The Life of “Belgian Jennie” Bauters
On the morning of September 3, 1905 “Belgian Jennie” Bauters was murdered in the streets of Acme, AZ 23 miles outside of Kingman. During our Ghost Walk on Tour B, you’ll watch the intense scene play out in the streets, just like it had over 100 years ago.
But in death, we must also celebrate life, and Jennie Bauters was one notorious woman for her Wild West times.
Jennie Bauters, or “Belgian Jennie” as her neighbors in Jerome called her, was born in 1862 in Belgium. When she was 20, she gave birth to a son called Joseph Phillipe on August 26, 1882. When Joseph was 14, Jennie knew they needed a life somewhere only she could make. So, the two climbed a boat called the Obdam and arrived on Ellis Island on July 6, 1896. Their destination was Chicago.
3 months in, however, Jennie needed more. Leaving her son with nuns at the St. Ignatius School in Chicago, Jennie hopped on a train to Jerome, Arizona. Jerome, at the time, was a mining boom-town, and Jennie knew exactly where she belonged there. As soon as she arrived, records show she took out $1,000 to buy 3 lots on Block 11 and later owned an extra 3 lots on Block 1. She then opened a Brothel and Saloon on East Main Street.
These businesses were highly successful. In fact, Jennie was the only woman that owned a saloon in Jerome. It is thought that she learned her tactful “people” and business skills while in Belgium, but Jennie knew better than to share her secrets. Her girls made almost as much as the town’s miners did, although she always did collect her share. Melanie Sturgeon, the author of “‘Belgian Jennie” Bauters: Mining-Town Madam’, wrote, “Contemporary newspapers celebrated Jennie Bauters as a gutsy, kind-hearted companion of lonely miners. Public records reveal her as an astute businesswoman and property owner” (pg 359).
With all this success, Jennie knew she had to protect herself. On November 27, 1897, Jennie registered a Separate Property document with the Yavapai County Recorder’s Office. Under the Registration of Separate Property of Married Women Act, this protected Jennie’s full property from a husband.
But Jennie wasn’t married. Was this perhaps to protect her and her son from a past husband she may have left behind in Belgium? That is yet a mystery to be solved.
3 days later, she made a will stating that her son, Joseph, was her sole heir to all her properties. A month later she would lose almost everything.
On Christmas Eve of 1897, a thrown lamp caught fire in a neighboring building. With the Jerome buildings made of feeble wood, the fire spread and victimized an estimated 10 businesses, including Jennie’s brothel. Jennie lost $5,500 worth of property (about $100,000 today) and insurance only covered $900.
These businesses obviously had to rebuild. During the rebuilding, however, another tragedy struck. On September 11, 1898, a fire caught and the first building burst into flames. 200 buildings were destroyed, 5 lives were lost, and Jennie Bauters lost everything. She was one of many that dotted the hills with tents as Jerome struggled to rebuild yet again.
On April 21, 1899, another fire destroyed Jennie’s house and she lost $2500 worth of property.
“Belgian Jennie” Bauters would not give up and she did rebuild, and quickly. Her buildings were made of stone, and much more fire-proof than before. In the next 3 years, however, Jennie became lost in the crimes and violence of Jerome and decided to leave.
Fast-forward to 1903. Jennie moved to Gold Road, or Acme, Arizona. Acme was just 23 miles outside of Kingman and it was a new boom-town she could sink her teeth into. She opened a saloon and primitive brothel. Life was starting fresh for Jennie Bauters when she met Clement Leigh, or Clem as we know him today.
Clement Leigh would be her final doom.
Want to know the end of “Belgium Jennie” Bauters and her quarrelsome lover? Make sure to buy tickets for Beale Street Theater’s Ghost Walk Tour B. You can buy your ticket at bealestreettheater.com/tickets or go to the ArtHub at 402 E. Beale St. in Kingman. We hope to see you ghosties there.
Sturgeon, M. (2007). “Belgian Jennie” Bauters: Mining-Town Madam. The Journal of Arizona History, 48(4), 349-374. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/41697076?read-now=1&seq=10#page_scan_tab_contents