Chapter One: Rodeo is No Place for Women
“Ruins the events for us men”
Dust filled the air, giving the clear blue sky a brownish haze. Steers bawled in their pens, broncs kicked their stalls, and the rodeo announcer bellowed out the name of the next rider.
A baby let out a lusty yell. Margie Greenough Henson turned to the wooden apple box, where her son lay on a pillow, and picked him up, clucking and shushing.
Her sister, Alice, called from the chutes, “You’re up next, and I’m after you.”
The slender red-haired Margie waved her acknowledgement and turned to a lanky cowboy standing nearby. “Here, would you hold Chuck for me while I ride? It’s only for eight seconds.”
The Greenough sisters, who are listed in both the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, epitomized the Montana cowgirls of the early 1900s and bridged the final transition between the Old West and the modern era.
A woman bronc rider earned her living by beating competitors (often men), wearing men’s clothing, and living around cowboys. She had to be tough, otherwise she’d have been squeezed out. Home was on the plains and on the road, with little room for fluff. But this life didn’t necessarily make her “hard-boiled.”
Montana’s Greenough sisters, Fannie Sperry Steele, Marie Gibson, Bobby Brooks Kramer, Jane Burnett Smith, the Brander sisters, trick riders Birdie Askin and Trixi McCormick, and pick-up rider Ann Secrest Hanson proved that athleticism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.
The London Evening News validated these accomplishments in its report of the cowgirls in the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe in 1924:
“… It is amazing to see these slips of girls take fearful tosses while fighting outlaw horses, and then half an hour later it is still more amazing to see these same girls strolling out to tea in their Parisian frocks.”
The following quote about Lucille Mulhall of Oklahoma in a 1900 New York World article could also have described most of these Montana women: “…only ninety pounds, can break a bronc, lasso and brand a steer, and shoot a coyote at 500 yards. She can also play Chopin, quote Browning, and make mayonnaise.”
In the late 1800s and early 1900s the public image of rodeo cowgirls was as “loose women”, because they participated in a tough, dangerous men’s occupation, traveled around the country with men, and often wore men’s clothing. They were generally not thought of as wives and mothers, and rodeo riding was considered detrimental to women’s reproductive organs, but most of them did have children, like Margie Greenough Henson. In fact, she told the Arizona Daily Star in a 1994 interview, “In the fall of 1930, I was riding bucking broncs and he (her son, Chuck) was born in February of ’31.”