An excerpt from “The Colonel’s Woman.”
In the old West justice sometimes took a pragmatic bent. What is a town to do when its womenfolk engage in mass civil disobedience? Lock them all up? That was hardly practical. Judge Haggard, circuit judge for Blaine County had it figured out, though. Import a burly matron from the women’s correctional facility in Twin Falls and give her a stiff cowhide paddle. A little rough justice for some wives and daughters who should have obeyed the law is on tap today.
The Ketchum Grange Hall, the day after the “bloomers parade”
Everyone stood as Judge Haggard strode in. He wore the black robe of his office and carried a gavel which he banged on the high bench that had been set up. His bailiff, along with more deputies from the county seat in Hailey, had arrived as well.
“Be seated,” he said, as he laid down the gavel.
The Ketchum Grange Hall was packed. Forty-nine defendants occupied the chairs in front of the bench. Laura Lee, Cora, and Jenny sat together. They were flanked by other town women, many of whom they knew. All wore worried expressions. Before the hearing, they had gathered at the jail, delivered there by husbands or fathers, to face the music. The Colonel stood against the wall like a block of granite, not moving, just surveying the crowd with his eyes. Emma sat in the back, separated from the defendants who attempted to look convincingly demure, a far contrast from the previous day.
“All right,” said the judge. “What we have here is a willful flaunting of a duly passed ordinance. You ladies took it upon yourselves to prance down Main Street in your, ahem—I can’t hardly say it, your skivvies in full view of the whole town. Now in doing so, you almost made it possible for some thieves to rob the Bank of Idaho. If it hadn’t been for Colonel Bradford here, they would have.”
He looked out over the sea of faces. “Any of you deny being there and doing what you did?”
Nobody spoke up. They’d all been caught in the act. One woman stood up. She’d been brought in, but no one had bailed her out last night.
“Please your honor, they made us do it.”
“Who made you do it?” asked the judge.
“Loretta—Loretta Prado.” As she said it she looked around, perhaps fearful that Loretta herself would show up and drag her off.
“Well, you could have gone to the law, miss—what is your name?”
“Elsie Louise Shoup, sir. I’m just a… a hostess over at the saloon in Elkhorn.” She proceeded to plead her case, the gist of which was that Loretta had threatened her and several others there with all sorts of dire consequences if they did not play along and do as they were told.
“Well, Miss Shoup, that may be fine and dandy, and we’ll hear all about it when your trial for aiding and abetting the robbery comes up. But for this here offense, like I said, nobody held a gun on you. You could have waltzed into the sheriff’s office and told him before things got out of hand.”
The judge’s lack of sympathy was based, in part, on the fact that witnesses had confessed that the saloon gals had been promised a cut of the take for creating the bloomers parade diversion. Elsie sat right back down.
“Anyone else?” No one spoke. “All right, here’s my ruling. Since you don’t deny the act, you’re all guilty. Now we don’t have the jail or the manpower to keep you there, and it seems to me that for such foolishness as I saw yesterday you all acted like schoolgirls pulling a prank. So it’s only fittin’—a schoolgirl’s punishment you’re going to get. You are each sentenced to a good hide tanning to be carried out by Miss Lorna Scoggins, chief matron at the women’s correctional jail in Twin Falls. I will leave to Miss Scoggins to carry out sentence and it will be some good hard licks, at least thirty I expect, with the leather. I’ll ask the preacher’s wife, Mae Goodnight, and Miss Evans, the schoolteacher, to act as witnesses. The newspaper may send a lady to act as recorder. That is all.”
Gasps went up from the defendants. Thirty strokes with a heavy piece of leather was severe. Juveniles usually got six or maybe ten. Many of the women shifted uncomfortably in their seats, imagining the heat that was about to be inflicted on their sit spots.
The judge was about to leave when several of the men stood up. “Judge,” said one, “can we speak to you in chambers? We’ve been talking amongst ourselves.”
The judge nodded and an entourage trooped back into an anterior room to speak to the judge.
Caleb Smith who ran the feed and grain spoke for the group. “Judge, we understand our womenfolk were wrong. We understand that they are due a good lickin’ and we agree. But as their men, we should be the ones to correct them.” He hesitated, then went on, “We should be the ones handing out the punishment. No disrespect to your matron there, but if there’s a good whuppin’ due any gal who was in that parade her man—husband or father—oughta be the one to give it to her. I know my Luann was part of that, and I would have taken her out back and given her a damn good switchin’ last night, except I heard about your plans. So I’m here to say, and these men are with me, let us do it. It’ll mean more coming from us anyway.”
The Judge sat back a minute, thinking. He leaned forward. “You won’t hold back? You’ll do a good job of it?”
The group of men all agreed. To a man they assured the judge that justice would be duly meted out. It would be a whipping their women wouldn’t forget any time soon.
“All right,” said Judge Haggard. “I’ll approve it. But it will be done here at the jail. And whatever you use, however you do it, it has to be at least as severe as the sentence I’ve imposed on the rest of them—thirty licks with our cowhide paddle—right on the bare be-hind. And my deputy bailiff, Miss Scoggins, will witness, just so there’s no favoritism or laying back. Do all you gentlemen understand that?”
All heads nodded in agreement. They understood.
* * *
There were few single women among the forty-nine who were not spoken for by some man, a father, or a relative with whom she was living. The exceptions were the seven girls from the Prado saloons and brothels and Belle Whitcomb, a fiery young rancher who lived by herself and raised cattle with the help of some hired hands. Belle had suitors, but she was a tough firebrand who spurned them all. She would be the first one to taste justice at the hands of Miss Lorna Scoggins.
Belle remained defiant as deputies led her back to the jail. The sentences of the unattached women would be carried out that very day. She sneered at Matron Scoggins. “You don’t scare me, honey. My pa whupped me tougher than you ever could.” To which the burley matron replied, “We’ll just see about that, little missy. I’ve seen hard cases like you, and you know what? They’re all crying hot salty tears by the time I’m halfway through with ‘em.”
Curious onlookers lined the street as the women were marched back to the jail. The prim matronly wives who had not participated in the bloomers parade made their opinions known. Shouts of “shameless hussies” and encouragement for Miss Scoggins followed the entourage all the way back down the street.
When they arrived, the seven saloon girls were placed in cells. Lorna Scoggins told the deputies, “Not this one. I’ll take her first.” They marched Belle to the large back room that had been set up as a chamber to administer the prescribed punishment. The two women designated as witnesses went with them.
The chamber was mostly bare. It had a pair of high windows to let in light. In the center of the room stood a curious piece of furniture. An old cut down half barrel had been fitted with a padded top and attached to four sturdy legs. Running between the rear legs was a crosspiece with ankle cuffs near its center. The front legs had wrist cuffs as well. The purpose was clear. The prisoner went face down over the barrel and was restrained by the cuffs. The posture raised the buttocks up as a prominent target. On the wall hung a big leather paddle, almost a strap, but it was too thick to flex very much. A four inch wide double layer of stitched-together cowhide nearly two feet long was attached to a wooden handle to form the fearsome implement. Belle looked at it and gulped. For all her previous bravado, Lorna saw the look of fear on her face.
Lorna smiled as she took it down and whooshed it through the air. “Whew! A right hefty tail blazer for your be-hind, girlie. You’re gonna feel this.” She turned to the deputies. “All right boys, you can leave. Wouldn’t be decent for you to watch now, would it?” She winked as the deputies nodded and left. She knew damn well they’d give their eyeteeth to see Belle get her tail whipped. She had quite the figure, and men paid attention whenever she came to town.
“All right, girlie, take that dress off.”
“What? I will not!”
“You will or I will call those deputies back. They’d like nothing better than to strip you right down. Now take off your clothes.”
“Better do as she says, Belle Whitcomb,” said a prim Mae Goodnight. “You weren’t so proud yesterday, were you? It was alright yesterday to parade about half naked in front of our men.”
Belle huffed but took her dress and petticoats off as ordered. That left her in the costume in which she had paraded yesterday, a corset and long-legged bloomers with some lace at the knees.
“Get over the barrel,” said Lorna Scoggins, gesturing with the paddle.
Reluctantly Belle lay across the barrel. The action raised her hips and thrust her ample bottom into prominence. At Lorna’s command the two women secured the cuffs, immobilizing the prisoner. Lorna sauntered over and pulled the drawstring at the waistband of the bloomers.
Belle squirmed in alarm. “What are you doing?”
Belle sputtered and protested, but restrained as she was, there was nothing she could do. Her drawers came down, exposing her full and well rounded bare bottom. The cheeks jiggled as Lorna gave her bottom a little pat before she stepped back.
“Thirty licks, the judge said.” Lorna drew the paddle back over her shoulder and cocked her arm. She brought it around in an arc, and it struck with an explosive smack!
“Oww!” Belle hadn’t been prepared for the appalling sting of the paddle.
Again Lorna lifted the leather implement and swung it, landing it full square on Belle’s backside with a deafening crack. Belle squealed again. The paddling continued, with Lorna delivering swat after swat at a steady pace. Belle squirmed and hollered, wagging her bottom in an attempt to evade the blistering licks, but to no avail. Lorna Scoggins knew her business and placed one full-armed stroke after another on Belle’s frantically wriggling behind. The punishment of Belle Whitcomb took nearly five minutes, and for Belle it was the longest five minutes of her life. The worst part was the rise of the searing heat that peaked several seconds after a swat had been applied. It gave Belle time to feel and appreciate each searing lick. By the time it was over, she felt well and truly punished, sporting a throbbing posterior that felt twice its real size.
* * *
The two ladies who acted as witnesses watched in amazement as the thick paddle smacked Belle’s fanny. Her cheeks flattened with each lick, only to spring back to their rounded contours a second later, displaying a fiery red band on their formerly lily white surfaces. It was a sobering spectacle.
As Lorna had predicted, they observed that the haughty and defiant Belle had been reduced to a blubbering schoolgirl, crying and pleading for mercy by the time it ended. The unfortunate woman didn’t know it, but Lorna Scoggins was the most feared matron at the Twin Falls jail where she maintained discipline with a thick black strap nicknamed Black Betty. She was highly skilled with a punishment strap, able to reduce the most hardened of criminals to tears and pleas for mercy.
“All right,” said Lorna. “She’s done. Unbuckle her and tell them to bring in the next one.”
Over the course of the afternoon, the jailed ladies met their fate. One by one they were escorted to the chamber, ordered to strip down and bend over the barrel. Their bloomers were taken down and their bottoms were paddled soundly by the brawny matron. The sharp cracks of the paddle and the resulting cries of distress could be plainly heard back in the cells where the others were confined.
“Oh my golly,” said one of the Elkhorn ladies as a particularly loud smack of the paddle on bare flesh echoed down the open corridor. The wail that followed was equally unnerving. Once the punishment started, they all seemed to fall silent and listen intently. Some actually trembled in nervous fear. Some winced in sympathy with each harsh crack. Others tried to put a brave face on it, but all knew their time was coming.
As each girl came back from the punishment chamber, her tearful recitation of the ordeal did not allay any fears.
“It’s awful. Really awful,” said Kate, one of the girls. Her eyes were red from weeping and she could not sit. She stood in the cell and hung onto the bars, sobbing. “It burns, lordy, how it burns. That mean ‘ol woman hits you as hard as she can, and it hurts like blazes. My backside is so hot and throbbing I’ll never sit down again. Not my ma or my pa ever whipped me that bad.”