Sarah Bowman (1813-1866)
Bowman's birth records are very unclear; as a matter of a fact, it isnt even know what the A. of her middle name stands for. Some say she was born in Kentucky, others say her birthplace was Tennessee. Likewise, many say she was born in 1812, but the most widely accepted year of birth for Bowman is 1813, mostly because her burial certificate lists 1813 as her year of birth.
The daugther of William Bowman and Malinda Walters, she married John Langwell in the 1840s. They joined the Army to help out fight during the Seminole Wars. She and her husband enlisted in St. Louis. During the Florida war, she helped as a cook and laundress.
In March of 1846, Taylor's troops built a fort on the American side of the border, just north of the Mexican city of Matamoros. On May 1, Taylor and other soldiers headed towards the Gulf of Mexico to look for supplies. Only fifty people were left in the fort, located at Corpus Christi. Aware of the situation, the Mexican soldiers attacked the fort on May 3, using cannons to try to destroy it. The attack lasted six days and sixteen hours hours.
Women at the fort were ordered to take shelter, but Bowman refused. She decided to stay in the fort's kitchen to cook food for the fort's occupant, often going to the battle lines to offer the fighting soldiers coffee. Bowman saw many bullets pass close to her, and she was almost hit with two, but, luckily for her, those two bullets only reached her bonnet and her bread stray.
Historian Arthur Woodward once wrote that she worked "with the utmost coolness and disdain of the Mexican copper shot and cannon balls that buzzed and banged in every direction".
Bowman ended up this battle working as a nurse to the injuried soldiers; she helped cure many of them, and, after word came that another Mexican attack was about to come, she grabbed battle supplies and expressed her preparedness to fight them. The rumored second attack never happened, but Sarah was lauded by her fellow soldiers, one of whom toasted for "her bravery", which, according to the soldiers was "the admiration of all who were in the fort".
Bowman became involved in business after Taylor's troops went into the Mexican side, arriving at Saltillo. There, she opened a hotel, the "American House Hotel". She had both Mexican and Black servants there. It has been said that her treatment towards her servants was abusive.
On February 23, 1847, the Battle of Buena Vista ensued. General Taylor was killed there. When Bowman heard the news, she hit the soldier that brought her the news. She said There were no Mexicans enough to "whip ol' Taylor" and then proceeded to threat the soldier, telling him she would kill him if he kept spreading those news. Sadly for Bowman, the news was true: Taylor had been killed during that battle.
Another person that Sarah and her husband liked died during the same battle: Captain George Lincoln, who had enlisted the couple into the military. Upon hearing about Lincoln's death, she began to cry. She ended up crying all night.
Fearing what others might do to Lincoln's body, she stole it, then buried it herself in Saltillo.
In 1848, she married an unknown soldier; some sources identify him as Charles Bourgette. Much about this marriage is unknown, as Bourgette was never again seen in the United States. The marriage likely took place in Mexico, and many speculations point towards him dying before reaching the frontier.
The speculations about her second husband dying in Mexico come mostly because, according to historians, when approaching the States with the Army's 2nd Dragoons trooper group, she was stopped and denied re-entry into the States by Major Daniel Rucker, who declared that she couldn't pass that point unless she married one of the enlisted men and was listed herself as a laundress. At this point, Bowman began to cry, saying "All right, Major! Ill Marry the whole squadron and you thrown in, but what I go along".
She then rode in front of the soldiers, asking "who wants a wife with 15,000 dollars and the biggest leg in Mexico? Come, me beauties! don't all speak at once! Who is the lucky one?"
A soldier later on stepped up front , declaring he'd like to marry her if a clergyman officiated the marriage. Bowman answered by laughing, telling the soldier to "bring your blanket to my tent tonight, and I will learn you to tie a knot that will satisfy you, I reckon".
Bowman wasn't in love with this soldier, and the couple broke up after a little while. She met soldier Sam Chamberlain, with whom she became romantically involved soon after.
By 1849, Bowman had already started earning money as a prostitute. Her first venture into the prostitution business came while in El Paso, where she appears on record to be the city's first prostitute.
Bowman adopted five children, all of whom she nicknamed "Skinner". She married a 24 year old who, coincidentally, also had Sarah's father's last name: Albert Bowman, a Sergeant with the 2nd Dragoons. The couple and their children moved to Socorro, New Mexico, and later on, they headed further west, arriving in 1852 at Fort Yuma, California, to live in the same place that later played an important role in the recovery of a young Olive Oatman. Soon, the Bowmans moved again, to Arizona City.
Later on in 1854, Bowman faced trouble with the law, when she heard that unknown persons were coming in from San Diego, California, to take away two of her adoptive daughters, after allegedly hearing that she worked at a bordello in Yuma. She asked for help to be moved back to Mexico with the two small girls, who could not be taken away by American law people had she returned to Mexico.
But, when asked why would someone from San Diego care about her sexual activities in Yuma, Bowman had no explanation, and it is susopected that she wanted to leave the United States and return to Mexico to establish another business, which would work both as hotel and brothel. Regardless, Samuel Heintzelman helped her, and he visited her periodically as her hotel was being built.
Bowman became involved in child prostitution with this new venture; many suspect she even used her two own adopted daughters as prostitutes. Many people around the area saw younger girls, some of them apparently under the age of ten, selling their bodies for Bowman's profit. Heintzeman seemed to enjoy the children as well; he wrote in his diary that he would frequently visit the brothel to "pass the day".
The Bowmans moved to Tucson in 1856, finding the remains of almost all members of Olive Oates' family, which had been massacred. The Bowmans took their bodies to Gila Trail, where they were buried. Later on, when Olive Oatman arrived at the city of Fort Yuma, Bowman and Oatman became friends.
In 1857, the Bowmans sold their house and joined the military's 1st Dragons to Sonoita Creek, then a part of Arizona but which now is a Mexican city. Bowman once again ran a prostitution business, along with a salooon, in nearby Patagonia.
At the start of the civil war, she would move once again, but not without sending her adoptive daughters back to Mexico.
The Confederates had arrived at Tucson by 1862, conquering the city. When news came from California that the Army was ready to reclaim Tucson, Bowman wanted to join the military in battle again. Because of her age at the time, she was not allowed to join the Aarmy for this battle. Later on that year, she and Albert divorced.
Bowman was nicknamed "The Big Western" because of her large size: She stood more than six feet tall and weighted over 200 pounds.