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Extreme History Project highlights the life of Sarah Bickford

Sarah Bickford (1852–1931)
Posted at 9:43 AM, Feb 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-28 11:43:35-05

MISSOULA — At a virtual lecture Thursday, the Extreme History Project in Bozeman highlighted the life of Sarah Bickford, an African-American woman who lived in Virginia City before Montana was a state.

MTN News sat down with Dr. Laura Arata, who spent the last decade researching Bickford (1852 - 1931).

Arata's book, "Race and the Wild West," details the life of Bickford in early Montana.

“I remember just being really fascinated by all of the stories that are contained in this town [Virginia City]. It’s such a fascinating place, and as a historian anytime I can get my hands on something that is authentic to the past, that’s really exciting,” Arata said.

Born a slave in Tennessee, Sarah Bickford arrived in Montana Territory in the aftermath of the Civil War in 1871.

She became a prominent Virginia City community member promoting tourism and becoming the first African American female public utilities owner in the U.S.

“I really hope, like if nothing else, this book makes people talk about Sarah and just think about okay, even somewhere like Virginia City, our history is always more complex and more diverse, and really interesting,” Arata said.

The Extreme History Project told MTN News the event was aligned with Black History Month.

"Extreme History Project is trying to expand the historical narrative of Montana’s history to include people who have been left out of the history books, people like Sarah Bickford," said Executive Director Crystal Alegria.