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Style Magazine

“Texas Ellen” Wilson

Aug 02, 2013 04:33AM ● By Style

Ellen Wilson arrived in Coloma in 1850.

One story brings her as the young bride of a gold seeker who later abandoned her; another brings her as a seasoned madam. In either case, by mid 1850, she had settled into a newly constructed, two-story, seven-bedroom house on the west end of town near Sutter’s sawmill. The establishment—she called the “Lone Star of Texas,” which earned her the moniker “Texas Ellen”—was one of the most elegant in the Central Mines. Wilson had a bartender, a cook and five girls working for her.

The house changed hands a couple of times, but the new owners never saw a need to evict her. Edward McCabe, the third owner, deeded the property to Wilson as he lay on his deathbed. For one month, she owned her house; however, McCabe recovered and filed a deed of revocation annulling his gift.

Wilson was known for her generosity. She provided board for miners, and was always ready to jump on her horse to minister to the sick. She even grubstaked miners down on their luck, never expecting to be repaid. In 1852 and 1853, cholera and small pox raged through Coloma. Wilson closed her business and opened the house as a hospital. At a time when many miners were living in canvas tents, Wilson provided a warm, dry place to recover—or perhaps die.

When the epidemic subsided, Wilson resumed her business. However, on March 16, 1855, a paragraph in the local paper noted the “unintentional killing” of Wilson. According to the article, a quarrel occurred between three or four vagabonds. Several shots were fired, “one of which took affect in the breast of Ellen Wilson.” A romanticized version puts the pistol in the hands of a man named York who was infatuated with Wilson. He became enraged when he saw her dancing with another and tried to shoot his competition. Unfortunately, he missed and killed her.

Women in Wilson’s profession were usually buried outside the Christian cemetery, but because of Wilson’s kindness during the epidemic, an exception was made. At her funeral, “a sermon was preached and a number of persons followed her remains to the grave” in the southeast corner of the Pioneer Cemetery on Cold Springs Road. For more than 100 years, her grave was unmarked. Thirty years after her death, a miner named John S. Covington was buried in the same place, and his headstone marked both graves. In 1975, researchers determined the site of Wilson’s grave and gave her a headstone.

Nearly 120 years after her death, Wilson again haunted Coloma. In 1975, the Coloma-Lotus Booster Club chose to honor “Ladies of the Gold Discovery Era,” particularly Wilson, at the annual Gold Discovery Day. Two noted madams were invited to lead the parade, but the ensuing uproar prompted the boosters to withdraw the invitation. The celebration, however, still honored Wilson with the Olde Coloma Theatre’s melodrama of She Was Only a Child of Misfortune or She Left Her Home for a House.