On a recent road trip across the West I found myself passing through Leadville, Colorado, elevation 10,152 feet—the highest incorporated city in the U.S. Now a quiet little burg inhabited mostly by mountain climbers, cross-country skiers, and hipsters, Leadville still shows traces of what it must have been in its heyday during the 1880s, when it was a bustling silver mining center with a population of 40,000, the second largest city in the state after Denver. The nightlife of nineteenth-century Leadville, with its numerous bars and its “French” section of town boasting a legion of prostitutes, has dwindled to a few bedraggled watering holes, including a well-preserved saloon with memorabilia celebrating famous inhabitants like Doc Holliday, the Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Baby Doe Tabor.

I was astounded when a local history buff in the saloon informed me that in 1882 the...


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