The Rundown: Long Live Cowgirls

The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, will induct eight women for 2011.

By Tara Christiansen
The American Quarter Horse Journal
October 25, 2011

Sandy Collier

Sandy Collier shows Tazs Precious Peppy at the NRCHA Hackamore Classic. (Photo by Primo Morales. Courtesy of NRCHA).

The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is the only museum in the world dedicated to honoring and celebrating women, past and present, whose lives exemplify the courage, resilience and independence that helped shape the American West. The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame also fosters an appreciation of the ideals and spirit of self-reliance that these cowgirls inspire. It is the legacy of legends. 

The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame announced Sandy Collier, Sarah “Sally” Buxkemper, Mary Lou LeComtpe and Anna Mebus Martin as inductees to the Hall of Fame for 2011, as well four extraordinary cowgirls from the golden era of women’s rodeo. This latter group includes Marie Gibson, Eloise “Fox Hastings” Wilson, Mary Emma Manning Lillie “May Lillie” and Pauline Nesbitt.

All eight women will be honored during the 36th Annual Induction Luncheon Ceremony October 26 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth.

Meet the Cowgirls

  • Sandy Collier: In the world of reined cow horses, this AQHA Professional Horseman is a respected competitor. Her career and love of horses began on the East Coast as an English rider and later evolved into her current passion and career. Sandy is the first and only woman to win the open division of the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity. She has also won the junior working cow horse at the AQHA World Championship Show and the NRCHA Hackamore Classic.
  • Sarah “Sally” Buxkemper: Sally aided in the development of a new breed of cattle, the Simbrah, and was the first woman to be trained by the American Breeders Service to administer artificial insemination.

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  • Mary Lou LeCompte: Mary is recognized as the leading scholar on rodeo cowgirls. She wrote the book, “Cowgirls of the Rodeo: Pioneer Professional Athletes.” A PhD., this historian taught at the University of Texas at Austin for 36 years and has dedicated her career to preserving and recovering cowgirl history.
  • Anna Mebus Martin: Anna was the first female bank founder and president in the United States. She owned a town store and opened the first bank in Mason County, Texas, while she operated a 60,000-acre cattle ranch. She was the first provider of barbed wire in the region, which changed the face of the cattle industry. Anna’s business foresight and acumen make her an entrepreneurial legend, paralleled only by her notable ranching efforts.
  • Marie Gibson: Marie competed in rodeos from 1917 to 1933, participating all over Canada and in every major rodeo in the United States. In 1924, she won first place in women’s bronc riding at Cheyenne Frontier Days. She continued to win or place in rodeos throughout her career. In 1927, she won her first world championship in women’s bronc riding at Madison Square Garden and won her second world championship in 1931.
  • Eloise “Fox Hastings” Wilson: In 1914, at age 16, “Fox” ran away from home in California and began her career bronc and trick riding for the Irwin Brothers Wild West Show. By 1924, she was known as the first female bulldogger. A multi-talented arena cowgirl, Fox trick rode, bulldogged and rode saddle broncs. In addition to the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West and the Irwin Brothers Wild West shows, she bulldogged in more than a dozen other rodeos.

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  • Mary Emma Manning Lillie “May Lillie”: May Lillie married the famous Wild West showman and performer Pawnee Bill in 1886. For her wedding gift, she received a pony and a Marlin .22 target rifle. In 1888, they launched Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West Show, which later became the Pawnee Bill’s Historical Wild West Indian Museum and Encampment Show, where May Lillie starred as a sharpshooter and expert “lady rider.” This Wild West show business, which she co-owned with her husband, at its peak employed 645 people, 400 horses and steers, a herd of 20 buffalo, elephants and carriages. May Lillie managed the ranch that held the buffalo and, under her direction, the ranch thrived. She also worked hard to promote the conservation of buffalo in the United States.
  • Pauline Nesbitt: Pauline began her rodeo career at age 17 as a bronc rider, but she later made the switch and added trick rider to her list of abilities. Pauline had a successful career; she was a regular working for Gene Autry at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden and competed in Cheyenne, Fort Worth, Tulsa and Denver. In 1938, Pauline was crowned the world champion trick and fancy rider. Pauline was also known for her sense of fashion. She made all of her own costumes and later took up modeling.

About the Hall of Fame

The purpose of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame is to preserve the history and highlight the impact of western women living roughly from the mid-1800s to the present: the artists and writers, champions and competitive performers, entertainers, ranchers (stewards of land and livestock), trailblazers and pioneers. Since 1975, more than 200 extraordinary women have been inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m.-5 p.m., admission is $10 for adults ages 13 and up and $8 for children ages 3-12 and senior citizens. Group rates and docent tours are available. For more information, call (817) 336-4475 or (800) 476-FAME, or visit www.cowgirl.net.