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Dallas Historical Society

Mollie Bailey: Circus Queen of Texas

Time Frames
During School Day, After School, Summer, Weekend
Field Trip, On Campus Program
5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, Community/Fam., Talented/Gifted


This is a first person interpretation/performance of the life and experiences of Mollie Bailey, who served as a nurse and spy for Hood's Texas Brigade during the Civil War. As a young woman, Mollie Bailey, "Circus Queen of the Southwest," eloped with Gus Bailey, who played the cornet in his father's circus band. With Mollie's sister Fanny and Gus's brother Alfred, the young couple formed the Bailey Family Troupe, which traveled through Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas acting, dancing, and singing. During the Civil War, Gus served as bandmaster for a company of Hood's Texas Brigade. Mollie traveled with the brigade as a nurse and a spy. Mollie disguised herself as an elderly woman, passed through federal camps pretending to be a cookie seller, and claimed to have taken quinine through enemy lines by hiding packets of it in her hair. During the war, Gus wrote the words for "The Old Gray Mare," based on a horse who almost died after eating green corn but revived when given medicine. A friend set it to music, and it was played as a regimental marching song. Mollie came to Texas in 1879 when the troupe traded their showboat for a small circus that became successful as the Bailey Circus, "A Texas Show for Texas People." The show became the Mollie A. Bailey Show after Gus's health forced him to retire and Mollie became known as "Aunt Mollie." At its height, the one-ring tent circus had thirty-one wagons and about 200 animals; it added elephant and camel acts in 1902. After Gus's death in 1896, Mollie Bailey continued in the business, buying lots in many places where the circus performed to eliminate the high taxes levied on shows by most towns. When the circus moved to the next town, she allowed these lots to be used for ball games and camp meetings and later let many of them revert to the towns. In 1906, when the circus began traveling by railroad, Bailey entertained many distinguished guests in a finely appointed parlor car. She was also said to be a friend of Comanche chief Quanah Parker. In 1906 she married Blackie Hardesty, a much younger man, who managed the circus for her. After her youngest child, Birda, died in 1917, Bailey ran the circus from home, communicating with the road by telegram and letter. She died on October 2, 1918, at Houston, and was buried there in Hollywood Cemetery.

Students Will

  • Learn about traveling shows and circuses.
  • Learn about women in Texas in the 1800s.
  • Learn about Mollie Bailey.
  • Learn about life in Texas during and after the Civil War
  • Book: Texas Dames: Sassy and Savvy Women Throughout Lone Star History; By: Carmen Goldthwaite; ISBN-10: 1609498127


Dates: Open
Times: Open
Duration: Approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour (“Question and Answer” session is optional)
School Fee: $250 First Performance; $75 (each) 2nd and 3rd Performance (same character). Max three in one day.
Minimum Attendance: 1
Maximum Attendance: 150
Bilingual: No
Technical Needs: Microphone may be required for groups over 50
Other Information: For a discount, you can book up to three performances of the same character in one day.

Scheduling / Booking

Instructions: Call (214) 421-4500 x104 or email DHS Booking at
Deadline: Two weeks in advance. However, sometimes last minute requests can be accommodated.
Cancellation Policy: No refunds will be given for absent students. Any field trip, excluding the Chuckwagon, may be cancelled with full refund up to 48 hours before the scheduled program(s) and/or special event(s). Because of the popularity of the Chuckwagon field trip program, cancellation must be made within eight weeks of the program date in order to receive a full refund. Any field trip cancelled with less than 48 hours notice of the scheduled program(s) and/or special event(s) – including failure to cancel – will not be refunded. All program(s) and special event(s) will begin promptly at the time scheduled. The Dallas Historical Society is not responsible for groups who arrive late. No program delay or refund will be issued for tardiness. All outreach programs or performances will begin at the time scheduled and will last 45 minutes to an hour. Please have all participating students seated and ready to go by outreach program or performance start time. Failure to do so may result in an abbreviated program or performance. All programs and special events cancelled by the school or as a result of a district-wide closing and/or adverse weather will not be refunded. Affected programs and special events will either be rescheduled or may receive credit toward future programming. All programs and special events cancelled by the Dallas Historical Society for adverse weather or other conditions beyond our control will be refunded or rescheduled.
After School Policy: All after school programs or performances will begin at the time scheduled and will last 45 minutes to an hour. Please have all participating students seated and ready to go by after school program or performance start time. Failure to do so may result in an abbreviated program or performance.

Curriculum Information

Lesson Plans

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