Sarah Bowman lived an outrageous life. Everyone agrees on that. But, for some reason, perhaps because of the salacious nature of her true life story, she has escaped greater fame.
Here's the weird part: Calamity Jane and Belle Starr were also women of "ill repute" but they have been featured in numerous books and movies. Perhaps it's Sarah's handle: The Great Western (she was nicknamed after the largest steamship in the world at the time). Is it a weak handle? Too generic? Or, what?
History has shunned Sarah as well. Most young—okay, male—historians who first stumble upon the Sarah Bowman story, go crazy for her, but when they try to publish something on her, the doors quietly close. A well-known Tombstone historian confided to me recently he wrote one of his first papers on her but when he submitted it—this was in the 1960s—a woman at the Arizona Historical Society told him they were not interested in promoting the life of a "scandalous whore."
Granted, there is a fine, but small, biography of Sarah done by the historian Brian Sandwich, which combines all the known scholarship. But that's it. No big bios on her, or even fictional accounts of her life.
Well, myself and The Top Secret Writer are out to change that, or at least challenge it. Paul Andrew Hutton has written a light-hearted, but accurate account of her crazy-amazing life that will appear in the September issue of True West. One of the challenges I face in portraying her visually, is that to do so accurately, puts her right on the line (both figuratively and literally). There are no known photographs of her, which may be part of the reason no one knows about her.
That's Over The Line!
I have lived most of my professional life right on the line, and, by that, I mean as a life-long cartoonist, a radio "personality," and as a publisher, I am very fond of going right up to the line, dancing around it, faking like I might take a step across the line, but at the last second retracting it.
So, last Tuesday we were in our Design Review and one of our staffers had an issue with how I had portrayed Sarah Bowman on the splash page (and I knew in terms of being risque, it was close to the line). The staffer expressed concern that our readers might mistake that dark shadow underneath her gunbelts for her privates. In other words: is this illustration over the line?