Cowgirl Up!: A History of Rodeo Women by Heidi Thomas
Reviewed by Andy McKinney, Payson Roundup, for the Payson AZ Book Fest
Heidi Thomas might have further expanded her title to say “A History of Rodeo Women from Montana”. She concentrates her words on the famous cowgirls from the big sky state. Plenty of great, famous and durable cowgirls came from Montana, as did ranch raised Heidi Thomas herself. Rodeo fans and history buffs will like this info packed volume.
Heidi Thomas takes her readers back in time to the beginning of cowgirl involvement in the man dominated sport of Rodeo. For a few short decades, up until the beginning of the Great Depression, cowgirls participated in the sport on a more or less equal footing with their male counterparts. They had slightly different rules when riding rough stock but they had a solid presence in the sport. A combination of reduced gate money due to the depression and two tragic deaths in the arena led to the side lining of traditional bronc riding and the like. Two of the greatest cowgirls of all time lost their lives while doing the thing they loved most-riding a thousand pounds of muscle and fury to the roar of the crowd. When one of the greatest of them all met her Waterloo a fan said “I could hear that girl’s head hit the ground, right up there in the bleachers.” Bonnie McCarroll fought for a week before her injuries overcame her.
Thomas introduces us to the greats in the sport over a century of time. We meet the four Greenough girls, four sisters that performed in hundreds of rodeos. Bonnie McCarroll had a grand career before her untimely death. More recently Jane Burnett led a new generation of cowgirls into the 21st Century.
Listen to the way Thomas strings her words—“A breeze swirled mini dust devils as horses whinnied, calves bawled, and bulls kicked the slats in the pens.” Thomas puts you right there in the arena with the cowgirls. She also puts in plenty of quotes from the cowgirls themselves.
“It’s no disgrace to fail. The only disgrace is in not trying.” Said cowgirl Jane Burnett, long after suffering many broken bones. Margie Greennough on cowboys…”They were gentlemen. If anyone was cussing or talking dirty, they’d tell’um to hush. And if they didn’t, they’d punch ’em.”
The cowgirls all had grit, that unique Western term that means that the cowgirls ‘had no quit in ’em.’ We admire the cowgirls for their athletic skill. We hold them in our hearts for the force of will inside a 120 pound girl that puts her on the back of a 2,000 lb. bull, in the face of danger and in the very teeth of an often hostile rodeo industry. The cowgirls in this book are the very best of Americans, people who follow their own path and… let ….nothing…at…all…stop them.
Bronc busters, barrel riders, trick riders or racers the cowgirls made a mark on the rodeo industry. They suffered broken bones, crooked promoters and poverty to participate in the sport they love. They still do. In the current century two cowgirls regularly participate alongside the cowboys in the saddle bronc and bull riding events.
Dale Evans said “Cowgirl is a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage.” Heidi Thomas shows that Dale had the right of it.
Montana cowgirl Heidi Thomas also writes novels including “Cowgirl Dreams” “Follow the Dream”, and “Dare to Dream”, all of which have won awards . Meet her at the Payson Book Festival and buy her books on Amazon.com.
Just finished reading Cowgirl Up! Started last evening and finished this morning. Heidi, your story narrative style of writing made this true book of cowgirls read as easily as a novel. You do so well at relating facts and stories that it makes the cowgirls come to life although many have passed on to greener pastures and bigger rodeos. I do not write myself but do extensive reading and I recognize good writing when I read it. Heidi, I think this is your best book yet. ~ Ann Marie Stamey (Marie Gibson’s granddaughter)
This is a good read and I recommend it. ~ Marylou Thomas
Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women by Heidi M. Thomas provides an exciting insight into women’s role in one of America’s greatest passions, rodeo.
American rodeo started at small ranch gatherings when cowboys showed off their roping, bulldogging (steer wrestling), and riding prowess. In those days, it was pretty much a male sport.
Many ranch girls learned to rope and ride as they helped their fathers, brothers and later their husbands with ranch work. These girls learned to “cowgirl up,” which means to rise to the occasion without whining or complaining. As local competition became popular events, girls got into the spirit and began competing with the men. Girls’ involvement raised some eyebrows, but they persisted, often wearing cumbersome skirts to be less offensive and more ladylike. Even so, many people thought of rodeo cowgirls as “loose women.”
Cowgirl Up! is about these women of rodeo, many of whom started their careers as young as fourteen, competing against and often earning higher points than seasoned cowboys.
The 1920s were rodeo heydays for cowgirls, producing more champion female riders than any time since. These girls knew hardships, but persisted in their rodeo dreams.
Soon organized circuits formed and performers traveled from rodeo to rodeo, paying their own travel expenses and fees, often sleeping in tents. Many women brought their babies with them. It was a tough life for both men and women, but in addition to roping, riding bucking broncs, staying atop a writhing, twisting bull, these women made it their business to still appear feminine when not in the arena.Read more ›
Reviewed by Ray Simmons for Readers’ Favorite
Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women by Heidi M. Thomas captures a small piece of American history that might otherwise be forgotten. I’m talking about the contribution of women to the world of rodeo. Cowgirl Up! specifically concentrates on the contribution of women from Montana during the golden age of rodeo in America. Montana became one of the states holding commercial rodeos in 1896, but rodeo derived from the working world of ranching. Long before the commercial rodeos sprang into being, there were informal local contests to see who was best at roping, riding, and bronco busting. Conditions were terrible sometimes and the pay was not good by today’s standards, but that didn’t stop women from wanting to compete.
Cowgirl Up! takes this early history and weaves it into colorful legend. There are many famous names from American history here. Theodore Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Dale Evans, and Annie Oakley are the ones I knew. If you are a real rodeo fan, you will probably recognize names like Lucille Mulhall, Prairie Rose Henderson, and Fanny Sperry. The characters, both men and women, are colorful. The history is rich, and the anecdotes, facts, and biography are very well written. It is obvious that Heidi M. Thomas loves her subject and, if you are a fan of the American West and American history, you do not want to miss Cowgirl Up! It should be on the bookshelf in every school library across America, but especially in states where rodeo played an important part in their history. These women and this sport should not be forgotten.