madam, Mattie Silks, on Market Street, which was known as the tenderloin district, had a big horse ranch in western Nebraska and wanted those studs. But always one to seek publicity, she made him parade them up Market Street, each one led by a man on horse back, for her inspection. The big tune of that era was "Where Did You Get That Hat?" It had many ribald parodies and these fat, sleek stallions on their usual behavior caused a riot and police calls. Father said there must have been 500 ladies in the street to admire these beautiful animals. There was no law against leading horses in the street, even if they did cause a riot, and Mattie bought them and showed those other women about horses.


Cort Thomson acquired a piece of land in 3 N 42 W in 1890 via a Cash Claim, another in August 1895 (160 acres in a strip across sections 4 and 5) via Homestead, and an additional piece (the north one-quarter of section 8)  in June 1895 via a Timber Claim.  So "Cort" acquired land from the government in three different ways.  If anyone is in Washington, D.C.,  it would be interesting to see the applications for each of those.  AND for "Mattie's" homestead application a few years later.


That's about 15 miles straight north of Laird, Colorado


If you look at the Township Map you'll see a little pond - so that area likely had exceptionally available water for livestock.   Raymond "Pat" Workman wrote that in 1938 "we moved to a ranch a half mile south of where the Thompson lake used to be." - so it was an intermittent pond.

All the land in that township was acquired by BLM transfer, and I didn't see any prior to 1890.    Mattie may have bought livestock and Cortez ran them on open range.

That township is partly in Colorado, and part in Nebraska (Dundy County).  On the Nebraska side, there are no land patents prior to 1903 in the BLM records.  So the Thomson ranch likely grazed cattle on open range even across the state line.

Rocky Mountain News, October 11, 1892

Ed Chase, Mike Ryan, Jack Devine, Soapy Smith, Run Boodle Hall
The old executive committee at Boodle hall has been relieved of many of its duties by a new executive committee composed of Policy Shop Ed Chase, Supersedeas Mike Ryan, Indicted Jack Devine and Soapy Smith...
On Larimer street, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth, the Blongers, in patnership with Soapy Smith, are running a brace game of faro where pigeons are openly plucked. To operate this place, they took a license, not from the police board, but from Ed Chase. This individual permits no "brace," otherwise swindling gambling house, to run in Denver without paying him a percentage of the profits. He claims to be, and is in fact, the king of the lower stratum of society. bunko men, mock auctions and shell game men are made to pay him tribute.
The truth is as perfectly well known as it is that cable cars run on Larimer street. Ample proof may be produced at any moment. Chase is now a confidant and co-worker with the combine in Boodle hall... Imagine Policy Shop Chase of the Colorado lottery, chief of police.
The combine announces that it will run this campaign on boodle, bluster and bulldozing, with the aid of Ryan, Devine, Chase, Soapy et al...

The Cady Shooting

On this night of October 11, the day the article above appeared in print, Tom Cady entered the Missouri Club and got into an argument with the club's owner, Jeff Argyle. Gambler Jim Jordan joined the argument and was struck by Cady. After Cady's arrest for assault, Jordan proceeded to another saloon, Murphy's Exchange, where he hooked up with Cort Thompson, paramour of Denver's most famous soiled dove, Mattie Silks.

Within a short time Soapy Smith had bailed out Cady, and the two of them proceeded to the Exchange. As the two men passed Jim Jordan, words were spoken, Cady struck Jordan again, and pistols were suddenly drawn all around.

Apparently, Saloonman Murphy grabbed Cady to keep him from firing, and bartender Mart Watrous grabbed Jordan, who nevertheless broke away and managed a shot. Others fired as well, and Cliff Sparks was killed.

Jeff Smith writes: "It has been written that as Crooks weeped over his friend's death he placed his head down to the dead man's chest, as if listening for any sign of a heart beat. With no one being the wiser, Crooks removed Cliff's diamond stick pin with his teeth."

"Tom Cady, Jim Jordan, John Murphy and Cort Thomson were all arrested. Soapy escaped arrest by exiting the saloon when the shooting had stopped. He turned himself in the following day. No one could agree on an accurate account of the shooting. Some were pointing at Jeff as the shooter. Soapy's gambling club and saloon, The Tivoli Club, was ordered closed, but for some unknown reason, Murphy's Exchange was allowed to continue operating."

"Cady and Jordan were tried on murder charges and acquitted. Soapy was also charged with the murder and it took his attorney, Judge Belford, nearly two months to convince Judge Burns to find his client not guilt. The shooting of Clifton Sparks was never resolved."



One blogger wrote "Ella Wilson was a prostitute in Skagway who worked for Mattie Silks at the Red Onion. She was strangled to death not long before Soapy  Smith was shot, and Mattie Silks claimed to overhear through the wall of a room, Soapy and his men dividing up the three thousand dollars that was stolen from the poor girl's crib. Silks was convinced that Soapy had done the murder"

One of the local wags--shortly after the memorial to Frank Reid was erected with its famous epitaph "He gave his life for the honor of Scagway"--scribbled on Ella Wilson's marker, "She gave her honor for the life of Scagway."

Jeff Smith, writing about the Yukon trip,  claims "There is no doubt that Ella Wilson was murdered.  The newspapers claimed it was a robbery gone all wrong.  Ella was found tied up and gagged, with a pillow cover over her head. She had suffocated.  I can't go into great detail as all this information is in my book, yet to be published, but I will tell you that madam Mattie Silks knew Soapy in Denver Colorado.  Smith and Silks were not on good terms with each other as each backed opposite city politics.  Her husband Cort, a backer of Jeff's rivals had been involved in a saloon gunbattle that Soapy participated in. Shots were fired from several guns and one man fell dead.  Cort was arrested for the murder but aquited.  blames finger pointed in all directions.  Years later a good friend of Soapy's good friends hinted that it was Soapy who had fired the deadly round.

In 1898 Cort and Mattie decided to set up her gentlemanly goods (prostitution) shop in the Klondike.  Business reasons sent Mattie to Skagway, but Cort stayed clear of the town due to Soapy.  It was at this time that Ella Wilson was killed and robbed.  Mattie left Skagway and did not tell her story until she reached Seattle, out of the long grasp of the soap gang.

Mattie claimed she heard Soapy, the U.S. deputy marshal, and others talking about Ella and the money, and that Soapy told his men to go after Mattie next.

1898 Sterling

  Wray Rattler October 1898 (either Mattie returned from the Yukon - or she "planted" newspaper stories to keep residency for homesteading purposes

November 4, 1898 "Mrs. C.D. Thompson received a telegram from her husband in California saying that he was on his way to Haigler. It will be remembered that he was reported lost at sea while on his way to the Alaskan gold fields. - Haigler Items in Benkleman Chronicle."

  Yuma Pioneer of August 1899

October 1899 "C.D. Thompson is building cattle sheds.  Charlie Vaness and Lone Rife are doing the work."

  Wray Rattler November 4, 1899

January 1900  (Literally, to be sent to the countryside )

  Rattler October 1899 (so he must live near Laird)   He opened a barber shop later that year

  Rattler - February 1900

Yuma Pioneer April 1900

The Rattler's April 7, 1900 reported that "Mrs. C.D. Thompson was down from Denver Thursday and Friday on business connected with the ranch."  (That would have been April 5th and 6th.This was a front-page item, not one from the Laird correspondent)

The same issue, in the Laird column, said "Perry Burns of Denver was visiting at the Thompson ranch."

and that "C.T. Grant of Wray was overseeing work on the race track, which was completed recently."

Yuma Pioneer April 13, 1900


The Wray Rattler - Saturday, April 14, 1900 -

    Cort D. Thomson is dead.   He came up from his ranch Friday night, suffering with acute pain which developed into pneumonia and 10:50 Wednesday morning (that would be April 11) he passed away.  He was attended by his wife during his illness, and she accompanied the remains to Denver on the1:50 train the same day.  A nephew of the deceased has taken charge of the ranch.  Cort was a heavy drinker and it is said that on account of the ravages made by the whiskey that he was unable to successfully cope with the disease.


If the April 7 Rattler story is right, Mattie was in time to take Cort to Wray.

Another version says that Mattie suspected Cort was going to sell her horses (he was in financial difficulty) and had come to prevent that.  This version said Cort developed ptomaine from eating spoiled oysters, and died at sunup April 12 at "Grandma Simpson's" hotel

The latter story might be supported by the Rattler of a WEEK later - Saturday April 21, 1900 

That would be April 14 - if it's correct, Mattie took Cort's body to Denver on Wednesday, and came back to Wray on Saturday to take care of business.

The following week's paper reported that John Brown had bought the C.D. Thompson cattle.

Commercial Hotel in 1890

Commercial Hotel in 1893

Laurette Simpson, born April 1826 in Ohio, is a hotel keeper on Chief Street in Wray in 1900. (so the old Commercial Hotel by the railroad tracks was not where Cort died).  Her widowed son James, born 1848,  is the hotel clerk. 

Grandson Olin J. born September 1881 in Illinois and granddaughter Blanch J. born April 1886 in Nebraska, also live there. 

The excitement might have inspired young Olin in December 1900 to participate in the school newsletter.

J. C. COUNTER AND J. O. SIMPSON -- Editors and Publishers.

(J.H. Simpson, with Blanch and his mother STILL ALIVE AT 84, have moved to Brighton, Colorado.  In 1910 J.H. is a farmer)
(In 1920 school-teacher Blanch and her older sister stenographer Nellie, both single, are living with sister Alice Cowan - 42- and her husband Wm. Cowan - mail carrier - on Sherman Street in Denver)


Also residing at the hotel in 1900 is Ray Culow - a 26-year-old dentist (maybe he assisted in moving the body to the train depot).

The Commercial Hotel on the west side of Chief Street (now Main Street) was destroyed in the 1908 downtown fire, "but were able to get their goods out."

February 3, 1905 Wray Gazette

December 17, 1909 Wray Rattler

Cort died before the 1900 census - but Mattie reported her residence as Yuma County (the people before and after her were residents of Laird, so she was either living in the town or had someone there give the census-taker the information !)


In August 1900 the Yuma Pioneer reported:

Martha A. Thompson, born in Pennsylvania of Pennsylvania parents in April 1845. Widowed,

with Theresa Thompson, niece, born January 1890 in Colorado with a Pennsylvania father and Missouri mother.

AND Mattie Silks - under that name, is in the 1900 census for Denver - head of a household on Market Street, born in New York, with eight young single female boarders with no occupation.  The names and places of birth given the census-taker sure look contrived.

So she maintained two personae ?

  Pioneer June 1901

Rattler July 1901

Rattler February 15, 1902

Jack might be the J.P. Ready charged with intoxication in Denver Magistrate Court in October 1903.

Gazette March 1905

Rattler March 1905 - This is the Jack Ready that Mattie later married.

  Rattler June 1906  - and maybe he also was a witness....

  Rattler March 1905

Rattler December 1906

Mattie must have put some livestock in her niece's name -  Rattler February 1907

  Rattler September 1907

  Gazette September 1907

  Rattler March 1909

  Rattler April 1909 (guess it was still called the Thompson ranch....)

  Rattler January 1913

  Rattler October 1913 - this is from an area north of Wray, not Laird.  So there was no phone service to the ranch at that time.


  Rattler March 1914

  Rattler March 1914

  Rattler June 1914

  Rattler December 1914

   Rattler May 1917

Rattler October 1917

Rattler December 1917

She also hired a man named Jack Ready to be her new financial advisor, as well as bouncer. Mattie was lonely and in search of companionship, and so it wasn't long before the two were intimately involved. They spent many years "dating" and becoming best of friends. In 1923, at the age of 77, Mattie said "I do" and married "Handsome" Jack Ready.

The ceremony was performed by G.A. Schmidt, a minister, in Denver May 1, 1923.  The names on the marriage record are John Ready and Martha Thomson.

Mattie's third husband John (Handsome Jack) Ready died May 23, 1931. He is buried about one block north of Mattie and Cort."


Wonder if he's related to the John P. Ready in the Denver divorce case in 1931 - the other party being Olive V. Ready.  This John is younger, born about 1898.

June 18, 1959 Yuma Pioneer


Theresa Thomson in 1906 and 1907 had the K7 brand registered to her (the newspapers publish them, like other legal notices.) 

In the 1910 census, Theresa Thomson, born in 1888,  is head of a household on Market Street in Denver, with a 48-year-old servant and nine female boarders with "own income."

It's possible she's the lodger in 1920 on Clay Street in Denver in the John Thomas household.  John is 48, a self-employed auto express driver, and his wife is 46.  Seem old to have a seven-year-old son....  Theresa is single, 29, born in Colorado, and is a laundress (very common to give that occupation to census-takers).


According to one Ancestry member, she married James Aaron Johnson April 19, 1924. and died in Goldendale, Kickitat County, Washington.

Name: Theresa L Johnson Date of Death: 3 Dec 1967 Klickitat Certificate: 028177


If she's the same Theresa Johnson in 1930 Yakima County, Washington - born in Colorado in 1890 - she said she was 34 when first married.  She's married to James A. Johnson, age 33,  a "helper" at Valley Iron Works.  They don't have any children.

FindAGrave has a Theresa L. Johnson in the IOOF cemetery at Goldendate, Klickitat County, Washington, born in 1890, dying in 1967. Block H, Lot 8.00, Space 2


Theresa Louise
Goldendale, WA. IOOF 
Dec-07-1967 p5
Goldendale Sentinel


There's a James A. Johnson in the same cemetery, 1896 - 1979, in Block H, Lot 8.00 Space 1

Name: James Johnson
SSN: 533-09-9435
Last Residence: 98620  Goldendale, Klickitat, Washington,
Born: 22 Nov 1896
Last Benefit: 98620  Goldendale, Klickitat, Washington,
Died: Sep 1979  Washington Death index has September 29, 1979
State (Year) SSN issued: Washington (Before 1951)

If he's the same on in the WWI draft registration cards, he was in Yakima - mother was Iva Johnson -

1900 census has Ivy as the mother.- father James Johnson  - Okanagan County, Washington

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