Women and Rodeo Events

In early rodeos, women and men competed in the same arena, drawing from the same stock. Women rode broncs, steers, bulls, and did steer roping or bulldogging as well as trick riding, Roman races and relay races.

I know that my grandmother, Toots Bailey Gasser, rode steers in small Montana rodeos. Other cowgirls, such as Marie Gibson, also from Montana, rode steers, bulls and broncs throughout the US, Canada and even London. While each cowgirl had her specialty, most participated in multiple events.

Vera McGinnis, Tad Lucas and Fox Hastings were probably best known for trick riding. This demonstrated numerous types of stands and vaults, performed while the horse was galloping at top speed. Other maneuvers included crawling under the horse’s belly, hanging just inches from the mount’s pounding hooves.

roman-race1In the Roman race, the cowgirl would stand with her right foot on one galloping horse and her left foot on the other. (The horses would have had to be very well trained to stay together, and the rider obviously had great balance and strength.)

The relay race required three laps around a track, and the rider had to change horses, and sometimes saddles, after each round. If they weren’t required to change saddles, many cowgirls perfected the “flying” change, leaping from the back of one horse to the other without touching the ground. Vera McGinnis is credited with inventing this move.

Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 5:33 am  Comments (4)  
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The Shocking Event of the Divided Riding Skirt

divided-skirt-sketchThe past several days, we’ve been seeing pictures of cowgirls accomplishing great feats while wearing skirts. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been to keep all the extra material out of the way while practicing expert marksmanship, bronc riding, and steer roping.

Nowadays, a cowgirl can wear pretty much anything she wants, but in the 1800s a woman wearing her brother’s pants or even adivided-skirt-21 split skirt, she might have been arrested for indecent exposure.

But women were discovering that riding astride was so much more practical and comfortable and they also needed clothing to go along with that new practice.

At the turn of the 20th Century enterprising equestrian women, such as rodeo star Fanny Sperry Steel (1887-1983) wore a divided skirt that enabled them to ride astride but preserved the “look of a skirt.”  This ingenious garment is actually a culotte with a movable front panel that buttons either to the left, for a skirt effect or to the right for a pants effect.

Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 5:01 am  Comments (5)  
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Women Writing the West

I just returned, on a grand high, from the annual WWW conference, held this year in San Antonio, Texas. Writing conferences are an excellent way to connect with fellow scribes–to network, to share, to learn, and to commiserate about the writing/publishing life.

I have made so many good friends through this group, not to mention meeting agents, editors, film-makers, and I made my connection to my publisher through WWW. Workshops give new information or reinforce ideas lurking in the back of one’s head. Speakers provide inspiration–“You can do it too!” And WWW is one of the most supportive, enthusiastic and caring groups I’ve been privileged to be a part of.

Books. Ah, books. There is so much truth to the saying, “So many books, so little time.” We always have a bookstore with members’ books for sale, and every year I have to rein myself in. I want to buy one of each. Next year mine, Cowgirl Dreams, will be there!

Women Writing the West was birthed in the early 1990s by Jerrie Hurd and Sybil Downing at an organizational meeting of the Women of the West Museum. It has since grown to more than 300 members and conducts a renowned writing contest, the WILLA Literary Awards, named for Willa Cather.

It is open to women and men writing about the west or in the west, and includes well-known western and historical authors, such as  Sandra Dallas, Molly Gloss, Louise Erdrich. and Jane Kirkpatrick.

A Mending at the Edge

BOOK REVIEW: A Mending at the Edge by Jane Kirkpatrick

“Of all the things I left in Willapa, hope is what I missed the most.”

In the third of the “Change and Cherish” series, Jane Kirkpatrick continues the story based on Emma Wagner Giesy, the only woman sent to the Oregon Territory in the 1850s to help found a communal society.

Emma and her three children escape an abusive marriage and move from their homestead in Willapa to find safety in Aurora Mills, Oregon. Aurora was part of a utopian religious community that moved initially from Bethel, MO in the 1856 to the Washington Territory.

She has had great tragedy in her life, her heart has been broken, and hope seems out of her reach. And new troubles come from resisting the patriarchal leadership of the colony. But Emma’s spirit is strong and she longs to make sense of her tragedy and find a way to move forward, living with uncertainty in life, and a constant renewing of her faith.

Through her quilting gatherings, Emma begins to weave and God sends the thread to mend relationships, like the frayed edges of cloth. When a child in the community dies, she tells her children to picture heaven as “a place where young girls quilt, all day long … and she never has to take any stitches out …” Death reminds her of the loss of her first beloved husband, and she decides it is “the mark of our character, how we let others be the patch in our lives when we felt most torn apart.”

Emma has sehnsucht, a German term that means a deep longing, a passion to find meaning and to be spiritually engaged. She eventually realizes that her continued seeking and questioning has been an important part of her faith journey. “It couldn’t be wise to become so certain of how God worked in the world that we stopped seeing evidence of divine surprise.”

Her eventual acceptance of Aurora and its communal life is exemplified by her sister Kitty, “… We all live in this place together, this Aurora, and that has the same … I don’t know, comfort, I guess. People know one another and care about one another even if there are skirmishes now and then. There always are in families.”

And that sense of family is what restores Emma’s hope and her strength in self. When her son thanks and compliments her on an appliquéd picture of her children, she concludes, “What more could any mother wish for? What more could any woman want?”

Jane Kirkpatrick says, “As I learned of some of the trials Emma and her husband faced with the landscape and with the leader, I became more and more convinced of her fortitude and her wish to do what most 21st century women wish for:  to do the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process. Her struggles represented contemporary issues of many faith communities wishing to sustain their own practices while still being relevant in the larger world. Fiction is really made up of change, causation, conversation, conflict and characters. It’s the weaving together of those qualities along with landscapes, relationships, spirituality and work that creates the turmoil. Just as in our lives!”

Jane’s writing is a delight to read, a patchwork quilt rich with metaphors, as she tells Emma’s story of obstacles, loss, and conflict to find personal growth and satisfaction in giving and serving others. A Mending at the Edge is a wonderful conclusion to a woman’s story of strength and perseverance.

Jane Kirkpatrick is the award-winning author of 14 historical novels, two non-fiction books, as well as numerous articles. Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft, a non-fiction book of interest to women’s studies, historians, quilters and craftsman will be out in December.

A Mending at the Edge is available at www.waterbrookpress.com or www.amazon.com

ISBN 978-0-7394-9545-2.

Heidi M. Thomas has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is the author of a soon-to-be published novel, Cowgirl Dreams. She teaches memoir and beginning fiction writing and does freelance editing for fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of CWGI, Women Writing the West, and Skagit Valley Writers League.

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 10:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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