A couple of days ago, the headlines of the Butte, Montana newspaper read “Madam of Butte’s Past – Ruby Garrett, Once Owner of The Dumas Brothel, Dies At 94”. The Dumas was the last operating brothel in Butte, Montana. The business shut down in 1982. Ruby Garrett was the Madam at the end. Gone was the “roost for soiled doves.”
Ruby Garrett once resided in Spokane. She had come out west from Minnesota as a young women in the 1940’s. She went to Reno and married Frank Garrett, a railroad engineer. The railroad transferred Garrett to Spokane along with his wife Ruby and their baby son, Victor, born in 1949.
My grandmother, Alta Anderson, also come out west (to Spokane) in the 1940’s with her husband and my step-father, Martin Anderson. Grandmother Alta was related to Ruby. She heard that Ruby was living in Spokane but had not been able to locate her. Then one April afternoon in 1951, my grandmother was scanning the BABY PHOTO CONTEST section of the Spokane Daily Chronicle newspaper and saw Ruby’s young son Victor’s photo (SEE SLIDE SHOW) with the Garrett’s Spokane street address below. A visit was made. My grandmother and Ruby had not seen each other for years, since way back in the days when they lived in Minnesota. They did a lot a catching up. Ruby was working at Mother’s Kitchen on Riverside Avenue at the east end of downtown Spokane. Mother’s Kitchen was a restaurant and much more in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Shady stuff went on at Mother’s Kitchen. Grandmother didn’t have a clue. Ruby may have begun honing skills that would one day make her the Madam at the longest running brothel in Butte.
In 2005, my father and I stopped to visit retired Cousin Ruby who lived with her son Victor in a nice home at Divide, Montana. We spent some hours getting the story of her life. I recorded what she told us of her past and took lots of pictures of Ruby and her son, Victor, now 56 years old, who had been that prize winning baby.
Ruby showed us several of the brothel gowns that she had preserved in clear plastic garment containers. She had a virtual brothel museum in her basement, risqué paintings, gaudy lamps, fancy mirrors and other brothel paraphernalia.
Ruby spoke frankly about the “business”. No minced words.
She told us how she took Victor and went to Montana without Frank Garrett in the 1950’s.
In Montana she lived with a man named Andy Arrigoni. One night in 1959, Ruby found it necessary to shoot Mr. Arrigoni, her common-law husband. Everyone in Butte knew that Arrigoni beat Ruby regularly. According to Ruby, he came into a Butte bar that night and walked directly toward her with his fists clenched. She was already wearing black eyes from some of Arrigoni’s punches. Ruby had a gun in her purse. She pulled it out and repeatedly plugged Arrigoni as he drew near her. Arrigoni died and she was arrested. Ruby served nine months in the Montana State Penitentiary for murder, the sentencing judge felt sorry for her situation. Ruby winked, “That judge was one of my best customers.”
In 1982, Ruby got busted after a robbery of the Dumas Hotel (and Brothel). When the stolen money was found to be a considerable sum, the I.R.S. figured out that some tax evasion ($83,000) had been practice by the bordello for years. Ruby had to pay $10,000 in back-taxes and was sentenced to six months in prison. It was “easy time” according to Ruby. She had to promise to never open the Dumas again. Coincidently, the last mines in Butte closed down that year. Ruby Garret sold the Dumas Hotel to a Butte man, Rudy Giecek, who turned the place into a Brothel Museum.
My father is some 10 years younger than his cousin Ruby. But she impressed him as a young woman who came to live in his home town of Warroad, Minnesota which is down the road a piece from Podunk. He first met Ruby when he was a lad of only six years of age, “I knew there was something ‘special’ about Ruby,” he claims, “She had more octane than any woman in Roseau County.” NOTE: “Octane” in the previous sentence is my father’s veiled way of saying “sex appeal”.
In our parting conversation with cousin Ruby, she mentioned her business preference was to be called the “Landlady” rather than the “Madam.” Ruby followed up by reassuring my father and I that she, “never worked the line.” We all three looked at each other and grinned, as though you can become the Madam of Montana’s oldest whorehouse by reading a book. May she rest in peace.