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I worked hard to find newspaper clippings about these daring women of the Old West. I think learning about them helped convince my mother to let me go along on the cattle drive (Heartbreak Trail sample chapters). I can’t wait to introduce you to a few of them. These are the gals most parents don’t tell their daughter about, especially in 1883. I guess most girls are expected to grow up and help with Ladies’ Aid missionary societies. These daring women had other ideas.
Kitty Wilkins: She was born “Katherine” in 1857. Her father gave Kitty her first horse when she was a small girl (just like Father gave me Coco to ride when I was about three). Kitty’s father bought a sweet filly for two $20 gold pieces. Her family moved all over the West and finally settled in Idaho. When she grew up, folks called Kitty the “Horse Queen of Idaho.” She rode the range alongside her hired hands, and her Diamond brand became known all over the country. The U.S. cavalry bought her horses, as did Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Kitty once took 3,000 horses to St. Louis and sold them herself. Then she changed clothes and entertained in an elegant fashion. Sadly, Kitty never married. She was engaged to her foreman, but he was killed going after an intruder on the ranch. (That is so sad!)
Lizzie Williams: Lizzie was a well-educated young lady. Her father moved their family to Texas and established the Johnson Institute (of higher learning). Lizzie taught at the school (age 17), but after the Civil War, with all those loose cattle running free, she donned her sunbonnet, hired a few cowhands, and rounded up the strays to ship north. Lizzie became a wealthy young woman. In 1871 at the age of 28, she even registered her own brand! Later, she became the first cattle queen of Texas. When she married Hezekiah Williams, Lizzie was able to secure a contract that kept all of her own property (unusual for the times). Hezekiah and Lizzie drove their herds together along the Chisholm Trail. What a gal!
Lucille Mulhall: Lucille was America’s first true cowgirl (The term “cowgirl” was invented because of her.) At eight years old, she was already a skilled roper. By age ten Lucille could lasso a running jackrabbit and rope a full-grown steer. Her father said she could keep any calf she could rope and brand, and she soon had a small herd that she marked with her belt buckle. Lucille was never interested in dolls or tea parties (Ha! Just like me!), much preferring to train her ponies, lasso, and trick ride. When her mother sent Lucille to finishing school a few years later, she returned before the year was up. She was born to be a “cowboy” and did not belong to that other world of fancy doings and fine accomplishments.
Lucille wore a split skirt and refused to ride sidesaddle. By the time she was sixteen, she could rope five horses all at once. In 1900 while still a teen, Lucille only weighed only ninety pounds, but she could break a bronc, lasso a wolf, and shoot a coyote at 500 yards. She performed at Wild West shows, where the crowds adored her antics. Lucille once put on a roping exhibition for the future president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt. He said if she could rope a wolf, she could go to the inaugural parade in Washington, D.C. Lucille brought Mr. Roosevelt his dead wolf at the end of a rope, and she went to the parade.
Prairie Rose Henderson: At the turn of the last century (1908), this daring little lady rode into Cheyenne, Wyoming, to enter a bronco-busting contest. “Sorry, no women are permitted to ride,” she was told. As the daughter of a Wyoming rancher, Prairie Rose could ride just as well as any cowboy. So she demanded to see the rules, where she found no official rule forbidding women to compete. The rodeo officials were forced into allowing Rose to enter the competition. The audience was stunned! She dashed out of the chute and . . . lost the contest. But Prairie Rose won the right for women to compete alongside the men in rodeos. Rose was a showy cowgirl. She wore ostrich plumes over her bloomers and a blouse with bright sequins. She won many rodeo competitions but lost her life one winter during a blizzard.
Donaldina Cameron: Donaldina “Dolly” Cameron was born in 1869 on a New Zealand sheep ranch. Like me (Andi) she was the youngest and adored baby sister of seven children. Her family moved to the San Joaquin Valley to raise sheep when Dolly was two years old. She was a tomboy (also like me!) and loved to ride her horse. As a teen she could be found atop the windmills on the ranch, fixing them. When she grew up, a family friend asked her to come to San Francisco and help Miss Culbertson with her mission to young Chinese slave girls. Dolly answered the call and went on to become the only foreign missionary who never left American soil. She rescued over 3,000 girls from the notorious Chinese slave trade by climbing around on Chinatown roofs, showing police where secret traps hid the girls. Dolly was loved by the rescued girls and women and hated by the Chinese slave masters. She served Christ and Chinatown for over 40 years. Donaldina Cameron “made a difference.” I wonder if I could ever be as brave as she was. There is another picture of Dolly under “townsfolk.” Just scroll down. More about Dolly >>