Vice Squad Strikes Gold, Parrot City in Flames

Special from The Gladstone Gladiator (May 1, 1884)

(Parrot City) The dark side of the mining boom came to light tonight as contingents of local deputies, backed by Pinkerton agents and remnants of the Colorado State militia staged a midnight raid on brothels and opium dens here.

Their expenses paid by railroad interests the small but hallowed army was silent moments before the strike. They are one as the new abolitionists joined by a young reporter from this paper, a foul-smelling circuit judge and an anxious undertaker from Silverton. They move on the sweaty gulch under the eye of a band of Utes peering from the painted ponies of their last hurrah.

Not since the Civil War have such perverse conditions existed unchecked by civilized men. Upon entering the muddy hollow that has come to be named Parrot City it becomes apparent that one must keep a firm hold on anything of value.

Swaying residents, drunk from rapid fire fermentation, stand in the doorways of makeshift tar shacks watching for the slightest weakness, a blink, on the part of the regiment. A nickel for a beer. Four cents for a life.

The first order of business is to close down and torch the ramshackle Mule Billiards which doubles as a house of ill repute. Since January this dump has hosted several murders in its debauched halls. Miners, heavy with gold dust and momentarily rich in ore from surrounding claims are systematically fleeced here and then thrown out to the rutted streets to survive the frigid night in their skivvies.

Run by Polly Singleton, The Mule will be the first to go. Hallelujah. Watch it go up in flames. Watch the rats scurry to retrieve their lives as the flames creep higher into the frosty spring night. The sun seems to have stayed up in the sky just a wee bit longer to catch the finale. Ashes to ashes. Purification. On to the next den…

That same night there was gunplay out at the Shamrock Mine, some fourteen miles from the main from Sullivan’s Ditch where my father was last seen packing ore onto his bare-boned burro before the descent to the flats and on to the assay office over at Lake City. Some people here say he never made it down the mountain, that a slide got him and washed away his treasure. Others say he was bushwhacked by bandits that roamed the ragged heights. I believe they did him in and took his precious cargo of life. I’m certain his murderers sleep in Parrot City tonight.

When we reach Shamrock a loud explosion distracts us from our holy mission. Light in the sky. Handguns blaze. We return the fire. We can’t tell who is who. Now they’re all cold on the ground. We lost one of the Pinkertons to foot blisters but otherwise reported no casualties. After a meal of army rations we head back to town to continue sterile purge of the infested gambling halls.

The Chattanooga Saloon. Roulette wheels and keno. The devil’s picture book. Whiskey, soaked chips, courtesan champagne, tiny rooms of sin sag the ceiling above. Stains of the boom. Costumes of deplorable mirth!

One staggering poker face draws on a Pinkerton gun slinger. Dead-eye shot! He drops to the hard wood floor never again to shuffle a deck. Another thinks about it, fingering his leather holster but decides to exit through the back alley into the night.

We disarm the lot and detain wicked in the parlor awaiting further instructions from Rev. Chivington, who should be arriving from Capital City this very night.
But wait…they’re hanging the inmates of the Parrot City calaboose! They’ve had no trial! Shouldn’t we wait further…”The boys are just having a little fun,” says a former Union sergeant. “Let them be. We’ll cut ’em down after we’d scared them a bit,” slurs the judge.

Then it was on to the hash parlor, the China Belle opium den where men fancy the foggy dreams of demons and narcotic fantasy, wasting away until the dehydrated dawn comes looking for another handout. Unfortunately there is no one there. They have been warned of our coming and we set the block of leaning shanties ablaze in their absence. It makes a dandy roast on a cold morning. They called the district Parrot City’s Rec Center. The damned at play in the alpine meadows of the Lord!

The Pinkerton bullies are getting itchy for a fight. We’ve met little resistance in our attempts to muck out this hole. Several of the men are headed back down Corduroy Street in search of holdouts. Someone has set fire to the Chattanooga. I wonder did our prisoners get out or face hell’s own fire right here on earth? No report at mid-morning. Witches burned at the stake? The tools of their misdeeds the kindling of vengeance.

Out in the street it is clear that the victims of the necktie party are still in flight, dangling from the noose. Unclaimed souls stranded in space, scarecrows of the swift sword. Fodder of decorum.

Suddenly there is gunfire coming from the upstairs of the Henson Hotel. Somebody’s got a rifle up there. Three of our men are down bleeding in the dirt street. Another is hit.

“Take cover,” screams the sergeant himself holding his belly. “He’s up there,” points one of the deputies, close to tears at the scene. “I can see the rifle!”

The firing subsides and we began the tedious chore of closing in on the balcony assassin. Creeping slowly on all fours I slide along the cupola and into an empty hotel room. The exchange of fire continues, while in its lapses I can almost hear my target breathing through the thin walls of the 19th Century. I hug the hallway wall making my way through barricades as the shooting subsides. I force the door my revolver hip high. There’s no one there.

Surveying the room one more time. Then I pull my handkerchief as a flag of truce and carefully approach the open window. A flurry of bullets greets me there.

Waking up heavily bandaged in a hospital cart I scribble my story while the ghost of John Brown speaks to the righteous of our next engagement. They’ve got excitement in their eyes. A pretty nurse tells me I will likely survive my wounds.

Three weeks later Parrot City is up and running again, a new cast of characters roaming its seedy streets, the mines giving birth to mounds of the evil ore.

– Kashmir Horseshoe

Filed Under: Fractured Opinion


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