|Mary Bernard was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a store owner. In 1862, at the age of eighteen, she met and married Epifanio Aguirre. Her new husband held the majority of government contracts for freighting materials by mules and oxen along the Santa Fe Trail. He moved supplies to Army posts, employing over two hundred men as teamsters.
Mary Aguirre traveled extensively with her husband, embarking in September of 1863 on a trip by wagon train across the Great Plains. In a journal, she described their mode of transportation which "consisted of ten wagons, each one drawn by ten fine mules and loaded with 10,000 pounds of freight." She recorded the trip in detail: "We journeyed on for weeks and weeks. We went through Council Grove, Fort Larned and many other points where there are now towns on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroads. But then (it) was only a wilderness..."
While crossing the unending plains, there was nothing to see except grass. Aguirre described the scenery and conditions: "We made thirty miles a day when we drove a good day's driving. The tall grass was turning gray with the cold that came upon us very gradually. The very monotony of it became pleasant at last. There seemed nothing more to expect, nothing to look forward to and nothing to do."
The Aguirre family continued to travel extensively for the next seven years. During this time, Mary bore three sons, Pedro, Epifanio and Stephen. In 1869, Mary and Epifanio Aguirre moved to Tucson where he ran a stage line between Tucson and Altar, Sonora. A year later, Apache Indians killed Epifanio, near Sasabe, Arizona.
Mary Bernard Aguirre returned to Missouri for several years. In 1874, she moved back to Tucson and began teaching in a public school for girls. There she found that her pupils "were the most unruly set the Lord every let live." They climbed out the windows at recess time and disobeyed their teacher, leading Mrs. Aguirre to send several home until she only had five pupils. Eventually her scholars returned and accepted the disciplined environment which she required.
Mary Bernard Aguirre continued to teach in public schools until 1895. She ended her career teaching at the University of Arizona's Old Main, which is now a site on the Arizona Women's Heritage Trail and died in San Jose, California in 1906 due to injuries suffered in a Southern Pacific train wreck.
Mary Bernard Aguirre - Courtesy of Arizona Historical Society, Tucson
Old Main Building, University of Arizona - © Peggy Price, photographer