Sister Blandina Was the Fastest Draw in the West

Suor Blandina Segale divenne celebre alla fine del 1800 per la sua attività di missionaria nel Far West e per i suoi leggendari incontri con il fuorilegge Billy the Kid, fatto per cui è passata alla storia come “la suora più veloce del West”. Nata in Liguria, emigrò negli Stati Uniti da ragazza e visse in Ohio, Colorado e New Mexico, stabilendosi prima a Trinidad, per insegnare ai bambini poveri e poi a Santa Fe, dove fondò alcune scuole cattoliche ed istituti benefici ancora attivi. Lì lottò anche per i diritti degli ispanici e dei nativi americani che stavano perdendo le loro terre. Ormai anziana e rientrata in America,  creò insieme alla sorella un centro di assistenza per italiani a Cincinnati che le occupò gli ultimi anni di vita. La sua storia ha ispirato la serie televisiva “At the end of the Santa Fe trail”.

Rosa Maria Segale was born in a tiny town just outside of Genoa, Italy. She was four when the family immigrated to Cincinnati, OH where, at the age of 16, she joined the Sisters of Charity and was given the religious name of Sister Blandina. Her younger sister, Maria Maddelena followed suit and was given the name of Sister Justina.

Sister Blandina was given teaching assignments in Steubenville and Dayton, OH and, in November, 1872 at the age of 22, was dispatched for missionary work to Trinidad, CO. Soon after, Sister Blandina was transferred to Santa Fe, NM where she not only advocated on behalf of Hispanics and Native Americans, she cared for the poor, the sick and immigrants and co-founded public and Catholic schools.

During her missionary work, Sister Blandina learned that a member of the feared Billy the Kid gang was alone, seriously wounded and dying in a shack. She went to the bandit daily, treated him and saved his life. Legend has it that during one of those visits, she encountered Billy the Kid, the most notorious outlaw of the Southwest. The bandit, with 21 notches on his gun, had created a mission to kill any doctors who refused to treat his gang member. The legend continues that Billy the Kid was said to have thanked the nun and wished to grant her a favor in return to which Sister Blandina requested the outlaw not take revenge on the doctors and spare their lives. He abandoned his plan.

It is also said that on another occurrence, the Kids’ gang stopped a covered wagon that they intended to rob and when he spotted the nun as one of the passengers, he tipped his hat and rode off. In passing time, Sister Blandina was transferred to Santa Fe to help in a religious settlement and raise monies for the construction of a hospital for the care of the indigent. Later in Albuquerque, she worked on behalf of completing another hospital.

In 1931, at age 81, the nun who had left her native land as a child and had not returned for 77 years was in Rome pleading the cause of sainthood for Mother Elizabeth Seaton, the founder of the Sisters of Charity. 

In her final years, Sister Blandina returned to Cincinnati with her sister and worked with the Italian immigrant community. She would come to be known as the “Nun with spurs.” In the late 1960s, she was portrayed in a television series, “Death Valley Days” hosted by Ronald Reagan.

She died at the age of 91, on Feb. 23, 1941. A book based on the letters she sent to her sister, Justina, was published in Italy in the mid-1990s titled “An Italian Nun in the West.” In her letters, she noted the career of “Poor Billy the Kid” as that of “a young man who started down the slope at the age of 12 to avenge an insult that had been done to his mother.” Her experiences are published in her autobiography, “At the End of the Santa Fe Trail.”