Born a slave in eastern Tennessee, Sarah Bickford made her way while still a teenager to Montana Territory, where she settled in the mining boomtown of Virginia City.
Historian and author Laura J. Arata will discuss her full-length biography about Bickford on Friday, June 10, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. The free talk will begin at noon in the Coe Auditorium, followed by book signing at Points West Market.
Arata’s book is titled “Race and the Wild West: Sarah Bickford, the Montana Vigilantes, and the Tourism of Decline, 1870–1930.” The author used Bickford’s life story as a window into the dynamics of race in the rural West.
Before establishing herself as a successful business owner, Bickford was married twice — both times to white men. Her first husband, an Irish immigrant, physically abused her until she divorced him in 1881. In 1883, she married Stephen Bickford. Upon his death, she inherited his shares of the Virginia City Water Co., acquiring sole ownership in 1917.
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For the final decade of her life, Bickford actively preserved and promoted a historic Virginia City building best known as