Here come the saucy riders,
Girls who are Texas born;
Who know the rhythm of riding
Over prairie sage and thorn
Watch how they cut and circle,
Canter and gallop and pace;
Each girl and horse united
In a flowing pulse of grace.
Surely such easy motion,
Free from strain or fear,
Comes only to those who are quickened
By the life of the pioneer.
“Girl Riders,” by Mrs. W. E Boswell, President, National Poetry League in “Poems of the West,” Rodeo Souvenir Annual, 1947, page 67
Though many of the pages of the 1947 Rodeo Souvenir Annual (featured in our current exhibit, Saddles on Parade: The Artistry of Edward Bohlin) focus on men, readers can find stories, features, poems, and artwork about women in rodeo.
“These and other daughters of Texas and Oklahoma rodeo wouldn’t have to tip their sombreros to any one in rodeo when they climb into the saddle. For they are top hands anywhere.” – “Women in Rodeo” by Mrs. Edgar Deen
Mrs. Deen features the accolades and life stories of several celebrated women who participated in the 1947 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo boasted some of the top hand women performers. One such woman was Tad Lucas, a native of Fort Worth, who had won trophies from rodeos all over the country, as well as internationally in Australia, Mexico, and Canada. Even her daughter, Mitzi, competed in rodeos.
Another rider featured was Tulsa-based Nancy Bragg. “Her tricks, though they might appear easy, require great skill and daring. While her horses dash at 30 miles an hour, she may stand in the saddle, do a full back-bend, grasp the cantle, kick loose one foot, point a toe high and then come back to a standing position.”
A woman who’s presence and hard work was more often felt than seen was Mrs. Everett Colborn, wife or “right hand man” of an avid rodeo producer. She served as secretary and treasurer of their business, the Colborn-Autry Rodeo (of which Gene Autry was a co-owner.) Her role, as Mrs. Deen describes in her article, reminds me of Nancy Cooper Russell, wife and business manager of artist Charles Russell. Nancy, like Mrs. Everett Colborn, may have not been often seen, but her behind-the-scenes role and business savvy was instrumental in the success of the cowboy artist’s career. “My wife has been an inspiration to me in my work. Without her I would probably have never attempted to soar or reach any height, further than to make a few pictures for my friends and old acquaintances.” – Charles M. Russell, 1919
Rodeo life could be tough for some women, as outlined in Bess Stephenson’s article, “Hard on Some Women.” Life for the family of a rodeo cowboy was not only financially challenging, but could also be a life that was on the go, chasing one rodeo to the next all around the country. But the ultimate struggle for rodeo wives was watching their husbands jeopardize life and limb at every performance. “During the war, someone asked why a fairly healthy looking bronc rider wasn’t in the Army. ‘Army wouldn’t have him,’ the answer was, ‘He has high blood pressure, multiple skull fractures, a broken foot that didn’t set properly and besides, he’s 37 years old.’”
Where else could one see the work of women at the 1947 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo? On the front cover of the Rodeo Souvenir Annual! The annual’s cover art was done by artist local artist Pauline Belew. Pauline had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students’ League in New York City, and the Art Center in Los Angeles. She had made a career from painting portraits, having painted 200 Fort Worth children portraits at the time of the annual’s printing. How I would love to see one of those portraits today!