How might you ask, are Pancho Villa, Miss DuPont, of France and the YMCA in Douglas, Arizona related and by the way – what exactly is a drilling match? These disconnected references are the magic that fascinates me about these used postcards. It is a moment in time, place and culture that don’t exist in any other human artifact quite in this manner. I always think about the time and effort this missive required. Someone bought the card, somewhere, intentionally, wrote it and sent it off to another person, on the other side of the world in this case. Douglas, Arizona, to France for goodness’ sake!
Let’s start with the event that brings these dis-related people and references together. Drilling matches, or as more commonly known at the time, drilling contests were held in mining towns in mining communities across America. Rock drillers were celebrities. One of the greatest contests took place in Montana, where 25,000 spectators watched and cheered and celebrated. Miners competed, made front page news and won substantial cash prizes. This postcard shows Douglas, Arizona, which had a population of about 6,400. Obviously, this was a huge event for the city.
They are crowded into the square in front of the YMCA, which stands today, recently refurbished, and with its own Facebook page. (A completely different kind of post.)
The card is written to a Miss DuPont, France, with no stamp. I imagine, with literary license, that this was sent in an envelope with other postcards, all having notes about the wild times in Arizona Territory, by a traveler, visitor, relocated person.
The writer says, “This city is on the Border on one side is United States and the other is Mexico where all the fighting is going on now” This is where Pancho Villa comes into play. The Mexican Border War lasted from 1910 – 1919, with fighting just across the border in Agua Prieta, (brown or dark water) Sonora, Mexico and into the US. The people of Douglas were well aware of and sometimes witness to this border war and the celebrity of Pancho Villa himself.
The hand writing seems feminine to me, so I wonder if this was a woman visiting, perhaps, having relocated to Douglas, where money was to be made. Obviously, the DuPont name is and was quite well known, but I wondered – who could the elusive Miss DuPont be? If the writer is feminine, how did someone writing to her end up in Douglas, Arizona?
Newspaper research uncovered a Miss Dupont’s School in Paris, at this time. Perhaps our writer was a recent graduate, or maybe worked at the school, or? Maybe the writing isn’t feminine, but a well-trained gentleman – although I think the prose would have been more than just about the fighting.
I am struck by the number of people who crowded the center of town to watch and the lengths to which they went to watch. Note the 5 men at the top of the telegraph pole left of center (that couldn’t have been easy!), the men and women on top of the building to the left and people standing against the carriage roof to get a better view. The women were dressed for a social event, hats with bows and tulle.
Perhaps there were chants of the drillers’ names, ice cream served afterwards, money awarded, autographs signed? Newspapers from the time, in other towns announce tug of wars, horseshoes, other games and festivities around these competitions. In some cases, the play by play and outcome are front page news.
And so, another post comes to an end. I love Arizona, I love these cards. This moment, frozen in time, the drilling competition against the backdrop of the newly constructed YMCA, which 3 years later had a basketball court and swimming pool, the writer, the recipient, Pancho Villa, France, the hats, the people, all remind me that a moment in time can be special or significant, even when we don’t realize it at that moment.
Off to the next moment frozen in time,