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PORTER, FANNIE

PORTER, FANNIE (1873–?). Fannie Porter, madam, was born in England in February 1873 and the next year moved to the United States, presumably with her parents. When the Wild Bunch, led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, rode into her life at the end of the 1800s, she was widowed and running a thriving brothel in San Antonio's Second Ward. It was at the corner of Durango and South San Saba in a house dating from 1883, which still stood in the early 1990s. From 1880 to 1902 she was mentioned off and on in city directories. Her establishment was known in the language of the day as a "boarding house." It was home to five women in 1900, ranging in age from nineteen to twenty-four. Because of the nature of the business, the turnover was rapid. It was here that the beautiful Etta Place first met Harry Longabaugh, also known as the Sundance Kid, and that Harvey Logan, also known as Kid Curry, met Annie Rogers. When the Wild Bunch rode out of San Antonio for the last time in 1901, Fannie faded from the scene. But during her heyday she ran an operation-with the connivance of city officials and local lawmen-that boasted a carpeted parlor, fine glass fixtures, and silk sheets; chilled champagne was served to special customers. Fannie was well-connected but hardly untouchable where the law was concerned. In the late 1880s she had a city arrest record for "vagrancy," which was usually a legal euphemism for prostitution. Much of what is known about Madam Porter is a combination of legend and conjecture, including the story that she was born in New Orleans. Wild Bunch historian James D. Horan, who brought her to the attention of modern readers, is primarily responsible for the spurious legend that Fannie Porter's Sporting House was located in Fort Worth. Here, according to the popular story, Butch Cassidy made his famous bicycle ride up and down the unpaved street in front of Fannie's. In truth, Fort Worth had its own well-known Madam Porter during these same years, but her name was Mary Porter. The two were unrelated except by profession, and Fannie Porter never lived in Fort Worth. Horan provides the only personal description of Fannie, describing her as "a hard, shrewd woman...well known to the law. More than once she had chased an officer from her place with a broom." William Pinkerton, founder of the famous detective agency, came down to interview her during the manhunt for the Wild Bunch in 1901. Her "sporting house" had served as a rest stop, hideout, rendezvous, and headquarters for the Wild Bunch and other outlaws for several years. She liked Pinkerton because he "treated her like a lady." A photograph of Fannie in the Pinkerton archives shows a formidable-looking, buxom woman dressed to the nines. The last time the Wild Bunch is known to have visited Fannie's place was in February 1901, between the bank jobs at Winnemucca, Nevada, and Wagner, Montana. She apparently threw a going-away party for the gang members, who scattered to the four winds after that. Legend has it that Fannie died in a car accident in El Paso years later.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

James D. Horan, Desperate Men: Revelations from the Sealed Pinkerton Files (New York: Putnam, 1949). James D. Horan and Paul Sann, Pictorial History of the Wild West (New York: Crown, 1954). James D. Horan, The Wild Bunch (New York: Signet, 1958). Richard F. Selcer, Hell's Half Acre: The Life and Legend of a Red Light District (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1991).

Richard F. Selcer

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Richard F. Selcer, "PORTER, FANNIE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpo51), accessed August 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.