Cowgirl Up!

I am so excited to share that my book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women has won the Global E-Books Award in the non-fiction history category.

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When someone says “Cowgirl Up!” it means rise to the occasion, don’t give up, and  do it all without whining or complaining. And the cowgirls of the early twentieth century did it all, just like the men, only wearing skirts and sometimes with a baby waiting behind the chutes.

Women learned to rope and ride out of necessity, helping their fathers, brothers, and husbands with the ranch work. But for some women, it went further than that. They caught the fever of freedom, the thirst for adrenaline, and the thrill of competition, and many started their rodeo careers as early as age fourteen. From Alice and Margie Greenough of Red Lodge, whose father told them “If you can’t ride ’em, walk,” to Jane Burnett Smith of Gilt Edge who sneaked off to ride in rodeos at age eleven, women made wide inroads into the masculine world of rodeo.

Montana boasts its share of women who “busted broncs” and broke ranks in the macho world of rodeo during the early to mid-1900s. Cowgirl Up! is the history of these cowgirls, their courage, and their accomplishments. GEbA_Gold

And here is a related post with some wonderful photos of the “bad-ass” cowgirls of the 20th century.

Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women is Here!

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It’s official: Cowgirl Up! has been released. I received my author copies last night, so I’m now in business! I’ll kick off my release with a panel discussion “Women Who Broke the Mold” Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Peregrine Bookstore in Prescott AZ, along with WWW friends Amy Hale Auker and Carolyn Niethammer.

And my launch party will be at the Phippen Museum next Saturday, Sept. 13, at 1 p.m. I’ll give a PowerPoint presentation on women’s rodeo history, we’ll have refreshments and fun! Then I’ll be on tour in Washington and Montana.

You can order books through my website, on Amazon, and from your local bookstores (please request that they carry it, if they don’t have it in stock!)

Hope to see you all soon!

Review: “Heidi Thomas’s story struck a resounding chord with me as I began chapter twelve. I loved the book up to that point, but on page 111 the stories of rodeo women intersected the story I tell, about the forgotten women pilots of World War II, the WASP. The seat hit the saddle and the rubber met the runway. From early in the twentieth century, women began ‘making it’ in the rodeo, in aviation — in life — but the Depression followed by the War changed everything. The years since are witness to a world where women have had to re-earn what they were on the verge of having in the early 1940s. Here, a descendant of a rodeo cowgirl spins a fascinating tale of hard-won accomplishment, and she tells it artfully, with love, honesty, and respect.”
—Sarah Byrn Rickman, author of five fiction and nonfiction books about the WASP of World War II

Rodeo ‘No Place for Women’?

I’m expecting my author copies of Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women any day now! You can order autographed copies through my website, and pre-order on Amazon. Here’s an excerpt:

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.”

Alice Greenough riding broncThe 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.”CowgirlUp Cover 3x5

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.”

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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Cowgirl Dreams Getting New Life

Dreams 1 5 X 2Today I sent the manuscript edits for Cowgirl Dreams back to my new publisher, Globe-Pequot/Twodot Press. My first novel, along with my second in the “Dare to Dream” series, Follow the Dream, and my new novel, Dare to Dream will all be released on May 6, 2014. Finally!–for all of you who have been patiently waiting!

While there were not a lot of changes to be made, this process just points up how important it is to for writers have your work edited! Even though this book has been through an editing process before it was first published in 2008, and even though I am a freelance editor, there were still things that were missed.

So…even editors need editing!

We don’t have a cover design yet, but stay tuned. I will keep you posted on the developments as they progress toward giving Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream new life!

A Cowgirl Falls in Love

Dreams 1 5 X 2In my first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, Nettie and Jake are working horses together when they are caught in a sudden hail storm. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m offering this excerpt:

For just a moment the force of the hailstones seemed to let up, and Jake wrenched his saddle loose. “Here, grab one side.” He hoisted it over their heads. The sky grew a shade lighter as the hail turned into rain that fell in sheets, driven diagonally by the wind. Nettie stumbled along with Jake, bumping into each other. Both held the saddle up with one hand and led their horses with the other, the storm pushing them from behind.

Lightning slashed through the murky sky. A thunderclap rattled her teeth. The horses shied and tugged at the reins. Barely able to breathe, Nettie could no longer feel her hands. Her whole body was numb. She felt the saddle slip. They wouldn’t make it. She was going to fall. They’d both be hit by lightning.

“Hang on, we’re almost there.” Jake shifted the heavy saddle to take more of the weight himself. “It’s OK. You can do it. Come on. Just a few more steps.” Together they staggered the last few yards to the old shack. Jake dropped the saddle on the refuse-strewn porch and tethered the horses under the roof overhang on the lee side. Then he pushed the door open and helped Nettie through the opening. She nearly fell into the room, relief flooding over her.

He pushed the door shut against the gusts of wind and rain, and struggled to latch it. Then he knelt beside her, his wide eyes examining her face. “Are you all right? Are you hurt? Anything broken?”

“I’m OK.” Nettie looked up at him, gulped and blinked. “Oh my gosh, your eye …” She sat upright and reached up to caress the rapidly swelling bump.

“I’m just fine.”

“Oh, Jake, we coulda been killed.” She shuddered as the realization washed over her, then broke into great hiccupping sobs.

He encircled her with his long arms and drew her face to his chest. He smelled like horsehair and tobacco. It didn’t matter that his sodden denim shirt stuck to her cheek. She closed her eyes and snuggled close inside his embrace as he stroked her wet hair.

The rain beat a vicious tattoo on the roof. Just like those hailstones on her head and back. Her skin still stung, and her hands were raw and tingling. She shivered again. The ice seemed to have penetrated her blood. Her teeth chattered. Never in her life had she been so scared. They were lucky to be alive. Safe in his arms now, her sobs gradually subsided.

Jake hugged her closer, his face only inches from hers. She felt his warm breath on her cheek.

He rubbed a hand up and down her back, sending warm shivers through her body. “I have to let you go for a minute and see if I can get a fire going.”

Nettie clutched at him. She didn’t want him to go, even a few feet away.Love-Couple-Vector

Murmuring in her ear as if soothing a skittish colt, he eased out of the embrace and off the floor. He picked up an old horse blanket from one corner of the nearly empty room and shook the dust off. Gently, he wrapped the worn, dirty wool pad around her shoulders.

Nettie glanced around the room, wallpaper peeling in strips, cobwebs strung over the windows, the floor rotted and splintered. Wonder what happened to the people who lived here? A wooden chair slumped on its side, a leg missing. Jake stomped on the remaining legs to break them, then the rungs and the back, into pieces. He pried up a loose floorboard to add to the pile of firewood

Nettie watched him squat before the fireplace, moving with such confidence. Gosh, he knows just what to do. He whittled shavings from the wood, then struck a match from a little tin canister in his pocket. He’s so handy. And so caring. He protected me.

Jake blew on the flame, coaxed it to catch. Above the sunburned line on his forehead where his hat usually rode, his skin was fair. His reddish blond hair shone softly.

The flame caught and grew, its flicker kindling a spark of hope in her. She heard the snap as it spread to the other shavings and sticks of wood.

Jake added more fuel to the fire. He coughed as it smoked, but then the smoke drew up into the chimney. He sat next to her again, cradling her in the curve of his arm. He took out a small flask from his pocket. “Here, have a slug of this. It’ll help warm you.”

She coughed at the harsh fire that ran down her throat. But it did warm her, and her shivers diminished as her clothes dried.

“Thank you for saving my life.” Nettie raised her face to his and kissed the corner of his mouth. Then, to hide her blush, she leaned against his strong body. He tightened his arm around her shoulders.

They’d made it. Together. They were together, and that was all that mattered right now.

Cowgirl Dreams and the sequel Follow the Dream are available through my website and as a Valentine’s week special, I’m offering FREE SHIPPING! Be watching for the third book in the series, Dare to Dream, coming in 2013.

Kaila Mussell, First Woman to Compete in Men’s Rodeo Since 1941

Kaila ridingWelcome to my guest, Kaila Mussell, a saddle-bronc-riding cowgirl from Chilliwack BC. Kaila is the first and only woman since the 1940s to qualify to compete with men in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Kaila, tell me how you got involved in riding rough stock?

Grew up on a farm, mainly horses, some cows, dogs etc.  Started off as a barrel racer, steer rider, professional trick rider and then saddle bronc riding. My dad was a saddle bronc rider and bull rider and my mom was a rodeo queen.  My oldest brother CEJ rode saddle broncs and steer wrestled and my younger sister Filene barrel raced and rode steers as well.

How did you earn enough points to  compete with the men in the PRCA?

To fill your pro card (to become a full-card professional) you have to win $1,000 while competing in PRCA approved rodeos. Generally you can enter the smaller money-added rodeos, but you can’t qualify for large big-money added rodeos, or if you can, they draw amongst those who have their PERMIT…you can buy a permit to enter rodeos, once you win the money you have the option of buying your full pro card.

Are there any other women who are getting close?

There is a female bull rider who has won some money but hasn’t filled her pro card

Why do you do it?

Challenge, adrenaline rush, danger, love of the sport – the feeling of being in sync with a bucking horse.

Can you describe the feeling of being on the back of a thrashing, sunfishing bronc who only wants to shed its unwelcome burden?

Thrilling, powerful, connected, reactive, instinctive.

What’s your definition of danger?

Whatever gets your heart racing and seems scary.

What do you feel like when you know you’ve made a successful ride?

Happy, excited, successful, energetic, positive, confident, empowered.

Have you run into any stigma or prejudice against a woman doing a “man’s” extreme sport?

Some, as to be expected but it’s all in your attitude. Doing what I do, if you go after it for the same reasons, put in an honest effort and are serious about what you do, I find for the most part males are relatively accepting, especially the younger generations.

How did your family feel when you decided this was your career?

I wouldn’t consider saddle bronc riding a career. It definitely doesn’t pay my bills. I’d call it a passion, an expensive hobby. My family overall has been pretty supportive but they also have been involved in rodeo so that definitely helps. They support me in what I do.

How many broken bones, injuries etc. have you had?

Lots, broke left collar bone, right collar bone twice, separated right shoulder, dislocated left shoulder twice, two surgeries on left shoulder, one surgery on right, Kaila headshotboth knees, ACL surgeries, broken right wrist.

What keeps you going?

Drawn to the support, invested a lot of time, energy, passionate about the sport, love what I do.

Do you enjoy the travel or does it get old after awhile?

Yes and no, traveling to new places is exciting, traveling by yourself can get old, but with company it is fun. If you are doing well rodeoing the traveling is easy, if not, it is hard

What gets you down?

Not riding up to my expectations, drawing poor broncs, being broke.

What brings you back up?

Family, friends and fans’ support, looking at the bigger picture – my goals, why I do what I do, inspirational quotes.

Do you have an old-time cowgirl heroine?

None in particular but I did look up to and was inspired by a lot of the early cowgirls from the early 1900s.

If you weren’t a bronc-riding cowgirl, what would you like to be?

A professional snowboarder or surfer or downhill bike racer or motorcross…anything to keep up with the adrenaline rush

Do you have a particular philosophy of life?

Live for the now, don’t dwell on the little things, focus on what makes you happy, follow your heart, don’t take life too seriously

A favorite quote or theme you live by?

“I will not tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death.”

Tell me about the recent competition you went to in Vegas—the Indian National Finals Rodeo (INFR).

I was the first female to ever qualify for the INFR this year in Las Vegas in saddle bronc. It was a very cool feat and I’m proud that I did.  I didn’t do as well as I had hoped in Vegas, but it was a great experience and met a lot of really cool people and had a good time.  There is always next year.

Thank you, Kaila! I have been researching women’s rodeo from the early 1900s, since my grandmother rode bucking stock in Montana rodeos in the 1920s. Back then, women competed in the same arena as men, drawing the same bucking stock they did, and at times even beating the men in steer roping and many other events. Madison Square Garden in 1941 was the last World Champion rodeo where women were allowed to compete on rough stock. Vivian White of Oklahoma won that championship. Kaila Mussell is the first women since that time to qualify and compete with men in the PRCA arena.

Follow Kaila on her blog, on Twitter, on Facebook  and see a post by the Lone Cowgirl.

Published in: on December 27, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (3)  
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National Day of the Cowboy (and Cowgirl)

Here’s something I’ve talked about before:

A Cowboy Code of Ethics

Live Each Day with Courage
Take Pride in Your Work
Always Finish What You Start
Do What Has to be Done
Be Tough, But Fair
When You Make a Promise, Keep It
Ride for the Brand
Talk Less and Say More
Remember That Some Things Aren’t for Sale
Know Where to Draw the Line

And I believe you don’t have to be a cowboy to do this.

The Champions Creed

This poem is courtesy of Kaila Mussel, the first woman to qualify to compete with men in the PRCA since 1941. She also is the amazing bronc rider in the Reba McEntire video. See an article about her by Shirley Morris, author of the documentary Oh! You Cowgirl
The Champions Creed
If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don’t;
If you’d like to win but
think you can’t
It’s almost a cinch you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost,
For out in the world we find,
Success begins with the fellow’s will,
Its all in the state of the mind.
If you think you’re outclassed,
you are;
You’ve got to think to rise.
you’ve got to be sure of
yourself before
You can ever win a prize.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger for faster man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the one who thinks he can.
Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 12:55 am  Comments (3)  
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Cowgirls, Balladeers & Concerts (Or What I Did This Summer)

Juni Fisher sings at a cozy concert venue at the Cowgirl Co-op near Spokane WA

I did a book signing and reading and was honored to meet Juni Fisher and enjoy her wonderful voice and storytelling.

Book signing in Monroe WA with Dawn Nelson & Jessica Hedges

On National Cowboy Day, I shared a table at Del’s Feeds in Monroe with author Dawn Nelson and cowgirl poet Jessica Hedges, whom I had met at the Juni Fisher concert.

A book signing with Mary Trimble

Mary Trimble and I signed books at A Book For All Seasons in Leavenworth, WA.

Book Table at Anacortes Street Fair

Selling more books in front of Watermark Books during the Anacortes Street Fair. (It rained!)

And discovered a great new, up-and-coming country singer, Chance McKinney & Crosswire.

Published in: on August 12, 2010 at 3:16 am  Comments (4)  
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7-Year-Old Rodeo Star

I just ran across this story. I love it. Reminds me of a certain grandmother I used to know!

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If you’ve ever been on a horse, you know how powerful it can be. Little Haley Miller from Bristol has been riding with her mom and grandma since her neck was strong enough to support her head. Now the 7 year old is turning heads every time she races out into the arena.

Haley’s favorite song is “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” by Brooks and Dunn.  You don’t see any tears from this “Cowgirl”. Riding a 1,500 pound horse would scare a lot of people. But throw out the fact Haley weighs only 40 pounds. This little firecracker has been riding by herself since she was 3.

Read the rest of this story at a South Bend, IN news site

Published in: on August 6, 2010 at 6:04 am  Comments (2)  
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