Mother Maggard Saves the Day

Lucy Davis Maggard Coberly true west
Lucy Davis Maggard Coberly

The future city of Denver had its modern beginnings in the summer of 1858 when gold was found on Cherry Creek where the stream neared the South Platte River but these soon played out and by February the “town” consisted of a log cabin that doubled as a hotel and gambling palace. For a time it looked like the town would fizzle but that changed on May 10th. John Gregory made a big strike on the north fork of Clear Creek and the “Pike’s Peak or Bust” gold rush was on.

Gold camps sprung up along the frontal range of the Rocky Mountains but Denver became the gateway city to the newest treasure land, just as San Francisco had been a decade earlier. As the caravans rolled out of Independence they had to run the gauntlet of roving bands of Arapaho and other Plains tribes who resented these newcomers who were disturbing their hunting grounds. They attacked and killed some and frightened others in to turning back. This had no effect on a cantankerous, iron-willed widow woman known as Mother Maggard. She was a tough old gal who had set out for the gold fields with her children and wasn’t about to be scared off by a few warriors whoopin’ and hollarin’.

Lucy Davis was born in New York in 1814. She married Jack Maggard when she was twenty-one and they were living in Buchanan County, Missouri when he died in 1848 leaving her with four children to raise. A few years later, in September, 1856 she was living in Franklin, Kansas when her house was burned by “Border Ruffians.”

Lucy Maggard decided to take her brood and head for Colorado with a wagon train. On the way a war party attacked her caravan the wagon master circled the wagons in a defensive circle and prepared for battle. She told the men to hold fire and let her deal with the braves. She drew attention to herself by rising in full view from one of the forted-up wagons and then got their attention by shrieking defiantly waving a skillet like a war club.

Not accustomed to such strange behavior they paused and stared curiously at this crazy, gray-haired lady. They were close enough to observe that the teeth of the snarling old woman began snarling at them from a position outside her mouth. Then she sucked them back into her mouth and snapped them out again.  The horrified braves wheeled their mounts around and rode off helter-skelter for the hills.

With her store-bought teeth now back securely in her mouth Mother Maggard rode triumphantly on to Cherry Creek as the heroine of the journey. She operated several businesses in Colorado but in 1864 Lucy Maggard had another attack of wanderlust and headed for the mining town of Virginia City, Montana. It’s believed that it was here she met and married a man named Coberly. He died at some unknown time and place and the moved in with her daughter and her husband. Over the next few years she managed boarding houses, tavern, and stage stops in various parts of Montana.

She died in 1893 at the age of seventy-seven and is buried in Deer Lodge, Montana. On her tombstone are the words “Grandma.”

Ms. Lucy, aka Mother Maggard represents the best example of the entrepreneurial spirit of those brave pioneer women of the West during the 19th century.