Cowgirls of the Past

SOURCE: COWGIRL DIARY – OUR FAVORITE HORSE BLOG!!! Cowgirl Diary has so many interesting blog posts that you could click the link above to see. Here’s a great blog —


“Cowgirls of yesterday were famous for being bronc riders, sharpshooters, Wild West performers, and Hollywood actresses.  They were brave, fun-loving, hard-working, and maybe just a little bit crazy in the head.  I love reading their individual stories and lists of accomplishments, and it is so inspiring to look into the history of cowgirls.  Not all of them were famous, and it is some of the most obscure stories that I enjoy the most.  We’ve all heard of remarkable people  like Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, and Dale Evans.  But there are so much more wonderful cowgirl stories out there!  Here are just a few quotes and excerpts about some amazing horse women:

Mary A. (May) Manning was born in 1869 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  At age seventeen, she married Gordon William Lillie (aka Pawnee Bill), who gave her a pony and a .22 rifle as wedding gifts.  She became known in her husband’s Wild West Show as a sharpshooter and expert “lady” rider.   May Lillie said while on tour with American Wild West Shows in 1907,  “Let any normally healthy woman who is ordinarily strong screw up her courage and tackle a bucking bronco, and she will find a fascinating pastime in the field of feminine athletic endeavor. There is nothing to compare, to increase the joy of living, and once accomplished, she’ll have more real fun than any pink tea or theater party or ballroom ever yielded.” 

Dale Evans, cowgirl co-star to her husband Roy Rogers in his popular television show,  said, “Cowgirl is an attitude.  Cowgirl is a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights, and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear. A cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull rider, or an actress. But she’s just as likely to be a checker at the local Winn Dixie, a full-time mother, a banker, an attorney, or an astronaut.”

One of my favorite stories is about Connie Douglas Reeves.  She was born in 1901 and said that she sat on a horse before she could sit up by herself.  She started riding at age five, grew up and graduated from Texas Women’s University, taught high school in San Antonio, and worked part time as a riding instructor.  In 1936, she joined the equestrian program at Camp Waldemar in Hunt, Texas, where it is said she taught over 30,000 girls to ride.  She and her husband managed a 10,000 cattle and sheep ranch for over forty years.  She was elected to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1997 and rode in the parade in 2002 when the Hall was moved to its new home in Fort Worth.  She was 101 years old at the time.  She continued to ride until age 102 when she was thrown from her favorite horse, Dr. Pepper, while asking him to canter.  (She had been thrown by him prior to this, at age 93, but that didn’t prevent her from riding.)  Injuries sustained from her fall led to her death a few days later, but she is a cowgirl legend who literally lived life to the fullest.  She wrote an autobiography, I Married a Cowboy: Half Century with Girls & Horses at Camp Waldemar in 1995. Connie’s motto was, Always saddle your own horse.

In my searching of famous cowgirls of the past, I came across a free e-book on Google, listing women bronc riders and telling some great stories about them.  The author of Let ‘Er Buck, A Story of the Passing of the Old West,  Charles Wellington Furlong, lists Lucile Mulhall of Oklahoma, as the only woman to successfully get a steer down on time, and the only woman to have bull-dogged a steer at the Pendleton Round-Up.  He names Bertha Blancett, circa 1916, as the best all-around cow woman, and says she was “the most daring, gamest, and as sportsmanlike, a woman as ever rode at a round-up, and as efficient as any cowboy on the range.”  She was the daughter of a rancher, who had to take all of the docile ranch horses away to prevent his seven-year-old daughter from riding them.  So she learned to “handle and ride” by riding the milk cows nearly to death, and after that catching wild colts and riding them.  You can read the story in its entirety at this link.


Another incredible cowgirl was Fannie Sperry Steele.  Born on a Montana homestead in 1887, at the age of two Fannie declared “I gonna catch me a white-face horsie.” Even as a child, Fannie knew what she wanted.  Fannie was a remarkable woman who became a world champion. She raced thoroughbreds, twice won the title of Lady Bucking Horse Champion of the World, rode with Buffalo Bill Cody and other top western performers, became the first woman in the state of Montana to be granted an outfitters license, and was named a charter member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame.  You can read her whole story in the book, The Lady Rode Bucking Horses.  She is quoted as saying, “To the yesterdays that are gone, to the cowboys I used to know, to the bronc busters that rode beside me, to the horses beneath me, I take off my hat.  I wouldn’t have missed one minute of it.”

Cowgirls of the West

It’s so inspiring to read their stories and imagine the courage they displayed on a daily basis.  Here is another interesting cowgirl article about five women who are recognized at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.  I have been bucked off a few times (though not recently, thank goodness!) and I cannot imagine climbing on a horse that you know is going to buck hard, in front of hundreds of spectators and peers, hoping you can stay on for eight seconds, and knowing full well you will probably land in a heap.  The women of the Old West were characters, and  I would have loved to have known some of those brave souls who invented the name, Cowgirl.”


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