Mollie Forshay: a wild woman of the Wild West
Echoes From the Past
One of the notorious women of the West had a major part to play in Truckee history. Mollie Forshay was a prostitute, but not one of the quiet kind ones that legend portrays in Western lore.
Her beauty was well-known, and she used it to every possible advantage.
Mollie’s career began in Virginia City and Silver City, earning a living off of the miners of the wild Comstock Lode mining towns. She was in Truckee in 1868 when the Central Pacific Railroad brought thousands of working men to Truckee. They were single, lonely and her charms were irresistible to men with gold coins jingling in their pockets.
She first made headlines, other than with her sexuality, by stabbing Tom Kelley to death in Nevada in 1872. She was tried, convicted and sentenced to 27 years in the state prison. The all-male jury could not see hanging her, as a they would have a man, despite her heinous crime. She became the first woman in Nevada sentenced to prison.
A year later she gave birth to twins, crediting the prison warden for fathering the children. An investigation of the warden failed to prove he was the father, but he later lost his position. She was pardoned in 1875, and even the Nevada governor took some political heat over her release.
Mollie tried to lead a respectable life in Carson City, but that didn’t last long. She then set up a brothel in the Nevada mining town of Winnemucca. Her fiery Irish heritage did not suit a quiet normal life. No further mention was made of the twins, so she most likely gave them up for adoption.
In Winnemucca, Mollie got into more legal tangles, and was convinced to relocate. By then, the mining booms were fading and Truckee’s booming railroad and lumber economy was doing well, so Mollie set up shop on Jibboom Street, also known as Back or Second Street.
Truckee’s Front Street had a reputation of being a wild place at times, but Jibboom Street was a place where cheap dance halls, drugs, bad whiskey, and prostitution were abundant.
Truckee’s respectable citizens and law enforcement strived to keep sex for sale under control during the 1870s, but never pushed very hard to have it eliminated. Indeed, all Front Street saloon owners kept a back door so patrons could travel unseen between their businesses and the back street.
Immoral, but entertaining women, such as Carrie Pryor Smith, Mabel Gray, Epimena Anaya, Hoodlum Em, Bodie Jake and Miriam Hall at times fought crime and violence, while at other times were the largest contributor to the overloaded court system.
They continued to make a huge profit off of workingmen and their desire for their services. Into this scene, Mollie Forshay, already with a reputation to match her times, moved her trade.
In 1876 she showed up in Judge Plunkett’s Truckee court on a charge of disturbing the peace. Since no witness could be found at the time of the trial, charges were dismissed. The law enforcement community was unhappy with her getting off. The newspaper thought she had coerced the witness to disappear. The community crowded the courtroom to hear juicy gossip.
A month later she accused fellow Jibboom Street prostitute Mabel Gray, herself well-known in the West, with petty larceny over the theft of a watch chain. She argued and won a change of venue from Judge Plunkett’s court, with Judge Hart taking the case.
The trial attracted most of Truckee, anticipating to hear the sordid details of the inner workings of Jibboom Street. The crowd was rewarded with an entertaining, bawdy trial, but Mollie lost her case, as it was thrown out of court.
In October Mollie was accosted by notorious Truckee woman of the night Carrie Pryor Smith. Carrie was on one of her notorious rampages around town, verbally and physically abusing anyone she encountered. When she attacked Mollie in her house on Jibboom Street, Mollie decked Carrie and stopped her deviltry that the local constables had been unable to quell.
The competition between the madams of Jibboom Street was fierce at times. Longtime dance hall operator Mrs. Miriam Hall had charges filed against Mollie for selling alcohol without a license. The jealousy between the two would simmer for years.
Mollie didn’t limit her feisty ways on women alone. In April of 1877, as the gray mists of morning were creeping over the back side of town, a strange noise broke the silence. The neighbors opened their doors and windows to see Mollie and her latest boyfriend, Billy, in a tussle.
Mollie held Billy by his hair in one hand and a whiskey bottle in the other. Based on her disordered garments, her disheveled hair, and her haggard look, it was obvious she spent the night in revelry. But now she quarreled wildly with her lover, who had been so good, so true, the night before. Then Billy began to run away, with Mollie chasing her.
Billy then turned the tables and started chasing her. The whiskey bottle was used as an offensive weapon to start with, then its contents as a stimulant. The whisky soon did its job on Mollie as she became oblivious to the fight at hand. After getting her back to her house, Billy went off the saloons of Front Street to have another drink and tell his tale.
Mollie soon got bored with Truckee, and possibly persuaded by local constables, moved on into Nevada. Her notoriety followed her. In Elko in 1878, her house was burglarized of jewelry worth more than $100.
A few months later she was in the wild Nevada mining town of Tuscarora. She was arrested on charges of assault and battery. The trial didn’t go well for her. She indulged in some very offensive talk with the judge and ended up getting a 12-hour stay in jail for contempt of court. Additionally a hefty fine was levied, but it didn’t slow her down one bit.
A year later Mollie Forshay’s career as a prostitute ended when she was severely burned in a fire that began in her room. She succeeded in smothering the flames, but was burned badly. The burns on her neck, breasts and arms were quite serious and deforming.
Even though she appears to have survived, there is little record of any more exploits of the fiery Irish Queen of Truckee’s Back Street anywhere in the West.
Jibboom Street continued to have prostitution for decades to come, but in a slightly quieter form. The boom times may have been over, but the stories of the wild times would not be soon forgotten.
Gordon Richards is the president and research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments, story ideas, and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out “Echoes From the Past” in the Sierra Sun archives at http://www.sierrasun.com.
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