First thoughts of western couples often conjure up Roy Rogers and Dales Evans – Hollywood’s silver screen sweethearts.
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans – photo taken at the 61st Academy Awards, March 29, 1989, photo by Alan Light
Although Rogers and Evans met through rodeo and he actually proposed in an arena, there were also many famous rodeo couples at the turn of the 20th century outside of Hollywood. It seems a love for rodeo has an equally formidable appeal for both cowboys and cowgirls. Rodeo life is not easy with the travel, out-of-pocket expenses, and constant physical risks and many songs have been written about the hardships and strain on relationships. Some like George Strait’s “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” where a relationship is ending due to one woman’s weariness from being alone while her love chases rodeo.
Also, Suzy Bogguss’, “Someday Soon” where another hopes she can one day travel with her love, because she recognizes that his first love is rodeo.
But early cowgirls who had their own careers in rough stock as well as timed events and exposition, often traveled with their husbands or married on the road, sometimes in an arena like at Boston Garden and at Madison Square Garden. These couples started a career and marriage during a time when they could work the circuit together. Many like Tillie and Ed Bowman, Tommy and Bea Kirnan, Tad and Buck Lucas, Bonnie and Frank McCarroll, Fannie and Bill Steele, and Mayme and Leonard Stroud became famous, rodeoed, and supported each other.
Rodeo Cowgirl by C.M. Russell
Not every cowgirl had a happy ending. Lorena Trickey was tried for the murder of her man, J.P. “Slim” Harris — she was found not guilty. Also, Vera McGinnis’ first marriage dissolved because of her decision to continue with her rodeo career after her husband Earl got out of the business. It was that common attraction — a love of rodeo — that also contributed to the end for McGinnis who said, “the rodeos had become a compulsion…it didn’t occur to me to give up my career to save my marriage.”
I’ve always heard and believed that a cowgirl’s first love is her horse, but for the women in early rodeo who committed themselves to their careers as much or more so than their marriages, rodeo ran a close second.
Happy Valentine’s Day, I hope you make time for your best horse today…and maybe someone you like as well.
Have you hugged your horse today?
 Mary Lou LeCompte. Cowgirls of the Rodeo: Pioneer Professional Athletes (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993): 28.
 Charles Marion Russell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
 Vera McGinnis. Rodeo Road: My Life as a Pioneer Cowgirl. (NY: Hastings House, Publishers, Inc., 1974): 163-4.