Ash Meadows Sky Ranch
“We were six prostitutes in a ranch house in the middle of the desert, isolated from the rest of the world, screwing frustrated and horny men for money. That was our life and as far as we were concerned it was as normal as Rice Krispies.” -Vickie Star, brothel owner
Vickie Star’s is a story of a woman who moved west from her Missouri farming upbringing and eventually ended up owning two separate Nevada brothels before retiring to live off of the money she saved from her years in the business.
Born to a Garrison, Missouri family in 1923, at age 16 Vickie received an invitation from her older sister to move into her apartment in San Francisco. Once in San Francisco, she enrolled in school to become a nun, but soon dropped out. A year later, while working at a donut shop, she met a regular customer, a well-known pimp, and soon took a bus to Reno, Nevada to get married.
Vickie, by her own decision, soon found herself working as a prostitute in a local house. During the World War II era, western houses existed in a legal gray area where vice enforcement allowed some of them to exist provided they kept out of trouble and made payments in some form in exchange for looking the other way. However these relationships were capricious and often short-lived. Over the next few years, Star would work in houses from Merced and Delano in California’s Central Valley to Stockton and Vallejo to Klamath Falls, Oregon and as far north as Seattle.
In 1948, Star moved to Winnemucca, Nevada about 150 miles northeast of Reno to consider purchasing a legal brothel, believing that Nevada’s legal prostitution would allow her to work without worrying about the intrusion of the police. However she quickly learned that the sheriff owned one of the town’s brothels and would close other houses if he felt that business at his house was too slow.
While on a road trip back to California, Star learned of the Korean War and of the increase of nuclear testing in southern Nevada. She immediately changed course and drove to Beatty, Nevada, a town about 100 miles north of Las Vegas not far from Jackass Flats where the military housed its personnel and tested its nuclear weapons. Feeling that the conditions and location were conducive to operating a brothel, Star bought a trailer about 2 miles north of downtown Beatty and changed the name to Vickie’s Star Ranch.
Eventually, flooding of the Star Ranch and personal affairs would lead Star to move from Beatty and buy one more brothel, composed of separate buildings that served as a bar, kitchen and restaurant, a guest hotel and a cabin with several bedrooms a desolate corner of Nevada near the ghost town of Shoshone, California. The brothel had once been owned by famed and notorious brothel owner, Joe Conforte (under which it had been called the Jolly Dolly). Ash Meadows Sky Ranch also had a lighted dirt airstrip adjacent to the property, which allowed clientele to fly in to visit.
During Vickie’s ownership, the county eventually refused to issue a brothel license due to the cost of traveling out to the rural location to provide the girls’ weekly medical inspections. This would lead to the closure of the Sky Ranch, which would never reopen as a brothel. Star also took this opportunity to retire from owning and operating brothels. She retired to Northern California, where she lived until she passed away.
Vickie Star’s book, Death Valley Madam, can be purchased here.
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Between 1966 and 67, a writer named Edward Abbey would often spend his afternoons at the Ash Meadows Lodge bar during his mid-day breaks driving a yellow school bus to shuttle children from Furnace Creek in Death Valley to high school in the town of Shoshone working on his manuscript. The man recounted his days working a summer job as the sole ranger in the then-named Arches National Monument in Utah over the course of several seasons during the 1950’s. During these afternoons, Abbey would work on his book, Desert Solitaire, speaking with the women who worked the adjacent legal brothel that shared ownership with the lodge and saloon.
“While waiting, I scribbled… In January 1968, on a dark night in a back alley in the dead of winter, Solitaire was released from its cage and turned loose on an unsuspecting public,” Abbey would later explain the release of the book.
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