The Beaten Territory

Review by Janice Ottersberg

Denver was a booming city in the 1890s, and along with the growth of the railroad and industry came brothels, gambling dens, and all manner of vice and corruption. The brothels thriving on Market Street were left alone to flourish in squalor and seediness. The lowest of the prostitutes lived and worked in cribs, rows of makeshift hovels. The Ryan family has a tradition of working businesses on the wrong side of the law. Annie Ryan has been working as a prostitute and now aspires to open her own brothel. She meets Lydia Chambers, a wealthy society woman with a laudanum addiction and a miserable marriage. Lydia has recently purchased a building on Market Street without her husband’s knowledge. She rents the building to Annie in a secret arrangement to start her brothel. Annie hires her 16-year-old niece and her daughters, already seasoned prostitutes.

This book highlights the oppression of women during that time and the limits governing their lives. They didn’t have career choices or protection under the law. It would do no good for Lydia to go to the police when her husband beat her. The police didn’t bother with a prostitute being beaten or murdered; it didn’t even merit a mention in the newspapers. I became immersed in this harsh world of prostitution, underhanded booze dealings, bribery, fraud, corrupt cops and politicians, drug addiction, and murder. There were no honest people or upstanding citizens to be found. The author was so good at pulling me into the story that I could set aside my feelings of revulsion for these characters. It is a gritty and unsentimental book with a gripping plot. Read it to get a sense of the reality faced by many women in the Old West.