Julia Bulette, standing beside an Engine Number 1 fireman's hat
|Died||January 19/20, 1867 (aged 34-35)|
|Cause of death||Murder by strangulation and bludgeoning|
|Nationality||American (formerly English)|
|Known for||Character of the American west|
proprietor of the most popular brothel in Virginia City, Nevada
Julia Bulette (1832 – January 19/20, 1867), was an English-born American prostitute in Virginia City, Nevada, a boomtown serving the Comstock Lode silver mine. Her elegant brothel, highly popular with the miners, inspired a long-running legend that may have grown with the telling. She was murdered in unknown circumstances, and a French drifter John Millain was quickly convicted and hanged for the crime.
Juliette “Julie” Bulette was born in London and moved to New Orleans with her family in the late 1830s. In about 1852 or 1853, she moved to California where she lived in various places until her arrival in 1859 in Virginia City, Nevada, a mining boomtown since the Comstock Lode silver strike that same year. As she was the only woman in the area, she became greatly sought after by the miners. She quickly took up prostitution, Jule, or Julia as she became known, was described as having been a beautiful, tall, and slim brunette with dark eyes, she was refined in manner with a humorous, witty personality.
"Jule" Bulette lived and worked out of a small rented cottage near the corner of D and Union streets in Virginia City's entertainment district. An independent operator, she competed with the fancy brothels, streetwalkers, and hurdy-gurdy girls for meager earnings.
Contemporary newspaper accounts of her gruesome murder captured popular imagination. With few details of her life, twentieth-century chroniclers elevated the courtesan to the status of folk heroine, ascribing to her the questionable attributes of wealth, beauty, and social standing. In reality, Bulette was ill and in debt at the time of her death.
She was also a good friend to the miners, who adored her. One described her as having "caressed Sun Mountain with a gentle touch of splendor". Bulette supported the miners at times of trouble and misfortune, once turning her Palace into a hospital after several hundred men became ill from drinking contaminated water. She nursed the men herself. Once when an attack by local American Indians appeared imminent, she chose to remain behind with the miners instead of seeking shelter in Carson City. She also raised funds for the Union cause during the American Civil War.
Bulette's greatest triumph occurred when the firefighters made her an honorary member of Virginia Engine Number 1. On 4 July 1861, the firemen elected her the Queen of the Independence Day Parade, and she rode Engine Company Number One's fire truck through the town wearing a fireman's hat and carrying a brass fire trumpet filled with fresh roses, the firemen marching behind. She donated large sums for new equipment and often personally lent a hand at working the water pump.
On the morning of January 20, 1867, Bulette's partially naked body was found by her maid in her bedroom. She had been strangled and bludgeoned to death.
Virginia City went into mourning for her, with the mines, mills and saloons being closed down as a mark of respect. On the day of her funeral, January 21, thousands formed a procession of honor behind her black-plumed, glass-walled hearse; first the firemen, who were followed by the Nevada militia who played funeral dirges. Bulette was buried in the Flower Hill Cemetery.
A little over a year later, John Millain, a French drifter, was arrested and charged with the crime. On April 24, 1868, he went to the gallows, swearing he was not guilty of having killed Bulette, but had been only an accomplice in the theft of her meager belongings. Millain's hanging was witnessed by author Mark Twain.
Bulette's legend continued after her death. The Virginia and Truckee Railroad honored her memory by naming one of its richly furnished club coaches after her. Her portrait hung in many Virginia City saloons, and author Rex Beach immortalized her as Cherry Malotte in his novel, The Spoilers. Oscar Lewis in his book Silver Kings reported that Bulette was written about more than any other woman of the Comstock Lode bonanza.
Only about two authentic portraits exist of Bulette; one is a photograph which shows her standing beside an Engine Number 1 fireman's hat. A third photograph, previously identified as her was most likely that of her maid, who was also named Julia.
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- Brown, p.68.
- Find A Grave, Julie Bulette
- Marion S. Goldman (1981). Gold Diggers & Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode. U of Michigan Press. pp. 1–4, 118. ISBN 978-0472063321.
- "1868: John Millain the man who martyred a madame", ExecutedToday.com, April 24, 2008, Retrieved: 03-01-10.
- Brown, p.69.
- Vardis Fisher, Opal Laurel Holmes, Gold Rushes and Mining Camps of the American West, 1979, p.211,
- Note:This photograph shows a dark-skinned young woman, possibly of mixed race, in modest attire without cosmetics and little jewelry, which does not correspond to contemporary descriptions of the richly-dressed madam, nor does it resemble the other two authenticated pictures of Julia.
- Blackburn, George M., and Sherman L. Ricards. "The prostitutes and gamblers of Virginia City, Nevada: 1870." Pacific Historical Review 48.2 (1979): 239-258. online
- Butler, Anne M. Daughters of joy, sisters of misery: prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90 (University of Illinois Press, 1987).
- Goldman, Marion S. (1981). Gold Diggers & Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode. U of Michigan Press. pp. passim. ISBN 978-0472063321.
- James, Ronald Michael, and C. Elizabeth Raymond, eds. Comstock women: the making of a mining community ( University of Nevada Press, 1998).
- McDonald, Douglas. The Legend of Julia Bulette: And the Red Light Ladies of Nevada (Stanley Paher, 1983).
- Ringdal, Nils Johan. Love for sale: A world history of prostitution (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2007).
- West, Elliott. "Scarlet West: The oldest profession in the trans-Mississippi West." Montana: The Magazine of Western History 31.2 (1981): 16-27.
- Court transcript, NC608. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Reno. Nevadan brought to trial for the murder of Julia Bulette in 1867.