Cowgirls – Women of the Wild West

COWGIRLS is the kind of book I dream about finding for HoofPrints customers. It’s a visual feast of pictures (better than Pinterest), along with well written, informative text that inspires and educates, at a price that’s a good value. 

This huge coffee table book more than fulfills this tall order. First, the pictures. OMG – you can sit in your chair at the end of the day and wander through the equivalent of several museum’s worth of artifacts. Big photos of the women, their horses, their tack, beautiful boots and clothes… even the guns they carried – are all here to explore.

And it’s not just pictures plopped on a page; the text tells, in detail, about the stuff. Example: “Nell Jones commissioned this saddle from Hollywood saddlemaker Edward Bohlin. Bohlin would often buy scrap silver to melt down for saddle castings. Jones spotted a silver punch bowl destined to be melted; she instructed Bohlin to excise it’s bull head handles and attach them to her saddle.” There’s a full page picture of the spectacular result, along with its matching bridle.

COWGIRLS page 181 shows Nell Jones (wife of 1920s-1930s Hollywood star Buck Jones) on one of her horses at the couple’s Hollywood ranch. Also shown is her cowhide riding skirt and matching vest. Fortunately, these treasures (and many more) were donated to various museums and preservation entities, so they’re available for all of us to see.

It’s not just about wealthy women and their fancy saddles

The author tells us in her introduction; “Throughout this project I struggled to find information proving that the cowgirl was not simply a myth fabricated by Wild West Shows, Hollywood, and television, or another cliché for American independence.” And find, she did. How about these words from early 1900’s ranch wife Hallie Stillwell: “As we rode up to Dove Mountain Place, I felt that I had indeed come to the jumping-off place at the end of the world. I somehow knew that I would never be the same again. I found out quickly that I was to live like a man, work like a man, and act like a man, and I was not so sure that I was not a man when it was all over. The Good Lord did give me a mind that could not be governed by a man, and I remained a woman. I feel sure at times that now that this one fact caused me lots of grief, but also lots of happiness.”

And the clothes; women’s attire back then was cumbersome and restrictive

In 1914 Evelyn Cameron writes that she was discouraged to find that dresses and sidesaddles made it impossible for her to ride a spirited bronc: “It was my unfortunate experience that nearly all the horses I wished to ride were terrified of a woman in a riding habit. Even when I was assisted to the saddle by several men, the horse threw a fit as I raised my leg to put it over the pommel, and, of course, I had the same trouble dismounting. It was clear that to be perfectly independent I must ride old ‘dead heads’ which were not at all to my taste.” And not only do we get to read Evelyn’s poignant words about her difficulties with her mounts, we’re treated to a full size photo of her, too.

When Vera McGinnis started riding in rodeos in 1912, she wore a corset, because all women were expected to wear them. After her first relay, McGinnis tossed the corset.

“I wished wholeheartedly that my long corset was in Hades.”

McGinnis went on to design many outfits that had an enormous influence on the evolution of cowgirl attire. One of the first outfits McGinnis made for herself was a corduroy riding skirt for trick-riding.

This exciting journey into this slice of true Americana begins with a foreword from Americas most beloved cowgirl, Dale Evans. Illustrated with more than 450 color photographs and historic images, COWGIRLS: Women of the Wild West pays tribute to the life and legacy of the pioneer woman in the American West, who worked on ranches, performed in Wild West shows, and competed in the rodeo arena.

The cowgirl appeared on the American frontier in the mid-1800s. She worked with stock alongside the cowboy and was a determined and spirited pioneer. Rancher Lorraine Plass, at age 87, epitomizes the cowgirl spirit:

“As long as the colt stays under me I’ll do all right. I will get the job done.”

In COWGIRLS, the author and photographer present the history of the cowgirl through a combination of compelling tales, illustrations of their gear, western art, and photography. In six chapters, COWGIRLS represents the years between 1880 and 1950, which include the migration of women to the West, the rodeo stars of the early twentieth century, the cowgirl images created by Hollywood, and unusual poster art. This colorful volume includes many photographs published for the first time and highlights the evolution of innovative cowgirl fashions. An important book for Western American collectors. To order click here

Wanna read more?

Is this all I do? Post pictures and stories about life here on the farm? Nope! is my “real” job.

Farrier stuff is here

You can read more posts about horses here

For more fun on the farm, go here

Adventures in remodeling are here

Is the house haunted? There are some stories about that here

Posts about food and recipes are here

Laughable housekeeping advice is here

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