Pine Nuts: A short history of Julia Bulette |

Pine Nuts: A short history of Julia Bulette

McAvoy Layne

America’s Red Light District originated in Dodge City, Kansas, where train crews would leave their red lanterns outside when entering a bordello so they could be located in the event of an emergency, and America’s madams were quick to embrace this tradition as an excellent way to advertise.

But backing up a little, by 1863 Virginia City had become the liveliest town that America had ever produced, so of course the Comstock Lode had its pre-red-light district. D Street was lined with busy cribs.

There resided on D Street a lady of the night who was also an angel of mercy, her name was Julia Bulette. Julia would deliver a basket of fruit to a family that was quarantined when nobody else would go near. She volunteered to fight the many fires that plagued the Comstock. Fire Chief Tom Peasley would say of Julia, “She can man a brake as good as she can break a man.” But we shall ignore that vulgar compliment.

Regrettably, in 1867, Julia, she with the heart of gold, was murdered. Her assassin was a man named John Millian, who was found to have some of Julia’s jewelry on his person. Millian was given a hasty trial, very hasty as he did not speak a word of English, and condemned to hang out at Geiger Grade on April 23, 1868. Four thousand people went to that hanging. Mark Twain was scheduled to speak at Piper’s Opera House about his recent trip to Europe, but all anybody could think about or talk about was the hanging, so Mark reluctantly joined the onlookers.

The Queen of the Red Lights has a saloon named after her in Virginia City …

Twain’s eyewitness account was published in the Chicago Republican newspaper, and went without further notice, until it was rediscovered by Nevada Archivist extraordinaire, Guy Rocha in 1999, and Twain’s published account saw the first light it had seen in 131 years. (In full disclosure, the intrepid Guy Rocha is a hero of mine.)

“Down through the hole in the scaffold the strap-bound figure shot like a dart!” wrote Twain. “I never wish to see it again.”

Julia Bulette was eulogized in the Territorial Enterprise as, “kind-hearted, liberal, benevolent and charitable.” And too, she was made an honorary member of Virginia City’s Engine Company No. 1.

The Queen of the Red Lights has a saloon named after her in Virginia City, and her portrait still hangs in many of the thirst parlors in our National Historic District. She is portrayed today by the inimitable Kim Copel-Harris in the performance art of Chautauqua.

I go out and lay a rose on her grave every summer. She’s not buried in the cemetery, the Christian ladies wouldn’t allow it. She’s buried all alone over across the chasm south of the cemetery. You can come with me this summer if you’d like to come along, but we need to step lively, ‘cuz there’ll be rattlesnakes out there this summer.”

And this is where our short history of our Darling of the Comstock comes to a close …

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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