Mattie Silks hailed from Fayette County Pennsylvania, spent most of her childhood in Indiana, and began her career as a prostitute and madam in Springfield, Illinois. From Springfield, she headed west to Dodge City and after working there for a short time, in 1875 at the age of 29 she went to Georgetown, Colorado, pursuing the miners who were pursuing Colorado gold.
In Georgetown, she set up a brothel that was soon profitable. She also began a relationship with a noted ne’er-do-well named Cort Thomson. When a rival madam began making amorous overtures to Cort Mattie fought a duel with her rival, Kate Fulton, the first known instance of a formal duel between women in the United States.
Cort was generous to Mattie, buying her expensive jewels and furs with her own money, and his own business ventures frequently came to grief. Cort often importuned Mattie for money to support his various get rich quick schemes, or merely to fund his gambling and drinking. He proved to be better at the latter than he was at the former. When Mattie moved her house to Denver in 1877 Cort followed.
Mattie’s house was the most successful in Denver for the next 20 years, before being supplanted by a house named House of Mirrors in 1898, owned by a madam named Jennie Rogers. Rogers died in 1909 and Mattie purchased House of Mirrors, operating it for another twenty years. Investments in Denver real estate and other ventures made her a wealthy woman.
A three-month operation of a bordello in Dawson City, Alaska netted Mattie the equivalent of $1 million in today’s money and Mattie used her wealth to provide food and temporary shelter to the needy of the Denver area. In 1929 she was injured in a fall and complications led to her death that year. She was buried in Denver under the name Martha Ready (she had married a man named Jack Ready, known locally as Handsome Jack) but her grave is next to that of Cort Thomson, who had died in 1900 from food poisoning acquired, supposedly, from eating spoiled oysters.