Monday, December 28, 2009

Sarah Burks–Pistol Packin' Mail Carrier

For 24-year-old Sarah M. Burks, life in the Arizona Territory in 1898 was not easy. Since her mother died in 1892, Sarah had looked after her five younger brothers and sisters. Her father tried to make a living running a small livery stable, but he had been forced to apply for and get the contract to carry the mail twice weekly from St. Johns to the mining camp at Jimtown, 52 miles of the roughest, most God-forsaken terrain anywhere around.

In June 1898, their lives got even tougher. Joseph Burks fell ill, so ill that it was doubtful he would live. There was no question in Sarah’s mind that she must take over the mail route to prevent losing the contract. So, leaving a neighbor with her unconscious father and younger siblings, she saddled her horse, strapped on her pistol and set out for Jimtown. Her father recovered but was never well enough to resume his postal duties, and Sarah continued to carry the mail.

While she was certainly not the first female mail carrier, the dangers she faced along her route drew the attention of the news media, and she was interviewed for a story in the San Francisco Call that was reprinted in the Washington Post on June 25, 1899.

She regaled the reporter with stories of her giving aid to a dying Mexican and scaring off a family of four bears while carrying out her appointed rounds. When the reporter expressed skepticism at her ability to shoot, she drilled six bullets through a playing card thirty paces away.

There were many tough women in the Arizona territory, but consider this: Sarah Burks was a city girl, having spent the first twelve years of her life in Brooklyn, New York.