Silks was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania and raised in Indiana. Having worked as a prostitute in Abilene, Texas and Dodge City, Kansas, she became madam of a brothel in Springfield, Illinois in 1865 at the age of 19. She became one of the best known madams in the west, having brothels in Dodge City, Georgetown, Colorado and Denver, Colorado, where demand for women was high due to the Colorado gold rushes.
Life in Denver
Silks was described as a very good looking woman, with spirit and a competitive nature. She bought her first brothel on Holladay Street (now Market Street) from Nellie French for $13,000 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. Silks was known as the “Queen of Denver’s Red Light District”. 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. Silks left $4,000 in real estate and $2,500 in jewels.
- Bunch, Joey (15 November 2012). "Denver's 'Queen of the Night Life' died a lonesome death". The Denver Post. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- "Denver History - Mattie Silks". denvergov.org. Archived from the original on 22 May 2006. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- "Prostitution Biography of Madam Mattie Silks". www.trivia-library.com. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- Enss, Chris (25 November 2015). "Wild Women Wednesday: Mattie Silks". Cowgirl Magazine. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- Rutter, Michael (2005). Upstairs Girls: Prostitution in the American West. Farcountry Press. ISBN 9781560373575.
- Bimmersbach, Jana (1 March 2005). "Queen of the Soiled Doves". True West Magazine. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- Bimmersbach, Jana (4 March 2016). "The Perfect Name for a Madam". True West Magazine. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- Parkhill, Forbes (10 June 1951). "The Scarlet Lady: Mattie Sils made over a half million dollars from the world's oldest profession, but a good-for-nothing broke her heart" (PDF). The Denver Post’s Empire Magazine. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
- Braun, Matt (1985). Mattie Silks (Reissue ed.). St Martins Pr. ISBN 9780523424590.
- Secrest, Clark (2002). Hell's Belles. Boulder, Colorado: University of Colorado. pp. 89–243. ISBN 0-87081-633-0.
- Moynahan, Jay (2008). The Klondike Travels of Mattie Silks and Her Sportin' Women. Chickadee Publishing, Spokane WA.