Julia Bulette, standing beside an Engine Number 1 fireman's hat
|Died||January 19/20, 1867 (aged 34-35)
Virginia City, Nevada
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 and madam in Virginia City, Nevada. After her violent death, she has been described as proprietor of the most elegant and prosperous brothel in the City and various films and books took inspiration of her real or purported biography. She was said to be the first unmarried white woman to arrive in the mining boomtown following the Comstock Lode silver strike in 1859, but that is highly unlikely; she probably arrived in 1863. Bulette was a popular figure with the miners, and the local firefighters made her an honorary member of Virginia Engine Company Number 1. She was murdered by John Millain, a French drifter and jewel thief, in 1867.
Julia Bulette, whose real name was Jule, was born in 1832 in London, England of French ancestry, although some historians give her birthplace as Liverpool or Mississippi. At an early age she emigrated with her family to New Orleans, where she later married a man named Smith, but they separated. 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 white woman in the area, she became greatly sought after by the miners. She quickly took up prostitution, charging $1000 a night for her services. 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. The brutal attack that ended her life pointed to the violence that surrounded the less fortunate members of Victorian-era society.
With her earnings, Julia was able to build a magnificent brothel in the rococo design. She named it Julia's Palace, and it was the largest, and most prosperous brothel in Virginia City. She staffed the brothel with beautiful girls imported from San Francisco, served French cuisine and wines, dressed herself and her girls in the latest Parisian fashions. 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". Julia stood by her miners in 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 Indians appeared imminent, Julia chose to remain behind with the miners instead of seeking shelter in Carson City. Julia also raised funds for the Union cause during the American Civil War.
Julia appeared regularly in the streets of Virginia City, clad in costly sables and jewels, driving a lacquered brougham which bore a painted Escutcheon on the panel which was four aces crowned by a lion couchant.
Julia'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, Julia's partially nude body was found by her maid in her bedroom. She had been strangled and bludgeoned to death, and robbed of her valuable jewel collection, clothing, and furs.
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. Julia was buried in the Flower Hill Cemetery.
A little over a year later, Julia's murderer was caught and hanged for the crime. He was a French drifter whose name was John Millain; and on April 24, 1868 he went to the gallows, swearing he was not guilty of having killed Julia, but had been only an accomplice in the theft of her jewels. Millain's hanging was witnessed by author Mark Twain.
Julia'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 Julia Bulette was written about more than any other woman of the Comstock Lode.
Only about two authentic portraits exist of Julia; one is a photograph which shows her standing beside an Engine Number 1 fireman's hat. A third photograph, previously identified as Julia Bulette, was most likely that of her maid, who was also named Julia.
In October 1959, an episode of the television series Bonanza titled "The Julia Bulette Story", featured the character of Julia, and showed Little Joe falling in love with her to the chagrin of his father. She was played by actress Jane Greer.
- Vardis Fisher, Opal Laurel Holmes, Gold Rushes and Mining Camps of the American West, 1979, p.211, Google Books, Retrieved: 02-01-10.
- Barr, book design by Denise (1998). The Historical Nevada Magazine : outstanding historical features from the pages of Nevada magazine. Carson City, Nev.: Nevada Magazine. ISBN 1-890136-06-9.
- Dee Brown, The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West, Bantam Books, January 1974 edition, p.65.
- Find a Grave, Julia Bulette
- The Frontier's Fabulous Women Life Magazine, 11 May 1959, Retrieved: 02-01-10.
- Brown, p.64.
- Fisher, Holmes, pp.209-210.
- Brown, p.65.
- Brown, p.67.
- Brown, p.66.
- Brown, pp.67-68.
- Brown, p.68.
- Find A Grave, Julie Bulette
- "1868: John Millain the man who martyred a madame", ExecutedToday.com, April 24, 2008, Retrieved: 03-01-10.
- Brown, p.69.
- 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.