November 30, 2016
I've decided that The Great Western will be my next book. I can't believe no one has fleshed her out into a full story. True the record is a little thin, and it is true several authors (Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy) have appropriated the concept of her into other story lines. Some of it, no doubt, is because there are no known photos of her, but that plays right into my strengths, or, at least, to my advantage.
Daily Whip Out: "The Great Western In Distress"
I have a hunch I can capture her visage, if not her complexities.
Daily Whip Out: "Sarah In Shadow"
My boon companion, Paul Andrew Hutton, has forwarded me a couple chapters that he had to cut for space from his best seller, "The Apache Wars." Here's a good example, as we pick up the story with U.S. troops being withdrawn from Arizona in 1861 because of the Civil War:
As the troops departed on July 23 they torched the fort [Buchanan] and all the supplies
they had left behind. Even Paddy Graydon was not allowed any government
goods, for orders were orders, and it was the desire of the government to destroy
property rather than turn it over to the citizens of Arizona. In some ways the
government feared the citizens, and their secessionist sympathies, more than the
Apaches. Moore’s orders from Lynde instructed him to have his men march with
weapons loaded and not allow any citizens to approach his column.
“Well, this country is going to the devil with railroad speed,” reported
Thompson Turner from Tucson on July 17. “Secessionists on one side and
Apaches on the other will bring us speedily to the issue, and the issue will be
absence or death.”
The game was up, and the Americans along the Sonoita and Santa Cruz packed up and left their
fields. Johnny Ward [Mickey Free's step father] took his family into Tucson.
Even old Elias Pennington brought his brood north. Bill Kirkland sold his Canoa ranch in
early July and headed to California. The new occupants at Canoa were
slaughtered by the Apaches two weeks later. Tubac, besieged by a large Coyotero
Apache war party, was soon abandoned. Most of the Mexican mine and ranch
workers fled south to Sonora. To make matters worse a large party of Mexican
bandits came north to loot the abandoned mines and ranches. Only Sylvester
Mowry, with a hundred heavily armed men, held out at his Patagonia mine.
Charles Poston, with Raphael Pumpelly and a black servant, also finally gave
up on his Arizona dream and headed for Yuma. Poston was struck by the
lonesome sound of cocks crowing on the deserted farms as smoke from the
burning wheat fields filled the sky. “It was sad to leave the country that had cost
so much money and blood in ruins, but it seemed to be inevitable,” Poston later
wrote, “but the greatest blow was the destruction of our hopes – not so much of
making money as of making a country.”
The largest exodus from the “Purchase” was led by old Grundy Ake and his
friend William Wadsworth. Driving all the cattle of the Sonoita with them they
reached Tubac on July 20. With them was Sarah Bowman. Paddy Graydon had
decided to abandon Casa Blanca, for there was no longer any clientele to
purchase the services he and the Great Western provided. She sent her girls
south to Sonora and parted with the eastbound Graydon. She was going west.
The Great Western traveled with the Ake-Wadsworth wagon train to
Tucson but then headed back to the Yuma crossing. They made it safely and she
and Albert Bowman were soon well established in their old house on the Arizona
side of the Colorado River.
Daily Whip Out: "The Young Sarah Brava Comes Into Focus"
Poston and Pumpelly arrived at Yuma to find Sarah back in business. They
boarded with her and Pumpelly, later to be a famous explorer and Harvard
professor, was mesmerized. “Our landlady, known as the ‘Great Western,’ no
longer young, was a character of a varied past,” he wrote in his memoir. “Her
relations with the soldiers were of two kinds. One of these does not admit of
analysis; the other was angelic, for she was adored by the soldiers for bravery in
the field and for her unceasing kindness in nursing the sick and wounded.” The
eastern dude watched this magnificent woman’s every movement “as with quiet
native dignity, she served our simple meal. She was a lesson in the complexity of
Daily Whip Out: "The Great Western at Yuma Crossing"
California volunteers soon flooded into Fort Yuma to prepare to march east
against the Confederates. Sarah once again did a booming business. Lieutenant
Edward Tuttle was suitably impressed. “She was a splendid example of the
American frontier woman,” he gushed. He was also impressed that she had been
awarded “rations for life” by the Fourth Infantry. Those rations did not continue
for long. Sarah died on December 23, 1866 at Fort Yuma in her fifty-third year,
the victim of the bite of a tarantula spider. They buried her in the Fort Yuma
cemetery, where the soldiers fired a salute over her grave. She was the only
woman buried there amidst all the soldiers. In 1890 the bodies at the abandoned
post cemetery were exhumed and reburied at the Presidio in San Francisco. Her
grave above San Francisco Bay has the same simple white marker reserved for all
the soldiers of the republic.
—Paul Andrew Hutton
"Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough."