By Christy Hastings

The visitor to Sharlot Hall Museum who reads the exhibit posted in the small log cabin known as “Fort Misery” will be introduced to “Virgin Mary” Ramos, a most intriguing early Prescott pioneer.  When she died in 1876 at the age of 57, her obituary stated:  “A well written history of her eventful life would constitute a volume of thrilling interest.”  If only she had written down the story of her life!  Instead, it is left to archivists and historians to struggle with the few facts we know about her.

During her 12 years in Prescott she was a well-known figure, and many laudatory things have been written about her.  She was noted for her kindness and generosity, ran a boarding house providing goat’s milk for her patrons’ coffee, took care of the sick, hungry and distressed, performed many charitable acts, and was a devoted Methodist.  Although Mary had died by the time young Sharlot Hall arrived in the Prescott area, Sharlot herself claimed that “She [Mary] was loved by all and this is why she was called Virgin Mary.”  This is the legend of Mary Ramos.

But where did she come from and why?   Her obituary gives us a good place to start.  It states that she was born in Texas, in August 1819, and that her parents belonged to the Austin Colony.  “She immigrated to Arizona in 1861; came to Prescott in 1864, and was soon after married to her surviving husband, Cornelius Ramos, with whom she lived in the upmost happiness and concord until the time of her death”.

Delving into the scant records available, it seems probable that our Mary Ramos was born Mary Kuykendall in Arkansas.  Soon after her birth her parents were invited by Stephen F. Austin to come to the new colony of Austin, Texas, where they were counted among the “Old Three Hundred” original colonists to receive land grants.

On October 19, 1837, Mary Kuykendall married Howard Decrow, in Matagorda County, Texas, but by 1850 Mary apparently had been widowed.  The 1850 Matagorda census lists Mary as head of a household of four children, all born in Texas.  By 1860, her two youngest children were living with a Decrow uncle, their parents presumed deceased.  So Mary had absented herself from her familial ties to her children, her own family, and that of her deceased husband.  What on earth happened?  Was Mary dead, or had she disappeared, declared dead by her family?

When early pioneer William Kirkland set down his late-in-life reminiscences he told of a woman called “Virgin Mary” who provided help to Larcena Pennington Page in March 1860 after Mrs. Page survived a kidnapping by Apaches.  This Mary was said to be the white companion of the mulatto cook for the camp at Madera Canyon, Hampton Brown.  If Kirkland’s memory is correct, this is the first episode we have that refers to her as “Virgin Mary”.  Some verification is provided by the 1860 census for New Mexico Territory, which lists a woman by the name of  “Mary Decoa” [most probably Decrow] living with a mulatto man named Hampton Brown at Madera Canyon.

The Arizona Territory’s Special census of 1864 for Judicial District Three lists the name of Mary (Brown), a laundress, adjacent to that of Cornelius Ramez [sic] a Mexican-American blacksmith 13 years her junior.  (Why the census taker placed Mary’s last name within parentheses is unknowable.)  Nine months later, January 1, 1865, Yavapai County’s first wedding was that of Mary Decrow to Cornelius Ramos.

It seems quite probable that the girl Mary Kuykendall, the widowed Mary Decrow, the mining-camp companion Mary Brown, the wife and business partner Mary Ramos, and the compassionate “Virgin Mary” were all the same woman—a woman who left her family life of relative ease and comfort to travel to the most formidably undeveloped part of the United States, to “the land of beginning again”, defying all social convention in the process.  When she arrived in Prescott, noting its newness and potential, she set about doing what she could to make herself useful and flourished in the process, forging a new life for herself.  That was Mary Ramos.

“Mary Ramos” often appears in Fort Misery on the second Saturday of each month, when the Arizona History Adventure is held at Sharlot Hall Museum.

“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.