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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

A Wicked Woman


They say that there were more women of ill repute than there were decent ladies, in California, during the early years of the Gold Rush. This is probably true, although, for a number of reasons, statistics of this nature are unavailable. What is documented is the results of the state’s first federal census in 1850, which revealed that females, of any character whatsoever, amounted to just 8% of the total population.


Women were scarce, all right. Therefore, females were highly valued and, regardless of their social status, generally afforded special treatment by the men who made up the other 92% of the population; gold miners or opportunistic merchants who were far from home and their own sweethearts or wives, mothers and sisters.


All of the above, coupled with prostitute Ida Vanard’s pretty face and the prosecutor’s inexperience, contributed to her acquittal when she was tried in a Sacramento courtroom in 1853 for stabbing and killing a rival. Despite the prosecutor’s clamor for the death sentence, Ida’s all-male jury, faced with the one and only charge of premeditated murder, simply refused to hang a woman.


The verdict caused a furor. Angry, righteous editorials splashed across Sacramento and San Francisco newspapers for days on end, accusing the jury and the judge of being so besotted with Ida’s looks and demure demeanor in court that they couldn’t arrive at a “rightful” ruling, despite the facts which overwhelmingly declared her guilt.


Fairly soon the furor faded, though; and if killing an imagined rival was Ida’s only homicidal act, today she would be just another of the era’s forgotten soiled doves. But a mere two years after her acquittal for murder, Ida was arrested for attacking some customers in her own brothel—nor was that the end of her barbarous behavior.


Some Gold Rush harlots were famous for their charms, their opulent mansions, and their lavish entertainments. Ida Vanard was infamous for, and is still remembered for, her prowess with knives and pistols.


Read Ida’s full story in Wild Wicked Woman – The Life of a Gold Rush Courtesan,

available on Amazon https://amzn.to/3aJ5HRg

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