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Race and the Wild West

Sarah Blair Bickford was born a slave in eastern Tennessee in 1852, the exact date of her birth is unknown. Her childhood is linked to some cruel conditions although according to the author’s research, Sarah had the opportunity to have some training and experiences other slave girls may not have had. She learned to read by attending church with her owner. After the Civil War was over, the country was being consumed by feelings of racism. When other African Americans thought about their future and opportunities they selected Montana as their future home. For unknown reasons, Sarah decided to join the group. She was eight years old and considered as mulatto. There was another girl named Sarah, who was three. It is unclear which Sarah was the person of the intense study and this book. After research and the passage of time, it is believed the three year old Sarah is the subject.

Montana was undergoing a massive boom of mining. Virginia City was the center. There were as in most cases, good and hard working men were being challenged by those who simply wanted the earnings of the hard working. As in most communities, race relations were primary concerns, the Afri can Americans. been associated with the white for many years. The Chinese were recent imports to seek the mining challenges. Called “Chinaman” there was a constant clash among the other races. The Mexicans seemed to accept those difficulties.

Sarah married twice before she found success in dealing with nearly all races found in Montana. Before Sarah established herself as a successful business owner, she was twice married, both times to white men. The first was to John Brown, an Irish immigrant and for the next ten years, she was known as Mrs. Sally Brown. She was not yet twenty years old and could have been as young as sixteen. Why she married him is unknown, but he was very cruel and abusive. A year after her marriage in 1873, she gave birth to her daughter, Eva. As the years passed, Sarah had several more children, but not all lived. She went to work for J.B. Laurin, known for crossing racial lines when the situation involved women. Sarah divorced John Brown and soon began a restaurant and boarding house.

The Vigilantes began as a group of citizens wanting to maintain and make Virginia City, a model city of the West. As usual when unlicensed people try to enforce the law and even attempt to hang offenders, trouble arises. Such was with the Vigilantes. Sarah did not join them, but was considered a friend. When the Vigilantes convicted and hanged a person, it occurred in “The Hangman’s Building” which became a tourist attraction. Sarah maintained it and the building became a tourist attraction having racial meanings.

Sarah Bickford lived and died being a model mother, business woman and a spirit for racial equality. Her efforts and life have been ignored by historians and the racial equity seekers. Laura J. Arat deserves a giant thank you from history professors and even elementary school teachers for providing an excellent biography. The book is 304 pages, 6X9 inches, 12 BXW illustrations, a superior and Index and Bibliography, This excellent book can be ordered from the University of Oklahoma Press. Contact 405-325-3200 for more infomration. This will be a jewel when used.

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