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The Cowgirls

Joyce Gibson Roach

Publication Year: 1990

An important chapter in the history and folklore of the West is how women on the cattle frontier took their place as equal partners with men. The cowboy may be our most authentic folk hero, but the cowgirl is right on his heels. This Spur Award winning book fills a void in the history of the cowgirl. While Susan B. Anthony and her hoop-skirted friends were declaring that females too were created equal, Sally Skull was already riding and roping and marking cattle with her Circle S brand on the frontier of Texas. Wearing rawhide bloomers and riding astride, she thought nothing of crossing the border into Mexico, unchaperoned, to pursue her career as a horse trader. In Colorado, Cassie Redwine rounded up her cowboys and ambushed a group of desperadoes; Ann Bassett, also of Colorado, backed down a group of men who tried to force her off the open range. In Montana, Susan Haughian took on the United States government in a dispute over some grazing rights, and the government got the short end of the stick. Susan McSween carried on an armed dispute between ranchers in New Mexico and the U.S. Army, and other interested citizens; and in Arizona, Annette Taylor experimented with new grasses and found cures for the diseases that plagued her stock. In the years of the Civil War, women were called upon to do many things that would have been unheard of in peacetime. When the people moved west after the war, women were obliged to keep doing these things if the family was to survive. Still other groups of women—second generation cattle-country women—did men’s jobs because they were good at it. Some participated in Wild West shows and made reputations for themselves in rodeo as trick and bronc riders. Cowgirls are chronicled through trail driving, ranching, gun-toting, rustling, bronc riding, and rodeoing in this updated and revised edition of The Cowgirls.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

Cowmen-and cowwomen-are a breed apart. People who live with and by cows have always been a little farther out-geographically speaking- than the rest of the population...

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pp. xiii

I am first and foremost still indebted to Dr. C. L. Sonnichsen of Tucson, Arizona, for critically reading my manuscript, making suggestions, leading me to dozens of helpful people, giving me ideas, and holding...

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pp. xvi

Life used to be so simple," said a cowgirl who, along with her two sisters, knew what it was to work a large ranch roping, riding, branding, herding, castrating, birthing, breeding, slaughtering,...

Section I: Through a Glass Darkly: Women of Cattle Country

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1. Hairpins on the trail

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pp. 3-16

Nowhere are cowboys, both real and imaginary, more noticeable than on cattle drives. From journals and diaries to the silver screen, the drama of stampede, crossing the herd, prairie...

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2. Amazons of the range

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pp. 17-38

Philip Ashton Rollins, who made that statement in The Cowboy, is considered an authority on men of the range. That is not to say, however, that he knew all there was to know about ranch women....

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3. Lay that pistol down, Babe

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pp. 39-50

A ranch woman's ability with cows and horses and her methods of maintaining a ranch were unique, at least to outsiders. Whips and ropes helped cowgirls keep their kingdoms in order, but in the use of...

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4. Into their own hands

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pp. 51-66

Over cactus and rock the Rurales pursued a female rider across the border into Texas. Only minutes before, the woman had galloped into Rancho Conejo in Coahuila, Mexico, where some fifty men, under the command of a Captain Rivera, were camped. She entered a building...

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5. The lady rustlers

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pp. 67-76

A nne Richey of Lincoln County, Wyoming, was "thirty, purty, and full of life."l She was the daughter of a well-known ranching family. Educated, married to a school teacher, she had some claim to culture, though she knew how to...

Section II: Face to Face: The Commercial Cowgirls

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6. Out of the chutes: The early years

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pp. 79-96

The twin spectacles of rodeo and Wild West show brought the frontier to the doorstep of civilization so that it could be inspected at close range. Other heroes needed the woods, the mountains, or the ocean, but cowboys and cowgirls were portable,...

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7. Out of the chutes: The later years

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pp. 97-110

The year 1924 was special for a group of rodeo cowgirls. In that year John "Tex" Austin, who began producing rodeos prior to 1924, took a group to Europe which included most of the top female as well...

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8. With quirt and spur

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pp. 111-120

The events of rodeo developed from the cowboy's life of work and play on the range. Women's rodeo events reflected range activities too, but only when they were the same jobs as the men performed. It was a real...

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9. I see by your outfit

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pp. 121-128

While it took much more than clothes to make a rodeo hand in the early days of the sport, it is nevertheless true that the clothes worn by cowboys and cowgirls did much to enhance their image as heroes and heroines, made them readily identifiable...

Section III: Beyond Reality: Distorted Images

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10. Wild, wild women

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pp. 131-144

Naturally Ted does not leave her, and the couple get out of their predicament. This happy conclusion, however, is brought about by Stella, the "girl pard" of Ted Strong, not by the bumbling hero. Stella knows a solution when she sees one and...

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11. A book by its cover

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pp. 145-168

The woman on the cover of the book is pretty. Her hair is long, her lips red and inviting. That she is a woman of the cattle range is evident in her buckskin shirtlaced loosely in the front, her leathery looking skirt which the wind whips against her legs, the cartridge belt...

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12. Pauline out West: The cowgirl in the movies

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pp. 169-180

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans are smiling bravely at each other as they buckle on their silverplated holsters over their embroidered britches. Dale speaks: "Roy, the rustlers are stealing all of my...

Section IV: The Cowboy's Point of View

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13. My love is a rider

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pp. 183-192

The songs the cowboys sang on the trail, around the campfire, with the herd, and later into a microphone or on records told a lot about their life-what they wore, what they did, what tickled them and made them laugh, what made them sad, what constituted...

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14. No laughing matter: Ranch women in the humor of the West

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pp. 193-206

Bill was sweating over the forge trying to get some horseshoes ready when his wife walked up. She watched him cuss and hammer awhile. When he put down a hot shoe, she walked over to it, picked...

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pp. 207-210

The final chapter of a book is generally reserved to tell the reader: This is the end of the story. There isn't any more. Happily such is not the case in this book. If cowgirls have a past which can be traced from ranch...

[Image Plates]

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pp. 211-214

Though millions of words have been written and said about the cowboy over the last hundred years-often mistakenly proclaiming him dead-the cowgirl has been overlooked at one extreme, overdrawn at the...


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pp. 215-235


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pp. 236-249


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pp. 250-259

About the Author

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pp. 261

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414950
Print-ISBN-13: 9780929398150

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 35 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 1990