Mollie Bailey Was a Spy

Story by Donna Ingham

Performance Notes and Suggestions for Telling

A lot of the humor and opportunity for children to become involved in the story depend upon gestures and facial expressions. The introduction, beginning with “Mollie Bailey was a spy...” and ending with “...And that’s when she got to be a spy”, may be told in a pretty straightforward manner. Then, the teller can begin to ham it up a bit, just as Mollie probably would have.

The storyteller’s body language will help the children stay focused and involved. Tellers can make a wrinkled-up-nose face when talking about the quinine to reflect its unpleasant odor, use exaggerated hand gestures to indicate Molly’s big hairdo, and equally minimized gestures to indicate the wrapping and hiding of the quinine.

The transformation of Mollie from a young woman to an old lady and back to a young woman allows for visually humorous acting on the part of the teller. It also reinforces the fact that Mollie was quite an actress herself! The storyteller can use body language such as a turned-down mouth, a hunched-up back, stooped shoulders, a hobbling gait, a scratchy voice and any other “aging” indicators to bring smiles or outright giggles. If this happens, milk the moment! Exaggerate and hold each movement. Then “un-age” Molly, perhaps more quickly, but just as deliberately.

If time allows, the teller can involve children directly in the story by describing Mollie’s habit of mimicking people and by inviting them to mimic the teller’s walk and/or talk, or each other’s, or some combination. They could also chime in during the “boom, boom, boom” scene with the bass drum.

Singing “The Old Gray Mare” that might be a good way to conclude the program since it was written by Gus Bailey, Mollie’s husband. It’s an easy song for children to learn.

And now, the story!

Mollie Bailey Was A Spy

Mollie Bailey was a spy.

Oh, really, for most of her life she ran a circus, but for part of her life she was a spy.

She was born on a plantation in Alabama back in the fall of 1844, and by the time the Civil War broke out she was 21 years old and already married to Gus Bailey, a musician who’d grown up in his daddy’s circus. Gus enlisted in the Confederate Army there in Alabama and got transferred to a regiment in Hood’s Texas Brigade the next winter. Mollie volunteered to go along as a nurse. And that’s when she got to be a spy. She heard that some of the Arkansas soldiers were in need of quinine—a bitter medicine, but very useful for treating malaria. So she said she’d take it to them, even if she had to go through enemy lines. She was a woman on a mission.

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And she was pretty smart too. She figured out a way to hide that quinine so that even if she did get stopped by some of the Union soldiers they’d never find it. See, she made herself a really big head of hair. You know, we talk about Texas women with big hair? Well, she made herself some really big hair. She brushed and brushed and brushed her hair up from her forehead up on top of her head in what they called a pompadour. And then she took that powdered quinine and wrapped it into small packets and then hid those packets in her hair.

The officer in charge said, “Well, depend on a woman to think up a good scheme.” And, sure enough, it worked. Mollie got the quinine delivered and returned safely.

Another time, she did some real spying. That is, she walked right into an enemy camp and listened in on conversations to get valuable information for the Rebels. She managed to do that by making herself up to look like an old woman.

She turned her mouth down real sour like and kind of hunched her back up and stooped her shoulders over and began hobbling around. When she talked, her voice sounded old and scratchy:

“Cookies. I’ve got cookies. Do you want any cookies today?”

And she passed among those Union soldiers listening to every scrap of their conversations until she had all the information she needed so that she could report what they were up to and where they were going. Then when she’d hobbled far enough away from that camp to be in Rebel territory again, she straightened herself up and ran just as if she was in her 20s—which, of course, she was.

Now she couldn’t have done all that if she hadn’t been something of an actress, a performer. But that she was. From the time she was a little girl she liked putting on shows. She would get her sisters to help, but Mollie was always the director and the star. And she was quite a mimic. Behind their backs she would walk like the servants or visitors or just about anybody. And she’d try to talk like them too.

She followed her daddy around their plantation just as if she were a boy, asking lots of questions and watching everything. So she was kind of a tomboy and a bit of a daredevil.

It’s not surprising then that after she married Gus and got through being a spy that she took to show business even better than he did, even though he’d grown up in a circus. After the Civil War they traveled all over the South and even toured by riverboat with the Bailey Concert Company.

They came to Texas in 1879 and started the Bailey Circus, “A Texas Show for Texas People”. It was a one-ring tent circus that grew to have 31 wagons and about 200 animals—finally even elephants and camels. Of course, it was dangerous to travel by wagon from town to town back in those days, but Mollie was still clever and courageous, just as she had been back when she was a spy.

One time the Baileys were camped between two Texas towns, and they had circled their wagons just as they always did. While preparing the evening meal, Mollie saw some shadows moving near the wagons and determined it was Indians making those shadows. She grabbed an old pistol she had saved from the Civil War and started firing it in the air. The Indians kept coming. So she tried something else. She started beating on the big bass circus drum. Boom! Boom! Boom!

And, sure enough, it worked. The Indians rode off in terror, no doubt thinking the drum was a cannon like the one the soldiers had at the fort.

Yessir, Mollie had figured out how to make her mission possible one more time. She was quite a woman, that Mollie Bailey, Confederate spy and Texas circus lady.


Texas Reading Club 2003 Programming Manual / Mission Possible Spy Book!

Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: June 14, 2011