by Michael Wurtz

The article below first appeared in Days Past on November 2, 1997, in a slightly different form.

Mollie Monroe has the unfortunate distinction of being the first woman in Arizona Territory to be declared insane.  Born in New Hampshire in 1846 to a fairly affluent family, she was christened Mary Elizabeth Sanger and was given a finishing school education to equip her for marriage to a successful businessman.

Unfortunately, her parents’ hopes and wishes did not anticipate that Mollie would, at the age of 17, fall in love with a young man deemed totally unacceptable by her parents.  To make matters worse, his parents also disapproved of the match.

The young man was sent west by his family, and paid to stay away.  Auburn-haired, green-eyed Mollie was a strong-minded young woman, however, and two months later, she secretly left her parents’ home.  Dressed in men’s clothes and going under the name of Sam Brewer, she headed west to find her man.  She joined a prospecting party and worked her way to Santa Fe, New Mexico.  There she learned that her young man had been killed in a barroom brawl two weeks earlier.

For several months, Mollie dropped out of sight, but sometime in 1864, at the age of 18, Mollie arrived at Ft. Whipple as the wife of a young army captain.  She was now every inch the perfect army officer’s wife.  The Arizona Miner newspaper reported her as vivacious and charming, liked by everyone.  In late 1865, her husband was transferred to another post and Mollie decided to remain in Prescott.

Soon after, she was again wearing men’s clothing. She preferred buckskin shirts, and she took to wearing a gun slung low on her hip. Soon she was the talk of the town, drinking whiskey in the local bars, swearing like a trooper, smoking a pipe and gambling with the best (or worst) of them. She was “one of the boys” and a constant thorn in the side of the respectable women of the town.  She made the papers in 1872 when she was seen in a dress!  The Arizona Miner stated it was the first time in seven years she was seen in anything other than pants.

Although Mollie was a hard-riding, gun-toting gambler, she was a soft touch for anyone, man or woman, who was down and out.  She spent many a night nursing a sick miner or giving her last dollar to a lady of the evening whose luck was running low.  Mollie was the first person called when someone needed help, and she always answered.

Mollie had several husbands without benefit of clergy during the late 1860′s, most of them miners. Sometime in 1869 or 1870, she met George Monroe, a prospector. She is listed in the 1870 census as Mollie Monroe, occupation cook.

George and Mollie prospected all around the Bradshaw Mountains and in the desert areas south of Prescott. On one of these prospecting trips, they found a warm spring in the desert country near Wickenburg.  They called it Monroe Springs.  The name was later changed to Castle Hot Springs and it became a well-known resort and spa.

By 1877 Mollie’s behavior became more and more unpredictable. She drank heavily and disappeared for days at a time.  In May of that year, Sheriff Bowers of Prescott brought her into town in a disheveled and irrational state.  She had been found wandering around Peeples Valley.  Yavapai County officials held a sanity hearing and Mollie was declared insane and ordered confined.

At that time, Arizona Territory did not have a hospital for the mentally ill, and Mollie was transported to the Stockton (California) Insane Asylum.  She was returned to Arizona 1887 to the new Territorial Asylum in Phoenix, recorded as patient number two.

In 1895, Mollie escaped from the asylum. She roamed the desert around Phoenix for four days before being found by Indians near the Gila River.  She was returned to the asylum where she remained until her death in 1902 at the age of 56.  She had been confined to mental institutions since the age of 31.

The final years of her life were unfortunate, but before that she had added a great deal of color and life to the history of Prescott and Arizona Territory.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.