Cowgirl Up!

If that’s a YeeHAW! you hear echoing down the corridors of your Fortune 500 company, or the distinctive click of boot heels on polished granite, there’s little question what’s happening. It’s Rodeo time in Houston.

Founded in 1931 as the Houston Fat Stock Show & Exposition, the name of the event’s been changed to Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but for most Houstonians, it’s just The Rodeo – a melange of bronc riding, parades, baby animals, wine tastings, quilt exhibits, barbeque, trailrides, livestock auctions, concerts and calf scrambles that truly has something for everyone.

When the Rodeo’s in town, as it is now, everyone’s a cowboy or cowgirl. Even the slickest, most citified sort turns up at the office in boots and overblown belt buckles. People whose closest association with beef generally is the ribeye on their plate start discussing the finer points of breeding Simmental and Simbrah.  Local broadcasters trail around behind trailriders, breathlessly reporting who’s cooking chili and whose horse pulled up lame, while dance studios try to accomodate a surge of people demanding classes in Western Swing and the Texas Two-Step.

It’s called Rodeo Fever, and even the most inveterate Yankee can catch it. I’m especially vulnerable, and have been since my first days in Houston. As a child, I didn’t long to be a princess, ballerina or nurse. I wanted to be a cowgirl. I didn’t want to jump ropes, I wanted to twirl them. I didn’t want to eat my carrots, I wanted to feed them to a horse.  I didn’t care about about corn futures or spot trading in the soybean market. I tuned in to the noon market reports to sing along with the Sons of the Pioneers. Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds was my favorite and the most famous member of the group, Roy Rogers, was my hero. If he liked Dale Evans, well – I’d learn to put up with her, too.

I watched them on television, and yearned after their life. I seem to remember a box filled with Roy Rogers comic books. I know I had a signed Dale Evans photo.  I carried my sandwich and apple to school in a  Roy Rogers lunch box and my milk in a Dale Evans thermos.  Eventually, I wore down my parents with incessant whining and got the cowgirl outfit I coveted, minus the boots but with a lovely pair of six-shooters and a beautiful, faux-tooled-leather holster. What the Smothers Brothers later sang as parody in their  Streets of Laredo I believed to be true:

I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy,
I see by your outfit you are a cowboy, too.
We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys,
If you get an outfit, you can be a cowboy, too.

I had my outfit, and I loved it so much I outgrew it before I stopped wearing it.  Still, despite the outfit, I was no cowgirl.  It took a new life in Texas to move me beyond fantasy, giving me a sense of what “being a cowgirl” might entail.

Long before I became friends with some real Texas cowgirls, I began to hear the names of the famous ones. Most folks in the Coastal Bend know of Louise O’Connor, fifth-generation member of a family that’s been ranching near Victoria since 1834. Her first book, Cryin’ for Daylight, took its title from Will King, an itinerant cowhand who famously said, “We loved to work cattle so much we’d just be sittin’ around, crying for daylight to come…”

Connie Douglas Reeves taught generations of girls to ride at Camp Waldemar in Hunt, Texas before being tossed from her horse and dying at the age of 101.  She taught far more than riding. Her most famous and most insistent bit of advice – Always saddle your own horse – has become the unofficial motto of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and a touchstone for thousands of people. I once found her words painted onto a cedar board that had been tucked into a pile of rocks along a deserted stretch of the Sabinal River. I never forgot them.

And always, there is Hallie Stillwell, who kept on ranching in Texas’ unforgiving Big Bend country for years after her husband’s death. Through a combination of classic sharp-shooting, political skill, quite ordinary town jobs and the syndication of a newspaper column, she managed to become one of the largest of the larger-than-life ranch women who populate the American West. My favorite image of Hallie, produced by artist Debbie Little-Wilson and called “Hallie’s Moon” was imprinted on t-shirts for the Texas State Arts & Crafts Festival in Kerrville, and still can be spotted on Texas streets.

One of first women ranchers I knew personally also had known Hallie. It’s true that, as author Kenneth B. Ragsdale wrote in his book Big Bend Country, “People throughout Texas either knew, claimed they knew or wanted to know Hallie Stillwell.” But this woman had known her and, as she put it, Hallie really knew what it meant to “cowgirl up”.

At the time, I didn’t have a clue what the phrase meant. I’ve since learned it’s a variant of an old rodeo warning call from the chute, “cowboy up” meaning the rider was seated up on the back of the bronco or bull and was ready for the gate to open. Over time, the expression took on a broader meaning, suggesting someone was ready and able to tackle the next challenge, physically and mentally prepared for difficult or dangerous tasks. When used as a verb, “cowboy up!” means, “Get with it. Don’t shirk your responsibility. Give it your best.”

One of the most vivid examples of a woman who understood what it meant to “cowgirl up” was Helen Bonham, a rodeo cowgirl who also served as Miss Wyoming.  During the year of her reign she traveled the country, delighting crowds with her considerable skills. In 1920 she arrived in New York City to invite Mayor John Francis Hylan back to Wyoming for Frontier Days  During her visit, the NY Times reported she would entertain 15,000 Girl Scouts during their annual Field Day by roping and riding her way through the Sheep Meadow in Central Park.

Travel can be frustrating, lonely and tiring, of course, even when undertaken in pursuit of a dream. From all accounts, Helen Bonham helped to balance the challenges of her life by staying in touch with those she’d left behind. With no email, twitter, Facebook or messaging to help her out, she coped just as previous generations of travelers had coped. She wrote letters.

This famous postcard, showing Helen using her saddle as a desk for letter-writing, was used by Debbie Little-Wilson as the basis for her print, St. Helen Bonham, Protector of Email. I already knew Debbie’s work, having purchased She Made Her Own Groceries some time before. When I saw her Cowgirl Saints series, there was no question that St. Helen, along with Debbie’s interpretation of her importance, would have to come home with me.

While rodeo cowgirl Helen Bonham corresponded religiously back home,
she would never have imagined that one day letters would travel at the blink of an eye.
She would have ridden cyberspace with the same daring as she did her horse.
Saint Helen protects the sending and receiving of email
and the mystery of it all.


Today, that framed print of Saint Helen hangs above my computer desk. She’s been there for several years, watching over my wisdom and my foolishness alike.  She never had a computer, while I never got my horse and saddle. Still, she wrote in her way and I’m riding on in mine, both of us beneficiaries of traditions still being lived out in the hidden corners and far reaches of a country that never will be fenced: traditions of self-reliance, adaptability, resourcefulness and flat hard work that mark life in a country called Tomorrow.

Perhaps, in the end, roping calves and wrangling words have more in common than we imagine. The solitude of riding the fences and the solitude of writing certainly are related, and the fact that so many cowgirls and ranch women also are accomplished writers may be no mistake.

What is certain is that the Smothers Brothers’ humorous parody was flat wrong: an “outfit” is neither necessary nor sufficient for successfully riding the range.  Generations of ranch women have given the rest of us wisdom enough for a life. All that is needed for success is a good horse, a clear eye, a steady hand and a ready willingness to “cowgirl up”.

 

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  1. What a treat to visit and, as often happens, I learn something new, fascinating and have the links to go exploring!

    I so love the idea of this amazing Saint Helen protecting our email! I would like to think she’s protecting it from viruses, too! Maybe that’s a bit much to wish for, but somehow, I think if you can “cowgirl up” like she and all the other women you mention did, nothing is impossible!

    jeanie,

    The heydey of the rodeo cowgirls, the 1920s, is an absolutely wonderful time to explore. Their rise – and decline – is an almost hidden thread in our history. Those who are interested know a lot, but you have to make an effort to find the information.

    It’s worth remembering, too, that the glamour of rodeo performance is one thing, but daily ranch life is another, and nearly every one of the cowgirls I read about got started by helping on a family ranch. Some of those stories are hilarious, like this one: “Vera McGinnis grew up in Missouri, then her family moved to a ranch in New Mexico. Her father worked as the county doctor, and her mom ran the cattle business. Since they didn’t have a babysitter, they tied young Vera onto the back of a donkey where she spent many hours. When she learned to ride without ties, she grew to enjoy riding.”

    That kind of deadpan description is all over the literature, and I really love it.

    Maybe we should send St. Helen over to Google. I hear they had a little problem with their gmail recently. ;-)

    Linda

  2. Couple of things that came to mind. I wondered when reading if they still had “Go Texan Day.” We had moved to Houston when I was 8 and so it was a big change from the hippies I had learned to love in Los Angeles. We would all go out from out school to the playground to watch the Salt Grass Trail riders go by. I suspect that was the tail end of tradition that had probably gone on for a few decades. There is no way to do that now because the riders used to amble down Old Katy Road and that is now part of the Katy Freeway.

    My first rodeo was when Glen Campbell was the star and the Astrodome wasn’t very old. Still, I kinda liked the Symington Rodeo better and especially some of the other small town central Texas rodeos I’ve been to. I think I’ve got a blog post on Frontier Days.

    You look good in that hat. Personally, it always seems to me that some of the hottest girls I had ever met were barrel racers.

    symonsez,

    Absolutely, “Go Texan Day” still exists! It’s the Friday before the downtown parade. But the concept’s been expanded and there are other, area-wide Go Texan Days, as well. Mine is March 15.

    And you betcha the trail riders are still active. Here’s a general map showing where they all come from, and here’s the Salt Grass route. It’s probably the best known by name, but I love the ones that come in from the north and east. Nothing’s more fun than watching the wagons and riders come through downtown Houston, unless it’s partying with them in Memorial Park.

    I have a friend who was at the first rodeo at the Sam Houston Coliseum, when Gene Autry performed. There have been some good ones, that’s for sure. For real rodeo action, though, the smaller ones are better. A friend knows a photographer who took two months and just roamed the state going to rodeos, stampedes and roping competitions. Now, that would be a good time.

    And you’re right about the barrel racers. ;-)

    Linda

  3. Well, you are adorable in your cowgirl outfit! Reading this I couldn’t help but think of Annie Oakley and then the song from that musical “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better!” Women are resilient, without question.

    May St. Helen of the EMail guard us all well.

    Hope that you are safe and dry in Houston, and unaffected by current weather turmoil.

    ds,

    As my dad used to say to me, grinning the whole while, “You’re a cute kid, but who likes goats?” (If you weren’t there, the midwestern humor of the 1950s can seem unbelievably silly.)

    That “anything you can do” business seems to have popped up a time or two out on the ranches. Stories about Hallie Stillwell include the tidbit that after she’d come to the cabin with her new husband – making it necessary for the three male ranch hands to move out to the barn – the guys insisted on trooping back in every morning to make a proper breakfast. As one of the NY Times articles put it after her death at age 99,

    The hands, miffed enough at being displaced to the barn, were not about to let a woman meddle in the manly work of cowboy cooking. As it happened, they did not mind her performing such ladylike chores as riding herd on the cattle, wrestling calves to the ground for branding and shooting deer and other game for the table, especially after they discovered that she was a better shot than they were.

    So there you are. Between Hallie’s .45 and 30.06 and whatever powers Miss Helen has, we ought to be pretty well protected!

    And the weather’s fine. To paraphrase an old saying, “Houston, we have spring”.
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Linda

  4. My sister-in-law and spouse, along with married daughters and their families, are all now in Houston, transplanted from Ohio. We came down for a wedding in record-breaking July heat and humidity. This early spring tradition of the grand rodeo sounds like lots more fun (though watching the bride and bridesmaids do the chicken dance was fun, in spite of the unremitting heat and humidity).

    We had rodeos out in eastern Idaho, growing up, but it was more a mountain culture than a ranching one.

    Mary Ellen,

    Houston summers can be memorable, for sure. You may get a hurricane, but you’re going to get the heat and humidity. There’s no way around that.
    On the other hand, April and October are really, REALLY nice. And March is a fine time for a rodeo, even though more often than not the trailriders get a good dose of rainy, nasty weather. They just grin, and wave to the cameras. They cowboy up. ;-)

    I do hope you got the Cotton-Eye Joe along with the Chicken Dance. That’s Texas!

    Eastern Idaho – now that you mention it, I believe I remember photos from your vacation out there. Maybe a year ago? What a wonderful place to grow up!

    Linda

  5. It’s a very different life from what people in the UK (where I am) experience or experienced. And as such, very interesting to read about.

    But most especially, as an artist who (amongst other things) colours vintage photos, I love that photo of Helen Bonham. I’d never heard of her before, but I love the idea of a saint of email! And the coloured version is a very original take on what she’s doing.

    Val,

    Debbie’s work is just splendid. If you go here, you can see her other cowgirl saints, with their designated responsibilities: Saint Betty Lou, Protector of Self-Confidence, Saint Ruth Mix, Protector of the Cowgirl Spirit, and Saints Ethyle and Juanita Parry, Protectors of the Sisterhood. You can find other cowgirl etchings here. If you snoop around her site a bit, you can find wonderful examples of her other art, especially women aviators and suffragists.

    The differences between worlds are quite interesting, aren’t they? When I first went to England, it was the age of things that affected me, and the sense of layer upon layer of history. In the American West, it’s the sense of things unrolling, to the horizon and beyond. During my last driving trip, I found parts of Nevada and Utah where there were no fences, no electrical poles – nothing but a two lane road, mountains and foothills, scrubby land and cactus. And sky. I hate choices, but if I had to choose between deep and far, I might take far. ;-)

    Thanks so much for stopping by – I’m glad you enjoyed Debbie’s work!

    Linda

  6. That photo of you in your cowgirl outfit is so cute.

    I loved Roy and Dale and so did my husband. I remember standing in line at SuperFresh the day Roy died. Two men were in front of me. One said to the other, “Did you hear? Roy died?” He was a hero to a lot of kids.

    Always saddle your own horse is great advice. My husband always says “Pack your own parachute.”

    Bella

    Bella,

    I tell you, I loved that outfit. Even after I couldn’t wear it any more, I refused to give it up. It finally went somewhere when Mom sold the house and moved to Kansas City. I don’t really care now – I wouldn’t want it back. On the other hand, I do regret the loss of my Roy Rogers lunch box. I foolishly gave it to someone – you know how that goes.

    Both of those sayings are great. When I was in Liberia our bush pilot lived by the same philosophy, guaranteeing that people who flew with him would keep living, too. In the twenty or twenty-five years he was there, no one touched the Cessna other than Gene. He repaired, rebuilt, maintained and fussed over every inch of that flying machine himself. As far as I can remember, his sole “disaster” was one flat tire. He beat himself up over that for a couple of days – but of course he had a pile of spares. -;)

    Linda

  7. Even cowgirls get the blues sometime
    Bound to don’t know what to do sometime
    Get this feelin’ like she’s too far gone
    The only way she’s ever been



    Al,

    Now there’s the perfect tune ~ thanks for bringing it by!

    Of course it’s a fact that even cowgirls do get the blues sometime, but when you’ve got Rodney Crowell writing, EmmyLou singing and Ricky Scaggs playing backup? The blues don’t seem so bad, now do they?

    Or if they do, and you just can’t kick the melancholy, there’s always Miss Patsy Montana to bring on a smile.

  8. So is that you in the first photo then, Linda? Very cute and very earnest looking! I also grew up with Roy and Dale (and the Lone Ranger, too).

    The Australian version of the cowboy is the stockman, and here in Chile, it’s the huaso. The closest I’ve got to a rodeo here, so far, has been the practice for one that I came across, and I think you’ve seen the photos of that.

    All the best,
    Andrew

    Andrew,

    Yes, indeed. That is my earnest little mug. Perhaps I’m pondering whether I should remove my hand from in front of the barrel of that gun. Obviously, I didn’t have my technique down yet!

    I do remember the photos – from Frutillar. I hadn’t paid them as much mind at the time as the mountains and waters, but how appropriate that you found a cowgirl, too!

    Linda

  9. I agree – you were too cute as a cowgirl. I had no such aspirations – but I think I was just afraid of animals bigger than me. :)

    I love reading about strong women. It’s sad that we even have to remark on it – there have always been strong women in the world, but it seems like they go missing from history…

    Bug,

    Truth to tell, I’m not sure what I would have done if someone had granted me a horse – not at that stage of my life. All I’d met at that point was a pony, and a rather well-behaved one at that. Luckily, it seems we don’t have to have a horse any more than we have to have an “outfit” to cowgirl up!

    As for strong women – and men – it seems to me that one of their primary characteristics is an independent spirit, a self-confidence born of competence. It worries me that so many forces in our society foster dependence rather than independence, and self-doubt rather than confidence.

    Still, one strong woman can do a lot. Look at Connie Reeves – they say she taught over 30,000 girls to ride, which means that over 30,000 girls learned to “always saddle their own horses”, and the word still is spreading. Maybe all we need to do to keep them from disappearing from history is to keep telling their stories. ;-)

    Linda

  10. Oh my gosh, this post really hit home for me! I would have killed to have a cowgirl outfit like that! I wanted so badly to be Dale Evans. The little general store about two miles up the road from us had a Dale Evans gun and holster set that I cried for. We were really poor and my parents couldn’t afford to buy it. So, one day after Mr. Cartoon was over, I decided to walk to the store and steal that set (I was about 5 or 6).

    I managed to make it about a mile on that country road without anyone passing by. I saw my little friend from school playing in his yard and I stopped to play. Of course, his mom saw me out there without my parents and called them. My dad walked to get me and it was the only time he ever spanked me. Well, not really spanked, but he cut a willow switch from our tree in the front yard, and gave me a little switch on the legs every now and then on the walk back home. Needless to say, I never ran away again, and I never got the gun and holster set either. :D

    I didn’t know anything about these wonderful women and now I’m dying to know more! Thank you!

    Susan,

    What a wonderful story! If I still had my Roy Rogers lunchbox with the Dale Evans thermos, I’d pack it up right NOW and ship it to you!

    There are so many details in your story I relate to – especially your friend’s mother calling your parents. That was the world we lived in. If someone saw us misbehaving or at risk, it was understood they had the right and duty to intervene. My folks got a few of those calls over the years and they never said to the caller, “Stop being such a busybody.” They’d say, “Thank you”. The calls were most frequent during my trestle-walking years, as I recall. No willow switch for me, although there was a big willow right across the street in the schoolyard. My mother’s weapon of choice was the lid from the old-fashioned balsawood Velveeta cheese containers. It slid out, and made a very satisfying “SMACK! sproinnnnnnggggg…..” that sounded far worse than any damage it inflicted. ;-)

    I suspect in those pre-credit-card, pre-you-can-have-it-all days most of us were forced to confront one of the hardest truths of life: not every desire is going to be fulfilled. For you, it was the gun and holster. For me, it was a certain bicycle. Our longings were infinite, but the resources were limited. “Growing up” meant learning to deal with that tension. I still get to deal with it now and then.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post – there are some wonderful cowgirls and cowboys out there to learn about!

    Linda

  11. Linda, thanks for the kind words… and for your “Cowgirl Spirit”.

    I once met a great granddaughter of the extremely popular and most famous Prairie Rose Henderson at an art show in Durango, CO.. She told me that Prairie Rose started rodeoing as a way to support herself and her children, after her husband left her and absconded with all of their money which was mostly her family money that she had inherited. When she went to ride in competition, she would tie her children up to a tree until she was done. She didn’t have anyone who could babysit them because all of her friends were riding in the competitions as well. I just loved that. Of course, now-a-days, she would be reprimanded for that but then, she was doing what she had to do to keep them safe.. LOL

    I hope to see you at the Bayou City Art show at the end of the month … It has been a long time…
    debbie

    debbie,

    I just spent some time exploring Prairie Rose’ life – and somewhat mysterious death. Confusing, anyway, from the reports I found. But my goodness – what beautiful costumes! Those gals did know how to put on a show!

    I just can’t get all exercised about kids tied to donkeys or trees – after all, when I was in Liberia, we had a chimp named Zero who did a bit of light babysitting, and that worked out. Granted, Zero couldn’t really cope with the kids once they were beyond the toddler stage, but she could keep up with the young ones just fine. ;-)

    I’ll be at Bayou City, for sure. It’s on the calendar. I’ve been keeping an eye on your schedule, waiting for you to show up a little closer to home. I’m looking forward to it!

    Linda

  12. First off… cool & cute pic (top one).

    Second, reads like you’re describing our annual Calgary Stampedewhich takes place in July. Guess we’re both cowboy/cowgirl cities. The ‘ten-gallon hat’ is our city’s logo. The mayor would on occasions ‘crown’ a celeb or famous visitor with a real Stetson as an honor. And what a tribute to International Women’s Day coming up in a couple of day’s time with your apt title, ‘Cowgirl Up!’

    Rodeo show in March… only in Houston. Cowtown in the north is still snow-covered.

    Arti,

    I did think about the timing of this piece, and might have gone a different direction, but I had cowgirls on my mind. Debbie Little-Wilson has done some wonderful work related to the suffragist movement as well as what I like to call “domestic politics”. Maybe I’ll highlight that next year.

    It’s funny – raised in the midwest, I only experienced California and New York in my 30s and 40s. And being a midwesterner, my Canadian experience is also “middle-continent”. When I went to Canada, it was straight north to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. (That’s what some of my ancestors did, too – I actually have sod-busters in my history!) I’ve never been east or west in Canada, but I think it’s time to add the Stampede to my to-do list. It would balance out a trip to Acadiana – the maritime provinces – rather nicely!

    Cowtown – historically, that’s been Dallas/Ft. Worth for us. But the song could work for you, too – here’s George Strait from the 1996 Houston Rodeo. Enjoy!

    Linda

  13. Rodeo Fever Rules! Love that photo of Helen. . .

    Jeannine,

    So, I thought to myself, “Hmmmm… I wonder if there are cowboys and cowgirls in South Africa?”

    As it turns out, there are. There’s a fascinating article here about the relatively new Working Cowboys Association of South Africa and some of the history which led to its establishment. I had to grin at this, of course:

    Belief in the saying “It takes as long as it takes” has allowed the South African cowboys to develop a patience that is at times frowned upon. This however ensures that a horse is never called upon to do something he has not been prepared for. This approach also ensures that the rider is never “over-horsed” and can thus focus on “the task at hand”.

    I wonder if they run a writing school on the side? ;-)

    Linda

  14. Thanks for the clip! And one more thing I forgot to mention. No wonder you got confused when you heard the name Helena Bonham Carter of The King’s Speech. What a coincidence and what a difference in the world they inhabit!

    Arti,

    I still haven’t convinced myself there’s not some connection, somewhere, but I haven’t been able to surface any stories about HBC’s naming. If it’s just one of those serendipitous things, it’s made even richer by the fact that Helena is the capitol of Montana, in the very heart of cowboy country.

    I know this – my search skills were sharpened by trying to find information on Helen Bonham. It was hard to keep HBC from taking center stage in the results!

    Linda

  15. Can’t help but LOL at the HBC connection, which I’m sure is there. When I was Googling for the time of our lives the other day, Miley Cryrus kept popping up when I wanted Patrick Swayze. In that case, I doubt there was any connection. HA!

    I’m sure I was a cowgirl in another lifetime. Actually, I’m also sure I was once a Cherokee brave. Now I’m wondering how many lifetimes separated them or did one just naturally follow after the other? :)

    Ginnie,

    I tend to be so inattentive that a good bit of life in the cyber-world passes me by. I recently learned that people can buy search terms from Google, to put themselves higher up in the rankings. What we see isn’t necessarily what everyone in the world is searching for. Ah, well. I did my part by purchasing the ads-free option from WordPress, so they can’t plunk advertising onto my blog. Take that, google adsense!

    As for your past lives, maybe it wasn’t either/or or sequential. Maybe you were a brave Cherokee cowgirl! ;-)

    Linda

  16. Hello Linda,

    Oh, you make me want to be in Houston right now wearing my cowgirl boots and hat! What a great story and I love your photo!!!

    I can remember wanting to be Annie Oakley and really thought I was when I was little. My pony would rear up and try to throw me off her back, but usually could not. One of my best memories is riding the fields with my Dad in a thunderstorm, me on my pony, Sassy, and he on his QuarterHorse, trying to round up the geese that had escaped the fence. I will never forget swimming across a canal on my pony.

    I’ve been bitten by a horse, (not Sassy, it was other “bigger” horses!) kicked and dragged down a gravel road by a horse, resulting in stitches in my head and banged up pretty good But as soon as I healed I got back on that horse. I had to “Cowgirl Up”.

    And yes, if you could not saddle up your own ride, you were not allowed to ride.

    Your story brought a big smile to my face. Thank you so much!

    Patti

    Patti,

    Funny – one of the best photos I have of mom is of she and her sisters trying to round up geese – but without the advantage of horses!

    It makes perfect sense to me that your pony would be named Sassy – I have a feeling you shared some of that quality. It’s fun imagining you back then – those were the days when we learned the lessons that are serving us so well now. Independence, cooperation, hard work – I know I sound like a broken record sometimes, but it grieves me that so many young people today are being actively denied opportunities to learn some of the most important lessons of life.

    Well, we were some of the lucky ones – and you’ve done such a marvelous job with your kids and grandkids. They’ve got a bit of “sass” in them, too – it’s what’s helped them deal with the challenges that have come down the road.

    Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s always such a pleasure to share a story with you!

    Linda

  17. Saturday mornings at our house always included the Roy Rogers Show, while Sunday nights were arranged around Bonanza. And now that I think of it, we watched at least a half-dozen westerns during the week, too.

    But other than Dale Evans, cowgirls were in the background, if they were there at all. So the story of Connie Douglas Reeves dying at the age of 101 after being thrown from her horse — as well as the other women featured in this post — was a real revelation. Your annual case of Rodeo Fever is certainly understandable.

    bronxboy,

    Let’s see. On the one hand we have Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears. Or, if you like, Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods, David Vitter and John Edwards. The point isn’t the philandering, addition or plain bad boy/bad girl behavior, but the fact that these are the people we can’t avoid. They take up residence in our media and our minds, making it nearly impossible for ordinary people of virtue, the people of “the other hand” to hold our attention.

    It’s true many people have remained “invisible” in the past because of race, gender and so on. But even today, we Americans seem to have developed a taste not only for style over substance, but for spectacle above all else.

    I suppose that’s part of the appeal for me in doing posts like this. They force me to do a little exploration of my own. Then, I get to share what I find with you!

    Linda

  18. Ahhhh Linda – you captured my childhood fantasy – to own a horse of my own. While I never quite owned one, I did take care of one for an entire summer – my best summer ever.

    I grew up in the San Fernando Valley during the day of large lots, some open space and quite a few of my surrounding neighbors had horses. I had a very good friend that had some stables and that’s where I took care of the horse I spoke of. I was within walking distance of their home. It was heavenly! I loved being around horses. I even took horse back riding lessons for a bit of time, working my way up to the English saddle and a little jumping before I stopped.

    I’ve always loved being around horses, but that day of spending a lot of time around them has passed. I still love the idea of living out on a ranch, filled with horses and dogs, and riding bareback wild and free. I’d do it in a heartbeat!

    Thanks for refreshing those memories!

    Karen,

    I never would have imagined you as a horsewoman! If you rode anything, I would have thought it a surfboard – but of course I’ve evolved in the same way with sailing. Today, I’ve not so much lost a taste for sailing as I’ve developed a curiosity about and love for other things. As the old saying goes, you can do everything – you just can’t do it all at once.

    You have to have seen incredible changes in the Valley – and not only increased urbanization. It’s interesting that I couldn’t immediately place “San Fernando Valley”, but when I skimmed the list of cities and communities it contains – and even some of the streets, like Laurel Canyon, Mulholland, Reseda – they were so familiar. Part of that is thanks to Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion, whose writings about the area are memorable.

    I’m sure I’ve told you the story of my solitary drive across Nevada, when I ended up on a road through nothing but cactus, sagebrush and buttes. I’ll never forget the solitary young woman sitting on her painted horse atop one of the buttes – no saddle, and black hair streaming to her waist, just watching me pass by. Maybe it was you!

    Linda

  19. My father is, as I like to call him, the last American cowboy. He taught me all of this, and more, on his farm…and would bring me into the wild arena of the Chicago Union Stockyards where three generations of my family lived before it was closed in the early 1970′s. I have so much respect for the courage and strength of the cowgirl/cowboy…in so many ways the backbone of America’s past.

    I also wanted to say that I so appreciate every comment you make on my own blog, Linda. The one about opening my hands, in reference to Henri Nouwen, is quite powerful. He was such a wise man, wrote such powerful books. Wheaton College, to which I live near but was never smart enough to attend, calls him their patron saint.

    Bellezza,

    Stockyards. One of the best American words, evoking a world now nearly gone. For us, it was Kansas City and Omaha, but I knew Chicago’s through Carl Sandburg. Remember his wonderful quotation?

    “Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years.”

    I watch what is happening in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and turn to the Chicago poems for comfort. I wonder what will be the backbone of our future – or if we will have a backbone.

    As for Nouwen – I was certain you’d know his work. I was mentioning to Bronxboy, above, about the “hidden ones” in our world. Nouwen’s not precisely hidden, but he’s not generally known, and his insights often are profound. And speaking of “hidden” – Wheaton’s one of those gems, like Grinnell, St. Olaf, Wooster, Oberlin. Now that I think about it, such schools may have been the model for my public school administrators. It certainly would explain a few things, like those post-testing conferences!

    Linda

  20. Cow Girl Up!
    The rallying cheer of strong women everywhere.
    Even the ones that don’t much care for cattle and horses, we all want the outfit :-D

    Nanette,

    And those cowgirls of the 20′s had the outfits! Beaded vests, bloomers and feathers – it’s no wonder the Wild West Shows were such a hit.
    You have to be careful, though. There are some cowgirls wandering around incognito. ;-)

    Linda

  21. DElightful!

    Made me laugh recalling the Smothers Brothers “Streets of Laredo!” I REMEMBER that! You also got me with your coy remark about Dale Evans. Egads, I felt the same way. (Also about John and Yoko, etc.)

    Loved reading about these cowgirls and the saddle for a desk! Keep that St. Cowgirl over your desk. It’s working. Tho’ I know you’d be writing/typing away nonetheless. This is a lovely little rich history.

    Why do we love rodeos? I think because there’s very little “faking” in them. Man, woman, horse, cow, outdoors – love it. BTW, if you want to go in on a horse and saddle with me, let me know. We’ll worry about the fine points later. Though I volunteer at a local county park’s barn, it’s just not the same mucking stalls and grooming for someone else’s horse. Have always wanted one; just haven’t worked it out yet.

    oh,

    Well, at least you were generous enough to say, “coy”. It was a little snippy, you know!

    I think you’re exactly right to point to the “real” as the attraction of rodeo. As a matter of fact, it’s the “real” that’s the attraction of varnishing for me, just as the “real” played such a part in my love for Liberia and my love of west Texas. Toting water, heating with wood and reading by Coleman lantern isn’t one lick romantic after a few days – but satisfying? Yes, it can be.

    My own gentle proposal for starting to straighten this country out would be to take every bureaucrat, politician, professor, teacher, CEO, CFO, attorney and so on and put them on a little schedule. For every four years they spend doing whatever they do, they get to spend one year doing manual labor of some sort. A friend quibbled with me, saying that’s a little too forced-labor-camp for her taste. I pointed out that ora et labora have gotten along with one another just fine for centuries – this would only be a variant of that esteemed tradition. Not much chance of it, of course, but at least it gives me something to amuse myself with when I can’t stand listening to any of the politicians any more. ;-)

    I know where there are horses and I know where there are trainers. Shall we keep our new love out in Montana? I think it could be arranged. If we’re going to dream, we might as well dream big!

    Linda

  22. Ha! It wasn’t me on that horse! I have always been an outdoors gal. I also had 3 brothers, so everything I did was just about ‘boy’ related. We spent a lot of time together in the pool in our backyard. We moved out of the valley in 1968 (Encino). Just in time, in my opinion. Not one of the ranch style homes that lined our street are there anymore – all apartment buildings. We weren’t crazy about moving away, in the beginning, after all we lived in that house for 16 years. But in retrospect, it was the best thing our parents ever did. Once I moved down to Orange County, I’ve been beach bound ever since.

    Karen,

    It is hard to leave a loved and familiar place, isn’t it? I remember how unhappy I was when my folks built on the other side of town between my 6th and 7th grade years. Not only was I off to junior high, I was going there from a strange neighborhood and without friends. It worked out, of course, and I soon had classmates to walk to school with. A good thing, too, because it was a long walk. I should check out the distance. It wasn’t the mythical ten miles, but it was substantial.

    And as you say, a move to Orange County isn’t the worst thing in the world. Of course, I think where you are now is the most beautiful place I’ve seen down that way. Or, if not “beautiful” in that glitzy Hollywood way, friendly and cozy and a perfect place to raise a family. Plus, you’re got one darned good-looking pier! I’d be spending all my time at the beach, too.

    Linda

  23. [...] camps, Waldemar, has been operating since 1926.  I became aware of Camp Waldemar while writing Cowgirl Up!, a celebration of western women and their art.  Connie Reeves, one of the cowgirls highlighted in [...]

  24. [...] sure a real cowgirl wouldn’t be seen dead baking scones and you can read about some of them here, including a few feisty historical ones, in this wonderful piece by fellow blogger LL. Thanks to [...]


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