The Extreme History Project presents: Race and the Wild West: Sarah Bickford, The Montana Vigilantes...
Time & Location
About the Event
February 25 – 6pm – Laura Arata – Race and the Wild West: Sarah Bickford, The Montana Vigilantes, and the Tourism of Decline, 1870-1930 (Sponsored by ARCHtrio). CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE ZOOM PRESENTATION. Born a slave in eastern Tennessee, Sarah Bickford arrived in Montana Territory in the aftermath of the Civil War, and in the wake of a deadly episode of Vigilante violence that dramatically shaped the politics of Virginia City. After surviving an abusive marriage, a divorce, and the devastating loss of three children in the space of just a decade, Sarah remarried and entered a new chapter in her life in which she eventually became sole owner of the Virginia City Water Company and thus the first African American female public utilities owner in the nation. But it was another decision that imprinted her most lasting legacy on the town she called home for more than sixty years—the deliberate preservation of a key piece of Vigilante history and active promotion of tourism based on their legend of enforcing frontier justice. Known as “the Hangman’s Building” today, this monument to a famous quintuple lynching remains a top-draw tourist attraction because Sarah, an African American woman, had the foresight and determination to save it. Rather than shying away from what it represented, Sarah Bickford energetically promoted a version of Vigilante legend that left indelible impressions on the history of Montana. Laura J. Arata is Assistant Professor of History and Director of Public History at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Her research specializations include race and gender in the American West, popular and material culture, historic preservation, and oral history. Her publications have appeared in Montana: The Magazine of Western History and the Pacific Northwest Quarterly, and in edited collections on the Hanford History Project in Washington State. She discovered Sarah Bickford’s story while attending a Public History Field School in Virginia City; Race and the Wild West is her first monograph.