Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ellen Wilson

Ellen's simple marker in the Coloma Pioneer Cemetery

Ellen Wilson
Born: cir 1822 (Canada, or possibly Virginia)
Died: March 16, 1855 (Coloma, El Dorado County, California) -- Shot to death
Interred: March 18, 1855 -- Coloma Pioneer Cemetery (Coloma, El Dorado County, California)
Occupations: Prostitute, Madam

My Favorite Prostitute

From Canada, Ellen moved to Texas where she learned the prostitution trade before she then moved to Coloma. In Coloma she found a two story, seven-bedroom house that she rented, and went into business for herself, calling her brothel The Lone Star of Texas. This earned her the nickname of Texas Ellen by the locals. Her employees included five working girls, a bartender and a cook.

When the gold began to run out many of the miners left town for greener pastures, but Ellen was happy in Coloma and she stayed even though it meant her business was no longer as profitable. In 1852 and 1853 there were serious epidemics of cholera and smallpox in Coloma. The diseases brought death to many people, and Ellen spent countless hours comforting those who were dying, and nursing the survivors back to health just as Rosa May is rumored to have done many years later in Bodie.

In the mid 1850s a man named York became infatuated with Ellen. An extremely jealous man, York flew into a rage on the night of March 16, 1855 when he happened to walk past a saloon and, through the window, saw Ellen dancing with another man. York drew his gun and fired at the man but his aim was bad. He hit Ellen instead, killing her. York fled. He was never captured and punished for the murder.

As you know if you read my previous blog post about Rosa May, prostitutes were generally not allowed a Christian burial within the cemetery's fenced perimeter. But because of her many kindnesses to the sick and dying during those epidemics an exception was made in her case. She was buried in the southeast corner of the cemetery in an unmarked grave. Her grave remained unmarked for about a century until a restoration group cleaned up the cemetery and installed new, small stones on many of the unmarked graves, including Ellen's.

She would have been a good banker with all the money people leave on her grave.

Ellen's obituary in the March 24, 1855 edition of the Empire County Argus.

Ashley, paying her respects.

Minnie at Ellen's grave site.

In June 2004 I bought a new car; a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier LS. A friend of mine jokingly suggested I should give it a name. I had never named a car before and just laughed at his suggestion. Less than a month later I was in Coloma for yet another visit, and as I stood at Ellen's grave again it suddenly didn't seem like such a bad idea. So, my car became known as Ellen. I love seeing the expression on a person's face when I tell them I named my car after my favorite prostitute.

My brand new car, before she became known as Ellen.

Ellen, the car, parked near Ellen's grave site.

Coloma Cemeteries -- edited by Lynette Mizell, Coloma Cemetery Committee, 1997
Obituary, Empire County Argus, March 24, 1855
Suzi Mickus


  1. thanks so much for this information i enoyed reading it

  2. I was visiting Pioneer Cemetery for the first time today and happened upon Ms. Wilson's grave. Thank you for providing information about her and her kindness.

  3. Question. You blogged that she died by the hands of her jealous x-lover who saw her dancing with another man and accidently was hit when he aimed at for the man. But the newspaper obituary discribes her as being the fault of 3 or 4 roudy vagabonds with knives. Im curious as to how this got confused. ???

  4. You quoted a very short part of the obit: "3 or 4 roudy vagabonds with knives". Did you miss the part where it continues to say "and pistols were drawn, and several shots fired; one of which took effect in the breast of..."?

    I wasn't there, so obviously I have no way of knowing with any certainty the full story of exactly what happened, but the records I've uncovered indicate York started the fight, killing Ellen by accident. Any other weapons involved were probably aimed at him as he fled the scene.

    Also, for clarification, I never said York was her ex-lover. I never even stated he was her lover at all, previously or currently. The records and evidence I've found would suggest he wanted to be. He was infatuated by her. But, I have no evidence to suggest the two ever shared a relationship.

  5. A picture of Ellen's grave stone is being used to describe a military tradition of leaving coins on the graves of veterans ( Can you explain why so many coins are left on Ellen's or is that another tradition?

    1. I actually have explained in a FaceBook thread a year or two ago which used that exact same picture as a header. But, the one you linked to is talking about military specific traditions. I was speaking more in general terms. The origins of the tradition aren't really known with any certainty, but there are several theories. Some say it's a Jewish tradition. Some say it dates back to Greek mythology and Charon, the ferryman on the river Styx, who charged a toll to transport the dead's soul. Others just do it because everyone else does. Honestly, I don't think it really has any particular meaning any more than leaving flowers, rocks, toys or any of the other myriad items people place on graves these days.

  6. Jewish tradition calls for a gravesite visitor to leave a stone. There are many reasons for this:

  7. Am wondering. if Ellen Wilson might be related to my Family of Wilson's of New York. My Grandmothers maiden name is Wilson. she married Amos Little of Freeville,Ny

    1. did you go to ancestry .com and trace your family tree? Use her name and date of birth and death to see if there is any links (leafs) to your own family tree. I would think that would be cool, if she was related to you.