The Real Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

Judge Roy BeanAny six-year-old boy can tell you that when it comes to cowboys, good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black hats. If that’s true, then the man who is the topic of today’s Campfire Chronicle story probably should have worn a gray hat. You may think you know a lot about one of the Old West’s most infamous characters, Judge Roy Bean, who declared himself to be “The Law West of the Pecos” . . . but when it comes to the real Judge Roy Bean, chances are that you don’t know Bean(s)!

They Said He Wouldn’t Amount to a Hill of Beans

Judge Roy BeanRoy Bean was born in Kentucky sometime around 1825. From an early age, it looked as if he wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. He came from a dirt-poor sharecropping family and Roy was a natural troublemaker. Now, trouble-making kids born to wealthy families might have been called mischievous, but trouble-making poor kids were called bad eggs . . . and, Roy Bean was a very bad egg. Throw in a hound dog and you’ve got the makings of a really fine Country and Western song!

Roy followed his older brothers westward when he was 15 and by 1847, he was living in Mexico. He beat a hasty retreat to San Diego, California after he shot and killed a man. There, his brother Joshua was serving as the first mayor. Roy enjoyed being related to such an upstanding member of society and all of the privileges it brought. But, when Joshua moved to Los Angeles, Roy’s privileges ended. So, when he shot a man in a duel, he found himself in jail. Lucky for Roy, he was an excellent digger and he managed to tunnel his way out in a mere two months.

Roy needed a fresh start and he found it in Texas. First, he settled in San Antonio and eventually he landed in Langtry where he secured his position in Western folklore. It was 1882 when Roy Bean first became known as Judge Roy Bean.

Langtry, Texas

Spill the Bean

Now it’s time to play a little game I like to call it “Spill the Bean!” It’s really just some fun facts about Judge Roy Bean, but you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty catchy title! Here we go:

  • The phrase “sober as a judge” did not apply to Judge Roy Bean. He was known as a heavy drinker. He even conducted court in a saloon he owned, The Jersey Lilly. He wasn’t even an actual a judge! At most, he was a Justice of the Peace, or perhaps more like a notary public with a flair for public relations.
  • Before he was a “judge” in Langtry, Roy Bean sold milk in San Antonio. Being a shrewd businessman, he knew that water was cheaper than milk and he started adding dirty creek water to the milk. When customers started finding minnows swimming in their milk, Roy was ready with an answer. He told them he would have to stop the cows from drinking out of the creek. That sounds logical!
  • Judge Bean never actually sentenced anyone to hang, even though he is sometimes confused with the “hanging judge,” Isaac Parker of Arkansas. Hollywood has always liked to play up his erroneous reputation as the hanging judge. He may not have hanged anyone, but he wasn’t above staging hangings, in order to scare criminals. These staged hangings were not terribly unlike the Wild West shows that can be seen on the streets of Six Flags. There were scripts and everything! This dramatization always ended with the prisoner managing to escape. He must have lost more “criminals” than Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show!”
  • Not only did Judge Bean not sentence anyone to hang, he never even sentenced anyone to the penitentiary. Instead, he used the prisoners as the town of Langtry’s own private workforce. It’s possible that he inspired the men in orange jumpsuits that pick up trash on the side of the roads, today! The town of Langtry didn’t even have a jail, so when a convicted criminal wasn’t working for the judge, he would find himself chained to a tree.

Judge Roy Bean

  • He ended all of his wedding ceremonies with the phrase, “and may God have mercy on your souls.”
  • Judge Bean wasn’t actually authorized to grant divorces, but that didn’t stop him from doing so. According to his way of thinking, if he could marry them, he could divorce them!
  • When he wasn’t operating his courtroom/saloon, Bean could also be found serving as coroner for the railroad.
  • In one of his more repugnant rulings, he freed a man who was accused of killing a Chinese rail worker. It wasn’t because the man was found not guilty; it was because Judge Bean said he wasn’t aware of a law making it a crime “to kill a Chinaman.”
  • There was a softer side to Judge Bean. He often used court fines to run his own welfare system for the poor of Langtry. Don’t tell anyone, because he would have hated it if word had gotten out, but he sometimes used his own private funds to buy medicine for the poor.
  • He enjoyed the story about how he fined a dead man $40, which happened to be the amount of money in the man’s pocket. That was true enough, but most people don’t realize that the money was used to cover the man’s funeral expenses.

Judge on His Own Merits

Judge Roy BeanJudge Roy Bean died in 1903 after a night of heavy drinking. It is said that he couldn’t stand the fact that he felt the world was passing him by. Construction was about to begin on a power plant that would bring electricity to the area. Time was marching on, but it would have to march on without him. He was buried in Del Rio, Texas. I would like to think the fascinating character that was neither all good guy nor all bad guy was buried in a gray hat!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

School Days of the 1800s

19th century schoolhouseAutumn is one of my favorite seasons—it easily makes it into the top four! I love the cooler temperatures, the changing leaves, and pumpkin EVERYTHING. I also love seeing the big yellow school buses driving down the road with seats full of young hostages, er, I mean students. It’s the time of the year when my great-grandfather’s voice comes back to me. I can hear him telling about walking five miles in a snowstorm to get to school, with cardboard lining his shoes to cover the holes. And I want to announce to those grim faces on the passing school bus that they don’t know how great they have it! So, in this edition of the Campfire Chronicle, I want to pay tribute to those rugged schoolchildren of the 1800s!

A Lot of Ground to Cover

19th century schoolhouseIn the 1800s, schools were set up to serve students within a five-mile radius. Why five miles? Because, true to Great-Grandpappy’s stories, five miles was considered to be walking distance. Here’ a math problem for you: If an average walking speed is 3 mph, how long did it take Johnny and Mary to walk 5 miles? The answer is: Too long!

Keep in mind that the children weren’t walking on paved roads. They were cutting across fields and walking on wagon trails. A fortunate child might have had the use of a horse, but, by and large, children hoofed it on their own two feet! Also, remember that school wasn’t cancelled for something as basic as pouring rain or a little snowstorm and that most children had already done morning chores before setting off for school.

Going Old School

19th century schoolhouse - interiorOf course we’re all familiar with the concept of a one-room schoolhouse. And, thanks to “Little House on the Prairie,” we’re all familiar with the fact that a one-room schoolhouse on Monday-Friday might well have been a church on Sundays. It’s sort of like the “cafegymatoriums” of today! One space could serve multiple purposes.

How large was that one room that held every young ‘un in a community? Most of them were about 20 feet by 30 feet. For most communities, that meant kindergarten through 8th grade, though poorer areas might only provide schooling through the third of fourth grade. The kindergarteners were called Abecedarians. That’s pronounced, “ay-bee-see-dair-ee-uns,” and it means exactly what you think it means—that they were there to learn their ABCs.

19th century schoolhouse - interior 2Several things were fairly consistent among one-room schoolhouses. There was always a large, slate blackboard at the front of the room. There was always a stove in the center of the room. And, the schoolhouses were always hot when the weather was hot and cold when the weather was cold!

Some schools had separate entrances for boys and girls. Of course, boys and girl sat on separate sides of the schoolroom, too. They weren’t running a bunch of courting schools! And, if it seems odd that schools would have male and female entrances, it might interest you to know that many churches of the day expected men and women to sit on separate sides as well.

19th century chalkboardParents didn’t have to worry about purchasing long lists of school supplies. There weren’t different school supplies to buy according to grade. No one was expected to find gluten free paint for art projects. The list was simple: 1) a slate, and 2) chalk. That’s it! And guess what. Unlike today’s backpacks, it didn’t matter if everyone had seen you use the same slate the previous year.

How did one teacher handle teaching that many grades? There’s a reason the schools are sometimes referred to as “babble schools!” There was a whole lot of activity in the classroom. The older students were expected to help the younger students. They might have been working on seatwork, but each grade sat through all of the daily lessons. Each grade went to front of the room for recitations on a daily basis. Rather than being distracting, it seems that the younger students were able to pick up a lot of information that would not have normally been covered in their grade.

The Three R’s and the Rest of the School Day

19th century teacher and studentJust because learning took place in close quarters, don’t think for one minute that students weren’t expected to excel. Schools taught reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as, history, spelling, grammar, geography, music and rhetoric.

The school day lasted from 9:00am and ended at 2:00 or 4:00pm, with one hour for lunch. Lunch did not include Lunchables or Bento boxes filled with food shaped like Hello Kitty! Students brought metal pails (normally they used old lard pails) filled with biscuits or cornbread and whatever else the family happened to have on hand. There were no cartons of chocolate milk or juice boxes, either. Every student drank water from the same metal dipper. Can you spell tuberculosis, boys and girls?

19th century studentsSchool terms were shorter. Most schools had a summer term and a winter term, each lasting for about 10 weeks. During the spring and fall, children were expected to help with the farm work.

School Masters and Schoolmarms

19th century schoolhouseWhat did it take to become a teacher? Teachers had to pass qualifying examinations that allowed them to receive a first or second grade certificate. A second grade certificate entitled a teacher to teach primary grades. A first grade certificate meant that a teacher had scored at least 70% on their examinations in the following courses:

• Mental Arithmetic
• Written Arithmetic
• Reading
• Penmanship
• U.S. History
• Civil Government
• Geography
• English Grammar
• English Composition
• Drawing Blackboard
• Bookkeeping
• Physiology
• Orthography
• Theory and Art of Teaching

That was quite a feat considering most teachers had never had any formal training!

19th century schoolhouseUp until the Civil War, most teachers were men . . . you can probably guess why that changed. Yes, the Civil War brought us the advancement of the schoolmarm. Teachers were not allowed to marry, which might explain why some schoolmarms were as young as fifteen! Teachers sometimes boarded out with the families of students. That was considered a perk! An experienced, well-paid teacher might have pulled in $25 per month that school was in session. An inexperienced teacher in a poor community sometimes made as little as $4 per month.

Progress?

19th century testWhat did it take to successfully complete the eighth grade? An 1895 8th Grade Final Exam for Salina, Kansas has been circulating the internet for more than a decade. The five-hour exam allowed 1 hour for Grammar, 1.25 hours for Arithmetic, 45 minutes for U.S. History, 1 hour for Orthography, and one hour for Geography. The test is not for the faint of heart! Seriously, I took a look at those questions and was left wondering how I manage to dress myself in the morning! I’ll give you a little sampling. The fourth question on the Arithmetic portion is: “District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?” I’m still trying to figure out what the heck that means!

19th century studentOf course, students today have skills students in the 1800s couldn’t imagine. They can use all of the newfangled technological gadgets the world can throw at them. But, as I watch the yellow school buses drive by, I can’t help but wonder how those students would like to be transported to the 1800s. They could start by walking five miles in a snowstorm with cardboard in their shoes!

Here’s a short history of one room schoolhouses in America that I think you will enjoy!

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

John Muir: A Man for the Ages

John MuirI’ve been thinking about environmental activists lately. It seems that everywhere we look there are messages about “going green” or saving one thing or another. On city street corners, hemp wearing hipsters carry signs on recycled paper urging the world to save the bees, save the trees and only eat free range kale. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for bees and trees and kale. But sometimes I wonder how much they actually know about what it means to be a true activist. And I wonder what they know about John Muir, a man who was an environmental activist long before it was thought of as the cool thing to do.

John Muir wore many hats in his lifetime. He worked as a farmer, a sheepherder and an inventor. But it was his work as an explorer, a naturalist, a conservationist, an environmentalist and a writer that made him a man for the ages.

Down to Earth

“Earth has no sorrow that earth can not heal.” ~ John Muir

John Muir 2John Muir was born in Scotland in 1838, but moved with his family to a farm in Wisconsin in 1849. His father, who was a Presbyterian minister, believed that idle hands were the devil’s workshop and it was a rare occurrence when young Muir’s hands were idle. I mention this because it was during those backbreaking days of laboring on the farm that nature became Muir’s refuge. Whenever possible, Muir would escape into the fields and woods to commune with nature, where he found rest and peace.

Knock on Wood

“The power of imagination makes us infinite.” ~ John Muir

John Muir 3Muir was a curious young man who also became an inventor. He made accurate clocks and even invented a contraption to tip him out of bed in the mornings! In 1867 John Muir was working in a carriage parts shop when he suffered an injury that would change the course of his life. He was temporarily blinded and it took one month for him to regain his sight. It was then that Muir determined that he should spend his time doing what he loved. And what he loved most was nature.

To the Ends of the Earth

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” ~John Muir

John Muir 4Muir, the nature lover, set out to see the world. He walked from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, I said, “walked.” That’s a journey of a thousand miles, in case you have an urge to follow in his footsteps. He sailed to Cuba. And Panama. And California. While he loved seeing the world, he soon realized that California was to become his home.

He was absolutely captivated by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite. He proclaimed the Sierra to be “the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.”

Climb Every Mountain

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” ~ John Muir

John Muir 5In 1874, Muir wrote a series of articles entitled, “Studies in the Sierra.” With his writing career established, the mild-mannered naturalist began to capture the attention of the general public.Muir’s father-in-law owned an orchard and for years he worked in the family business. But, after a decade of “settling down,” Muir found himself with the desire to travel again. He traveled to Glacier Bay in Alaska and Mount Rainier in Washington. He put pen to paper and raised public awareness about those sites that he hoped would one day become national parks. He also urged for government protection of the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon.

Grassroots

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul” ~ John Muir

Sierra ClubRobert Underwood Johnson was a journalist who had been working with Muir to campaign for expanding the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. It was Johnson who encouraged Muir to create an organization to protect the Sierra Nevada range.

Muir and his supporters founded the Sierra Club in 1892. Muir said the group was created to “do something for the wilderness and make the mountains glad.” The Sierra Club was one of the first environmental conservation organizations in the world. Muir was elected president of the club and held that office until his death in 1914.

Happy Camper

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”~ John Muir

John Muir 7When Muir’s book, Our National Parks, was published in 1901, it gained the attention of a very influential statesman and outdoorsman, President Theodore Roosevelt. In March of 1903, he sent a letter to Muir asking to meet him in Yosemite. The President wrote: “I do not want anyone with me but you, and I want to drop politics absolutely for four days and just be out in the open with you.” That’s a tough invitation to decline and Muir eagerly accepted.

Muir met up with President Roosevelt in Oakland, California, where they traveled by train to Raymond, California. From there, they traveled by stagecoach into Yosemite. No, the two were not traveling alone. Even in 1903, U.S. Presidents traveled with an entourage. But, as soon as they were able, the pair set off by themselves. They hiked together and camped in the backcountry. That first night, they talked for hours on end, camped at Glacier Point and awoke to five inches of snow.

John Muir 8While the President had asked that politics be dropped, Muir was wise enough to not miss an opportunity to appeal to Roosevelt to protect the land he so loved. After all, how often would the president of the Sierra Club have the U.S. President’s ear? He convinced the President and California Governor George Pardee that federal control and management was the best way to guarantee protection of Yosemite Valley. They agreed to recede the state land grant and make both the Valley and Mariposa Grove a part of Yosemite National Park.

That was, undoubtedly, one of the most far-reaching camping excursions of all time. Muir wrote: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” But, that trip seemed to have provided Muir with exactly what he sought.

A Legacy that’s as Solid as a Rock

“This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” ~ John Muir

John Muir 9All told, Muir authored more than 300 articles and twelve books. But you don’t have to read his works to know his work. Today, the Sierra Club boasts 2.4 million members and supporters with sixty-four local chapters nationwide. They were instrumental in the passing of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. And it’s all because John Muir was “going green” long before it was the cool thing to do.

Here’s a lovely video from BBC-TV about Muir, and his journey through life that I think you’ll enjoy!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Camels of the Old West

Camels of the Old WestBefore we get started with our weekly campfire chat, I want to clear up a couple of things: 1) Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. We really are going to talk about camels of the Old West. 2) We are not going to be talking about cigarettes, although, from what I’ve seen in television Westerns, that would seem more logical. No. We’re talking about honest-to-goodness, hump back mammals in the Old West. Why? Because they existed and because we can!

Hump Day

Camels of the Old WestIt was during the 1830s when Major George H. Crosman first encouraged the U.S. War Department to use camels for the Indian campaigns in Florida. It made all kinds of sense, when you stop and think about it. Camels don’t require a lot of food and water, and they are regular workhorses—except they’re camels, not horses! Now, more than a few people probably thought Major Crosman was a tad daffy, but at least one man didn’t. As it happened, that one man was none other than Senator Jefferson Davis.

Jefferson DavisWhen President Franklin Pierce appointed Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War in 1853, Davis was charged with solving two major problems. First, how to deal with the Indians and second, how to transport arms, supplies and men to Texas, California, and, what is now New Mexico and Arizona. The army desperately needed bases for operations and supply lines through a large area of desert.

Unfortunately, the army’s budget was pretty well tapped out after the Mexican War. Davis bought into the belief that much, if not most, of the Western U.S. was a desert wasteland that wasn’t fit for man or beast. Well, he didn’t think it was fit for most beasts. Camels, on the other hand, thrive in the desert! I’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia! Of course, camels thrive in the desert!

Davis asked Congress for funding to test using camels to solve the western transportation problems. In 1855, Congress made $30,000 available “under the direction of the War Department in the purchase of camels and the importation of dromedaries, to be employed for military purposes.”

Illustration for Jefferson Davis' report to the Senate in 1857
Illustration for Jefferson Davis’ report to the Senate in 1857

Military officials hightailed it to Turkey to see how many camels they could relocate for $30,000. That sounds like some bizarre Old West math problem: If Jefferson Davis gets $30,000, how many camels can the military purchase? In 1856, they returned with approximately seventy camels and eight camel drivers, all of whom were led by a man named Hadji Ali, or as he was known by Americans who had a difficult time understanding foreign names, “Hi Jolly.” We’ll get to more about “Hi Jolly” later.

G.I. Joe Camel

Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California
Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California

The U.S. Army Camel Corps worked relatively well. The camels could easily handle all of the heat the southwest could throw at them. They didn’t have to be watered frequently. They were great pack animals and they easily led supply trains from Texas to California. But… (Based on the fact that you don’t meet a lot of Texas camel ranchers today, you knew there had to be a “but.”)

Camels of the Old WestThe military had originally thought that that camels and horses would work side by side. However, the camels scared the bejeebers out of the poor military horses! It was next to impossible to have them travel in the same convoy. The army personnel were also totally unprepared for the fact that the camels weren’t exactly congenial. If you’ve ever had one of the lumpy beasts spit at you, you know what I mean. In addition to the fact that camels are just plain ornery, they also smell awful, which did little to endear them to the soldiers! In case you’re interested, I did a little research and it seems that Peter O’Toole didn’t enjoy working with camels in Lawrence of Arabia either.

Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

When the Civil War broke out, the U.S. Army Camel Corps disbanded. You might say that the Civil War was the straw that broke the camel’s back. What happened next is a little vague. Some sources say the camels were simply released into the wild, where they flourished for many years. Other sources indicate that Jefferson Davis, as the first and last president of the Confederate States of America, put the camels to work for the Confederacy.

CamelsThe Texas State Historical Association reports that eighty camels and two Egyptian camel drivers passed into the hands of the Confederacy. They were used to pack cotton bales into Mexican ports. It is believed that at least one camel was used to carry a company’s baggage for the duration of the war. At the end of the war, the surviving camels were likely sold at auction by the U.S. government.

Another Hump in the Road

Camel CorpsWhile all of this was going on, one of the soldiers who had been a part of the Camel Corps saw dollar signs in his eyes. He purchased a herd of camels and delivered them to British Columbia. Our neighbors to the north were smack in the middle of a gold rush and they needed pack animals.

The prospectors appreciated that the camels could carry twice as much as mules, but the camels weren’t suited for the terrain. The rocky terrain tore up the camels’ poor tootsies. There was also the problem that the camels’ dispositions weren’t any sweeter in Canada than they had been in the West.

He’d Walk a Mile for a Camel

Camels of the Old WestI’m sure you’re champing at the bit to learn what happened to Hadji Ali, aka, Hi Jolly! Hadji Ali, the lead camel driver, hired by the U.S. Army was discharged from the Quartermaster Department of the U.S. Army in 1870. It is believed that he was the son of a Jordanian Bedouin, but he chose to remain in the U.S. For a time, he used a few camels to run a freighting business between the Colorado River and mining camps. He married, had a couple of kids and, in 1880, he became a U.S. citizen. His name was legally changed to Philip Tedro, but Hi Jolly is the name that stuck. Hadji Ali died in 1902 and was buried in Quartzsite, Arizona. In 1935, the governor of Arizona dedicated a monument to “Hi Jolly” and the Camel Corp at the grave site of Hadji Ali.

There you have it—a synopsis of how camels came to the Old West! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Camel cigarettes didn’t come around until 1913.

Happy Trails,
Anita Lequoia

Saints and Sinners: The Tale of Sister Blandina and Billy the Kid

Sister Blandina SegaleDid you hear the one about the nun and the outlaw? It sounds like some corny joke, but this is no joke, my friends. This is the true story of Sister Blandina Segale and her noteworthy interactions with the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid. Some of the most interesting characters of the Old West came from the most unexpected places . . . in this case, from the Catholic Church! And now, more than a century later, the Sister who earned a reputation of being the “fastest nun in the West” could quite likely become canonized as a Saint.

Sister Act

Sister Blandina SegaleSister Blandina Segale was born Rose Maria Segale on January 23, 1850, in the Italian village of Cicanga. When little Rose was just a bud of four-years-old, she and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. “The Calling” came early to Rose and, as a child, she told her father that she wanted to join the Sisters of Charity as soon as she was old enough. She was just sixteen when she entered the novitiate and became Sister Blandina. A little later, her older sister, Maria Meddelena, became a Sister, too.

sis4bIn 1872, Sister Blandina received word that she would be moved from her teaching position in Dayton, Ohio to missionary work in Trinidad. Sister Blandina was ready for the challenge. The idea of traveling to a foreign country to minister to non-believers was thrilling to her. It wasn’t until she boarded the train for her destination that she realized she was traveling to Trinidad, Colorado!

On December 9, 1872, the twenty-two-year-old Sister arrived in Trinidad. Upon arrival, she discovered that the town was inhabited by an inordinate number of outlaws. Mob rule was commonplace and lynching was a regular occurrence.

Breaking Bad Habits

Bad HabitsOne day, a mob gathered near the home of a man who had been shot. Their plan was to wait for word that the man had died and go to the jail where the shooter was being detained. They planned to drag him from the cell and lynch him without waiting for that pesky trial. The accused happened to be the father of one of Sister Blandina’s students. The student told Sister Blandina what was about to transpire, which set the wheels of redemption in motion.

Sister Blandina went to the bedside of the dying man and asked if he would forgive his shooter and allow the law to determine the punishment, rather than a bunch of rope-happy men. It’s pretty hard to say, “No,” to a nun, so the man agreed. She approached the sheriff and he agreed that the prisoner could go to the dying man’s bedside and ask forgiveness. The prisoner marched through the angry mob with the sheriff on one side and Sister Blandina on the other. Nary a peep was heard from the mob . . . they dispersed and allowed the court to determine the prisoner’s fate.

We’ll Have Nun of That!

Billy the KidAs another story goes, a student arrived in Sister Blandina’s classroom with the news that a member of Billy the Kid’s gang had been accidentally shot by another gang member. The man had been left to die in a near-by adobe hut. Sister Blandina, gathered up supplies, hiked up her habit and marched over to lend a hand. She spent time caring for the wounded man, both physically and spiritually. She provided him with food and she also answered his questions about God.

During one of her visits, the wounded man told her that Billy the Kid and his gang were going to be arriving in town on the following Saturday at 2:00 in the afternoon. They were coming to scalp the four town doctors who had refused to treat the outlaw. There was no way Sister Blandina was going to stand by and wait for that to happen! At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, she stood waiting in the middle of Main Street to meet one of the world’s most notorious outlaws and his partners in crime.

When Billy the Kid spotted the nun, he said, “We are all glad to see you, Sister, and I want to say, it would give me pleasure to be able to do you any favor.” Legend goes that she took the hand of the outlaw and said, “I understand you have come to scalp our Trinidad physicians, which act I ask you to cancel.” While that request didn’t make him happy, Billy the Kid is said to have agreed and the lives of the doctors were spared.

Stick to Your Nun

Sister Blandina SegaleYears later, Sister Blandina was transferred to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Remarkably, here she once again met up with her old acquaintance. Billy the Kid, who had been captured, but had escaped from jail. Word was that he was on a spree of robbing passengers on stagecoaches. Sister Blandina was on a stagecoach when she got word that the outlaw was nearby. When a group of men approached the stagecoach, brandishing guns, Sister Blandina told them to put away their weapons. She made purposeful eye contact with Billy the Kid, who raised his hat, bowed in greeting and rode away. It is said that she always did wonder if things would have been different for Billy the Kid if someone had helped him to find his way to spirituality.

Patience of a Saint

Sister Blandina SegaleSister Blandina remained in the West for twenty-one more years. She worked with the poor and the sick. She advocated on behalf of Hispanics and Native Americans. Then she and her Sister-sister returned to Cincinnati, where they set up an Italian welfare center, the Santa Maria Institute, which helped immigrants in acclimating to America. She passed away in February 1941. Letters she had written to her sister over the years were compiled in the book, At the End of the Santa Fe Trail, and it is a lovely read.

Santa Fe TrailThis past June, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced that it is exploring the possibility of sainthood for Sister Blandina. But, the road to sainthood is long, it seems. Vatican official say it could take as long as a century before Sister Blandina becomes a saint, because her work and any related miracles must be thoroughly investigated. I guess that’s where the patience of a saint comes in.

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia