My watercolor cowgirl series was originally inspired by Bonnie Raitt singing “Angel from Montgomery." One morning, the line “Make me a poster of an old rodeo..” sparked an idea, and a trip to the library.
The golden age of cowgirls in rodeo spanned the ten years between 1919-29. The confidently modern attitude of the “flapper girls” helped to pave the way for changes in women's clothing, and social attitudes toward traditional roles. When the glamorous cowgirls sewed costumes, they designed clothing that was comfortable, and practical for trick riding, and the feats of daring that wowed the audiences.
In my painting, Fox Hastings is featured on the far left. She wears her trademark “ten-gallon” hat and the bold colors that she loved. Fox was a skilled trick and bronc rider and learned the dangerous art of steer wrestling from her husband Mike Hastings.
The two dark-haired Montana cowgirls Alice and Margie Greenough learned to ride on the family ranch near Red Lodge before they could walk. The sisters left home to tour with one of the last big Wild West shows and moved up to rodeo performing. They became stars of the western scene, and toured in the US, and around the world.
Tad Lucas, featured in the middle- was the youngest of 24 children. She was given the nickname Tad, or “tadpole” for her diminutive stature. Her professional career began at the age of 20. In addition to bronc riding, she was well-known for her trick-riding stunts. In 1933, after an accident at a rodeo in Chicago, Tad’s arm was so badly crushed that it remained in a cast for three years. After a year, she returned to the saddle, cast and all, and did stunts that only required the use of one arm. She rode her last bronc at the age of 62.
Prairie Rose Henderson (shown here in pink and cream) is credited with being the first woman to ride a bronc- at the Cheyenne Frontier Days. She was well-known for her beautifully elaborate costumes, decorated with fur, feathers, and sequins, and Turkish-style trousers gathered at the knee.
In 1929, Bonnie McCarroll was killed during the Pendleton Roundup. She had competed for 17 years and was a well-known face in the rodeo circuit. Before her last ride, she announced her retirement and plans to move with her husband to Idaho. Her tragic death changed the future of rodeo for women. The Pendleton Roundup immediately dropped women’s bronc riding. The newly created Rodeo Association of America grew in membership and used its influence to focus on men’s events. Additionally, the RAA’s officially selected magazine “Hoofs and Horns” kept members updated on competitive standings, and rule changes, but refused to recognize women’s achievements in rodeo.
These famous rodeo cowgirls were recognized nationally during their lifetimes. They were glamorous, capable, and brave. In some small way, I'd like to honor their achievements and the adventurous spirit of the old west that they represent.