Women Of the Wild West

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Diamond Lil Davenport

 

Diamond Lil is portrayed by Leanne Landers

Honora Ornstein was born in Austria-Hungary in 1882 to a Jewish family. She also used the name Lilian Orinstein.  She became famous during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon before the turn of the century on the Pantages vaudeville circuit, where she was a star entertainer for the region's spendthrift "sourdough" gold seekers. A nearby gambling house owner said that Lil spent three or four years there. Her stage name, Diamond Tooth Lil, is based on her several diamond-inset dental fillings, including ones in her front and canine teeth. She also collected and wore other diamond-studded jewelry, including a white gold snake bracelet studded with 125 real diamonds that scaled the length of her arm.  Lil was also known to have come from a wealthy family prior to her time in the Klondike. Around 1908, she had moved to Seattle and was remembered for ostentatiously throwing money during a Klondikers' parade. Shortly before she divorced her last husband around 1928, she lived in an apartment she had purchased in Seattle and inherited $150,000 from her mother, equivalent to $2.14 million in 2017

 

Lil made newspaper headlines in 1936 when she was committed to Western State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Washington, and reported as near-death. By this time, she had sold the diamonds from her teeth but was thought to still have considerable wealth—only she was unable to speak and her relatives were not in contact. Her reputation limited the market for her jewelry collection, which she struggled to sell in the 1950s.  Lil's lawyer reported that her assets had been exhausted by 1961. After spending the remainder of her life in state institutions, Lil died in a Yakima, Washington, nursing home on June 18, 1975. She was buried in a simple grave and had no known relatives.  The New York Times remembered Lil as a "dance hall queen" and "the toast of the North".