Cowgirl Up! A Colorful Legend

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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.
Marie Gibson 001.jpg
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.

 

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Published in: on May 19, 2016 at 11:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Traveling the Big Sky Country

I recently returned to my home state of Montana for a book tour, to visit old friends and family, and to drink in the beauty that is “Big Sky country. My sister-in-law (Thelma, or Louise, depending on who’s addressing whom) traveled with me.

Big Sky

We even had a taste of SNOW as we traveled from Great Falls to Helena:

Snow day

 

A display of a one-room schoolhouse at Ft. Missoula brought back memories of my grade school days:

One-room school Ft. Missoula

Stopped in at the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls:

CM Russell Museum

Signed books in Helena, where the state’s governor bought a copy of Cowgirl Up! for his daughter.

Signing in Helena

Another signing at the Miles City Saddlery:

Miles City Saddlery sign

Visited the tiny (pop, 14, plus 2 seasonal) town of Ingomar, near where my grandparents ranched in the ’40s and ’50s. It’s main business is the Jersey Lilly Saloon and Cafe:

Jersey Lilly

And the “conveniences” are located out back:

Out back Jersey Lilly

All in all, a fun trip and a total of 5,000 miles of driving! I’ll be posting more on my travels later.

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 6:10 am  Comments (2)  
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Navigating the Writing Path: Start to Finish

Blank notepad over laptop and coffee cup on office wooden table

Welcome to the I C Publishing Summer Blog Tour on navigating our writing paths from start to finish. Jonnie Martin, author of Wrangle invited me to participate in this fun tour. Read her blog post here. www.jonniemartin.com

Here are my answers to the Blog Tour questions:

How do you start your (writing) projects?

My novels are historical, so I usually do quite a bit of research before I start writing. They’re also based on a real person, my grandmother, so that helps formulate the storyline. I don’t do a formal outline, but I may jot down notes or an informal timeline. When I have my idea of how to start, I’m in that state of excitement about a new project, and I can’t wait to get going!

How do you continue your writing projects?

I often continue research as I’m writing, as questions will crop up and I need specific historical details to ground my characters or the incidents in the story. I belong to a critique group, so that helps keep me on a deadline. I know that every week I have to bring several pages, and the feedback also keeps me on track or gives me ideas where to go from here.

How do you finish your project?

Once I’ve finished my first draft and have gone through it with my group, I go back over it and do an initial rewrite or two. Then I have a couple of Beta readers read and critique it and then I do another rewrite before submitting it to my publisher.

Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.

One thing I learned in a writing class is to give yourself permission to write out of chronological order. If you get to a certain point and are stuck, but you know where you want to be in future pages, go ahead and write that future scene. That helps bridge the gap, and gives you an idea of what you need to do to get from Point A to Point B.

I’m the author of  a “Dreams” novel trilogy: Cowgirl Dreams, Follow the Dream, and Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book which has just been released, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women. You can order autographed copies through my website.

Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women is Here!

CowgirlUp Cover 3x5

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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Cover Reveal for Cowgirl Up!

CowgirlUp Cover 3x5

My newest book and first non-fiction, Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, will be released September 2. I’m very pleased with the cover and the inside layout done by my publisher, Globe Pequot Press/Twodot.

After researching old-time rodeo cowgirls for my novels, which are based on my grandmother, I thought I would like to tell the stories of the women from Montana who went on to become world champion bronc riders, trick ropers and riders. They are a fascinating a courageous bunch, women to be admired, women ahead of their time. Here are their stories.

Synopsis: 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.

You can pre-order from my website with free shipping until Sept. 2.

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 7:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Books, Books, Books!

CowgirlDreams Front CoverThis week has been new book week for me. My editor from Globe-Pequot/Twodot Press sent cover designs for my novel series (they’re republishing Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream along with the new novel, Dare to Dream), and we went back and forth on the choices their designer had made. At first I was not happy with the new covers and felt they appeared to be “romances” rather than the “working” west cowgirls I’ve written about. But the publisher’s experience in sales and marketing prevailed, providing a “theme” for my novel trilogy.

I will share the cover for Cowgirl Dreams here. This one I did like from the beginning. The other two have some tweaks to be made yet and I will preview them at a later time.

Today, I also sent my publisher the manuscript for Cowgirl Up!, a non-fiction book about the old-time rodeo cowgirls of Montana. This book tells the story of women’s rodeo, from its heyday in the early 1900s when women competed with men on the same rough stock to its decline due to injuries and deaths, societal pressure, the beginning of the RAA–a men-only organization–and WWII. Alice Greenough riding bronc

Cowgirl Up! is a departure from my comfort zone in fiction. Even though I began my writing career in journalism, this is my first non-fiction book. As you might imagine, I’m a little nervous to find out if I’ve done the subject justice and if my editor approves of the way I’ve written it.

Wish me luck!

Published in: on January 31, 2014 at 6:05 pm  Comments (12)  
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