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Petticoat Prospectors


A woman in Nevada’s gold camps had to work harder than men, and also had to prove she could sting like a rattler if the occasion demanded.



      Tales of the Comstock Lode – the camaraderie, hard work, adventure, and sudden wealth – filled the fantasies of young women as much as young men.  Trading tea dresses and milky complexions for trousers and skin as tough as mule hide was the first part of exchange.  A lady prospector also had to work harder and longer than her counterparts.   She paid higher wages to those who deigned to help her in spite of her sex.  And she toted a pistol in her waistband to show she was no tenderfoot and could sting like a rattlesnake if the occasion demanded.

      Lillian Malcom was no tenderfoot when she arrived in Nevada’s Bullfrog mining district in 1905.  Bullfrog was at its most primitive stage.  Miners’ homes were dugouts or tents, huts made of mud and manure blocks or flour barrel frames covered with rough feed sacking.  Prospectors in this crude town were eager for diversion.  When Lillian, pretty and fresh from the Klondike, told her stories in boardinghouses (which were usually tents) for the price of a beefsteak (which cost as much as a man could mine in a month), even the most skeptical allowed that this little lady might make it.

      Lillian had lived in a world of snow, dog sleds, and gold for several years.  The miners were enthralled by Lillian’s stories of her life in Alaska.  Her looks and lively tongue made her an instant “character,” and the newspapers loved her.

      When Lillian announced that she and a couple of old timers were going to cross Death Valley looking for richer diggings, a crowd gathered in front of the Merchant Hotel to see her off, and the Tonopah Bonanza applauded her bravery in undertaking a trip “not always made without loss of life,” even by strong, robust manhood.

      She didn’t betray any apprehension – on the contrary, she was smiling and happy and told reporters Death Valley had no terrors for her.  Then, because she was, after all, Bullfrog’s leading lady, the newspaper described Lillian’s “prospecting trousseau.”

      Her hair was braided and tied in numerous labor-saving knots with white baby ribbons.  Her face was pretty, but certain to lose its feminine delicacy and whiteness ere the sun’s rays of Death Valley get through with it, especially as her light colored felt hat was narrow brimmed.

      Onlookers who appeared to be watching her four stamping horses might well have been considering her skirt length, which was quite a bit shorter than usual.  It wasn’t indecent, though, since it “Made a safe junction” with her tan boot tops

      Lillian said she had a pair of men’s khakis in her saddlebags which she would don once she got out a ways.  Certainly it’s only speculation that this remark enticed a reporter to accompany the prospecting troupe on its perilous journey.


Taken from “The Historical Nevada Magazine” and written by Terri Sprenger-Farley



  1. Great story! And it makes me think my historical heroines aren’t so far out there, after all.

  2. Isabel Roman says:

    I agree with Susan. Out heroines aren’t so ‘modern’ after all. They’re genuine historical women trying to get by like everyone else.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Oh, is there more? I want to know what happened to her!

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