“Cowgirl is an attitude, really.
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.”
(Dale Evans, 1992)
- Cowgirls are often overlooked in the history of the Wild West, yet many women worked alongside the men on family ranches, and in Wild West shows and rodeos, from the early Nineteenth Century onward.
- These gals showed remarkable pioneer spirits. They were – and still are – independent, fearless, hard-headed, spunky, courageous, hardy, and confident in their own abilities.
- They love a life of excitement and adventure.
- On the range, their duties include feeding cattle, fixing fences, herding, chasing wild mustangs, looking after horses, and branding calves.
- In the rodeo ring, they bulldog steers, ride broncos, and participate in trick-riding and trick-roping activities.
- Women in popular outdoor performances still show off their shooting and riding skills. Perhaps the most famous of all was Annie Oakley – star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
- Cowgirls have always gained attention with their unique sense of style. Their outfits are not only practical and professional, but also feminine. They wear fringed skirts, beaded vests and belts, inlaid boots, embroidered gauntlets, colorful ribbons, even sequins and satin. Their hats are very flattering, and many have adopted fancy silver-mounted spurs.
- The Texas legend – Lizzy Johnson Williams – drove her own cattle up the Chisholm Trail. But at home she dressed in silk, taffeta, velvet, and fine diamond jewels.
- Broad-brimmed hats used to be particularly popular with cowgirls as they offered more facial protection from the sun.
- The first cowgirls rode side-saddle, in the typical Victorian fashion of the time. But this was dangerous when chasing and roping cattle, or taming horses.
- In the mid-1990s women began riding astride in carefully-designed split pants that looked like skirts.
- By 1906, most ranch women rode cross-saddle, and before long there was little difference between male and female saddle designs.
- Cowgirls learnt to shoot rifles and pistols as their safety often depended on a good eye and steady wrist. They usually wore their six-shooters on a holstered belt, in the cross-draw fashion.
- Some frontier women stepped the wrong side of the law and earned reputations as Bad Gals. Calamity Jane, Belle Starr, Pearl Hart, Cattle Annie, and Little Britches, still live on in the popular imagination. Yee ha!
Flood, Elizabeth Clair. Cowgirls: Women of the Wild West. New Mexico: Zon International, 2000.
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Texas.