The oft-overlooked but nonetheless fascinating story of the presence of a lurid and thriving Red Light District in the early years of Hamilton is the topic of a new book by L. Allen Strate.
A fourth-generation Bitterrooter who grew up in Hamilton, Strate is a retired law educator who returned to his native state after being away for 50 years. Intrigued with the largely untold story of Hamilton’s illicit “red light” trade, he spent nearly three years researching the subject.
The resulting book offers a “glimpse of the evening industry in Hamilton’s heydays,” the decade of the 1890s, shortly after copper magnate Marcus Daly founded the city. Strate’s exhaustive research on the subject results in more than 200 footnoted references from the newspapers, court records, and other writings of that time, along with a number of interviews.
In his preface, Strate notes that he presents the stories as they were written more than a century ago. “The writing was more flowery than today, sometimes a little more graphic, but the skill and presentation were entertaining. The reportable incidents, such as fights, fines, robberies or alcohol-related events had a particular slant.”
He also includes stories that reveal a more positive side of the industry, and explores links between Hamilton’s red-light districts and those of other Montana towns at the time, including Butte, Missoula and Whitefish.
The 114-page book, published in cooperation with Stoneydale Press of Stevensville, features more than 20 photographs.
Strate returned to his hometown in 2005 after retiring from a long and distinguished career at the Business School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In 2013, he received the David Walter Research Fellowship from the Montana Historical Society and was named an “Unsung Hero” by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.