Dr. Laura J. Arata To Give Free Lecture & Book Signing at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Written by Caleb Nelson on June 1, 2022
On Friday, June 10th, award-winning author Laura J. Arata will discuss her book, Race and the Wild West, at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West at noon in the Coe Auditorium.
Arata’s work, Race and the Wild West: Sarah Bickford, the Montana Vigilantes, and the Tourism of Decline (1870-1930) is the first full-length biography of Sarah Blair Bickford. Born into slavery, Bickford eventually became the sole owner of the Virginia City Water Company (Virginia City, Montana), which made her the first woman to own a utility company in Montana.
This book offers a window into the dynamics of race in the rural West. The biography of Bickford by Arata won the 2021 Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best First Book, and the 2021 Western Association of Women’s Historians Gita Chaudhuri Prize.
Bickford, born into slavery in eastern Tennessee, made her way to Montana Territory as a teenager where she settled in the mining town of Virginia City. She was married twice, both times to white men. After divorcing her first husband who was physically abusive, she married Stephen Bickford in 1883. Upon his death, she inherited his shares of the Virginia City Water Company, and she became the sole owner in 1917.
Based on exhaustive research and nuanced analysis, Arata’s work increases the scope of understanding regarding the lives of women whose stories embody the contradictory intersections of hope and disappointment that characterized life in the early twentieth-century American West.
As a Public Historian who specializes in the North American West, Arata emphasizes race, gender, and ethnicity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She works in the areas of historic preservation, museums, and oral history. Before joining the faculty at Oklahoma State University, Arata served as a consulting historian for the Montana Heritage Commission and as co-principal investigator for the Hanford History Project.
Following the free lecture by the author, Arata will be available to sign copies of her book at Center’s Points West Market immediately following the event.