134-Year-Old Historic Wyoming Brothel Back In Business At Cody’s Old Trail Town

Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel in Meeteetse was patronized by Butch Cassidy and has plenty of sordid stories from its past. It's now fully restored and open for business again — sort of — at Cody's Old Trail Town.

AR
Andrew Rossi

May 19, 202410 min read

Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town in Cody. There are 28 structures in the 6-acre outdoor museum, including several known to have been visited by Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and other legendary Western figures.
Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town in Cody. There are 28 structures in the 6-acre outdoor museum, including several known to have been visited by Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and other legendary Western figures. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

CODY — In 1890, Rose Williams opened a brothel near Meeteetse in 1890, and quickly became a popular place with a wide range of clientele, from local civic leaders to the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy.

Over the decades, prostitution and brothels fell out of being regular parts of Western culture. But now 134 years later, Rose Williams’ Roadhouse and Brothel is back in business — sort of. It’s been rebuilt, refurbished and reopened in Cody.

It’s the newest addition to the dozens of authentic buildings at Old Trail Town, the 6-acre outdoor museum at the original townsite of Cody, Wyoming. The simple three-room structure was found in Meeteetse and meticulously dismantled, rebuilt and restored to its original grandeur (or squalor).

It is not hard to find the historic brothel once patronized by Cassidy and his Wild Bunch. Just look for the red lights at the end of the boardwalk.

The Original Work-From-Home Profession

The largest room contains a kitchen, a table and a small bar for patrons. She knew how to take care of her clients.

Williams opened the brothel in Arland, 8 miles northwest of Meeteetse, in 1890. It took three years to rebuild and restore the building, which has been furnished to look as authentic as it once was, minus the working girls.

“Looking up online and digging into a little bit of research, we determined this is what she would have had to have for the roadhouse,” Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town's office and collection manager, told Cowboy State Daily. “She would have had a small bar for her customers. She would have been cooking for them.”

The brothel was situated along the Meeteetse Creek freight line, ensuring a steady stream of potential customers. Huber said anyone working or riding the railroad between Denver and Billings, Montana, would have found Rose’s place was everything it needed to be.

“It wasn't a high-end establishment, but it was right on the front line,” she said. “It was what people needed at that time.”

Butch Cassidy is one confirmed patron of the roadhouse. A preserved first-person account said he wasn’t a fan of the rabbit stew he was offered.

“He didn't particularly care for it,” Huber said. “So, he supposedly shot a cow with a brand on it. He rustled a cow for her so she could serve better meat.”

Cassidy is now associated with three buildings at Old Trail Town, including the Hole in the Wall Cabin and the Rivers Saloon. There’s no confirmation that he “fully patronized” the brothel, Huber said, but she believes it’s a connection that could easily be made.

“It’s recorded that he was here,” she said. “I would imagine he did.”

  • Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town office and collection manager, points out a display of artifacts and documents telling the sordid story of "the Crib," where Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel carried out its primary business.
    Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town office and collection manager, points out a display of artifacts and documents telling the sordid story of "the Crib," where Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel carried out its primary business. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The graves of William Gallagher, "Blind Bill" Hoolihan, and "The Lady in Blue" Belle Drewry at Old Trail Town. The demise of all three was associated with Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel, which stands only a few yards behind the gravesites.
    The graves of William Gallagher, "Blind Bill" Hoolihan, and "The Lady in Blue" Belle Drewry at Old Trail Town. The demise of all three was associated with Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel, which stands only a few yards behind the gravesites. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The front entrance of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town in Cody. The brothel originally stood in Arland, 8 miles northwest of Meeteetse, catering to anyone riding along the Meeteetse Creek freight line.
    The front entrance of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town in Cody. The brothel originally stood in Arland, 8 miles northwest of Meeteetse, catering to anyone riding along the Meeteetse Creek freight line. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • "The Crib" in the back of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town. Butch Cassidy might have enjoyed an intimate encounter in this spot, as he was a known visitor of the brothel when it stood in Arland in the 1890s.
    "The Crib" in the back of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town. Butch Cassidy might have enjoyed an intimate encounter in this spot, as he was a known visitor of the brothel when it stood in Arland in the 1890s. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town's collections manager, pulls back the bedding to reveal the tightened ropes of the "pristine" rope bed donated to Old Trail Town so it could be included in Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel for its 2024 opening.
    Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town's collections manager, pulls back the bedding to reveal the tightened ropes of the "pristine" rope bed donated to Old Trail Town so it could be included in Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel for its 2024 opening. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The boardwalk and historic structures at Old Trail Town in Cody. Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel, complete with red lights, stands at the far end of the boardwalk.
    The boardwalk and historic structures at Old Trail Town in Cody. Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel, complete with red lights, stands at the far end of the boardwalk. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

On Original Ropes

Williams’ bedroom lies just off the front room. One of the central features of the brothel is its brick chimney, which was found intact and restored brick-for-brick as part of the three-year restoration.

“We had to put in a new pipe, but the chimney is original,” Huber said. “All the bricks were salvaged. It’s a very unusual thing in these old cabins, but it’s true to the pictures we have.”

The wood-fired stove in the bedroom dates back to 1865. The furnishings in both rooms are part of the growing collection of authentic Western artifacts donated to or acquired by Old Trail Town.

The piece Huber is most excited about in Williams’ bedroom is the “pristine” rope bed. Two of these rustic bedframes, where the sleeper is supported by a lattice of ropes rather than wood slats, were donated to the museum to furnish the brothel.

“They’re in pristine condition,” she said. “Nothing is holding them together except the ropes.”

The Crib

The main draw of the restored structure is “the crib” just off the main bedroom, Huber said. The main business of the brothel was transacted in the tiny backroom that contained a bed and a chair, and little else.

There was a hierarchy of prostitution in the Old West, she said. Parlor houses maintained the highest standards and clients, followed by high-end, common and low-end brothels for the “working man” looking to get “down to business” without much flimflam.

Cribs were at the bottom of the hierarchy of Old West organized prostitution — small rooms, few amenities and as many as 20 to 30 clients a night.

One authentic addition Huber was sure to include in the restored crib was a leather rainslicker along the bottom of the mattress. Since clients usually didn’t take their boots off, the rainslicker ensured the bedding didn’t get too filthy.

“This part of the structure is larger than it actually was,” she said. “We had to make it wheelchair accessible, so it’s quite a bit wider. This would’ve been just a small little crib at the end of the building.”

One elusive furnishing Huber hopes to acquire is a hip bath, where workers and patrons could bathe sitting down rather than standing up. She hasn’t been lucky enough to find one yet, but hopes a future visitor might be willing to donate one to complete the brothel’s crib.

Two Shootings And A Poisoning

Acquiring and restoring Rose William’s Roadhouse and Brothel was driven by more than a desire to add a brothel to Old Trail Town. The structure is integral to the history already exhibited at the outdoor museum.

In 1894, a love triangle between William Gallager, Bill Wheaton and Belle Drewry — aka “The Woman in Blue” in Old Trail Town’s cemetery — led to two murders. Drewery was working at the brothel and in a relationship with Gallager when she took a liking to Wheaton.

“She was going with Gallagher, but Wheaton came along, and she liked him better,” Huber said. “That made Gallagher insanely jealous, and he tried to kidnap them and held them at gunpoint for a while until he finally gave that up.”

At this point, Rose Williams went to William McNally to borrow a gun. A short time later, Gallagher was dead, shot in the back, and Wheaton had fled Meeteetse.

Wheaton and Drewry were believed to be responsible for Gallagher’s death. This enraged Gallagher’s friend, “Blind Bill” Hoolihan, who vowed to avenge him by killing Wheaton.

Hollihan never got the chance. He was killed by the same gun that killed Gallagher, shot in the back while sitting at the end of the table in Rose Williams’ Roadhouse.

Wheaton was eventually captured and sentenced to eight years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary. He was released in 1898 after serving four years.

If Wheaton intended to reunite with his lover-in-crime, that was dashed in 1897 when Drewery died. Huber said Drewry was poisoned by Katie “Tahaunous” Durrant, another woman working at Williams’ brothel.

“Belle was found on the road going to Arland by George Merrill, foreman of the Pitchfork Ranch,” she said. “Belle said, ‘I’m dying. Tahaunous gave me some dope and robbed me of $400.’ They got her to Arland, and she died.”

Drewry was 30 years old when she died. Durrant was never seen again.

  • Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town's collections manager, stands in the doorway of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town in Cody.
    Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town's collections manager, stands in the doorway of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town in Cody. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Rose Williams' personal bedroom at her roadhouse and brothel. All the furnishings are authentic to the 1890s. The structure itself was rediscovered near Meeteetse in 2019 and meticulously disassembled, reassembled, and restored at Old Trail Town between 2021 and 2024.
    Rose Williams' personal bedroom at her roadhouse and brothel. All the furnishings are authentic to the 1890s. The structure itself was rediscovered near Meeteetse in 2019 and meticulously disassembled, reassembled, and restored at Old Trail Town between 2021 and 2024. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The stone chimney seen in Rose Williams' bedroom is authentic to the original 1890 structure. It was also rebuilt brick-for-brick as it was in its original location.
    The stone chimney seen in Rose Williams' bedroom is authentic to the original 1890 structure. It was also rebuilt brick-for-brick as it was in its original location. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The front room of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town. In addition to prostitution, Williams provided patrons with meals and drinks at the roadhouse, which served as her home.
    The front room of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel at Old Trail Town. In addition to prostitution, Williams provided patrons with meals and drinks at the roadhouse, which served as her home. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The front room of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel, with a kitchen table and a small bar in the corner. "Blind Bill" Hoolihan was sitting at the end of this table when he was shot from behind by someone standing in the doorway where this picture was taken.
    The front room of Rose Williams' Roadhouse and Brothel, with a kitchen table and a small bar in the corner. "Blind Bill" Hoolihan was sitting at the end of this table when he was shot from behind by someone standing in the doorway where this picture was taken. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

Where The Bodies Are Buried

The stories of skullduggery at the Meeteetse brothel are legendary, but Huber said there’s evidence behind the stories.

“Much of this story is documented and can be verified,” she said.

Williams delivered a letter to McNally asking to borrow the gun that would be used to kill Gallagher and Hoolihan. That letter is preserved in the collection at Old Trail Town.

William McNally’s cabin was the first structure built in Meeteetse in 1886. It also stands at Old Trail Town, at the other end of the boardwalk from the brothel.

Finally, the graves of Gallagher, Hoolihan and Drewry lie just a few steps away from the brothel. They were reinterred at Old Trail Town, lying next to the reinterred body of legendary mountain man Jeremiah “Liver-Eating” Johnson.

Williams is believed to be buried in the same area as her cowboy clients and former employee, but the exact location has been lost. Huber and others at Old Trail Town will always feel like something's missing as long as the location of her remains are unknown.

“It’d be nice to have her here too,” said Larry Edgar, treasurer for The Museum of the Old West, which operates Old Trail Town. “If they ever find her, we’ll move her up here.”

Ghosts And All

Old Trail Town's staff and board members were looking for Rose Williams’ Roadhouse and Brothel for years, hoping to preserve its history at the outdoor museum. Nobody knew where it was or if it even still existed.

In 2018, ranchers were dismantling a barn when the original brothel was discovered underneath. The structure was still intact, hidden under wood and a shed roof.

“When we found out it existed, we had to get it,” Edgar said. “But they told us, ‘If you take this cabin, take the spirits with you. We’re tired of them.’ So we did.”

The building was meticulously photographed, dismantled and moved to Cody in 2019. Each log and brick was labeled with its precise location in the structure so the brothel could be rebuilt exactly as it stood in Arland.

After three years of hard work, Rose Williams’ house of ill-repute is open once again. Visitors can even patronize the brothel by buying “Whiskey, Girls, Food, and Tobacco” keychains in the Old Trail Town gift shop.

A Museum And More

For Huber, the addition of the brothel legitimizes Old Trail Town's mission. The structure attests to their work as curators of an outdoor museum, not the simple “tourist-trap” attraction that many perceive Old Trail Town to be.

Other new exhibits at Old Trail Town include Yellowstone Coach 38, a horse-drawn wagon that escorted tourists from Cody to Yellowstone National Park before automobiles, and artifacts from the office of Dr. U. Sloniger, a chiropractor-chiropodist who was one of the first doctors in Cody.

In recent years, more people have been donating clothing, furniture and other artifacts associated with the Old West history of Cody and the Rocky Mountain region. Huber sees that as the ultimate testament that people entrust them to “take care of their stuff.”

“It’s becoming much more appreciated for the outdoor museum that it is, instead of just a collection of old things,” she said. “You can’t climb on the wagons, touch the artifacts, or use the buildings as a movie or TV set. It is a museum.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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