That’s one of the names they called Sarah Bowman. “The Great Western” was another moniker—borrowing the name of the world’s largest steamship.
Both fit the woman at least six feet tall—maybe six-two—weighing over 200 with enormous breasts and an hourglass figure. Her size inspired the names, but they stuck because of her grit. She was a woman of uncommon courage and determination who didn’t take any gruff from anyone—man or woman or priest.
Sarah was a military hero in the Mexican War, a groundbreaking businesswoman, a “good specimen of the frontier woman,” and some would say, the prototype of “the whore with a heart of gold.”
She was born Sarah Knight in 1812 or 1813 in Tennessee or Missouri—details were never clear. What is clear is that she distinguished herself as she traveled with General Zachary Taylor’s Army from 1846 to 1848 in the Mexican War. During the siege of Fort Brown, she refused to take cover with the other women, but kept operating the officers’ mess for a week—even when a tray was shot out from her hands; even when a fragment pierced her sunbonnet. It earned her another name, “the Heroine of Fort Brown.”
During the battle of Buena Vista she carried wounded soldiers off the battlefield. She was known for her “consistent courage.”
Later, when she wanted to stay with the army as it moved onto California, she found only married women were allowed. In a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie, she rode the line of men yelling, “Who wants a wife with fifteen thousand dollars and the biggest leg in Mexico?” Someone stepped forward and off to Californ-i-a she went.
She eventually landed in El Paso, where she became the first female to run a business. Her hotel and restaurant catered to gold diggers on their way west. Later she married a German and settled in Fort Yuma, opening yet another restaurant.
A tarantula bite killed her. She was buried with full military honors in the Fort Yuma Post cemetery on Dec. 23, 1866—reportedly the only woman to be so honored.