How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls?

Ready to ride the fences

Any Houstonian who hears “YeeeeeHaw!echoing down the corridors of a Fortune 500 company, or notices the distinctive click of boot heels on polished granite, knows 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,  quilt exhibits, livestock auctions, calf scrambles, and concerts. Staffed primarily by volunteers, it’s also a rich source of scholarships: more than 2,300 students attending more than 80 Texas colleges and universities currently benefit from Rodeo scholarships valued at more than $50 million; nearly 20,000 scholarships have been awarded since 1957.

This year’s event will close Sunday night with a concert-only performance by George Strait, who’s performed at the Rodeo thirty times since his first appearance in 1983. His performance with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen in 2019 set an attendance record that  may be broken this weekend. Personally, I prefer a smaller venue, but I do hope the Rodeo crowd gets to hear a favorite song I heard Strait sing at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels.

How ’bout them cowgirls, indeed. With the Rodeo in town, everyone’s a cowboy or cowgirl. Even the slickest, most citified sort begins wearing boots and overblown belt buckles. People who tend to equate beef with the ribeye on their plate discuss 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, 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 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’d try 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, I received a passionately longed for black-and-white cowgirl outfit: minus the boots, but with a pair of six-shooters and a faux tooled leather holster. What the Smothers Brothers sang as parody, 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 outgrew my outfit before I stopped wearing it, but a new life in Texas moved me beyond childhood fantasy into a deeper appreciation of what being a cowgirl actually entails.

Eventually, I became friends with real Texas cowgirls, and began to hear stories of some famous ones. Louise O’Connor, a fifth-generation member of a family that’s been ranching near Victoria since 1834, published a book titled Cryin’ for Daylight, a reference to a statement made by an itinerant cowhand named Will King: “We loved to work cattle so much we’d just be sittin’ around, crying for daylight to come.”

Cowgirl 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. The day I found her words painted onto a cedar board that had been wedged into a pile of rocks along the Sabinal River, I smiled; she would have been pleased.

Hallie Stillwell, who continued to ranch in Texas’s unforgiving Big Bend country for years after her husband’s death, became one of the larger-than-life ranch women of the American West through a combination of classic sharp-shooting skills, political acumen, ordinary town jobs, and a syndicated newspaper column.

My favorite image of Hallie, produced by artist Debbie Little-Wilson and called “Hallie’s Moon,” was imprinted on tee-shirts for the Texas State Arts & Crafts Festival in Kerrville.


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.” One of first women ranchers I met, who’d known Hallie personally, put it this way: “Hallie really knew what it meant to cowgirl up.”

At the time, I didn’t understand the phrase. Later, I learned that it’s a variant of an old rodeo warning call from the chute; “Cowboy up” meant the rider was seated 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. It suggested that 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!” came to mean, “Get with it. Don’t shirk your responsibility. Give it your best.”

One woman who understood what it meant to “cowgirl up” was Helen Bonham, a rodeo cowgirl who also served as Miss Wyoming in 1917. During the year of her reign, she traveled broadly, 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, she entertained 15,000 Girl Scouts during their own annual Field Day by roping and riding her way through the Sheep Meadow in Central Park.

Travel can be frustrating, lonely and tiring, even when undertaken in pursuit of a dream. Bonham helped to balance the challenges of her life by staying in touch with those she’d left behind. Without email, Twitter, Facebook, or Zoom 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 incorporated by Debbie Little-Wilson into her print titled St. Helen Bonham, Protector of Email, part of a series she called Cowgirl Saints.

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 image hangs above my computer desk, next to a copy of 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 still-living traditions: traditions of self-reliance, adaptability, resourcefulness, and the flat hard work so necessary for life in a real world.

Not everyone needs a horse, but a clear eye, a steady hand, and a ready willingness to “cowgirl up” always are in order. Where those exist, someone surely will say, “How ’bout that cowgirl?”

Comments always are welcome.

93 thoughts on “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls?

  1. A fine essay – I’ll have to admire the skills and acumen of cowgirls and ranchwomen from afar. I’ve never even ridden a horse! Maybe a pony at a carnival sideshow.

  2. I’ve known a few of these “ladies” from the ranches of Big Bend. Hallie Stillwell’s granddaughter, Nan Patton, was one of our best friends. She died on the Stillwell Ranch and is buried in a traditional wooden casket with cowhide sides and horseshoe handles. Doesn’t get any more “cowgirl” than that.
    We need more songs about them. Come to that, we just need more of THEM.

    1. That’s a casket I could live with, so to speak. And you’re right that we could use more people with the qualities of a good cowgirl or ranch hand. When I first moved to the midcoast area and spent my days with people who farmed and ranched, I realized pretty quickly that they were competent in ways I’d never imagined, and problem-solvers of the first order. When things like fence pulling are on the afternoon agenda, the romance of country life fades pretty quickly, but a sense of satisfaction sure can build.

  3. Well, Linda, you are always on the gate and ready to cowgirl up. Just give you a theme or let you find one for yourself, you make an interesting story from it.

  4. My brother and I used to get up at the crack of dawn on Saturdays because one of our local TV stations ran all the older Republic Pictures westerns, including the Roy Rogers ones. Roy Rogers was my first love, and I probably drove my mom crazy playing my yellow plastic 45 recording of “Happy Trails” on that little portable phonograph we had. I think Dale Evans was only in a few of those early Republic movies. Looking back, I think my attraction to Roy Rogers was that he was a lot like my dad. There was a definite physical resemblance — same build, dark hair — the same easy competence, and they both were good singers. (https://theowlunderground.wordpress.com/2019/11/16/where-blue-heavens-began/)

    1. I suspect there are plenty of others who share our memories of those record players and colored vinyl 45s. As for “Happy Trails,” just reading the words brings back the sound of those clopping hooves in the introduction. I remember that post about your parents. They married just weeks after I was born, and you sure do have some wonderful photos of them. I like that phrase ‘easy competence,’ too. Of course, ‘easy’ comes along only at the end of a long process of development.

  5. A splendid article. “Always saddle your own horse” is such a good metaphor that resonated with my one failure in wedding photography. This was for a couple of my in-laws. In the days of film a friend said he knew how to load a 35 mm roll in order to gain a couple of extra pictures. He did so. The roll did not move as it should. The film was blank. Fortunately my father in law had covered me.

    1. What a great example, Derrick. Thank goodness you had a backup. Depending on others can be necessary and even good, but knowing who we’re depending on is important, too.

  6. The handy local time machine took me back five years:

    “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.”

    To which you replied, with unknown foreshadowing of the era the post would next time-travel to:

    “That’s right. The Russian thistle could be the very definition of an invasive plant….”

    1. Let’s hope a certain Russian invasion isn’t as long-lasting as the Russian thistle I pulled out of that fence line near Dodge City. It’s still in perfect condition atop a cabinet. When I changed apartments, I thought it might crumble in the moving process. Not a chance. At this point, it may outlive me.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, GP. There’s a wonderful film called Cracker: The Last Cowboys of Florida that I recently discovered. You can see a nice preview here. Since Ponce de Leon brought horses and cattle to the area, it makes sense that some of the first cowboys in our country should have shown up there.

        1. What’s interesting about that is that another commenter, who lives in Ontario, just mentioned the rodeo culture there. Apparently there are some big gaps in my knowledge about that New York/Ontario area!

  7. Fine essay. These sentences ring strongly: “Helen Bonham never had a computer, and I never got my horse and saddle, but we both benefited from still-living traditions: traditions of self-reliance, adaptability, resourcefulness, and the flat hard work so necessary for life in a real world.“

    1. Thanks so much. I sometimes wonder if the people who are spending increasing amounts of time working and living behind a screen ever will learn some of the lessons the physical world teaches. I think it might have been Annie Dillard who said, roughly, “When you push against the real world, it pushes back.” Learning to cope with that is important.

  8. A great post. I have a little shrine to Roy and Dale in my sewing room along with a photo of Roy and Trigger my dad took when we went to the Allentown Fair to see the Rogers. It was the best day of my young life. Ironically, I took English riding lessons after moving to Texas. Happy Trails!

    1. It’s amazing how much influence they had on our generation, and how many good memories we have because of them. Eventually I let go of my lunch box and thermos, and I don’t really wish I had them back–but I sort of do. I just checked Amazon Prime and discovered there are plenty of their old movies available for free. I just might have to check one out, for old time’s sake.

  9. I always enjoy your essays, Linda. When our daughter was five, we put her on a pony for a dollar a ride. It was hard to get her off. She became an accomplished horsewoman and a representative of what you describe as “cowgirl up.” Obviously, I’m very proud of her.

    1. I remember my first pony ride at a carnival; I was in grade school, so I probably was around 8 or 10. It was so exciting. I never took to it as your daughter did, though. Did she show horses? Or was she involved with them as more than a hobby? Everyone I know who has horses wouldn’t trade them for the world.

        1. Good for her. I suspect that was both a lot of work and a whole lot of fun. (Condolences on Baylor’s tournament loss, by the way. That was a heartbreaker.)

  10. One of my goals as a little girl was to be a cowgirl. I thought Annie Oakley was cool. I never got the cute outfit, but I did have a hat and a little pretend gun. I remember the Sons of the Pioneers song, Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds– although I usually sang the theme from the TV show, Wyatt Earp. “Brave, courageous, and bold…”

    1. Annie Oakley was quite a gal. When I looked her up and read this short bio, I realized I didn’t know nearly as much about her as I thought I did. I didn’t realize the musical Annie, Get Your Gun came out in 1946, either. Songs from the show that became hits include “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)”. I’ve known the songs all my life, but had no idea they came from “Annie’s show.”

    1. So-called ‘gender equity’ is such silliness. On a ranch (or on a boat, for that matter), getting the job done, and done right, is what counts. I still think from time to time about the first lesson my sailing instructor insisted I learn. He never allowed me to say, “I can’t.” Instead, I was to start with the question, “How can I?” It might be that I “could” by asking for help, but that never was to be the starting point. He was a smart guy.

  11. Oh my goodness, I can’t even describe how much I enjoyed this post. Roy Rogers? Oh yes, I remember watching his TV program and singing along to “Happy Trails to you,” I wanted to ride Trigger and used to gallop around the house pretending I was riding my own horse. I also remember the Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds song. My oldest sister always wanted to be a cowgirl from the time she was very little and she DID become one. She married a cowboy and they both fulfilled their dreams of owning several horses (which I did get to ride) and being rodeo contestants. Eventually, they moved to Oklahoma where they got to rodeo even more. Sis was a barrel racer; brother-in-law was one too as well as a calf roper. As they are now in their 80’s, rodeo life is behind them. Your post brought back fond memories.

    1. You really do know the cowgirl life! I have a cousin who loved barrel racing; she competed regularly, and often did very well. Calf-roping’s one of the rodeo events I enjoy the most. You must have some wonderful real life stories to tell, and well as those great memories or Roy and Trigger. I still enjoy those Sons of the Pioneers songs, and listen to them from time to time — just because.

  12. This essay triggered a few memories. I loved any of the TV programs of the 50s with horses and cowboys. Didn’t see many cowgirls but I was one. I never got a real horse or even the outfit, but I used to “ride my horse” through the chaparral on the small mountain where we lived. My legs were the horse, my hands held the reins. I still love TV shows with horses—Heartland comes to mind. Watched 13 episodes twice.
    I like the expression Cowboy Up. Feels like I’ve been doing that for awhile.

    1. I have a friend in Oklahoma who calls her pickup “The Horse With No Name.” Every time I hear the song I think of her, and now it occurs to me it’s a good song for you, too. It’s got the right rhythm for riding your horse through the chaparral. As for cowgirling up, you sure enough have been doing that for a while. I still remember something an acquaintance told me years ago when I asked her how she learned to handle horses. She said something like, “It’s easy. First you learn what the horse wants to do, and you help him do it. Then, you convince him that he wants to do what you want him to do.” I don’t know how true that is, but it makes me laugh every time I think of it.

  13. A good post and I must say my first movies I watched back in Holland were mainly about cowboys and cow girls. Nothing got me more excited than a bunch of cowboys on horseback chasing a baddy even though it often showed the same set of rocks that the baddies were chased around with.
    Those movies were shown in our gymnastic hall and as so often happened, the reel would sometimes get stuck or worse break, much to the consternation and uproar by the students.
    Good memories though.

    1. Good heavens, Gerard. I’d forgotten about those mechanical difficulties with film projectors. We always loved it when the film broke, or the bulb burned out, or something else untoward happened during a class film. It meant we could sit around and talk while the teacher (or the AV person she called) tried to fix things. In some ways, I liked movies shown from reels better than what we have today. All the whirrs and clicks and such were part of the experience.

      There were some great westerns produced back in the 50’s and early 60s. Even some of the more current ones are pretty good. This list has a few of my favorites; you might find something in it to watch yourself.

  14. Oh, gosh – where do I start with this one? I guess with the fact that I finally have a chance to sit and read blogs tonight while my husband is off at Rodeo seeing Brad Paisley as I type. Or maybe with the night a few years ago when we both saw the inimitable George Strait himself there. Or the time we stood in Gruene Hall and imagined him there (lucky you!). Maybe the whole way back in 1982 when I got a job offer in Houston and decided to take it based almost solely on the movie Urban Cowboy. Or even farther back when I saddled up my hoss (a bike) and held on for dear life while he bucked (a wheelie) in my yard in Pennsylvania! Two years ago, I slowly herded my very old parents out of the Rodeo on the day they shut it down for Covid; now I can’t believe I actually missed the whole thing this years. I moved back north 30 years ago, but when the chance came to return to Houston five years ago, there was no hesitation for this cowgirl.

    1. So — did you make it to Gilley’s? It occurred to me that we arrived in Houston about the same time; I came back and began working here in 1981. I didn’t make it to Gilley’s, but I was living an inside-the-loop life at that point. On the other hand, I did get to the Broken Spoke in Austin a few times; that was a long time ago.

      Shutting down the rodeo was a traumatic event for a whole lot of people: more so than many non-Houstonians could understand. It was so great to have it back this year. One of my favorite events is the mutton bustin’. This year’s winner practiced by riding on her mom — how great is that?

      1. I never got to Gilley’s either. I moved here early in 1983 for the first time, was gone by late 1985, and returned in 2017. Being at the rodeo when the loudspeakers started telling us it was totally cancelled and to immediately move to the exits was actually kind of frightening; that’s when Covid became real for me. (And then I drove my parents the whole way home to the Georgia coast because we had no idea what to do about planes at that point!) I have a friend whose son did the mutton bustin’! Very fun to watch.

        1. It seems a little surreal now, thinking back to those first days of Covid. So much was unknown. It probably was a good idea to drive your parents home — despite it all, I suspect it was less stressful for them. I enjoy watching the kids in all the events. They’re so determined, and often darned proficient!

    1. You’d be surprised how many women are riding the fences and herding cattle these days. Some of the most successful ‘new’ ranchers are women, and they’re doing a great job of continuing some beloved traditions while transforming them in creative ways.

  15. I, too, wanted to be a cowgirl when I was young! (I even had the outfit, thanks to the local K-Mart.) I would watch westerns on TV and get upset when the cowboys got off the horses and the cameras followed the cowboys, not the horses. Who cared what the humans did? I wanted to see what the horses did! But I also respect how hard it was for women to make a living on a ranch, or in the rodeo circuit. Thanks, as always, for an entertaining and educational post!

    1. It’s interesting to me that so many of us wanted to be cowgirls when we were young. I wonder if it was because it was one of the most easy-to-imagine lives, or if we just liked all the implied action. I certainly never wanted to be a princess; that seemed as though it would be boring. A life with horses and cows, however romanticized, seemed much more exciting. In time, of course, we got our ‘horses’ — the bicycles and cars that let us ride our particular ranges.

      I laughed at your preference for the horses over the cowboys. Now that I know more about horses, they’re much more interesting to me than they were when I was a kid.

  16. Interesting meanderings into cow culture, and inspiring women. I spent a great part of my youth on a saddle but can hardly say I was ever a cowgirl, since cows were not in the picture. I love the very first picture you posted.

    1. It took some whining and pleading to get the outfit in that photo that you like, but it finally was mine. I don’t remember if it was a birthday gift, but it may well have been. The photo clearly was taken in autumn, and my birthday’s in late October, so it makes sense that my folks would have demanded a photo session in exchange for providing the outfit. (I hated having my photo taken — they usually had to sneak up on me.)

      One of the most interesting sub-cultures in Texas is that of the Vaqueros. Of course, it arrived here from the south and the west, but it’s still around. I think you may enjoy this song.. It may even raise a memory or two.

  17. This one really touched me, Linda. I, too, wanted to be a cowgirl. My sis and I rode our first ponies as children, and though I never got a horse of my own, in my imagination I was riding one for much of my childhood. I, too, had a silver toy gun — complete with boots, holster, and cowboy hat — but oh, how I’d have loved your real cowgirl outfit! This brought back the days when I lived outside Ft. Worth and got to see the Stockyards. Happy memories, indeed!

    1. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to get all of us middle-aged wannabe cowgirls together at one of those places that lets you ride, tend the chuckwagon, and do all the things we imagined as kids? It saddens me beyond words to see what’s been done to our children. Not only have they had their toy guns taken away, they’ve lost the freedom to ‘ride the range’ as we did: with our imaginary ponies and our bicycles.

      I’ve spent almost no time in D/FW. After a couple of trips through there, trying to navigate those roads, I’ve made it a point to avoid the place while traveling. “My” stockyards were in Kansas City, and they certainly were interesting. I know there are some great museums in D/FW; I ought to give the area another try.

  18. What an adorable photograph of you! Thanks for sharing it. Of course, being from Western Canada July is the season of rodeos, and so they are far from my mind presently. I was surprised to hear that there are rodeos in rural Ontario, for some reason associating them with the west. As I was reading your piece and the qualities of being a cowgirl, I thought that many of them apply well to being sailor too. And, in fact, my father told me that many of the young men on ships in the WWII were from the prairies, and knew well how to keep an eye on the horizon.

    1. I suspect my dad was the deciding vote in my getting that cute little outfit. Mom had her own visions for my ‘let’s pretend’ play, and they tended more toward frills.

      Between you and another commenter who mentioned his association of horses and rodeos with upstate New York, it’s clear that my ideas of that area of the world are ‘off’ — or at least not well formed! If you’d asked me where rodeos take place in Canada, Calgary would have topped the list.

      You’re right that sailors and cowhands have a lot in common. In fact, when I think of my favorite male vocalists, two who come to mind are Ian Tyson, who celebrates western cattlemen and ranchers, and Gordon Bok, who sings of the sea at the other side of the continent. Their worlds may differ in the details, but their character’s much the same.

  19. You may not have been born here, but you have the heart and soul of TX cowgirl. You’re definitely a keeper!
    I think if you were a kid here, besides mutton bustin’, I think you would have easily won this competition: https://www.rodeohouston.com/Portals/0/Content/GetInvolved/Exhibitors-Participants/Writing%20Competition/Rules.pdf?ver=47mi9w6AxelrSoyrk4CRAA%3d%3d
    Perfectly fabulous essay – a showcase of talent and astute observation
    (Oh, Did you run across this little bit of fun? https://www.click2houston.com/news/local/2022/02/25/90-things-to-know-about-the-houston-rodeo-on-its-90th-anniversary/. )
    (Hmmm ever wonder if those women on ranches/farms and cowgirls shook their heads at those hothouse flowers of the East Coast who gathered in homes with gardens to drink tea out of delicate China cups and moan how their lives were so limited and restrained by society – and were prevented using all their intellect and skills they were capable of ? Any of the women of the West probably would have simply advised “Go West!” HaHa)
    And we’re now into the bestest of weather today…now tomorrow…well, we’ll see…thankful not to be on the trail !

    1. I’ll confess it: I’ve been known to shed a tear of gratitude when I cross the state line after traveling north. I don’t have a thing against any of those other states, but this one’s mine now. I just spent a few minutes enjoying this and this. There’s so much state left to visit, and so many stories to tell!

      Your comment about the women’s so on point. The freedom available here is wonderful. We never hear about some of the most competent women, but that’s partly because they’re too busy being competent to worry about complaining or status seeking. One of my favorites — in fact, a woman who helped me learn to varnish — once owned Skipper’s Cafe, before it became Skipper’s. She decided to come ashore and go into the restaurant business after some years cooking on an oil rig. Another gal I knew in Victoria took up working on the railroad after working on the rigs as a roughneck. When I asked her why in the world she took such jobs, she just laughed and said, “Why not?”

      It was a beautiful weekend, and I made the most of it. You should see some of the calves I came across at Attwater. In fact, you probably will. I found one with a white streak down its back and a pure white tail. I knew they were Texas calves because they were friendly, and all came up to the car to chat!

  20. Yessirree, Bob! Ya gotta love cowgirls! I got one of those cowgirl outfits for Christmas when I was about 4. I’ve got photos, somewhere.

    Even if you live in the Deep South, where rodeo was scarce when I was young, we still watched it on TV when and if it was aired. Mama and I loved watching Larry Mahan. Sometimes, I luck up, and find some rodeo on ESPN and I’m immediately enthralled. Bronc and bull riding. Barrel racing. Calf roping. It makes me want to go out and buy a pair of boots and a cowboy hat! lol

    Hubby and I got tickets some 20 odd years ago for a bull riding competition that was held in, of all places, our indoor concert venue, Carolina Coliseum. I can’t imagine how much work it was to put a dirt floor in that place!

    They held another one a month or two ago but I’m not ready yet for mingling with those large crowds. Next year, maybe. If they come back.

    1. Rodeo events are such fun to watch. I never tire of watching a good cutting horse. The communication between the horse and rider is a wonder to behold. Rodeo wasn’t big in Iowa when I was growing up, but there were events at the county and state fairs, and some of my friends competed. The girls did barrel racing, particularly. If we’d had mutton-busting then, I might have been tempted!

      In the years when the Houston Rodeo was held in the Astrodome, they went through the same thing: bringing in all that dirt to make a satisfactory floor. I don’t remember the details, but I know there were some times when there had to be a quick switch back to a baseball field or whatever. Event scheduling was important!

      I didn’t remember Larry Mahan, but he certainly was accomplished. He must have been great to watch!

      1. Oh, yeah, the cutting horses. Quarter horses.

        Dad knew a guy here that owned one or trained them or something. On one of our Sunday afternoon rides (remember those?), we went out to his place on Johns Island, as he was giving a demonstration or hosting a competition. It’s so long ago, I don’t remember the details but I remember the horses.

        The rider indicated which cow he wanted, then sat back in the saddle and relaxed, while the horse went to it. Beautiful to watch.

        1. It’s like watching a good herding dog. The instinct is there, and it’s amazing to see them in action. I love videos like this one. The drone shots make it possible to really see the dogs in action.

  21. Love this one! I come from a ranching family and have several members of my family who were in rodeo. My dad didn’t rodeo, but he managed cattle and horse ranches and trained and showed horses. He definitely was a cowboy and raised a couple of cowgirls! Love your picture with the cowgirl outfit. Adorable! ….And George Strait is one of my favorite country western singers.

    1. I’ll bet I know one of those cowgirls, too! It must have been fun to grow up in a ranching family, although of course there was a lot of work. From what you’ve written about your parents, and especially your most recent post about your dad, I’d say you were a very lucky girl. I was, too, but the closest I got to ‘ranching’ was helping friends who showed cattle at our county fair.

      George Strait is one of my favorites, too. He’s such a good performer. More importantly, he seems to be a good person; I’ve never heard a bad thing about him. That’s rare, and admirable.

    1. There are so many “worlds” out there, filled with interesting people who don’t get much publicity outside their communities. I’d bet a lot of people don’t even realize there still are cowgirls and cowboys – but there sure are!

  22. Rodeo!

    Nothing quite like Houston during this unique time.

    The cowboy spirit, for me, is the American spirit multiplied several times over. As you have mentioned, it is a “can-do” attitude and determination to tackle any job and see it through to completion. I have a friend who is a local rancher and we have often discussed how America would benefit from some sort of program like compulsory military or civil service which would require kids to spend a certain amount of time working on a ranch or farm. Oh, the lessons they could learn!

    That was a nice shout-out to Florida’s cowboys. Most people don’t realize our state’s rich history of cattle ranching.

    1. I absolutely agree that service of one sort or another would benefit the young’uns. Of course, I have my own little fantasy: that every five years academicians, bureaucrats, politicians, et. al. would spend some time farming, or commercial fishing, or in construction work. In truth, that’s a little too Great Leap Forwardish for me: it smacks of another culture I’d not want to replicate. On the other hand, contact with the real world is valuable. Living life behind a screen is one thing; learning that snakes, barbed wire, and electricity all bite is quite another, and the chance to develop new forms of competence is invaluable.

      As Mark Twain put it: “Obscurity and a competence—that is the life that is best worth living.” Cowboys and cowgirls are marvels of competence.

  23. Well…
    How about that cool cowgirl post!
    And loved this-
    How the postcard was there looking down “watching over my wisdom and my foolishness alike”
    Hahah

    And side note – maybe it was better not getting the horse – could have saved your life – like think of Christopher Reed – hmmm

    1. ometimes I have to confess my ignorance of popular culture. I didn’t have a clue who Christopher Reed might be, and even after some exploration, I’m unsure about his relationship to a horse, or life-threatening situations. On the other hand, who knew there were so many notable Christopher Reeds in the world — there are a bunch!

      I just looked up at the image of Helen and let her know that you enjoyed her story. Just like work and play, wisdom and foolishness belong together, and she seems to have been a master at combining them!

      1. Hi – I am so sorry but that was a typo – I meant Christopher Reeve – the former Superman!
        But now you have inspired to look up Christopher REED – hahahh

        anyhow, On May 27, 1995, the actor Christopher Reeve injured his spinal cord after falling off his horse in an equestrian competition.
        https://www.christopherreeve.org/blog/daily-dose/a-single-centimeter-a-ruined-life-the-accident-that-caused-christopher-reeve-superman-to-go-from-a-star-to-legend

        and I agree with this “Just like work and play, wisdom and foolishness belong together, and she seems to have been a master at combining them!” well said

  24. I remember The Sons of The Pioneers, your favorite song, and the Roy Rogers Show. While we don’t have cowgirls, so to speak, around here, we do have farm girls and bumper stickers declaring that ”
    No Farms, No Farm Girls” in addition to the “No Fams, No Food” reminders. Most of the farms around here are family farms so everyone gets into the act. As you said above, gender doesn’t matter. Getting the job done does.

    1. I absolutely love “No Farms, No Farm Girls.” No farmers’ daughters for that matter, but all the jokes I heard about that subject probably wouldn’t pass today’s acceptability tests. I suppose none of the jokes we Swedes told about the Norwegians, would either: or the Polish jokes, for that matter. Pity.

      When I moved to rural south-central Texas for a few years, I gained some experience in things like fence-pulling and auger wagon driving. It was different than Iowa, but great fun. On the other hand, I was so ignorant about so many things. I provided a great community service by giving people things to laugh about. In fact, I wrote a post about one of those humorous experiences; maybe I should repost it, since it went up in 2014, and my readership has rotated.

      1. Yeah, those jokes and some of the accompanying cartoons and stories would definitely require the right audience now. I have a friend who still passes around “blonde” jokes…and one of his daughters is a blonde.
        I’ll look forward to that post. I don’t remember for sure when we became acquainted but 2014 is close. Most people have no idea the knowledge and experience required to work a farm so lack respect for it just as many do for the trades. I was educated in English (my teachers would be very disappointed in me) and accounting. I believe I am much happier, although exceedingly less wealthy, for following my interest in woodworking.

          1. That was cool. I’ve seen a few other videos similar and there was another at the top of the right hand menu of “Stayin’ Alive”. And I have never watched very many “Fred and…” performances so hadn’t seen much of him or Rita Hayworth before. I have a favorite cousin (Rhoda) who was quite involved in “Dancing”, working with Menotti, Tharp, Baryshnikov and others but never really was interested in that art form. Probably some of that was because of my “Led” feet.

  25. Linda, this post was beautifully written! Thanks for giving a closer look at some famous cowgirls and the spirit they carried. I like the phrase “cowboy up” and your articulate unpacking of that phrase. The image of Hallie Moon is charming.
    Have a wonderful weekend and take care!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Even outside of rodeo time I hear ‘Cowboy up’ now and then; it’s a part of our heritage that’s seeped into everyday life — even for people who’ve never been on a horse. I like the can-do spirit, and implied challenge to meet life’s circumstances head on. You may get thrown, but you might just hang on and win the coveted belt buckle!

  26. Great post! I’m not sure exactly how many rodeos we have here per year, but at least 2 and they last for a few days. I haven’t been to a rodeo in YEARS, but I can hear the announcer loud and clear at my house. I could probably putt a golf ball right in the middle of the arena (if I could putt). I had to watch the video of George Strait, by the way.

    The post and song do remind me of when I was in Vo-Ag in high school, and then in college. Some of the girls were so determined to succeed no matter what. One time I was in the arena in college and this girl, very cute I must add, was riding a bronco… When she got off and walked toward the exit where I was standing, I noticed she had a bigger chew in her mouth than most guys. That’s something that stuck in my mind because I never had seen a girl with chew in their mouth. Over the years I have met several girls and women who work very hard to train, ride and compete. The farmwives locally worked right along their husband’s side in the fields and still do even though they are getting older.

    1. Your story about the girl with the chew reminded me of our grade school trick of calling storekeepers in town and asking, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” If the person at the other end of the line said yes, we’d always say, “Well, you’d better let him out.” Then, we’d giggle uncontrollably, and try it with another shop.

      One of the aspects of rural life that’s missing from so many city lives is the need to accomplish real tasks. No matter how important the work, sitting in front of a screen all day doing this or that is a different experience than fence-mending or stray calf finding. Sometimes I think the surge in gardening has as much to do with the pleasures of real results as with anything else. I still grin when I remember the first time I realized I was ready for a radically different sort of career. I was scrubbing the kitchen floor when I thought to myself, “At least when I’m done, I can see the results.”

  27. I, too, wanted to be a cowgirl when young and Roy Rogers was my favorite cowboy with the Sons of the Pioneers. My pride and joy was the day I had my photo taken astride a horse wearing cowgirl garb.

    1. It’s wonderful to me how many of us share those memories. Sometimes I regret that I didn’t keep my Roy and Dale lunchbox and thermos, but on the other hand, whether those are stashed in a closet or not, the memories are just as fresh. I’m glad you have some, too!

  28. Your post makes me wish I WAS a cowgirl. I’ve never been around horses, but I did love Roy and Dale (and vaguely remember that lunch box). I grew up in New Jersey, the garden state, and my big foray was to the beach on the NJ coast. But last October I rode my first horse. All I can say is Yee Hawww! :-)

    1. You know what your next adventure should be, don’t you? It’s time to go riding on the beach! I have a couple of friends who love nothing more than taking their horses to the shore for a nice long ride — although you may not have a shore handy!

  29. Thank you Linda. Being a native of Montana, I’ve been to a rodeo or two, but none on the scale of Houston’s big rodeo. My wife and I enjoyed listening to George Strait a few years ago at Ohio Stadium (the football Buckeyes home turf).

    1. Truly, my favorite part of the rodeo is the ‘real rodeo’ — rather than the musical performances, carnival, and such. I enjoy our county fair rodeos, or the weekend rodeos at certain venues, even more. Being in the barns helping friends get their animals ready to show is great fun!

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