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Knowing Nevada: Killing the Queen of the Comstock

The only known photo of Julia C. Bulette. Courtesy: Nevada Historical Society.
The only known photo of Julia C. Bulette. Courtesy: Nevada Historical Society.
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Two years after the end of the Cvil War, it was a cold January morning in Virginia City. The town wasn't as populated as it once was during the mining boom. The year was 1867 and Julia Bulette, one of the most famous women during that time period, was supposedly alone at her home.

Both her maid and her friend, Gertude Holmes, found her, laying in her bedroom, strangled and bludgeoned to death.

When the town heard of her body being found, the entire population went into mourning. The stores were closed, the flags at half-staff, and the local fire department rang their bells in her honor.

It was clear, Julia Bulette left an impact one of the most prosperous towns in the entire territory and soon to be state.

Questions still remain today: why was she killed and what exactly cemented her place in Nevada's history?

Who was Julia Bulette?

Born in London, England in 1832 and raised in the swamps of Louisiana, 'Julie' grew up with a pioneer spirit. By the time she reached her early twenties, she travelled west to parts of San Francisco, Sacramento and other mining areas throughout California.

Those who've written about Julie say she always helped people with care and took charge of situations involving people in danger.

It wasn't until the age of twenty-seven when Julie finally made her last stop to Virginia City, NV. Miners admired her, that's because it wasn't common to find a single women around the Comstock lode. History books say she was tall, beautiful and had a personality that could 'pack a punch'.

With her ever-growing spirit for adventure, she felt it was time to make a decent living. She rented out a small place on the corner of D and Union streets, near the Boston Saloon, and took up sex work. However, this cottage would soon be turned into one of the most written about brothels in western history.

Bulette's Palace

Her cottage served as both her home and her office. Living along the entertainment row, her place was quite popular with miners. Other groups of 'streetwalkers' or 'pious women' could not compete with her services.

Yet, it wasn't all just sexually explicative. Bulette served the Comstock in ways that held great privilege.

Once, the drinking water on the Comstock went rotten. It was contaminated with lead. She and several of her friends, helped save hundreds and thousands of lives by nursing them back to health.

Her volunteer-ship did not stop there.

She had been known to help out during flu epidemics, serve soup to those that were out on the streets from over-crowding in the town, and most importantly, nobody was surprised when you would see ole' Julie holding and pressing down on the water pump to help out the local firemen.

Becoming 'Queen Julie'

Julie became an honorary member of the Virginia Engine Number 1 fire battalion. Historians say she was close with the first Fire Chief Thomas Pressley and she was 'one of his sweethearts'.

To put the brain-to-brass, on July 4th, 1861, she was elected as the Queen of the Independence Day Parade, and road on a fire truck through town wearing a fireman’s hat and carrying a brass fire trumpet filled with roses.

In the only known photo of her, she can be seen with a fire engine hat to her right and a large belt buckle wrapped around her waist.

Who Murdered Julia Bulette?

That question ran with the headlines of the Territorial Enterprise the morning of January 20th, 1867.

Her funeral was held that very next day. The news clipping, of her obituary in Territorial Enterprise, wrote Julia was “being of a very kind-hearted, liberal, benevolent and charitable disposition. Few of her class had more true friends.” Some believe Mark Twain wrote that himself.

She is still buried at Flowery Hill cemetery, which can only be reached by taking a rough mile-long hike near the Virginia City hillsides.

Throughout 1867, the search still continued for her killer.

Julia was by no means a wealthy women. However, deputies realized some belongings had been missing from her bedroom.

One report says a sex worker by the name of Martha Camp was threated by a French drifter named John Millian. He held a knife towards her and Camp's scream caused him to flee. Camp recognized Millian on the street a short time after the previous encounter. He was immediately put in cuffs and taken to the county jail.

Another report says a local fabric-worker overheard two men discussing the violent events that lead to Bulette's murder. Millian's named had been dropped into the conversation.

While behind bars, deputies recovered several pieces of Julia Bulette's belongings in Millian's possession.

Millian confessed. However, during his trial his attorney says two other men were involved and asked him to keep her belongings.

He was sent to execution by hanging on April 24, 1868. It took place near (what we know today as) Gieger Grade. Roughly three to four-thousand people were in attendance, some say even Mark Twain was there, to watch Millian hang from the gallows.

Today, Julia's name can be found throughout Virginia City. Many of the plaques you see are dedicated by the infamous Clampers of the Julia C. Bulette Chapter - E. Clampus Vitus.

Those who write, remember, and talk about the dearly departed Queen, say her pioneer spirit still lives on in the women who trailblaze Nevada history.

Knowing Nevada is a historical heritage series that highlights some of the interesting, unknown, and known, tales about the state of Nevada. This series is researched and put together by our own native Nevadan, Miles Buergin. If you have any suggestions for our next Knowing Nevada, please e-mail him at:

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