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Mustache Maude


Many colorful characters show up in the history of the American west, including women like Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. Along with them was a “Jill of all trades” known as Mustache Maude Black.

She ran a saloon and gambling house and a home for fallen women in Winona, across the Missouri River from Fort Yates. She was a substitute doctor and a midwife. Managing a ranch didn’t scare her one bit either, though she was a woman.

Born in Tracy, Minn., in 1873, Clara Bell Rose left home at age 15 and headed to Minneapolis to help her sick sister and stayed for seven years. In 1895, Clara Bell moved on to Aberdeen, S. Dak., where she worked as a waitress, seamstress and “hack” driver. Using the money she saved, she traveled to Winona where her two brothers, John and William Rose, lived.

Winona was open to alcohol, and the soldiers from Fort Yates came across the river to partake in the saloons and dance halls. Though there were already six saloons, Clara Bell saw opportunity and used some of her savings to build a saloon and gambling house.

Rough and tumble herself, she could handle the rowdy customers. Clara Bell knew how to use the six-shooter on her hip and rolled her own cigarettes. She regularly wore a large-brimmed sombrero, cowboy boots and short skirts.

While in Winona, Clara Bell, now called Mustache Maude because of the mustache on her upper lip, met Arthur Pierce “Ott” Black, who had come up from Texas with a herd of cattle. They married on July 8, 1888, in Mound City, S. Dak.

After two years, they moved to Rabbit City, near Lemmon, S. Dak. They ran a saloon and gambling house, but soon went into the cattle business, their operation becoming one of the largest in the Dakotas. In 1908, they sold out and ranched near Selfridge until 1919.

Clara Bell worked beside Ott just like any man and looked somewhat like a man, with her cropped hair, men’s clothing and deep voice. At the same time, Clara Bell was a wonderful seamstress and cook.

She became known for her nursing and midwife skills and her good neighborliness. Clara Bell would drive miles to provide medical help for friends and neighbors. As a midwife, she claimed to have spanked half the bottoms in the area.

One of her many unusual characteristics was being known as the only woman in the country ever convicted of cattle rustling.

Records show that Clara Bell and Ott divorced in 1921. It was unknown why they separated, but she was still referred to as “Mrs. Black,” and his obituary said that he moved to Selfridge after the death of his wife, Clara.

Clara Bell died on Sept. 12, 1932, and her obituary said she was survived by her husband, A.P. Black. Her funeral was one of the largest the area had ever seen, and she was buried in Golden Wealth Cemetery south of Selfridge.

By Cathy A. Langemo

WritePlus Inc.