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The Great Western

The Heroine of Fort Brown

<p>Upper wrapper</p>


[HISTORIES]. ALLEN, G.N. Numerous Engravings.... 12½ cts. Mexican Treacheries and Cruelties. Incidents and Sufferings in the Mexican War; With Accounts of Hardships Endured; Treacheries of the Mexicans; Battles Fought, and Success of American Arms; [cut of the “Heroine of Fort Brown”] Also, an Account of Valiant Soldiers Fallen, and the Particulars of the Death and Funeral Services in Honor of Capt. George Lincoln, of Worcester. By a Volunteer Returned from the War. Boston and New York, 1847. Entered According to Act of Congress, in the Year 1847, by Lieut. G.N. Allen. Dealers Supplied at Hall’s, 66 Cornhill, Boston. [32] pp. 8vo (25 x 15.3 cm), original printed wrappers, stitched. Wrappers chipped and lightly stained, spine perished. Except for scattered stains, interior very good.

First edition. Christensen & Christensen, The U.S.-Mexican War, p. 72. Garrett & Goodwin, p. 4. Howes A140: “Reasonably uncommon; utterly worthless.” Tutorow 3186.

This lurid, flagrantly racist pamphlet contains numerous instances of so-called Mexican cruelty, although other, more serious material is included. Two depictions are from the Texas theater—Ringgold’s death and most notably the cover illustration at Fort Brown (repeated in text) of Sarah Borginnis, called The Great Western because of her height and size. Several pages are devoted to the death and funeral of George Lincoln from Worcester, Massachusetts, who was killed at Buena Vista and who was apparently Borginnis’ lover. She retrieved his body from the battlefield and had him buried. The text recounts that she bought Lincoln’s horse for $250 with the intention of giving it to the family, an end that finally happened. Lincoln was eventually buried with great honors in Massachuestts, and the horse played a prominent role in the processions. Although the text is filled with various Mexican atrocities and is jingoistic, lurid, and prejudiced, it is best remembered for its illustration of and flattering passages on The Great Western.

There is scant documentation on women’s experiences in the war, and this is one of the few, albeit popular in approach and brief. The various names by which she is known include Mrs. Bourjette, Bourget, Bourdette, Davis, Bowman, Bowman-Phillips, Borginnis, and possibly Foyle.

The Handbook of Texas Online describes her life (Sarah Bowman):

The legends surrounding her exploits grew during the bombardment of Fort Brown in May 1846, when she refused to join the other women in an underground magazine but calmly operated her officers’ mess uninterrupted for almost a week, despite the fact that a tray was shot from her hands and a stray shell fragment pierced her sunbonnet. Her fearlessness during the siege earned her another nickname, the Heroine of Fort Brown. She traveled with the army into the interior of Mexico and opened a hotel in Saltillo, the American House, where she again demonstrated her bravery during the battle of Buena Vista by loading cartridges and even carrying some wounded soldiers from the battlefield to safety. During this period she was married to her second husband, known variously as Bourjette, Bourget, and Bourdette, a member of the Fifth Infantry. Sarah apparently remained in Saltillo as a hotelkeeper until the end of the war, but in July 1848 she asked to join a column of dragoons that had been ordered to California. By this time her husband was probably dead, and she was told that only married women could march with the army. Undaunted, she rode along the line of men asking, “Who wants a wife with fifteen thousand dollars and the biggest leg in Mexico? Come, my beauties, don’t all speak at once. Who is the lucky man?” After some hesitation a dragoon named Davis, probably David E. Davis, stepped forward, and the Great Western once again marched with the army.

In 1849 Sarah arrived in El Paso and briefly established a hotel that catered to the flood of Forty-niners traveling to the gold fields. She leased the hotel to the army when she left for Socorro, New Mexico, with a new husband, Albert J. Bowman, an upholsterer from Germany. When Bowman was discharged on November 30, 1852, the couple moved to Fort Yuma, where Sarah opened another restaurant. She lived first on the American, then the Mexican, side of the river, to protect her adopted children. By the mid-1860s she was no longer married to Bowman, but she served as company laundress and received an army ration. In 1856 she traveled to Fort Buchanan to set up a hotel ten miles below the fort. She had returned to Fort Yuma by 1861. Although Sarah was well known as a hotelkeeper and restaurateur, she probably had other business interests as well. One chronicler referred to her as “the greatest whore in the West,” and Lt. Sylvester Mowry, a soldier stationed at Fort Yuma in 1856, wrote of Sarah that “among her other good qualities she is an admirable ‘pimp.’” The date of Sarah’s death, reportedly caused by a tarantula bite, is unclear, though one contemporary source indicates that she died in 1863. She was buried in the Fort Yuma post cemetery on December 23, 1866, with full military honors. In August 1890 the Quartermaster’s Department of the United States Army exhumed the 159 bodies buried at the Fort Yuma cemetery and moved them to the presidio at San Francisco, California. Among these bodies was that of Sarah Bowman.

Also well worth reading is: <>


Sold. Hammer: $500.00; Price Realized: $612.50.

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