Portrait of Mary Garrigus

Mary Frances Garrigus

Mary Frances Garrigus was an Apsáalooke (Crow) woman who grew up in Stillwater County during the early 1900s. Her father, Will Garrigus, a white man, owned a mercantile store and grazed sheep on the family ranch. Mary’s mother, Margaret Hundley Garragus, supplied land for the family ranch, as she was one quarter Crow, one quarter Piegan, and owned an allotment on the Crow reservation.

Apsáalooke people, circa 1878. Photograph by David F. Barry

Mary was a thoughtful, ambitious young woman. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana in 1916, and went on to become the first Indigenous woman to graduate from U.M. Law School in 1918.

Mary Frances Garrigus, Yearbook Photo University of Montana 1916.

Her friends wrote in the yearbook of her, 

If you take advice from Frances

You can never come to harm

For she goes about the campus

With a lawbook ‘neath her arm.

Mary planned to serve as an attorney in the court of Judge Ben Lindsay, the Progressive reformer who pioneered juvenile law.  Judge Lindsay believed that youth who ran afoul of the law should be helped instead of thrown in prison. He believed in giving kids a second chance and wanted to hear from the kids themselves. Lindsay established the nation’s first juvenile court.

Judge Ben Lindsay

Attorneys working with Judge Lindsay learned to investigate the economic causes behind criminal behavior. They uncovered the realities of tenement housing in the cities, substandard wages, child labor, and the challenges faced by working mothers. Over time, Judge Lindsay became a powerful advocate for juvenile rights, women’s rights, and workers’ rights.

The Courtroom of Judge Ben Lindsay
Carbon County School Bus

Inspired by Judge Lindsay’s work, Mary wanted to train at his court in Denver. To fund her move from Montana to Colorado, she taught shorthand and typing to business students at Carbon County High School.

Carbon County Landscape

When influenza hit, the schools closed, and local officials urged teachers to volunteer as nurses. Makeshift hospitals and isolated families alike needed health care workers to tend the sick. Mary answered the call, and began work at the emergency hospital in Red Lodge.

Red Cross Poster, Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Barely one month later, Mary felt a crushing fatigue, and knew it was the influenza. After a brief battle, she died on November 30, 1918. Her ambition to work with Judge Lindsay, and to bring his pioneering practices back to Montana, was cut short by the virus.

In the death of Miss Garragus the high school loses a valued member of its staff and the community a ready, willing and capable worker.    

– Reporter, The Carbon County Journal (December 4, 1918)