True Love (& Grit)


I'm dedicating this Valentine's Day post to the trick riders and rodeo girls of the late 1800's and early 1900's. For these women displayed incredible grit and love for their horses, and the early rodeo lifestyle, and their determination and courage has always been an inspiration to me.

Gals like Bea, pictured above, circa 1925, performing a crouch stand from her gorgeous white mount's withers.

Bea (Kirnan) was one of many cowgirls who performed in bronc riding at Madison Square Gardens Rodeo in the early 1900's, and in fact won it in 1929.

The entire era of this type of rodeo, really more of a Wild West Show crossed with a rodeo, was short-lived – a glamourous era between 1885 and 1941. In fact, 1941 was the final year the Madison Square Garden Rodeo featured cowgirl bronc riding. The World War, in a large sense, brought such entertainment to an end, and when it resurfaced, years later, it could never seem to recapture it's former glory.

The world had irrevocably altered.


This is champion relay-racer Joella Irwin. I love the expression on her horse's face. She was the daughter of C.B. Irwin, who was one of the founders of Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming. Relay races were a highlight of early rodeos, when the grounds often had racetracks. Each cowgirl had three racehorses, and would circle the track once on each, switching then to the next horse. Eventually one cowgirl raised the the bar and invented the \”flying change\” which meant she would jump from one horse to the other without touching the ground, adding excitement and huge crowd appeal to the sport.


This is one of my all-time favorite cowgirl vintage photos, for the pure joy and love of life laid bare on the expression of Eloise Fox Hastings, one of the few women bulldoggers of the day. She is shown in this photograph at the Pendleton Round-Up in Oregon in 1924.

I love this passage in Teresa Jordan's excellent book, Cowgirls – Women of the American West.

“These rodeo women were stars, celebrities, their names were well known nation-wide. They were wined and dined in every city, and the top magazines and papers gave them lengthy coverage. These little wisps of women who could tame the wildest bronc or hang upside down over the hooves of a galloping steed, but who still dressed in silks and satins and loved to preen for men, charmed an America long in love with the Wild West.”

What a life!


What women!

You can find the Sweethearts of the Rodeo notecard series I've used to illustrate this post online at the True West magazine store.

Happy Valentine's Day!


2 thoughts on “True Love (& Grit)”

  1. Bea Kirnan is buried in my hometown of Iowa Park, Texas. I have always had a special fascination for her. I am an old cowgirl myself and her headstone has always intrigued me. Atop her gravestone is a tropy she won at Madison Square Garden in 1929, “World’s Champion Cowgirl”. At some time in the past, some fool with a 22 shot a couple of holes in it but it is still intact and beautiful. I am careful about telling too many about the tropy because of vandalism or theft.
    I am actually kin to her way on down the line and through marriage.
    Thanks for posting this famous cowgirl’s photos and keeping her memory alive.
    She and the other girls are amazing women from a different and interesting time.

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