Friday, October 12, 2018

Wild Women Rodeo Riders of the West

By Jacqui Nelson

No different than today, most 19th-century city folk only saw the Wild West when a vaudeville show or a rodeo visited their community. Many intrepid souls dedicated their lives to performing the thrilling but dangerous acts. They toured the country and sometimes even the world, entertaining commoners and royalty.

Here are 3 real-life cowgirls who became queens of the rodeo...

Lucille Mulhall, aka the First Cowgirl

( born 1885 in St. Louis, Missouri )

Lucille was called the First Cowgirl by reporters and by Teddy Roosevelt. However, "cowgirl" was a term used years previously in 1891 promotional materials created by Buffalo Bill Cody and his partner Nate Salsbury for their Wild West show (starring Annie Oakley and others).

Lucille was also called Rodeo Queen, Queen of the Western Prairie, and Queen of the Saddle. At age 14, she became one of the first women to compete with men in contests that included trick or fancy riding, saddle bronc riding, and steer riding and roping. She starred in Mulhall's Wild West, the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West show, and in vaudeville.

In 1913, Lucille formed her own troupe and in 1916, she became the first woman to produce her own rodeo, Lucille Mulhall's Roundup.

Tad Lucas, aka Rodeo's First Lady

( born 1902 in Cody, Nebraska )

Born Barbara Barnes and the youngest of 24 children, Tad's family gave her the nickname "Tadpole" because of the way she moved. She won her first steer-riding contest at the age of 14. During World War I, she rode bulls along Cody’s main street to raise money for the Red Cross.

In 1922 (at the age of 20), Tad was a full-time performer, riding relays, pony express races, saddle broncs and competing in trick riding contests. That same year, she met her husband, bronc rider Buck Lucas, at a rodeo in Fort Worth. In 1933, she won champion all-around cowgirl at the Chicago World’s Fair. She also crushed her arm while trick riding and was told she’d never ride again. After three years in a cast, she was back performing.

Tad’s daughter, Mitzi Lucas Riley, become a trick rider and performed with Tad for 20 years.

Vera McGinnis, aka Hollywood Stuntwoman

( born 1892 in Missouri )

Vera’s family encouraged her to ride but they also moved a lot and lived in towns. At age 17, she went to business school then worked as a stenographer and also with the Salt Lake City Sight Seeing Company—where she could interact with cowboys and cowgirls from the rodeos.

In Salt Lake City, she participated in her first rodeo relay race. She placed third overall and, even though she fell and broke some teeth, she discovered her passion and signed a contract as a relay race rider.

In 1922, she traveled with the Jack Burroughs Wild West Show and broke two ribs in a bronco-busting contest in Honolulu. The following year she tied for second place in trick riding at Ringling's Madison Square Garden Rodeo in New York City. In the summer of 1924, she joined Tex Austin's International Rodeo and performed in London, Dublin, Paris, and Brussels.

Vera was one of the first female riders to appear in trousers rather than a split skirt. She was also a Hollywood stuntwoman and played the double for Estelle Taylor in Cimarron.

Eldora Calhoun, aka Eldorado Jane

( born... in my mind )

Between Home & Heartbreak book cover
Who is Eldorado Jane? 

She's the heroine of my novel, Between Home & Heartbreak (set in 1879 Texas). She's a trick rider at the top of her game. She's the queen of a Wild West show. But more importantly... is she a long-lost friend or scheming superstar?

Here's the book blurb...

Plain Jane Dority vanished while riding in a storm beside her childhood best friend. Eighteen years later, Wild West trick-riding superstar Eldorado Jane returns to claim her birthright: the Dority homestead now owned by the steadfast Texan who never forgot Jane or forgave himself for her disappearance. 

Lewis Adams would give anything to see his friend come home, but he’s certain Eldorado Jane isn’t his Jane. So why does this mesmerizing woman—with the talent and fame to have anything she desires—want the remote patch of land that he loves? There’s only one way to find out: accept a wager with a deceiver who holds the power to bring back his friend or break his heart. The outcome rests in her hands. Or does it?

And here's an excerpt (where Samson is Eldora's horse & Lila is one of my hero, Lewis' horses)…

Led by the blasted Appaloosa Cayuse, Lewis’ horses spilled through the hole Samson had busted in the corral. The volatile stallion crowded him and Lila into a corner, shielding and hemming them in at the same time. Whatever had spooked the horse, he’d gone from needing protection to offering it in a heartbeat.

Either way, he was ensuring Lewis lost everything.

A shrill whistle whipped Samson around and sent him thundering after the last horse departing the corral. Lewis leapt onto Lila bareback and gave chase.

Samson plowed a path straight through the river of heaving horse flesh. Lewis slipped Lila into his wake. The brute had become Lewis’ best chance to avert disaster. If he could catch the lead horse, the Appaloosa, and turn him, his followers might embrace their herd mentality and turn as well.

Lewis scanned the distance remaining between the stampede and the trail.

Eldora Calhoun stood dead ahead. Disbelief then fear sent Lewis’ heart racing as fast as the herd. Horses usually tried to avoid running over people or anything that made for unstable footing—if they weren’t spooked witless.

Eldora couldn’t stop them. She was going to get herself killed. Unless Lewis reached her before the horses did.

Samson pulled ahead to run even with the Appaloosa. Lewis urged Lila to move up beside the pair but the herd jostled Lila sideways, away from Samson, hemming them in again, leaving him unable to reach Eldora.

Finally, she moved.

Pivoting sideways, she braced one foot behind her and raised her hands as if preparing to grasp something in front of her…where nothing existed but air. Never once had her gaze left Samson.

Understanding made his heart leap with hope. She intended to mount Samson on the run.

Want to read more about Eldora and Lewis?
CLICK HERE to read the scene when they first meet.

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