Mary Bernard Aguirre
June 23, 1844
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
|Died||May 24, 1906
San Jose, California
Bernard Aguirre went to college at the age of seventeen; this would prove to be a critical period of her life, because she lived through many moments that eventually changed her views towards people of other races. She heard the rifle shot with which abolitionist John Brown was killed, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. When Mary Bernard returned home from Baltimore, Maryland later that same year, the American Civil War broke, and she became a supporter of the Southern cause, but her family's house was burned and she suffered much under the stress brought by the war.
Mary Bernard met a Mexican man, Epifanio Aguirre, soon after, and the couple fell in love, and got married in 1863. They had a son, Pedro, in June of that year, but, as she would later write, she could hear the sounds of guns and rifles just as she was giving birth to Pedro. The Aguirres had two more sons, Epifanio Jr. and Stephen.
The Aguirres moved to the Southwest later on that year. They travelled from Missouri to Las Cruces, New Mexico, with a stop in Santa Fe. Mary Bernard Aguirre wrote on her diary, which is kept by the Arizona Historical Society, that she was impressed by the size of the buffalo animal. According to her writings, she once stopped at the sight of a dead buffalo, to measure the animal's hair length.
In Santa Fe, the Aguirres met with John Noble, who would later on take them to Arizona.
In August 1869, the Aguirres set foot in Tucson. But tragedy struck soon after, when Epifanio Sr. was killed during an Apache raid of a stagecoach. In economic trouble, Bernard Aguirre saw herself forced to return home to Missouri and live with her parents.
In 1875, Mary Bernard Aguirre returned to Tucson, having accepted a job as a teacher in Tres Alamos.
Mary Bernard Aguirre had to stay in a place that was owned by Thomas Dunbar. Her room was small and the house was made with adobe. Mary Bernard Aguirre's room lacked wood, making it an uncomfortable place for the teacher to live at.
It has been argued for decades that Apache Indians used to send people over to spy possible targets before attacks. One morning, before class had begun, a boy spotted an Apache walking towards the school. Ordered by Mary Bernard to let the Indian in, a boy opened the school's door and the Indian sat on a chair, seemingly interested in learning how to read.
About a week later, three members of a family near Benson (which, in turn, was very close to the school where Mary worked at) were killed by Apaches, and Mary was told that the Indian who entered her classroom was a spy for the Apaches who wanted to figure out how well prepared for an attack were the new settlers of the area. Before daylight, Bernard Aguirre and a friend at the Dunbar home were warned by a stage coach driver that the Apaches might try to attack that location too. The two women panicked, afraid that they would be attacked too.
Someone else asked where did they think that the Apaches would attack next. When that question was answered, the other lady staying at the Dunbar home screamed out loud. The reaction caused the lady to fall off and land next to the door, where the coach driver was. Her fall, in turn, caused the spooked driver to scream "Good Lord! what's that??!!"
Mary Bernard remembered this episode as a quite humorous one, writing in her diary " I'm quite sorry to remember that I put my head on my pillow and laughed most shamefully when I heard that man jump off the door sill (sic)".
Later that night, she received a letter from her brother, who advised her not to return to her school, that it had been burned by the Indians.
In 1876, Bernard Aguirre was appointed as replacement teacher for the Tucson Public School for Girls. She lasted one month in that school, complaining about the girls' behaviour. Bernard Aguirre set some rules and fifteen of the twenty girls in her class had dropped out only one week after Bernard Aguirre began to teach. About that time, Arizona Governor A. P. K. Safford (for whom the city of Safford was named) paid a visit. He witnessed the student drop out crisis himself, but his visit served to inspire Bernard Aguirre.
The students that had left school returned before her one month stay at the school was over, and, when she left, the number of students had actually increased from twenty to forty.
Many of her problems in that school were because, during that era, the Catholic church opposed public schools, and priests in the Tucson area were not an exception: They spoke publicly against children attending schools at settings different from their homes.
In 1879, Bernard Aguirre retired temporarily from teaching because of health problems. When she retired, the girls school had eighty five students.
- Leo Banks, Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit (ISBN 0-916179-77-X)