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Monday, 03 August 2009 02:30


In the Feb. 23, 2008 issue of the Gazette Joe Wertz had an excellent story about "And Satan Came Also ...", a book that blew open the seamier side of Oklahoma City's early days when women like Big Anne Wynn ruled over brothel and gambling empires virtually unchallenged. Because Gazette stories are never published in full online, we quickly contacted The Gazette about getting permission to reprint the story. We received that permission and hoped to get an electronic version of the story to repost.

The electronic document never arrived, so forgive us if it took us a while to retype the entire story for posting below. In the process of doing so, we've added a few notes to add detail where needed and some images of our own.

big anne


In turn-of-the-century Oklahoma City, economic development revolved around drinking, scuffling and whoring. One former city official penned a story of that side of the city's life civic ballyhooers never advertise ... and still don't.

If she wasn't the first to run a whorehouse in Oklahoma City, Big Anne was certainly one of the most successful.

She was a shrewd businesswoman who controlled and colluded with the city's thieves, gamblers, drunkards, prostitutes and shady dealmakers.

Audacious and charming, Big Anne was also popular with important businessmen and civic leaders, and her fat pocketbook easily earned her favors with both clerks and politicians, ensuring that bond money and court testimony were hastily available when she ran into the law.

Her two brothels were both in downtown OKC - one in an area dubbed "Hell's Half Acre" by civic leader and former city manager Albert L. McRill. The arrogant underworld, as he called it, once filled with gamblers, prostitutes and hordes of toughs, is one replaced by swanky hotels, convention centers and Bricktown bars.

McRill was also a law professor, politicans, church leader, Sunday-school teacher, prohibitionist and an author. Although you won't find this colorful history printed in tourism brochures, McRill catalogued it all in his 1955 book, And Satan Came Also. He hoped his effort would save the city from vice and crime and prove that neither politics nor people change.

Welcome to hell.

Anne was one of more than a dozen children born to an Illinois family in 1863. At 17, she and another girl left home on a stagecoach and set off for Leadville, a rough and lawless mining town in Colorado. She married a saloon keeper, and set to work, honing her craft by running a brothel.

About seven years later, her first husband gave her the boot and a considerable sum of money. She soon married again, this time to a skinny man named Wynn, and on the day of the Land Run of 1889, she came to Oklahoma City and pitched her tent near what is now E.K. Gaylord Boulevard.

Big Anne, as she later became known, was an attractive, militant (blonde) of commanding size and presence, who paired a fashionable, well-dressed elegance on the street with much less refined and more brazen behavior in her role as a brothel owner, McRill noted.

hell map

The first brothel Big Anne ran was at the corner of N Walker Avenue and W Second Street, or what is now Robert S. Kerr Avenue, several blocks northwest of Hell's Half Acre.

Largely located where the Cox Convention Center now resides, the area was filled with saloons, brothels and gambling parlors. Some like the Red Onion operated by Daisy Clayton, and Lizzie Long's nearby Vendome, situated close to where the Sheraton and Renaissance hotels are today, were notorious, disreputable dives.

This red-light district was Big-Anne's empire. Robert S. Kerr Avenue was known as Harlots' Lane, and the land that is now occupied by the Oklahoma City Museum of art, a Bank of America and office suite, once hosted dens of sin.

The Arlington was a low-key and quiet brothel for those seeking seclusion and privacy. It was associated with Big Anne, but presided over by madam McDonald, who told police the brotel was especially conducted to accommodate married ladies, who want to meet their gentleman friends while their husbands are away from home, according to McRill's book.

On the north side of Harlots' Lane, McRill also wrote about Noah's Ark, a rambling, weather-beaten shack that maintained a reputation as the wildest venue on the strip.

Next to The Arlington and across from Noah's Ark was Big Anne's Place, which completed the triangle of the most infamous bawdy houses. Big Anne's was part brothel, dance-hall and saloon. By 1903, however, the city's winds shifted under constant pressure from ambitious politicians and newspaper editorials, bolstered by a series of crimes that gave foothold to those vying for virtue.


A crime wave gripped the city in 1901 and 1902, erupting a feud between city officials and county law enforcement.

Citizen complaints about the county cops reached a boiling point in the summer of 1901. The outrage was routed to the City Council, which announced slot machines would be barred unless the deputies started producing more fines.

The police judge insisted fines were being levied at record levels, but while the debate with the council raged, county attorney Dick Taylor ordered the county sheriff to shut down the slot machines and crack down on saloon regulations. An editorial by The Daily Oklahoman questioned the sudden spasm of virtue from the county attorney, who countered in his reply it will continue as long as conditions which have come to pass in the city continue.

The city and county officials squabbled over who was to blame for the crime surge, and Taylor lost the 1902 election to Ralph Ramer, a Republican whose first official act was to file charges against Big Anne and shut down her empire. A temporary injunction was filed to close her brothel, and court testimony alleged that two servant girls were drugged and dragged to Big Anne's, where they were raped.

Anne and two of the city's most notorious gamblers - including Big George Garrison - were charged with the rape.

(STEVE'S NOTE: The alleged rapes were covered extensively by The Daily Oklahoman in February and March of 1903. The two "innocent German girls" were talked by an uncle into going into Big Anne's Place, according to the reports, and were then given "doped" beer. Two strong, brutal men, whose names are unknown, seized plaintiff by force dragged her into a room in said building, disrobed her and, against her will, and while she screamed and pled for mercy and relief, by violence forced her to have unlawful intercourse with them for her shame and irreparable damage, one report stated).

Garrison was convicted, while Big Anne was released. Chief Justice J.H. Burford gave Garrison 10 years in the state penitentiary, and Anne was freed after testifying that the city all but endorsed her brothel. How was Big Anne able to run a house of prostitution and a bar without a permit? By paying off the cops, of course. In her testimony, she revealed that each month she paid a police officer $26 for her brothel, and each prostitute paid the officer $10.

Even more embarrassing was the revelation that in 14 years as the proprietor of the whorehouse, Big Anne had only paid one small fine in the police court, McRill noted.

Hell Bent

Big Anne's testimony spurred harsh reactions from the public, as well as from city and county officials eager to place blame and find ways to clean up Hell's Half Acre, Big Anne's empire and any establishment that harbored drinkers, gamblers or tawdry behavior.

Oklahoma City Mayor Lee Van Winkle ordered the arrest of prostitutes, madams and anyone leasing property for such use. Saloons were to stop serving at midnight, and anyone engaging in gambling would be arrested. Business owners ignored the efforts to the outrage of city police and nothing really changed.

It was an election year in 1904, and Van Winkle and other city Democrats had a good reputation. Despite the city's efforts and public commitments to cleaning up the town, Democrats received backing from the powerful Big Anne and most of the city's saloon keepers, gamblers and madams.

During a speech, a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union interrupted to ask R.M. Campbell, the Democratic nominee for county attorney, what he was going to do to stop gambling and vice. "I'll prosecute ... to the limit ... anybody else who violates the law," he replied.

The following day, four of the city's biggest gamblers paid Campbell a visit, ascertained the quote's validity, and severed their support of the Democratic ticket.

Van Winkle stepped down in the spring of 1905, and the days became numbered for both Big Anne and Hell's Half Acre.

Henry Scales

Charles Post

Flying Squadron

Two years later, Henry M. Scales took over as mayor of Oklahoma City, bringing with him Police Chief Charles Post, a man determined to crack down on gambling and impose morality on the city.

Post organized the Flying Squadron, a police force tasked with raiding clubs and saloons to check for signs of gambling. At first the squadron didn't find much on its raids - gamblers scurried down back stairways, and betting devices were taken up secret stairwells and hidden on the roof. But the police onslaught was tenacious, wearing on day and night.

When the first injunction was levied on her brothel along Harlot's Lane, Big Anne opened up a new venture in what is now present-day Bricktown, approximately where the former home of Mango's nightclub is and just east of the Hampton Inn (actual address was 312 E Grand).

Around 2 a.m. on Aug. 27, 1907, a fire erupted at Big Anne's new two-story brothel. Three women and a man died in the blaze. A coroner's jury argued murder had preceded the fire, and the brothel was set ablaze after the killings. Big Anne was arrested.

(STEVE'S NOTE: Additional details from Ron Owens' book Oklahoma Justice: The bordello was at 312 E Grand and caught fire at 2 a.m. on Aug. 27, 1907 while Big Anne was seen dining at The Southern Club.)

After pleading not guilty to murder and arson charges, Big Anne was imprisoned for the first significant time in her more than 18 years of above-the-law activity in the city. This time, no community leaders rushed to pay her $18,500 bond, and none of her connections came to her aid.

Big Anne had her pet parrot delivered from its home at The Arlington to the jail to keep her company. The jail windows were near those of the courtroom, and the bird squawked so much that it disturbed nearby jurors and had to be removed.

The parrot crooned "damn it" as the bailiff carried it down the alley back to its home at the brothel.

When Big Anne's trial started May 19, 1908, the portly (blond) defendant was dressed in a black skirt and white shirtwaist, McRill wrote. One hundred and fifty witnesses were subpoenaed to testify to the charges against her, but the state failed to make its case and the charges against her were dropped.

(More additional details from Oklahoma Justice: Seven months after the fire at 312 E Grand, Fannie Ritchey, one of Anne's former courteseans, alleged the madam had conspired with one of her customers to rob and murder another of the bordello's patrons. In this report, the body had been dumped in the North Canadian River bed, which at that time crossed Grand by where Byers is now, and Anne had gone to The Southern Club to establish an alibi while Judge Peters had set fire to the scene of the crime. Ritchey's story did not sway jurors. Big Anne had spent $75,000 fighting the charges).

Although she was victorious, Big Anne's spirit was broken and her wealth squandered on legal fees and costs. She sold her furniture at The Arlington, the private subdued brothel that stood in the middle of what was once her empire. She moved to Los Angeles where she lived for a few years before dying in her mid-40s.

Big Anne, Hell's Half Acre and all the drinking, scuffling and whoring that went on in early Oklahoma City are, as McRill pointed out, "stories of that side of a city's life civic ballyhooers never advertise." They are, he argues, parts of a Western life that when combined with clowning politicians, fill an exciting drama ... with plenty of comedy and not a little tragedy.

The Vice Era

The Players:

- Big Anne Wynn: One of the most notorious and well-liked madams in Oklahoma City, Big Anne Wynn was a brash sensation in her bawdy house along Harlots' Lane and a fashionable, wealthy and connected businesswoman who had many friends and patrons among the city's civic and political leaders. She was big both in personality and appearance, and, likewise, her wallet, which made up for her sins and ensured favor in city stores and among politicians.

- Big George Garrison: A big-shot gambler, Big George Garrison was charged with raping one of two drugged girls at Big Anne's Place. Garrison had a fat, red face, according to The Daily Oklahoman, and sat impassively through his trial in April 1903, wiping away sweat and fanning himself with his hat. In May, Garrison was convicted of the rape and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

- The Flying Squadron: Shortly after becoming mayor in the spring of 1907, Henry M. Scales, along with Police Chief Charles Post, decided to get tough on city vice, and a police task force dubbed the Flying Squadron was formed. The Team raided clubs, saloons and brothels, kicking down doors to look for signs of gambling or lurking to discover sounds of chip clicking and other evidence of illegal activity. The squadron was relentless, and raids went on day and night, forcing many saloons and bawdy houses to close down.

- The Madams: Even before Oklahoma was a state, brothels and bawdy houses were at the center of city life. Madam Daisy Clayton's Red Onion and Lizzie Long's Vendrome were the stars of the show in and around Hell's Half Acre, an area of the city now occupied by the Cox Convention Center, Sheraton and Renaissance hotels.

North of where the Oklahoma City Museum of Art stands was West Second Street, which is now Robert S. Kerr Avenue. Around the turn of the century, this was Harlots Lane, where Big Anne Wynne ruled the roost alongside other women like madam McDonald, who ran The Arlington.

The Arlington, McDonald bragged to the police, was an establishment where young men and women could find a secluded place where will not be recognized, according to McRill's book And Satan Came Also ...



Last Updated on Saturday, 15 October 2011 22:52