Cowgirls Don’t Cry

by Heidi M. Thomas

As the popular country song says, Cowgirls don’t cry. Even when they’re bucked off a nearly-half ton of fanniel-sperry-steele1angry muscle and bone–a wild steer, a bull or a bronc.

As I researched my novel, Cowgirl Dreams, based on my grandmother in the 1920s, I found a theme of courage as well as competitiveness. I’m in awe that someone as petite as Grandma (5-feet, 2 inches and 102 pounds) would even consider pitting her strength and skill against such a large animal whose goal is not only to get that foreign weight off its back, but also (in the case of a steer or especially a bull) try to stomp on the rider once she’s down.

But she wasn’t the only one. Most cowgirls of that era were not of average height. Annie Oakley and Lucille Mulhall (first to be dubbed “Cowgirl” by Teddy Roosevelt) were just five feet. Other top riders, Mable Strickland,Tad Lucas, Fox Hastings and Ruth Roach were about 5-feet, 3 inches, and Florence Hughes Randolph was only 4-feet, 6 inches.

And those intrepid Cowgirls rode with injuries–taped ribs, casts, bruises–just like their male counterparts.

Fox Hastings who began rodeoing about 1916, was once thrown from her horse and then it fell on her–twice. Her neck appeared to witnesses so twisted they feared it was broken. She was carried from the arena. But about 15 minutes later, she rode back to the judges stand in an open car and asked for a re-ride. She got it, rode to the end, and dismounted on her own. Only when out of sight of the crowd did she collapse.

Tad Lucas was one of the most famous trick riders. At the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, when going under her horse’s belly, Tad slipped. She hung there, her horse kicking her with every step as he kept galloping around the arena. Finally she was able to roll free, ending up with a badly broken arm. At first the doctors wanted to amputate. She said, “Absolutely not.” They told her she’d never ride again. Within a year, she proved them wrong, riding with her arm in a cast.

bonnie-mccarroll-thrown-from-silver-1915-fsdm2_md1Marie Gibson, a Montana cowgirl with whom my grandmother competed, went to London with Tex Austin’s troupe in 1924. The first week out, she dislocated her knee, had it wrapped and came back later for trick riding. But when she stepped off the horse, she felt it go again. The doctor reset it, and told Marie to lay off. She did-for two days,then rode again. Marie had to have help saddling and mounting and had to be carried from the stadium, but she kept coming back.

Marie was killed in a freak accident in 1934 when a pickup man’s horse collided with hers. Several other cowgirls met their end at rodeos, including Bonnie McCarroll at the 1929 Pendleton Rodeo. But nothing would  stop the cowgirls’ dreams. They had to compete, to feel the exhilaration of the ride, and the thrill of winning.

That’s why cowgirls don’t cry. At least until they’re alone.

©Heidi M. Thomas 2008

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Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 4:01 am  Comments (2)  
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Escape, A Wyoming Historical Novel

jeanhenrymeadphotoMy guest today is the author of three novels, including Escape, A Wyoming Historical. She’s also the author of seven nonfiction books and numerous award-winning magazine articles.

Escape is the story of a young girl, masquerading as a boy, kidnapped by the Hole-in-the-Wall gang (or Wild Bunch), which includes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Where did you come up with the idea for this book?

I began with the Four-State Governor’s Pact to eliminate outlaws during the mid to late 1890s. With that premise in mind, I decided that some of the outlaws would stop at an outlying sheep ranch in the middle of a ground blizzard, with a posse in pursuit. I then came up with a feisty little southern woman and her orphaned granddaughter who are awaiting the return of the woman’s husband. I’m a seat of the pants novelist who doesn’t outline, so I just give my characters free rein. I had previously researched a centennial history of central Wyoming, so I was well acquainted with the history of the area and the people involved. And the novel is based on actual historical events and people, primarily Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.

Is there any basis in the gang’s history for this premise?

Yes, they eventually fled the country because war had been waged on all outlaws, and they did rob the Belle Fourche bank in South Dakota, which is the central theme of my book. The young, kidnapped girl listens to the gang plan the robbery and it was actually bungled by alcoholic horsethief, Tom “Peep” O’Day. Following the robbery the girl and the youngest outlaw take horses to Spearfish, South Dakota, in preparation for the gang’s escape from jail. Also, I include a lot information about Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Harve Logan, the main members of the Wild Bunch as well as a ten-page epilogue which details the outlaw’s actual fates.

You’ve done a good job of developing the characters and dispelling the myth that the Sundance Kid was a fun-loving, benign Robert Redford-type. I imagine you did a lot of research about this infamous gang.

Thank you, Heidi. I did a lot of research and make a couple of trips to the old outlaw hideout, The escapefcaltHole in the Wall, in central Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. There I talked to an old outlaw who had known some of the gang members. He had also talked to Robert Redford back in the 1970s while Redford was researching his book, The Outlaw Trail. I researched in other ways and learned that Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid, was from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and a member of the literary society there before he traveled west to Wyoming. He was a surly character, not the happy-go-lucky- guy portrayed in the film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

I enjoyed the character Tom Peep O’Day, a bumbling drunkard outlaw, who provides humor in the midst of serious danger. Was he a real person?

Yes, he was, and my favorite character to write about. He was lovable in a pathetic sort of way and he nearly stole the book from the other characters.

I was thinking Billy might have been based on Billy the Kid. Is there any basis for my idea?

Billy Blackburn is a fictional character and named for my son, Billy. And Jettie Wilson, the grandmother, was patterned after my own maternal grandmother.

Do you have a long-time interest in writing about history?

I became interested in Wyoming history after moving from southern California to Wyoming during the 1970s. There is such rich history in Wyoming, with the Oregon, California and Mormon trails, the Indian hunting grounds and battles with soldiers, the Pony Express and intercontinental telegraph lines. I wrote a number of books about the area.

Has your background in newspaper and magazine writing helped in researching and writing your books?

Absolutely. I researched my centennial history by reading 97-years worth of microfilmed newspapers for Casper Country: Wyoming’s Heartland, and had so many research notes left over that I used them to write Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel.

Have you always aspired to be a writer?

I wrote my first novel in fourth grade with pencil on construction paper and took a chapter a day to school to read to my friends. Fortunately, it was never published. I worked as a reporter for my high school newspaper and served as editor in chief of my college paper while a cub reporter for the local daily newspaper. I was a 28-year-old divorced mother of four daughters at that time and often took my youngest to class with me when I didn’t have a babysitter.

Are your non-fiction books mostly on Western history?

Three of my nonfiction books are interviews, the rest are historical. My first book was a collection of interviews with well-known Wyoming residents, including Dick Cheney, attorney Gerry Spence, Governor Ed Herchler, U.S. Senators Simpson and Wallop, Buffalo Bill’s grandson, sportscaster Kurt Gowdy and a number of others.

I understand you have a new novel coming out soon. What are your other novels about?

A Village Shattered, my senior sleuth novel, is the first of my Logan & Cafferty series, which features two 60-year-old widows living in a California retirement village. Dana Logan is a mystery novel buff and her friend, Sarah Cafferty is a private investigator’s widow. When they discover their club members are being murdered alphabetically and the inexperienced sheriff is botching the investigation, they decide to put their crime solving experience to work, but not before Dana’s beautiful daughter is nearly killed in the process. The second novel in the series, Diary of Murder, will be released next spring. I’m also working on a historical novel about the hanging of Cattle Kate as well as a children’s book, The Mystery of Spider Mountain.

Which do you like writing the most-fiction or non-fiction?

I enjoy both but prefer fiction because it’s so liberating and I don’t have to stick to the facts. I have a vivid imagination that conjures up all kinds of problems for my characters. And that’s what novel writing is all about: problem solving.

What is the most important marketing tool you’ve employed?

The internet. You can reach readers all over the world by promoting your work in your pajamas, if you want. There are many author-reader sites online where you connect with people who like to read, such as Goodreads, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.  Twitter is my favorite place to promote books and my blog sites. Blog touring, or virtual book tours, have also become a great way to promote your work. I’m having my own virtual tour from December 1-15 and have set up a special blog site to advertise the schedule. It’s located at: http://myblogtour.blogspot.com/.  Everyone’s invited to stop by and sign my virtual guestbook at the bottom of the page. Those who leave a comment are eligible to win one of three of my signed copies of A Village Shattered, or if they prefer, my western historical novel, Escape.

I also have a blog titled, “A Western Historical Happening,” at http://awhh.blogspot.com/    My web page is at www.JeanHenryMead.com

A Caturday Blog

My 17-year-old male, Ipsie

My 17-year-old male, Ipsie

My “kids” are my cats.

But they’re worse than children. They rule the household. I had to install a magnetic cat door so I didn’t have to get up 10 times every night to let the cat in or out. I even installed a second one in my office, so I wouldn’t… but don’t you know it, they’d still rather have me open the door.

You’ve probably seen the cat watch that has no numbers, simply Sleep, Eat, Sleep, Play, Sleep, Eat, etc. I would add to that–“Lap-time: Five minutes before the human plans to get up out of his or her chair.”

The Jellicle Cat, Jelli or Jelli-belly

The Jellicle Cat, Jelli or Jelli-belly

My two are as different as night and day. The older male cat is small, quiet, and has a tendency to curl up in a ball. The female is a “talker,” very friendly, and sprawls. My husband calls her “Ethel Merman,” because she is big, loud and obnoxious. (Apologies to E. Merman fans.)

Probably the funniest commercial I’ve ever seen was the one aired during the Super Bowl a few years ago about the cat-herders. That’s what I feel like some days.

Puss-n-boots

Puss-n-boots

At one time my dad had about 20 cats on the ranch in eastern Montana. This photo is of a couple of kittens playing in his boots. He was quite fond of his “herd.” In the winter he would even cook pancakes for them. I’ve often wished I had a video of him, carrying the pan of flapjacks across the yard, a line of cats following him as if he were the Pied Piper, their tails all straight up in the air like flags.

When he moved to Arizona with my brother and family, he had to leave his cats behind. I think he missed them.

This post is in honor of Dad’s birthday Nov. 9, 1924-April 1, 2006.

Published in: on November 9, 2008 at 2:18 am  Comments (4)  
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