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A Bawdy House Gets Saved

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Author: Alton Pryor

When the fire broke out in Pat Logan's saloon in the unkempt mining camp first known as St. Louis, the Missouri miners rushed from all directions to douse the blaze. Men in St. Louis loved a fire, for kegs of beer were placed at strategic locations to squelch the thirst that accompanied the fighting of a fire. Fighting fire became a pleasure and the men became more enthusiastic with each drink.

It was at the height of such a fire in the St. Louis gold camp that someone remembered that Madame Touvounties and her bawdyhouse lay in the path of the fire.

The firemen simply could not bear to see Madame Touvounties and her lovely girls put out of business. The men in the camp considered Madame Touvounties establishment as irreplaceable. It was as much of an asset to the community as the bank and the hardware store.

When the firemen realized time was growing short, they knew they must take action, and do it quickly. Filling and quickly emptying their beer mugs, the firemen settled on a solution. The volunteers converged on Madame Touvounties establishment and formed muscular lines on each side of the building.

At a barked signal, the firemen picked up the building and carried it safely away from the advancing flames. Madame Touvounties and her girls were properly impressed and promised special privileges once the fire was out.

Some say those special privileges never actually materialized, but the firemen reasoned that it was the thought that counted.

There were other incidents that caused the gold camp called St. Louis some notoriety. The gold camp was first called Sears Diggings, after a sea captain by the name of Sears. Captain Sears had brought a ship with passengers to San Francisco in 1850, when the California Gold Rush was still in its heyday.

Captain Sears immediately joined the throng of passengers headed for the gold fields, leaving his craft to rot in the mud flats of Yerba Buena (San Francisco).

Sears was as much of a greenhorn at gold mining as the majority of others who rushed headstrong to the gold fields. While in Nevada City, Sears heard a man known as "Crazy Stoddard" tell a wild-eyed tale of having discovered a lake of gold, but was chased away by a band of warlike Indians.

An expedition was organized to follow Stoddard back to his fabulous discovery. Sears decided to trail along. The expedition was soon abandoned, as the miners accompanying Stoddard grew disgusted with the venture when no such lake of gold appeared.

Sears began walking back alone to the Yuba. He wandered onto a ridge that now bears his name. He decided to search for gold at Slate Creek. He quickly found color in considerable quantity.

After harvesting several ounces, his mistake was letting his friends in on his find. These friends couldn't help but blare the information of Sears' find up and down the river. It wasn't long before all the visible gold and all the easy pickings were gone. The friends that Sears had invited were as incompetent at truly prospecting, as was Sears. None of them had learned the basic rudiments of placer mining.

One member of the group was a surly man named Gibson, who had a reputation as a loud mouth, a man of questionable ethics, and a brawler.

One miner said Gibson couldn't even be trusted with an anvil, as he would find some way to slip it in his pocket and walk away with it. Gibson soon wandered over a ridge and set to prospecting on his own. Unlike Sears, Gibson kept his new find secret, and struck it rich. The camp that developed was called Gibsonville.

(Alton Pryor has been a writer for magazines, newspapers, and wire services. He worked for United Press International in their Sacramento Bureau, handling both printed press as well as radio news. He traveled the state as a field editor for California Farmer Magazine for 27 years. He is now the author of 10 books, primarily on California and western history. His books can be seen at Readers can email him at stagecoach.)

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