Monday, March 26, 2012

Mother Berry

One of Montana’s most colorful characters was a woman known as Mother Berry. Her real name was Elizabeth Williams Berry, but Mother suited her just fine. Born in Australia in 1854, the feisty Elizabeth began a long career racing horses at age six. She became a jockey of great renown, racing all over the world under the name Jack Williams. Women jockeys were rare back then, and she disguised herself by wearing racing silks, a derby hat, and smoking cigars. At the age of fifty-four, Elizabeth married veterinarian Dr. J. B. Berry, and they eventually moved to Helena. Here Dr. Berry had charge of the Kessler Brewery horses and the show stock of wealthy Yellowstone Park concessionaire Harry Child. After Dr. Berry died in 1927, Mother continued to own racehorses and made her home in a cottage near the fairgrounds at the back of the Lewis and Clark County Racetrack. In 1937, fire claimed her home and the last of the oldest stables built before 1900. Her own prize thoroughbred, Rosa Lockwood, was saved from the fire as were ten other valuable racehorses. Mother once told a reporter that she didn’t like to have women around her because she was afraid she would say something bad. She learned to cuss from the jockeys she hung around with and she was good at it too. When she turned one hundred, Mother said “I’m not fit for the chopping block yet.” She wasn’t. When Mother turned 113, she was still doing all her own housework and cooking. She died in 1969, a month short of her 115th birthday.

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