The Stories of Petticoat Prisoners

This summer has been one of travel. First I went to Chicago and the surrounding areas. Then I took a quick road-trip to Utah, traveling through Wyoming. There, at a historic rest stop—whose name I no longer recall—I picked up Petticoat Prisoners of Old Wyoming. I was struck by the forlorn faces of the women on the cover and knew I had to get it.

Nearly two months later, I’ve finally gotten around to reading this book by Larry K. Brown, and let me tell you, it was a wild (west) ride!

It starts out with a foreword from Wyoming’s own Warden Nola Blackburn and promptly jumps into the story of the state’s first, numbered felon. Brown also includes a very brief biography of four other women incarcerated in the state, but since they weren’t “official” prisoners, they only received passing mentions.

The following chapters followed each of the twenty female prisoners imprisoned in the state around the turn of the century.

I loved how Brown melded storytelling with archival material—he included transcribed dialogue from trials and statements. It made each story riveting. I also loved that each chapter had a photo of the women, it made them feel more real. It wasn’t just the story of some unnamed woman who stole colts or tried to kill a lousy lover. It was the story of Ella Smith, Hattie LaPierre.

I also really appreciated how Brown briefly addressed sources cited at the end of each chapter. I felt it gave a greater sense of credibility to the work, and the index at the end was an excellent addition.

Petticoat Prisoners is a quick and fun read about some of the West’s somewhat unexpected “villains.” I use the quotes because some of the women, like Hattie, or even Annie Bruce done necessarily seem to be malevolent schemers, but rather unfortunate women in tough spots.

I definitely recommend to anyone who likes the Old West or crime stories. It’s sure to be up your alley.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Next week, I’ll be reviewing Jim Ringel’s upcoming book in the Lama Rinzen series: Hidden Buddha: Lama Rinzen in the Hungry Ghost Realm.

Happy Reading!

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