Learning to “Cowgirl Up”

Ready to Ride

If that’s a “YeeeeeHaw!echoing down the corridors of your Fortune 500 company, or the distinctive click of boot heels tapping across polished granite toward the exit, there’s no question what’s happening. It’s Rodeo time in Houston.

Founded in 1931, the Houston Fat Stock Show & Exposition eventually became the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, but for most Houstonians, it’s just the Rodeo: a mélange of trail rides, barbeque, bronc riding, , baby animals, wine tastings, quilt exhibits, livestock auctions, concerts, and calf scrambles that truly has something for everyone.

With the Rodeo in town, everyone’s a cowboy or cowgirl. Even the slickest, most citified sort turns up wearing boots and overblown belt buckles. People who generally equate beef with the ribeye on their plate begin discussing the finer points of Longhorn breeding. Local broadcasters trail  behind trailriders, sopping up stories like so much sausage gravy, while dance studios cope with a surge of people demanding classes in Western Swing and the Texas Two-Step.

It’s Rodeo Fever, and even a Yankee can catch it. After moving to Houston, I discovered I had no immunity. After all, as a child, I didn’t long to be a princess, a ballerina, or a 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 tuned in to the noon market reports not because I cared about corn futures, but because I wanted 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 Roy liked Dale Evans? I could learn to like her, too.

I watched them on television, and collected their comic books. I carried my school-day sandwich in a Roy Rogers lunch box, and my milk in a Dale Evans thermos. Eventually, incessant whining wore down my parents, and I received a passionately longed-for black-and-white cowgirl outfit: minus the boots, but with a lovely pair of six-shooters and a beautiful, faux tooled-leather holster. What the Smothers Brothers 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 loved it so much that 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 childhood fantasy to a deeper appreciation of what being a cowgirl might entail.

Long before I became friends with some real Texas cowgirls, I began to hear stories of the famous ones. In the Coastal Bend,  Louise O’Connor, a fifth-generation member of a family that’s been ranching near Victoria since 1834, published a first book, Cryin’ for Daylight. The title came from a statement made by Will King, an itinerant cowhand: “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 insistent bit of advice – always saddle your own horse – became the unofficial motto of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and a touchstone for thousands of women who’d never touched a real horse. When I found her words painted on a cedar board that had been washed or purposely wedged into a pile of rocks along a deserted stretch of the Sabinal River, I smiled, knowing she would have been pleased.

And then there was Hallie Stillwell, who continued to ranch in Texas’s 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,” still can be spotted on Texas streets, since it was imprinted on tee-shirts for the Texas State Arts & Crafts Festival in Kerrville,


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 one of first women ranchers I knew personally had known Hallie and, as she put it, “Hallie really knew what it meant to cowgirl up.”

At the time, I had no idea what she meant by the phrase. Later, I was told that it’s a variant of an old rodeo warning call from the chute — “cowboy up” — meaning that the rider was seated up on the back of a 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. Used as an exhortation, “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 riding 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 Skype to help her out, she coped in the same way that previous generations of travelers had coped. She wrote letters.

This famous postcard, showing Helen using her saddle as a desk, was used by Debbie Little-Wilson as the basis for her print, St. Helen Bonham, Protector of Email.  When I saw Debbie’s 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, St. Helen’s artfully enhanced image hangs above my computer desk, next to the postcard which inspired it, watching over my wisdom and my foolishness alike. Helen Bonham never had a computer, and I never got my horse and saddle, but we both benefited from traditions still living in the far reaches of an unfenced country: traditions of self-reliance, adaptability, resourcefulness, and flat hard work so necessary for life in a real world.

It may even be that roping calves and wrangling words have more in common than we imagine. Certainly, the solitude of riding the range and the solitude of writing are related, and the fact that so many cowgirls, ranch hands, and vaqueros also are accomplished songwriters, historians, and poets stands as evidence.

In any event, the Smothers Brothers’ humorous parody makes the point obliquely: an “outfit” is neither necessary nor sufficient for successfully riding the range. As generations of ranch women have made clear, all that is needed for success is a good horse, a clear eye, a steady hand, and a ready willingness to “cowgirl up”.

Comments always are welcome.

131 thoughts on “Learning to “Cowgirl Up”

  1. Linda, my first memory of the Fat Stock Show comes from the late 50’s. It was held at the Sam Houston Coliseum in those days. And unlike the entertainment lineup of today, it was Roy Rogers and Dale Evans who put on the show between events. I still have a vivid memory of my dad holding me up at the rail to shake hands with Roy and Dale…

    Along the lines of the rest of your post there was my Great Aunt who ran a large south Texas ranch well into her 80’s. Her story was written up in a book back in the 1980’s titled “Brush Country Woman” by Ada Morehead Holland. She cowgirled up, but she flew across the range in a big V8 at speeds that should have kept her in trouble but didn’t…

    Another great weaving of story lines…

    1. I’ve heard wonderful tales of the Coliseum from people who grew up in Houston, but your memory has to be one of the best. I did go back to refresh my own memory on some of the things I’ve been told, and discovered that in 1968, The Doors’ opening act was Moving Sidewalks, featuring Billy Gibbons. He formed ZZ Top less than a year later, and lo! ZZ Top is playing this year’s Rodeo. Let’s hear it for staying power.

      The book about Helen Sewell looks fascinating. I thought it was interesting that the blurb mentioned the King and other ranches, and made a point of saying those huge spreads weren’t the only game in town. One of the women I knew in South Texas did the same thing, although perhaps on a smaller scale. Once her husband died, she ran a few hundred head for years, and did most of it from horseback. Competence is competence, and those women had it.

      1. As a kid we went to the Circus there. When I grew older I remember going to see Chicago there in the early ’70’s, at another time it was Black Sabbath (who I see called it quits last week) with Mountain there on the same ticket. Once I went to work, the company I worked for was in there doing conventions and setting stages right up until they demolished the building.

        During a January ice and snow storm, we stood on the step and watched the southern drivers try and leave town via the elevated freeway system on the north side…cars could not make it up the iced over ramps. they would lose traction and the rear wheels would just slide to the downhill side of the sloped ramp… Time after time it would happen and the cars kept trying to drive up onto the freeway. When I finally left work that day I stuck to the surface roads all the way home…

        Aunt Helen was quite the lady. You could say if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t exist. My grandmother went to work for her as a housekeeper which is how she met my grandfather, Helen’s baby brother.

        1. One of my friends has talked about taking her kids to the circus. I wasn’t sure if she meant in Chicago, where they lived for a time, or here in Houston. It was Houston, and she said they used to go down and watch them offload the elephants from their train.

          Your tale of the iced-over freeways reminds me of similar stories I’ve been told about people from northern states gathering in the walkways across the Pierce elevated to laugh at people trying to make their way through that mess. All I can say is, if they even decide to really take out the Pierce and turn it into a highline, I’m going to be very, very glad I don’t have to commute into downtown for work.

          1. I can remember seeing the circus train pass through Alvin just a few years ago heading north up Hwy. 6. I thought at the time it would probably be the last time I would ever see such a sight. Now I hear they will be disbanding this year.

  2. I agree with you. Herding and wrangling calves and words can be quite similar. There is usually a lot of them. They can take off and go in unexpected directions. Once they are corralled, you get a good feeling of accomplishment for a job well done, I hope.

    The women in your story sound like they were strong and independent, willing to take on big challenges. I can see why you admire them.

    1. Your comment reminds me of another woman who wrangled some calves. Mary Anne Goodnight and her husband Charles played a key role in saving the bison. Beginning with just two calves, they built the herd that today is the Texas state bison herd in Caprock Canyon.

      Frontiers of every sort seem to share at least one characteristic in common: when there’s a job to be done, what counts is getting it done. Who does it is less of an issue. Today, I sometimes think we’ve reversed that, to our detriment.

  3. I love, love this post. I watched westerns with my brother and Dad. When the good guy got shot, we always said, “It’s just a shoulder wound” or “it’s just the arm.” And it always was, back then. The good guy won. They were a staple in our house, and I was sold on Roy, and Trigger and Buttermilk. When I met H, I found out that he watched him when he was growing up, too. H was standing in line at the grocery store the day Roy died, and heard one man our age turn to another guy in line and say, “Did you hear Roy died?” He taught values to a generation.

    I’m wild about that outfit you’re wearing up there. Your Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo sounds a little like the state fair sans the rodeo. That must be the main event for you guys.

    That Hallie’s Moon poster appeals to me. I’ll have to look it up. Annie Oakley’s house was on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, not too far from where we lived. We didn’t live on Eastern Shore, but we were just across the Bay Bridge. We visited it once when my sister and BIL were visiting.
    Connie Douglas Reeves epitomized the literal meaning of, “she died in the saddle.” :) Don’t we all hope we go that way, not bit by bit, dribble by dribble.

    1. My friends and I may have missed Mr. Rogers, but Roy Rogers? We never missed a show. And you’re right. The good guys did always win, even though it could be a cliff-hanger at times. Today? Half the time we don’t even know who the good guys are. Maybe we should start passing out black and white hats again — even though they’d probably swap them, just to confuse us.

      I loved that little outfit. The only thing that assuaged the pain of having to give it up was moving into Bluebirds, where I got another cute little vest to sew my beads on. And you’re right that the Houston Rodeo is the big deal of the year. It runs for weeks, and it’s run by volunteers. It’s a charity operation, and at the end, the sale of the livestock the kids have raised helps to bring in big bucks for college scholarships.

      Ponder this: In 2016, the Show committed more than $25.8 million to scholarships and education. If that’s not impressive enough, attendees consumed 115,000 barbeque sandwiches. If you want to spend a fun five minutes, all the highlights are here.

      I’m with you when it comes to the manner of Reeves’s death. I’d rather mine comes later rather than sooner, but I’m just as eager for quick over slow — except that the thought of suddenly dying always makes me feel like I should stop everything and clean house.

  4. Your essay made me smile all the way through it because its beginning could have been describing my childhood as well. I even have a photo of me sleeping with my six shooter and gun belt. Can you believe it, I still have them! I was so young in that photo that you can see that I also still slept with a rubber sheet underneath me. My crush was Gene Autry, though, and I have my membership card to his fan club framed and hanging on my wall. The mystic of the Old West is ingrained in our souls. Thanks for the memories!

    1. If I’d been smarter, I’d still have my lunchbox and thermos, but I gave them away in a fit of generosity. I don’t really miss them, but I do get a bit of a pang when I’m reminded of them. On the other hand, I still remember all the lyrics to “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds,” so there’s that.

      I didn’t have a clue that Autry was involved with baseball, but I loved his singing. I just found this great film clip that has both Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (labeled, so we can recognize them), along with a car full of bad guys, a sharp-shooting woman, and stampeding cattle. I didn’t know that the early Autrey modeled himself on Jimmie Rodgers and was promoted on Oklahoma’s KVOO as the “yodeling cowboy,” and I certainly didn’t know that Aaron Neville modeled some of his vocal techniques on Autrey. That’s a wonderful connection.

    2. I pretended to be Annie Oakley, with my holster and pistols, and I loved watching and listening to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, until on one episode of a TV show Gene Autry the cowboy cried. At seven or eight years of age I found that too girly, and lost my admiration for Gene.

      Far away my husband was growing up loving everything cowboy, too. He hadn’t grown out of that stage when we got married, and he wore a cowboy shirt and boots for our hippie wedding.

      I haven’t been to Texas but I’ve been to rodeos, which I have always found terribly frightening in the violence real and potential done to the poor cowboys’ bodies!

      1. Gene Autry was full of surprises for young — and not so young — me. I still remember how surprised I was to discover he was behind some of my favorite songs: particularly, “Rudolph” and “Peter Cottontail.” I’d always believed those songs were as old as the earth, until I found out they had been composed only a few years after I arrived on earth.

        I was surprised that you associate rodeos with violence. In my mind, violence is associated with street crime, gang wars, domestic disputes and war-in-general. I’ll use the word for natural phenomenon, too — like earthquakes — but even earthquakes lack the intentionality I usually associate with violence. On the other hand, there’s no question about the risks of rodeo-ing. Even a barrel racer’s thrown now and then, and a goat that doesn’t want to be roped can create some real havoc!

    1. You’re right to put “cowgirl” in quotation marks. I was no more a real cowgirl than my best friend was the princess she pretended to be. Still, as kids, what we pretended was a rehearsal for what we might be — and now that I’m grown, I appreciate the the real life of farmers and ranchers in a way impossible for me as a child. Lucky you, to have been raised in that world ~ and to so clearly have passed your love of it on to the generations coming up.

  5. “We loved to work cattle so much we’d just be sittin’ around, crying for daylight to come.” That is a delicious bit of over-speak. Enjoyed meeting the new characters just beyond the range of my experience. These ladies seemed to make it fine in a “man’s” world. They show much more spunk and fortitude than victim-hood.

    1. There are a couple of similarities between ranch women’s lives and mine. One is outdoor work, of course, but the other is working as a woman in a world where men predominate: the world of the shipyard.

      I’ve worked in many environments, and the shipyard and docks have been great. What counts is getting the job done, and if you can do it, you’re accepted. I’ve known women who did such things as cooking for crews on offshore platforms and working for the railroads, and they all experienced some of the same satisfactions as the ranch women I’ve known: doing work they loved, and being respected for their abilities. There’s not much that’s better than that.

  6. What a fun post! You were a classy cowgirl!!! That and many other photos show what a beloved and precious person you were!

    I was the lucky one to live that cowgirl life! My sisters and I helped herd the cattle from pasture to pasture, played cowboys and Indians. We learned to use bows and arrows, thundered thru the woods at high-speed chases, snatching vines and swinging like Tarzan and sometimes hitting the ground with bone-breaking jolts. Aside from one lone memory of my sisters thinking it might be funny to coax baby sister on the back of a wild calf, that was the only bull riding attempt. How we all survived is a mystery – for sure our guardian angels worked overtime!

    I graduated from pony barrel racing to the normal speed events… ah, those glory days! I can almost hear, “On deck… Lisa on Sunup Starlett.”

    There’s no wonder that my bones now ache a bit when the weather changes!

    1. You would absolutely love one of my favorite rodeo events: mutton-busting. Yes, ma’am, that would be kids riding championship sheep, just like the big fellas wrestle those steers. When the were interviewing one little boy and asked him how he practiced for the event, he said, “Oh my dog, and on my dad.” What’s not to love?

      Of course, goat ropers need love, too. They aren’t left out, and they have just as much fun. One of the champions at the San Antonio rodeo this year was a nine-year-old girl. She got thrown flat, but still managed to tie her goat in record time. Watching the kids, it occurs to me that there must be a whole host of guardian angels around. It’s also clear that the bubble-wrapped and padded suburban kids who aren’t allowed to do anything lest something awful happen are having “something awful” happen to them every day of the year; they’re being separated from the natural world, and from learning how to deal with it.

      1. yes, for sure there are guardian angels watching over cowgirls and boys! Farm children too.

        A shaman once stated that I had ‘dodged death’ more times than most. I pondered that later and remembered one time in particular when I was too young to know – only acted on instinct to possibly save myself and a friend’s toddler brother from a dumpster of cotton that came down on us. I don’t think he knew how close we came to smothering, but when the crew dug us out, I spoke of it to no one and I suspect they only whispered about it with ‘Thanks the Lord ‘ … for sure there are angels watching over us!

        It would be fun to watch those young gals in the arena! thanks so much for sharing those stories.

        1. The truth is, we’re escaping death every day. Sometimes we’re aware of it, sometimes not. But every new sunrise brings the gift of a new day, and if we’re careful and attentive, we’ll get through it. If we’re wise, we’ll give thanks.

  7. Here they are called ‘Jackeroos and Jillaroos.’ Country shows are hugely popular in Australia as well. None more so than the Sydney Easter show. Most country shows have as many competitions as they can possibly venture up, from the largest pumpkin to the fasted wood chopper. The highlights are always the animals and can range from horses down to rabbits. The animal competitions are always the fiercest contested and the winner of a Merino ram can be assured of a lucrative round of having the blue ribbon ram doing the rounds impregnating female mobs.

    The rules concerning awarding prizes are adhered to with an iron fist and are ground in much form and tradition. Animal contestants are to wear suitable white coats with halter trained animals, no spitting and always courteous behaviour towards stewards and judges.

    I noticed the local pie shop here in Bowral showing all their pie-winning ribbons on the front window. Many people queue up to buy their pies from this shop.

    1. My first thought was that “jackeroos” and “jillaroos” had to be a combination of Jack and Jill and the kangaroo, and it turns out I was right. From the Online Etymology Dictionary: “Australian for “a new arrival from Britain,” 1867, from Jack + ending from kangaroo. The female counterpart jillaroo is attested from 1945.” There were some sites indicating the phrases might be rooted in aboriginal phrases meaning “wandering white man.” That makes sense, but I can’t attest to the truth of that.

      The animal judging at our rodeos has its own conventions and expectations for behavior, although the dress isn’t always so formal. Still, it’s lots of fun to see, and the champion animals always fetch a good price at auction.

      I smiled at your pie shop story. When I’m in need of some barbeque, I always travel across the lake to the meat market that also has their plaques, ribbons, and trophies on full display. There’s a reason they won them, so why not enjoy what they have to offer?

  8. Though I loved riding at an early age, I never actually owned a horse. However, one grandson is a big time cowboy competition roper, and one daughter has had horses for many years, although she is an English rider. Taking care of horses is a big job taking way too much time for me But I love the rodeo and all the excitement of it.

    My father understood the phrase to “cowboy up” as meaning to get with it and hurry up about it. Western music is a big favorite of ours.

    1. I have a couple of friends with horses, and it does take a good bit of time and money to keep them healthy and happy. In fact, today’s trip to the country is being delayed just a bit because a friend who’s going with me has to wait for the horseshoer to stop by. I’m not sure what will be involved, but I may know more by the end of the morning.

      We have a barrel racer in our family, too. Now that she’s in college, I don’t think she’s competing any more, but she was good enough to help pay for her education with prize winnings.

      Your father’s understanding of the phrase “cowboy up” is common now. The original meaning has expanded, thanks in part to the burgeoning country music scene. One of the best combinations of the phrase and a tune is by Chris LeDoux. I’ve been known to play it a time or two — usually shortly after biting the dust one more time.

      “You gotta cowboy up
      When you get throwed down,
      Get right back in the saddle
      As soon as you hit the ground.
      You heard that the tough get goin’
      When the goin’ gets tough —
      Around here, what we say is
      Boy, you better cowboy up.”

    1. I think the spirit is alive and well, Terry. Of course, it’s more apparent in some places than others, but that’s ok, as long as it endures. I’m glad you liked the story!

  9. As a child I wanted to be a cowboy, even tho a girl. I was my brother’s brother. We played football, baseball, basketball, Army men…If I had those books and photos of cool cowgirls then who knows where I would be today.

    I did get a black pony while still in my single digits, and then in the 80’s I adopted an abused black Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse (also known as a racing Quarter Horse) and brought her back to life. She was 400 pounds underweight. Yes, that’s 4 hundred.

    Those days are over and I still ache to be around horses and have them in my life. But that doesn’t look like it will happen. I enjoy looking at all the horse farms in south central Wisconsin. Some day I just have to stop and ask if I can walk around.

    The Midwest Horse Fair is here in Madison every April. I just may wrangle a day off for that again.

    Sometimes I’m Cowgirl Up and sometimes I’m Cowgirl Down. Just like riding a wild horse.

    1. I have a friend who grew up the same way. She much preferred being out with the boys, looking for frogs and running through corn fields. If I’d had a brother, I might have come to the outdoors far sooner than I did. Having a mother who preferred me in ruffles and Shirley Temple curls limited my options for some years.

      I like black horses. A couple I know in Montana have Friesians, and they are gorgeous creatures. It must have been fun to have both your pony and your horse, as well as being a lot of work. You’ve made me think of Lyle Lovett’s great song that combines ponies with boats.

      The ups and downs of life: ah, yes. Well, as the saying (and the book, and the song) have it, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”

  10. This post stirred up so many thoughts, including the Roy Rogers Rodeo my folks took us to at the old Polo Grounds in Manhattan and the Roy Rogers tie clip that is still in my jewelry box.

    But, indeed, defining a cowgirl is no simple matter. One of Helen’s colleagues in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame makes that point: Mother Joseph Pariseau. This is her citation: “Born Esther Pariseau, Mother Joseph made monumental contributions to health care, education, and social projects throughout the Northwest. The daughter of a French-Canadian carriage maker, she joined the Sisters of Providence and was sent to Fort Vancouver to oversee construction of a convent and schoolhouse. As the architect, construction supervisor, and chief fund raiser, she built nine schools, fifteen hospitals and a mission, becoming the first to provide care for the orphans, elderly and mentally ill in Washington Territory.”

    1. There are frontiers everywhere: no question about that. Even though she was a daughter of a carriage maker, I suspect Mother Joseph had quite an education ahead of her when she took up the mantle of construction superintendent.

      But it seems to me that’s another similarity between traditional cowgirls and those who are riding other ranges. Whether it’s building a herd or herding construction workers, it’s impossible to predict which skills are going to be important, and impossible to know exactly how to proceed.

      I still recall with some amusement my first trip to our local chandlery after I decided I was going to transform myself into a varnish worker. When I told the woman at the counter what I was up to, and asked what I would need to get started, she gave me a bit of a look, then said, “You might want some sandpaper.” Years later, I wrote my first poem in decades on the back of a piece of used sandpaper.

      1. You were right. I loved the Patsy Montana song. The stuff that’s passed off as “country music” now is awful by comparison to the songs of Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Faron Young. One of my favorites was Elton Britt, who was also a favorite of FDR, which tells you something, though I’m not sure what. Britt was my first celebrity interview — when I was in college. One of his big hits was “Chime Bells.” I heard him sing it in person, or I might have thought that this recording was doctored. His breath control, displayed at the end of this song, was astounding. I met him at a club in Paterson, New Jersey, that used to feature C&W singers, often broadcast on WAAT radio. He drove up from his farm in a red ’58 Chevy convertible with steer horns about 12 feet long mounted on the front grille. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gE4CyHX3LY

        1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Patsy Montana song, and I’m even more glad you introduced me to Elton Britt. If I’ve heard him, I don’t know it, but that song is a fabulous example of truly skilled yodeling. “Astounding” is exactly the right word. Beyond that, the musicality of it all is lovely. Too often, people think yodeling’s more mechanical than musical: like some sort of vocal trick, but it’s far more than that.

          I laughed at the thought of that red Chevy. There was someone famous around Texas who used to drive a car with a huge set of horns on the hood. I guess he wasn’t that famous, though — since I don’t remember who it was.

  11. I can identify — had my phase as a little girl in Leonard Sly’s home state longing to be a cowgirl with a horse. Closest I came to a horse was getting my picture astride one with chaps, hat when a guy came thru the neighbor hood plying his business. Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, & Sons of the Pioneers “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed” captured my imagination as did “Cool Water” — and I’d never been close to a desert then.

    Years later as an adult as we parked at Roy Roger’s Museum in Calif., he came riding up in his jeep, jumped out and headed inside. Another occasion I had contact with a women on whose piano he did some practicing of the Tumblin Tumbleweed tune. My husband was a Gene Autry fan — partially cause he eventually owned a baseball team, I think.

    1. I was going to say, “Not everyone would recognize Leonard Slye’s name,” but then I realized how many people wouldn’t recognize “Roy Rogers,” either. I’m glad you mentioned Gabby Hayes. I still can recall his voice with no effort at all. It certainly was distinctive, and his humor knocked me out, even as a kid.

      I just found out that the Sons of the Pioneers are playing in Abilene next fall, at the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail. Wouldn’t that be fun? I wonder if they’ve been able to maintain their wonderful sound over the years? I suppose there are current videos online that would answer that question.

      I happened across the news of the Roy Rogers Museum moving to Branson, and then closing, and almost wish I hadn’t. They auctioned off a lot of the memorabilia, including Trigger and Buttermilk. Christie’s auction house was involved. There were some indications that the Gene Autry Museum bought a good bit of it, and moved it to their museum, but I think I’ll just cue up “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” again, and not pursue any of that.

  12. Roy Rogers was before my time, but I still loved me some cowboys. Mine were mostly those handsome Cartwrights and Barkleys. Barbara Stanwyck could hold her own, though, couldn’t she? And what was with the Cartwrights’ women? Every one they ever loved died, I think!

    I chanced on this post today, showing some great Western icons retooled as women. I love the images. My favorite might be the “James Dean in Giant,” with the lovely red boots.
    http://www.upworthy.com/an-artist-replaced-the-men-in-these-classic-westerns-with-women-the-images-are-awesome

    1. I confess. I had to look up the Barkleys to find out who they were. I couldn’t understand how I completely missed that series, until I saw it ran from 1965 – 1969. I started college in 1965, so that explains that. With Barbara Stanwyck and Lee Majors, it had to be good. Now, the Cartwrights I know. Everyone knows the Cartwrights, I suspect — at least, if they’re over forty.

      The paintings are interesting and appealing — and I agree about the red boots. I suppose every generation has to deal with issues of power and powerlessness in their own way, and her work certainly is a creative approach to the issue. When I read her comment that “Women are kind of trained to make coy, approachable facial expressions,” I did wonder what world she was living in, but of course I don’t get coloring books and safe spaces, either, so that’s probably just me.

      My favorite is the third from the bottom. That’s a great image.

      1. Barbara Stanwyck really was the central figure. I loved her voice and her presence, and she was IN CHARGE. Even though my mom was boss of our home, and could do everything that needed to be done, I didn’t see that other places. So she was a good role model, in my opinion.

        As to the paint artist and her quote, I thought she meant it in context of posing for cameras and modeling for painters. Though perhaps she meant it more generally.

        1. I went back and re-read the article, and I take your point. There’s certainly no question that fashion photography, for example, goes from style to style, and so do film stars.

          My mother was extremely competent, but she spent her teen years raising her younger siblings after her mother died young. After she and Dad married, he took care of her, and she developed a bit of a taste for it. After he died, she lived for 30 more years, and had a lot of learning to do — starting with putting gas in the car. In her own way, she cowgirled up, too: but she wasn’t always happy about having to do so.

  13. Great that you included Hallie Stillwell in your cowgirl essay. She passed away just short of her 100th birthday. Two of her granddaughters were good friends of ours until their recent deaths. There is no way to picture the non-Hollywood existence of a real female rancher (I don’t consider them “cowgirls”). She is a day’s ride from her nearest neighbor, dealing with sick animals, broken windmills, downed fences, and the million other hardships that come with ranch life. And through it all, they have the most positive and humorous outlook on life I’ve ever known. You can have Roy and Dale, I’ll take Hallie!

    1. There’s a good bit of difference between a child’s fantasy and adult appreciation. Given a choice between Hallie and any of the old western film stars, I’d take Hallie, too. You don’t have to have a few thousand acres and an equal number of cattle to understand and apply the life lessons she and her fellow ranchers (both male and female) have to offer.

      When I was writing this, I was sure you knew of her, and had a suspicion that you might have had personal contact with at least some of her kin. It’s neat that you did. As for that positive and humorous outlook on life, it makes perfect sense to me. When I was living in Liberia, there was a wry little expression that I soon learned to use: Wawa. It stood for “West Africa wins again,” and if you didn’t learn to cope with the fact that West Africa was going to win most of the time, you’d soon be on PanAm, headed back to the States.

      During the westward expansion, plenty of women headed back to St. Louis, or Chicago, or Des Plaines. There’s no need for judgment there; it was tough going. But the ones who kept going, and stuck? The Hallies? They’ll always be a degree more interesting to me.

  14. Linda, this is so interesting. Great stories about real women who happened to be cowgirls. I never wanted to be a cowgirl. I suppose growing up on a farm was satisfying to me. When I was grown I got my first horse and rode in the fields behind our house. I liked horses and still do more than I liked riding them. Both my mares lived to be 29 years and 31 years of age, respectively. I never had the chance to replace them but I do love horses.

    Have you been to the big Houston rodeo? If you haven’t a one time visit would be good. I’ve been to only three rodeos here in Central Texas- always in early October. I don’t care for any repeats.

    I find your picture of being a cowgirl so interesting, Little did you know at the time that one day you’d be living in Texas. I find it just a bit ironic but aren’t you glad that you know call Texas home?

    1. I have been to the Houston Rodeo, but it’s very much a been-there-done-that sort of thing for me now. For real rodeo enjoyment, I prefer smaller venues, like those in Bandera, Brazoria, and Matagorda. One I haven’t been to, but would love to attend, is the West of the Pecos rodeo, in Pecos. What’s not to love about a rodeo that includes wild cow milking?

      When I was in Kansas, I had a conversation with a man who was reminiscing about riding the prairie as a boy. The grasses, particularly Indian grass and big bluestem, were so tall they came up to his saddle. I started thinking that, just as a boat is the best way to view the ocean, maybe horseback is the best way to see the prairie. It’s percolating in the back of my brain.

      You’re right — I had no idea I’d be living in Texas. More to the point, I had no idea I’d come back to Texas after leaving, or be content to settle here. I even have a grave plot out in a country cemetery. How that came about is another story, but I suspect I’ll probably make use of it some day.

    1. That’s a wonderful early memory to have, GP. And if we don’t have such memories from childhood, we can make them as adults. There’s no reason that kids should have all the fun — although I fear the problem today is quite the reverse: that kids aren’t getting nearly enough fun. As we’ve agreed before, they need us as models.

  15. Did you ever get your boots? Did you ever learn to shoot? I loved my brother’s toy guns, and his Davy Crockett outfit. We knew about Roy Rogers and Trigger ( from movies I suppose ) but I don’t know that I ever wanted to be a cowgirl, or partnered with a cowboy. Maybe if I had been given an outfit like yours I would have had more desire to be a cowgirl. You look wonderful as a cowgirl. And you certainly seem to have the cowgirl up spirit. ( I didn’t ever learn to shoot. My brother did; at least to shoot wild rabbits! )

    1. I did get my boots, although I mostly wear my barn boots these days. Of course, I’m slogging through sloughs more often than I’m hitting the dance floor, so that’s only natural.

      I haven’t done much shooting, but I’ve done some. I started learning up in the hill country with tin cans on a fence post. I tried skeet shooting a couple of times, but that was, shall we say, an amusing venture, and clearly would take more time for practice than I was willing to devote to it. Now, I shoot with a camera, and am perfectly content.

      Honestly, I think my early fantasies about being a cowgirl had more to do with outdoor life generally than any real desire to yippie-ki-yay. The things in life I’ve enjoyed most — living in Liberia, sailing, varnishing boats, and photography — are tied together by nature in one way or another. Life in a cubicle or behind a retail counter? Spare me.

      1. Indeed, you and cubicle life wouldn’t be a good match. My working life started out in a cubicle. That wasn’t too bad but the air supply (air conditioning) was horrid and gave me terrible hayfever.

  16. I know a real cowgirl. My wife’s niece raises cattle. She drives a Toyota instead of riding a horse and it is not unusual for her to have a calf in the backseat. To the best of my knowledge, she doesn’t know how to twirl a lasso either but she does know cows and spends long, cold winter nights in the barn during calving season. It doesn’t sound as romantic as the rodeo – but she loves it – and that for her, is romance enough.

    1. A calf in the back seat sounds like problem-solving extraordinaire. It also sounds as though it could be a perfectly reasonable solution for a whole variety of problems.

      Romance is in the eye of the beholder, that’s for sure. Every now and then, someone strolls down the dock, stops by the boat where I’m working, and says, “Now, that’s the life. Sunshine, breezes, no one nagging you — I could go for a job like that.” Depending on the person, I either smile and murmur something inconclusive, or say, “Tell you what. Come back in mid-January or mid-August, and we’ll talk.”

      It’s easy to imagine ranching, or rodeoing, or vanishing, or just about anything in the world as romantic — problem free, easy, wholly satisfying — but it’s only the ones who move beyond the dreaming who can appreciate the realities.

  17. It is nice, Linda, that your childhood dream did lead you out West. I am still dreaming still dreaming to ride a horse through Arizona sunset valleys… Prescott boasts the oldest rodeo in the country and it is such a cowboy town, I walked down Whiskey Row this morning, which is all tourist attraction now, lined not with horses but with Harley Davidsons. A few miles down the road though, tucked into quaint valleys lie small rancher communities.

    1. Actually, that childhood dream wasn’t at all involved in my moving west: not to California, and not to Texas. Circumstances dictated those moves, but after the fact? I discovered that Texas was home in a way I never could have imagined.

      When I looked to see where Prescott is, I smiled to see that you’re due west of Camp Verde. It was Camp Verde, Texas, where the camels arrived just before the civil war. There doesn’t seem to be any connection, except that both places are advertised as green and verdant valleys, but it also seems like a wonderful place to be located.

      We have our places where the Harleys have replaced horses, too. It’s not all bad. I’ve met some fine people on those bikes — including a couple in Arkansas who’d traveled from Seattle (I think) to Mena via Minnesota, where they visited their kids. Grandma and Grandpa aren’t what they used to be!

  18. Great post. I made it to the Rodeo this year and watched the cowboys and cowgirls, but skipped the show. I have a Roy Rogers shrine in my sewing room and have recently added some photos my Dad took when we saw Roy live at the Allentown Fair.

    1. Those memories do linger, don’t they? It’s wonderful that you got to see a live performance by Rogers. I don’t have a thing to base this on, but I suspect it was quite a different experience than a Houston Rodeo show. We’ve moved into the days of high production value now, and there are times when the glitz is overwhelming.

      It pleases me that you liked the story, and I’m glad that you got to the Rodeo. It’s a great tradition, and a whole lot of fun.

  19. Smiles!
    (We don’t need any knitting to tell us how to live. Women of the west just did it. And thought it odd others didn’t – and whine about it.)

    Somehow, despite time lagged before you got here, I think you’ve got the same spirit the cowgirls had. You would have really loved the early rodeo days here – when you got dirt flung into the audience as the horses galloped by. The modern Rodeo Houston is a fine thing – over 7,500 scholarships last year to kids and a tiny glimpse for some of what ranching, cowpokes heritage is about, but it’s pretty flashy compared to the gritty original.

    (I’ll never forget when they “imported” exotic breeds to show us ranchers were interested in improving the breeds. Those first Brahmin and Charbray bulls were giants compared to the Angus and Herefords in the pastures. Giants! And they were 6 inches from your nose in their pen)
    Fine tribute. Great post.

    1. Speaking of exotic breeds, look what I found off Texas 71, south of El Campo. They were in a field next to Williams Paradise Cemetery, and the folks who owned them were nice as could be about letting me take photos of the cattle and the kids. It’s a fact: you just don’t know what you’re going to see in the pasture these days.

      For some reason, your comment about those gritty, early days reminds me of the old dance halls. Gruene Hall is great, but Schroeder Hall, Crider’s, Swiss Alp? They’re of another era. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a little heel, toe, dosie-do — party on!

      1. All those little halls in small towns all around Victoria/El Campo – you’d see the entire family. It was the only entertainment besides the football games.
        Everybody dance!
        (Now that’s a cow, boy. Those horns are so thick. Must take some serious neck muscles to haul those around! Cool catch)

  20. I have to admit that I really do prefer “Houston Fat Stock Show & Exposition” to “Rodeo!” But it is a mouthful, I guess.

    I grew up with a Stampede that saw our town double in size for a few days. My home town once boasted of hosting the largest three day out-door Stampede in North America, and our town was de rigeur for those on their way to Calgary, and then, I suppose Houston. It started with a parade and was a magical time. Alas, now, in my part of the world they are rather rare.

    I remember, some years ago, attending a small town rodeo, where you were right at the fence. It was really most amusing, with cowboys (all cowboys…) nursing their falls with beers.

    1. You made me curious about the name change. It started as the Fat Stock Show in 1932, and that’s where the focus was: on the animals. Then, in 1938, a rodeo, parade, and other entertainments were added: hence, the name change to Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

      I’ve read quite a bit about the Calgary Stampede.I was so happy when they chose Ian Tyson as parade marshall for the 100th Stampede; it just seemed right. On the other hand, I never had realized that “stampede” is used as a general term. I had to cruise through three pages of Google listings about Calgary before I got to the Falkland and Ponoka stampedes, but now I know there are others.

      The pleasures of the small arenas are real. There’s something about all that dust and descriptive language that brings a smile.

    1. Well, I would have been good to my horse. And I can cook up some pretty good beans and biscuits, so I could have helped staff the chuck wagon. But I missed my chance for life on the range, so I’ll just keep on with my chosen path, and occasionally mutter ‘Yippie-ki-yay’ under my breath!

  21. What an adorable little cowgirl! Such a wonderful post about real cowgirls. I have seen the image of Hallies Moon numerous times, and now I’m determined to find something with its image in it!! St Helen was truly an amazing woman, now I want that photo too!!
    I love your posts♥
    Grab your boots and get back to Kansas.

    1. If you like Hallie’s Moon, you’d enjoy Debbie’s other work. You can find her website here. I’ve got an early print she did called “She was a trickrider in her own backyard” that shows a little girl in an almost identical outfit, and a large piece that hangs in my kitchen, called “She made her own groceries.” There’s something about her work that appeals, no matter her subjects.

      It tickles me that you enjoy these posts so much. Just as soon as I can, I’ll giddyupgo and get back up there.

      1. Thank you SO much for the link to Debbie’s website!!! I can’t wait to see it. It’s COLD and WINDY today 23 with a wind chill of 14. Not the weather I had planned on!!
        Have a wonderful day

  22. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! I learned to ride as a child, and had a horse up into college. I never heard the expression “cowboy up” until I moved west later in life. Another one I have come across is “time to put your boots on”, meaning roughly the same thing.

    1. The meaning of “time to put your boots on” obviously is the same, but I don’t remember ever hearing it. On the other hand, “time to saddle up” was pretty common in one of my former neighborhoods. One thing I really enjoy about Texas is the richness of the language, particularly in the more rural parts.

      I was such a timid child in many ways, and refused possibilities that I now wish I’d accepted — like riding. Thank goodness I got over the timidity. We can’t go back, but we can go on with a bit more verve.

      Thanks for visiting. You’re always welcome here.

  23. “Cowgirl Up” is a phrase that is new to me. Knowing it means, “get with it. Don’t shirk your responsibility. Give it your best,” is new to me.

    1. Isn’t it interesting how many different worlds surround us? Just as Texas as a multitude of bioregions, it has a multitude of cultures: each with its own characteristics. It’s been a great deal of fun exploring them, and rodeo culture is especially fun.

  24. Love the word choice, the venue, the jargon. I’m a horse-girl. Horse camp for years as a child and then, finally, in my 40’s, a little Welsh pony/ Missouri Foxtrotter–Cricket– became my trusty trail companion. We rode over granite in Yosemite and through dairy farms on the Bridge Ride from Bolinas to the Golden Gate Bridge…great memories! Now, I am painting them. Thank you for a delightful post.

    1. I suspect the part of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo you’d enjoy most would be the trail ride into town. Trail riders come from all parts of the state, some riding for as much as two weeks to get here. This is a splendid video that shows both trail riders and the Rodeo 10K. It shows off the Houston skyline rather nicely, too. The start may seem a little slow, but it’s of interest for the lack of traffic. They’ve closed down some major roads to accomodate the riders.

      Do you still have a horse? Or do you still ride? It seems as though it would be a great way to explore some of your territory.

      1. I will watch the video. And you are right–trail riding is something I have done most of my life.
        I do not own a horse anymore. My last horse I gave back to my farrier. It’s complicated but suffice to say that my father-in-law lived next door to us. He had land and pastures, so my horse had a barn and a pasture. He left the family compound. I was not willing to put Cricket into a barn and feel obligated to go exercise her. We have room for a horse at the Rancho but…the responsibility and expense. So I have begun to paint horses now.

        1. Ah, complications. And it seems to me that having a horse is much like owning a boat, in the sense that the acquisition of the thing itself is only the beginning. We could go on with analogies forever: a barn for the horse, a slip for the boat; a farrier for the horse, a varnisher for the wood; etc. Beyond that, it’s true that too many complications can erode pleasures, so paint on. It’s only another way to experience your horses — and not at all a bad one.

          1. Thank you. Yes. We owned a boat, too. Exactly the same. A deep financial hole (but well worth it!) When I have a painting I am satisfied with, I shall post it.

  25. This is an absolutely wonderful article and I enjoyed it a lot!! When I hit this part “Local broadcasters trail behind trailriders, sopping up stories like so much sausage gravy…” I started smiling and haven’t stopped yet. Sure as shootin’ you are the Ace-High Word Wrangler. It also struck me, that this truly is a big country – – I’m guessing a New Yorker might feel more at home, in many ways, in Hong Kong than in Houston.
    I was looking at a couple of shelves at my great uncle’s house, stuffed with Zane Grey novels, and learned they belonged to my great-grandfather. (Grey used to spend summers in Lackawaxen, about an hour east of Scanton, Pa.). My g-g. had to leave school and start working when he was 15, and I don’t know if he ever got farther west than Ohio, but he hunted with a Winchester lever-action and loved these western novels. Apparently it caused a ruckus because my g-grandmother didn’t think such lurid cowboy novels were proper and elevating enough to be publicly displayed in the front parlor’s bookcase, but that was one of the few arguments she lost.

    1. Houston’s far more cosmopolitan now than when I first came here in the early 70s, but you’re right that there are places a New Yorker might find more congenial. On the other hand, to hear some people in Dallas/Ft.Worth and Houston go on about one another’s cities, you’d hardly believe they were in the same state.

      That’s a wonderful tale, about the Zane Grey novels. The only one I’ve read is “Riders of the Purple Sage,” and I came to that one through the New Riders of the Purple Sage, which your great-grandmother probably wouldn’t have approved, either. Personally, it seems to me a fellow who hunts with a Winchester lever-action deserves to choose his own books. Wise woman, to let him place them where he pleased.

      1. Well, I just meant different, not uncongenial. And of course, where I live, if you walk ten minutes in any direction, you’re going to see dairy cows! There are people in Geneseo who ride horses, but they go fox hunting instead of rodeos. (pretty sure they’re drinking the same brands of bourbon as Texas, though) Not only is this a memorable and wonderful article and pictures, but now I’m really enjoying all the responses. I’ve seen people talk about “involved readership,” (sounds kind of formal) – – you’ve generated a literary Shivaree, it’s just great to see all this.

        1. And I meant congenial more as a synonym for “comfortable” than “unfriendly” The competition between DFW and Houston is colored by their rather different approaches to things, but for the most part it’s a friendly competition. As for dairy cows, one of my good friends grew up on a dairy farm in New York and maintained one for years as an adult. Our memories of Iowa and New York childhoods were remarkably similar.

          Your mention of fox hunting stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t realize fox hunting still was part of life anywhere in the U.S. Live and learn. Of course, it also brought to mind that famous old definition by Oscar Wilde: “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.”

          I haven’t heard the word “shivaree” in years, and the thought of a literary shivaree is going to keep me laughing all day. I’ve never taken active part in one, but they still were a custom when I was growing up. Escaping in a car with tin cans tied to the back was no solution, either. Eventually, every newly-married couple had to come home.

          1. I think Wilde had it perfectly. My father watched a few fox hunts as a kid, and says: where else can you put on a bright red coat, silly pants, and drink bourbon on horseback at 6 am and no one will put you in a straitjacket.
            Some of the hunt clubs now have drag hunts, instead of killing foxes — you get some kids who can run cross-country, to head out 1/2 hour early, dragging a scent bag while they run, to make a scent line for the dogs. The dogs get pretty excited, you can hear them for miles. I don’t know what’s in the bag, cheeseburgers maybe.
            Pretty sure I saw that cow with the giant horns in a zoo, African I think, wow what a sight to run across in a pasture! We have llamas around here, and once we saw ostriches (a local restaurant served them)

  26. Linda, I LOVE your cowgirl outfit and am pea-green that I didn’t have one, too! We had imaginary horses, of course, and “pearl”-handled six-shooters on a faux leather belt, as well as the requisite cowgirl boots, but no twirly skirt, no fringes. Something tells me you and I would have been good friends, even back then!!

    Having lived just outside Ft. Worth, I remember how important rodeo days were. Not only as a reminder of the area’s gloried past but also in the present-day economy. I did PR work for some of those cowboys, and I learned so much!

    How I miss good Texas barbecue, chili, and baked beans! That’s comfort food that nothing else can rival. Enjoy the festivities, my friend, and thank you for nudging some enjoyable memories!

    1. Don’t be pea-green, Debbie. Be peridot green! Actually, it sounds as though you were nicely outfitted, too. You may not have had the fringe, but you had the boots. I had to wait a long time to get mine.

      It must have been interesting and enjoyable to do that kind of work in Ft. Worth. I’ve never been to the Stockyards historic district, but the rodeos and parades there seem to have as passionate a following as the one in Houston. In a way, they’re even more historically-based, since Ft. Worth was more important in the cattle-shipping business.

      In either place, the rituals are the same, and barbeque ranks right up there as a must-have. There’s even a great song about barbeque. Since I can’t get a plate to you just now, you can have the song. The lyrics are made up mostly of a listing of all the great barbeque places in Texas.

      1. How I loved that, Linda — thank you! Now my mouth is watering for some Texas barbecue — I can see I need to plan a trip south and bring Domer with me!!

  27. Isn’t this just marvelous? I love, love, love this offering! You find the coolest stuff to write about. I’m challenging women to Bayou Woman Up, too! By the way, with the “early spring” the blue flags (irises) are ALREADY blooming and will be gone in a week or so. I’m sorry you missed them again this year. It’s all Mother Nature’s fault. Hope to see you anyway!

    1. Now, that’s a great alternative phrase. “Bayou Woman Up” certainly fits, since your kind of “rodeo” requires some of the same skills, and all of the same attitudes. Of course, that brings to mind the phrase “this ain’t my first rodeo,” which I still hear from time to time. Of course, a little age and experience are prerequisites for using that one.

      I was wondering about your flags when I happened across exactly two in a ditch a week ago. Some things seem right on schedule, but others seem early. Of course, time is flying by, and what feels early may not be, since mid-March is full spring here, and always has been. Only the pecan trees are still a little reluctant, but I expect to see them leafing out soon.

      I’ll still be heading that way — at least, I hope to. i’ve not yet been to the rookery at Lake Martin, and it’s time for that, too. So many wishes, so few resources!

      1. I want to go to Lake Martin with you, and I have some connections there that could get us in a small boat, maybe, if you’re interested. Might have to reciprocate the favor, but that’s okay.

        1. That sounds good to me. I just was looking at some Lake Martin/Breaux Bridge sites last night, including the swamp tours, and still have the tabs open. By April 1, I may have things a little more under control at work. Let’s talk in a couple of weeks.

          I saw your post about your latest adventure, too, but haven’t read it yet. I’ve been fairly well consumed with getting my second site up, but now that’s done, and I’m catching up with things. Did you see that I titled it “Lagniappe”? I love it.

          I just rescued “OtherBug” and her trip through the bayous from the Weather Underground site — did you know they’re shutting down the blogs? I found the photo of the two of you in front of the oyster shack. When I get some time, I’ll send it along.

            1. Weather Underground was a comfortable place for weather bloggers and photographers, but it never was going to stay the same — especially after it was sold and resold. Apparently the most recent purchaser, IBM, has decided it wants to go another direction, and that’s fine. People will find new spots to settle, and all will be well.

              I knew you’d get a kick out of “Lagniappe.” Sometimes, I get an idea that’s so perfect it just has to be turned into some kind of reality. Even if no one ever visits, it will give me a smile every time I post there. What’s not to like?

  28. Delightful! I loved this–a child with her priorities straight: “I didn’t want to eat my carrots, I wanted to feed them to a horse.” I’ve never been to a rodeo, and you certainly entice me. I don’t know why, but I’m reminded of one of the Dutchess County Fair specialities–a tractor pull. We happened on it when wandering around the fair, and we were transfixed. The other thing this reminds me of is attending a fair, I think in Kansas, at which there was a booth featuring fried rattlesnake (I recall it as tasting like chicken, but full of small bones). I was there because a friend, a student in physiology, was an attendant at the booth. He was removing pancreata (anyway, I think that’s what he was doing–and i had to look up the plural) to study them. The price of admission for that was to prepare the rattlesnakes for frying!

    1. You’re ahead of me, Susan. I’ve had fried alligator, but not rattlesnake. And now, thanks to you, I know that snakes have 200-400 vertebrae: a fact which accounts for your memory of lots of small bones. The Texas State Fair always is awash in everything fried, including the always-popular fried Twinkies and fried ice cream, but I think I’d take the rattlesnake over most of them.

      The tractor pulls are something to see. I remember them from farm equipment shows in places with names like Mechanicsville. Here’s a short, quick history of the sport that makes its development a little more understandable. And the introductory lines about checking out furrows and comparing yields as “competition” is exactly right.

  29. I remember “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and the Sons of the Pioneers from the same era as you. Half a century later I was amazed to learn that that cowboy icon has been here only since the 1800s, when it arrived from Siberia, of all places. The Russians may not have affected our most recent election but there’s no doubt they hacked into the Old West.

  30. That’s right. The Russian thistle could be the very definition of an invasive plant. They’re tough and durable, just like cowboys and cowgirls. The one I carried home from Kansas five years ago (!) still is living atop a cabinet with no signs of falling apart.

    During this year’s prescribed burn season, a video from a few years ago resurfaced. It’s one of the most remarkable tumbleweed videos you’ll see: tumbleweeds, fire, and tornado all in one impressive package. At 2:15, it actually ignites another patch of grass.

  31. Such a different world than I grew up in – to say the least. But I think it’s great that cowgirls are taking their position in history and presently along with cowboys. Such a fascinating environment all together for someone never having been close to it. What a cowgirl you show in the very first picture of this post!

    1. I remember when I was introduced to the Sami people and their reindeer. Their culture and their life was so different, it seemed unimaginable. But interesting? Yes, indeed. In some ways, cowboy culture is just as unique, and the community just as close-knit.

      Cowboys in Texas actually are rooted in the vaqueros of Spanish Mexico. After the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, their methods of cattle raising began spreading, eventually moving into Texas (as well as California, New mexico, and Arizona). Vaquero traditions endure in the south and west. One of the most exclusive and interesting groups in Texas is known as the Tejas Vaqueros: an exclusive group of guys that does good works (particularly with the Houston Rodeo), and has an annual trail ride out in the hill country.

      Ironically, a Canadian named Ian Tyson captured the spirit of the vaquero best for me, with this song. There’s some good photography, too.

      1. Yes, you are quite, the Sami culture is also very special. And I think that’s what makes different countries so interesting to learn about and visit; all the different cultures routed in the past and their history.

  32. Too bad about you crushing for Roy Rogers. I’m pretty sure I saw him first.

    In the early 1950’s they used to show the old Republic Roy Rogers movies on Saturday mornings on one of our two local TV stations (don’t remember whether it was channel 11 or channel 13). I would be up at the crack of dawn to watch them. I loved the Sons of the Pioneers. Their harmony gave me goosebumps. I had a yellow plastic 45 of “Happy Trails” and drove my mother crazy playing it on my little record player.

    I never had a horse, but my cousin Wanda had some. Still does, I think, We’re fourth generation Texans. She runs her ranch on the banks of the Brazos at Rosharon pretty much single-handedly, although now that she’s in her 70’s, she doesn’t toss hay bales out the back of her pickup any more when she needs to feed her cows. Now she’s got one of those little tractors with a fork lift attachment to lift those big rolls of hay into the bed of her pickup and pushes them out the tailgate. Even though many of the women in my family were not cowgirls, we learned young to “cowgirl up” because there were things that needed doing and nobody but us to do them.

    The unfortunate truth about cowgirls is: We know a lot about the history of the old West, but very little, if any, of its herstory.

  33. Now, that’s an embarassment of riches: Roy Rogers movies on Saturday morning. I don’t remember getting anything but the half-hour Roy Rogers Show on television, but we did take in one of his movies at the theater from time to time.

    Those yellow and red 45s — what fun they were. As for those old record players? We’re clearly of the same generation.

    I’ve been in your cousin’s neighborhood now and then. Good for her, to still be ranching. There’s nothing wrong with a little adaptation along the way, either. If a fork lift makes life easier, who’s to mind? Not the cows, that’s for sure.

    I’m wondering — have you ever heard her talk about Kittie Nash Groce, or the KNG Ranch? Part of that ranch is now the Nash Prairie, and Kittie once was described as the “biggest rancher in Brazoria County to wear pants, lipstick and rouge.” That land is just a little south and west of Rosharon. I’d not be surprised if your cousin knows or knows of her.

    A lot of Houstonians would be surprised to know how much true country is only one county over. There’s a lot of history there, and a whole lot of cowgirlin’ up that’s taken place over the decades.

  34. Linda, what a delightful post! I too wanted a horse. What little girl didn’t? I never had your regalia (you were adorable) but I certainly remember my cow[girl] boots and straw cow[girl] hat! Mom wanted to save them and I kept finding them no matter where or how high up she hid them. She finally threw them away because she thought I might break my ankle wearing them with my feet in the leg of the boots and standing on my toes to walk. Yeah, I loved them that much. The final insult was when the donkey next door leaned over the fence, snatched my hat off of my head and began eating it. These are very vivid memories as I was about three years old then.

    So, did you save your Cowgirl outfit?

    1. No, the cowgirl outfit is long gone. I’m not sure when or how it was disposed of, but I suspect it was when Mom moved from Iowa down to her sister’s in the Kansas City area. I do remember it with the fringe so aged it nearly would crumble in your fingers. At that point, it was time to git along, little doggie.

      Isn’t it funny how mothers will hang onto things that we’re ready to relinquish? When Mom died, I finally could get rid of a good bit of childhood memorabilia that had no real meaning to me, but that clearly was important to her. Besides, with some nice photos as reminders, having the object itself isn’t so necessary.

      That’s quite a tale about the demise of your hat. I’ve heard the old expression “I’ll eat my hat,” but I’ve never known someone who actually had their hat eaten. I looked up the phrase, and the history of it is interesting.

  35. Great photo Linda. You look every bit the serious cowgirl, ready to ride your bronco off into the sunset. The cowgirl/cowboy is a symbol of independence. I, too, grew up with visions of the wild west dancing in my mind, starting with my Grandfather’s Sons of the Pioneers record. I would demand that he play it every time I visited. Then came the Lone Ranger on radio. Afterwards I would graduate to reading dozens of Westerns. When a new Max Brand or Luke Short came out in paperback, I had to have it. I greedily devoured all of Zane Grays books. When the Riders of the Purple Sage went out riding, I went riding with them with my two finger six-guns blazing. –Curt

    1. I outgrew the outfit, but eventually I grew into the independence it represented. It was just this morning that I really noticed that fence in the photo, and wondered if it had anything to do with my love of another song: “Don’t Fence Me In. If I’d known the song when I was five, I would have been singing it.

      While we rejoice (sort of) in the plethora of media options available to us, it’s worth noting how widely-known and appreciated groups like the Sons of the Pioneers still are. It wasn’t just cattle ranchers or midwestern farmers who enjoyed them. Common memories help to hold society together, and we’re losing a lot of memories: some more important than western fiction and songs.

      1. I have my own “Sons of the Pioneers” CD, Linda. While I outgrew the cowboy books, I never outgrew things like Cool Water, Tumbleweeds, and Ghost Riders. And, of course, I have wandered the West extensively and still love it as much now as when I first experienced it. –Curt

  36. Engagingly and thoughtfully done. Thank you for introducing me to St. Helen. And for the recollection of that unforgettable Smothers’ Brothers routine. In all these years of living in the west, I’ve never been to a rodeo … which irks me. Cowgirl up, in deed. Thanks again for visiting Under Western Skies.

    1. Thanks, Brad. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Rermembering the Smothers Brothers was one of the side benefits of writing this. Personally, I’d love to bring back “The Merry Minuet, now that I’ve remembered it. It has just as much to say in our context.

      Now: get thee to a rodeo!

  37. Boy, did that post unlock responses! I’d venture to say that a portion of every one of us in the U.S. of A. has a primeval gene or two that vibrates to all things “cowgirl,” “cowboy,” “native” or “savage.” Something about the American prairies?
    You do have an incredible ability to spin the language well, kind of a well-aimed lariat!

    1. I think the responses are partly due to the common memories I mentioned to Curt: which is precisely your point. Even people who don’t consider “the West” a part of their history have drunk from that well in one way or another.

      And I do think it’s related to the prairies, although tangentially. It’s the horizon, the openness, that appealed to so many: settlers on the trail, gold-rushers, land-grabbers, vaqueros and cowboys, explorers, and the just plain curious. A group of Kansas musicians who call themselves the Tallgrass Express have captured it beautifully., writing about that “clean curve of hill against sky.”

  38. Oh Linda, I’ve never been a cowgirl kind of girl, never got into horses or westerns or guns of any kind, which (still) terrify me. But I remember you did another cowgirl post long ago and — like this one — it fascinated me. You always have a wonderful slant and I think Helena Bonham nails it. I love that you have her postcard and her “modified” postcard hanging at your desk. What inspiration. The photos you used here are great choices! I really enjoyed this post!

    1. I’d nearly forgotten that I wrote about Connie Reeves and her role at Camp Waldemar a couple of times. I may have to resurrect that post about “Camp Retro,” where the girls play tennis, ride horses, and engage in conversation at table: no electronic gizmos or email allowed!

      I was thrilled to find the original postcard of Helen Bonham: online, of course. Ebay used to be the only game in town, but I found it on Etsy. It’s a nice size, at 5-1/2″ x 7-1/7″, and the pair is one of my favorite possessions.

      The good thing about the cowgirl spirit is that it doesn’t have to involve horses or hunting. I’d say you have a bit of the spirit yourself, which is exactly why you appreciate posts like this. So you enjoy going east, rather than west. What difference does that make? Not a bit, in my opinion!

    1. Fun can seem in short supply these days, but it has lots to commend it, and I’m glad you found some here. I suspect if you look around you can find some cowgirls in your area, too. I know you could a little farther east, in Alberta. That’s another part of the world I’d love to see.

  39. I’m riding’ into Houston myself – today, in fact – to start my new life there (albeit in a Toyota Highlander and not on a saddle) and enjoyed this background sketch on the Rodeo and cowgirls through the ages. I was a gun-slinging cowgirl myself in western Pennsylvania decades ago and every once in a while, it’s fun to wax nostalgic and enjoy all the rodeo-themed fun in Houston. I have lived here before almost 30 years ago, but now we’ve bought a house and are settling in for a while. At Curt Mekemson’s suggestion, I am adding your South Texas-based blog to my reading roll at a very opportune time!

    1. Like you, I came to Houston, left, and came back again. I first landed here in the early seventies. It was quite a different town in those days: but the good qualities endure, and I love it just as much now. Welcome back — and welcome to my blog.

      I’m pleased that Curt sent you my way. I’ve enjoyed his writing for years now, and of course we share the experience of being in Liberia. I hope you’ll find other posts here that bring you enjoyment.

      1. I’m quite sure I will find a treasure trove of reading here … but it’ll have to wait until I dig out from under the piles of moving boxes! Looking forward to reading more soon.

  40. Wow, Len Slye! I never knew that. I also remember “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds” from those happy days watching TV as a little kid. Another favorite was “Ghost Riders in the Sky”. And, just for fun, I’ll share this variation on a theme. LOL….I haven’t shared something in a blog in a while, so I hope I remembered how to do that. I had a Roy Rogers lunch box, of course, and wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up so we have a lot in common. :)

    A few years back, the Boston Red Sox ended years of frustration and finally won a World Series. One of the rallying cries for the players and fans was “Cowboy Up”.

    1. Oh, my gosh. I’ve never heard that chicken song, and I’ve never heard of the fellow, either. I see he has some other hits, like “Five Pounds of Possum.” I wish I’d known about him when I wrote my famous chicken post. I may need to resuscitate that and add the ghost chickens.

      I’m not surprised you were a Roy Rogers fan. All the best people are! As for wanting to be a cowboy — well, now you’ve raised up another memory. Back in the mid-80s, this was all the rage in rural south Texas. Sometimes, the 80s were as weird as the 60s.

      1. I don’t know if it was real or affected, but he sure did have the band in stitches. “Five Pounds of Possum” is a chuckle although not PETA-approved. :) I don’t believe, or maybe I just don’t remember, I’ve seen your famous chicken post. I hate to not be in the know, so can you direct me to it…or resuscitate it?
        I think I remember a famous Roy and Dale story as Roy was going to have Trigger stiffed when the time came and Dale said not to get any ideas about her. Trigger, Bullet and Buttermilk were all stuffed, Roy and Dale were not, and unfortunately were sold at auction when the Roy and Dale museum shut down.

        1. Here you go: a chicken post.. I guffawed all the way though, so I might repost it. There’s another chicken story from way, way back that I am going to repost. What could be better than chickens, snowboarding, and old-timey radio? Stay tuned!

          I did read that the Gene Autry museum purchased some of the Roy and Dale stuff when their museum in Branson closed. They managed to pick up most of the ephemera, and are preserving and archiving it. As for Trigger and Buttermilk? I found this from Roadside America: “The museum [in Branson] closed, and the collection was sold at auction in 2010. Trigger went for $266,500 to a cable TV company, RFD-TV, which also snagged Bullet and Buttermilk. The three currently stand in the lobby of the RFD-TV building — just across the street from the former Branson museum.”

          Gone but not forgotten, so to speak.

  41. Sorry to have missed this when you posted it, but really enjoyed reading it.
    Still trying to Cowgirl Up around here.
    I was always in love with being a cowgirl, and a real life ranch wife. When I was a very little girl, Roy Rogers came to go pheasant hunting with my Dad. I ran and hid in my bedroom, too star struck to actually meet him in person, but watched from my bedroom window.

    1. You’ve had other things to tend to than blog reading. I’ve been thinking of you, and wishing you and your family well.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the tale. Of course I thought about you when I wrote it. I imagined you as both cowgirl and ranch wife, but I never could have imagined Roy Rogers showing up to hunt with your Dad. On the other hand, why not? The world is filled with strange and wonderful connections — and wonderful experiences. I like the thought of star-struck you, just watching. What a great memory — thanks for sharing it.

  42. I love your post! We live in Wy, moved here a couple years ago, my daughters dream is to be a cowgirl/barrel racer/ trick rider! Stop by and check out some of her rodeo photos on my blog! I love the Wild West culture and really enjoyed your writing!

    1. I’m so glad you found your way here, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I will stop by over the weekend and have a look at your photos. It’s interesting that Wyoming’s a part of my current post, too. Depending on where you are, you might still have a chance to see Union Pacific’s Engine No. 844 underway. It’s quite a sight. You can read about it here.

      Thanks again for stopping by. You’re always welcome here! ~ Linda

      1. My niece is a train-a-holic I will have to check this out if she comes to visit! Thank you for the great recommendation!

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