Silks was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and raised in Indiana. She began her working career in Springfield, Illinois. She became 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.
Life in Denver
Silks is described as being a very good looking woman, with spirit and a competitive nature. She started her first brothel on Holladay Street (now Market Street) and suffered from stiff competition from other brothels. At one point, she and another madam, Kate Fulton, had the first recorded duel in Denver between two women. In addition to running competing brothels, both were involved romantically with the same man, Cortez Thomson, a local businessman. Both missed their targets, but Silks' bullet did strike a bystander, none other than Thomson, injuring him slightly.
From 1877 to 1897 her brothel was the most successful in Denver. In 1898, Madam Jennie Rogers opened the House of Mirrors in Denver, and quickly became more successful than any of the competition. Jennie Rogers died in 1909, after which Silks purchased the House of Mirrors for $14,000. She continued to work as a madam, traveled, and invested in real estate, making her a very wealthy woman.
She died in 1929 from complications due to a fall. Very few people attended her funeral. She was buried under the name Martha Ready, beside her longtime lover Cortez Thomson, in block 12-lot 31, of Fairmount Cemetery in Denver.