Fannie Sperry Steele–A Montana Cowgirl

Fannie Sperry Steele was another Montana cowgirl who took a lifelong love of horses and turned it into a rodeo career. By the time she was six years old, she owned her own pinto, and in 1903 at age 16, she wowed the crowd with her spectacular ride on a wild stallion. This was the first rodeo money she earned as the crowd dropped coins into a hat to show their appreciation. By 1904, she had earned her first ‘Women’s Bucking Horse Champion of Montana’ title.

Growing up on a ranch, Fannie learned to ride like a man. She rode “slick saddle” with one rope and one hand free.fannie-sperry-steele-2 Some women bronc riders rode with two reins and hobbled, which meant the stirrups were tied underneath the horse’s belly. Fannie thought this practice too dangerous and wrote: “Mine is the reputation of being the only woman rodeo rider who rode her entire career unhobbled. I confess it is a record I am proud of!”

Fannie’s accomplishments included being named World Champion bronc rider and headlining as a sharpshooter with Buffalo Bill Cody where she shot china eggs out of her husband’s fingers and cigars out of his mouth.

Her fashion was long black braids, a vaquero-styled hat to shade her eyes from the sun, fancy cowboy boots, a shirtwaist and a split skirt. Many spectators came to watch the women performers, and like the other cowgirls, Fannie tried to ride like the cowboys but not look like them.

Before she retired from rodeo, Fannie and her husband organized their own Wild West show and a stock company, touring the country. Finally leaving rodeos behind, Fannie went back to Montana to operate a guest ranch, guiding visitors into the Rocky Mountain wilderness until well into her seventies.

An engaging, informative book, The Lady Rode Bucking Horses, has been written by Montana author Dee Marvine.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 5:11 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Heidi!
    Interesting post .. I love your cowgirls. But, to the point:

    Tag! You’re it! I’ve tagged you at

    name six things that make you happy and then tag some folks and ask them to do the same.

    Have fun!
    — Ann

  2. Very interesting post. I probably found it more interesting than most people since my daughter has had a lifelong passion for horses and married a rodeo bull rider.


  3. Fannie was my aunt. She was quite a cowgirl.
    Angie Townsend

    • Hi Angie IM Fred married to your cousin Susan Sperry daughter of Gene 🙂

    • Hi Angie, my name is Sheryl Monroe, Fannie was my great Aunt, I didn’t know about you, probably you never knew about me either. My Grandpa was Fannies brother, we mostly all lived in the nw, I’ve been here since I was 8 years old, so we were never close to our Mt relatives I now regret now that I wasn’t more curious about Fannie and my other relatives that we rarely saw. Tell me about you if you don’t mind I’d love to hear from you. 😉

    Hi Heidi, just found your website, it’s very nice, I’m attaching my url
    for a site I made for Fannie. Would love to hear from you

  5. Heidi – Please contact me at, if you are interested in participating in our “100th anniversary of Fannie Sperry Steele’s 1912 World Championship” history booth at the Last Chance Stampede, this July 25-29, at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds. Thanks, Curt Synness

  6. […] switched gender roles so closely tied to her fame, appearance was a large part as well. Blogger Heidi M. Thomasstates, “Fannie tried to ride like the cowboys but not look like them.” She defied what the […]

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