Arizona Album: Fair, Fat, and Forty

2012-04-29T00:00:00Z Arizona Album: Fair, Fat, and FortyGeorge H. Smalley Tucson Citizen Arizona Daily Star
April 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

This piece was published on Sept. 29, 1954.

In 1898, when I was editor of the Citizen, the madam of one of the bawdy houses in Tucson was influential in local politics, and one evening she appeared at a meeting of the Council in the adobe town hall. When the mayor opened the session she left her bench and walked briskly up to confront the mayor and the members of the Council with a menacing gesture.

All of them knew her and the new mayor smiled as he recognized her, his eyes brilliant with an eagle expression.

"Gentleman," she shouted, "I came to warn you that if you do not have the girls kicked out of the saloons and gambling houses, I will move my girls from Gay Alley to a house I own up town near the Methodist church. Those dames are interfering with my business, and every one of you fellers know it as well as I do." She pointed accusingly to each member and to the mayor as she spoke.

Her threat was not to be taken frivolously, for she controlled many votes. But more powerful still were the gamblers and saloon men profited by the presence of their girls who attracted men to their honky-tonks.

She had put the mayor and council on a hotspot and finally the mayor relieved the tense situation. "I will appoint all members of the council to investigate this matter, except the mayor," he said.

I wrote the story for the Citizen, referring to the madam as fair, fat and forty. After the paper was out, I sat at my desk engrossed in my writing when I felt something very hard pressing against my back. Looking up, I saw the madam glaring at me menacingly, standing close to me. She had on a long ulster and from its folds, steel was rubbing my back. It felt like the butt of a pistol.

I heard the click of her six-shooter as she cocked it. I was helpless, with a woman who had a bad reputation standing over me.

I knew a lot of blasphemous words, but she used some I had never heard before as she denounced me. Her tirade lasted a long time and the more she searched her versatile vocabulary to express her anger and her opinion of me, the harder she pressed the steel against my back.

When she finally released me, she said if I ever put her name in the paper again she would shoot a hole in me big enough for a rat to jump through.

As we were leaving she turned and said, "I may be fair, and I may be fat, but I am not forty."

These stories were part of a column, Pioneer Anecdotes, written by George H. Smalley, editor of the Tucson Citizen from 1898 to 1901.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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