True Grit's fictional heroine Mattie Ross had real-life counterparts - and not all of them were white.
Women of color played their part in the history of the American West, and because of the unique challenges they faced as blacks and as females, many had no choice but to lead lives that were characterized by an exceptional amount of true grit.
Historian Michael Searles explores their world in True Grit and Black Women of the West on Friday, October 4, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W 10th St. The event is part of this year's Big Read centering on Charles Portis' Western novel, True Grit.
Among the women Fields will talk about is "Stagecoach" Mary Fields, who wore a six shooter on her hip, smoked cigars, and even was given official permission to drink at the local tavern in Cascade, Montana. "Stagecoach" Mary's legend outlived her. There are those today in Cascade who will regale passersby with stories of her fending off wolves and boxing the ears of a cowboy who refused to pay her for doing his laundry.
While Fields in one sense was a one-of-a-kind character, she was far from being the only black woman to make an indelible mark on the American West. Searles' talk examines the little known history of black women with true grit in the West.
Searles is an emeritus professor of history at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia. He has contributed to several anthologies including Black Cowboys of Texas and The African American Experience in Texas: An Anthology, and co-edited Buffalo Soldiers in the West: A Black Soldiers Anthology. Searles, also known as "Cowboy Mike," has made over 500 public presentations on African American history and the Black West.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of its citizens. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th and Baltimore. RSVP at kclibrary.org  or call 816.701.3407.