Cowgirls in History

Did you know there is a museum that is totally about cowgirls? The Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas holds over 5,000 objects in their collection, over 6,000 historic and modern images of women honoured by the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and other historic cowgirls, and a library containing over 2,000 books and serial titles.

The Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.

The library contains works documenting the history of women as pioneers, ranchers, and performers and their impact on the American West. The collection spans over 150 years of history from the mid-nineteenth century to works created in more recent times.

1. Do you know when the mid-nineteenth century is? What year marks the middle of the nineteenth century? 

Every year, the month of March is celebrated as Women’s History Month. This is a perfect time to find out about some of the amazing women who have been named to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

We’ve created the timeline below showing just a few of the over 200 women honourees. Download and print out the timeline. Use landscape orientation with the long side of the page at the top and bottom. Some of the questions will ask you to enter dates on the timeline. Download Timeline

cowgirl history timeline

Click to enlarge


The timeline shows the birth years (in red) for eight women who have been voted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. There’s two more but you’ll be filling those in yourself!

2. How many centuries are shown on the timeline?

3. What are the timeline increments?

Math Talk – increment: The process of increasing in number, size, or quantity through a series of regular consecutive additions. In this case, each line on the timeline marks off a set number of years. The number of years between each line is the increment.

Sacagawea with Lewis and Clark at Three Forks.


Sacagawea was a member of the Shoshone tribe and the only woman to accompany the 1802-6 Lewis and Clark expedition into the Louisiana Purchase territory. With them she traveled thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean. Sacagawea acted as interpreter and guide. Her help was most important when she persuaded the Shoshone to supply horses and guides to the expedition so they could reach the Pacific. Her guidance also allowed the company to pass safely through an area known for intertribal warfare. She died in 1812.


4. In what year was Sacagawea was born?

5. How old was Sacagawea when she died?

Esther Morris

Esther Hobart Morris, the first female Justice of the Peace in the United States.

Esther Hobart Morris

Recognized as a civil rights leader, Esther fought for women’s suffrage (the right to vote). Her efforts helped make it possible for women to vote in the Wyoming Territory in 1869. Her success there set a course for women’s right to vote in the rest of the United States. Finally, fifty-one years later with the passage of the 19th Amendment, all American women won the right to vote.

Esther became the United States’ first female justice of the peace in 1870 and represents Wyoming in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington D.C., as an important person in Wyoming history. She is remembered as a true pioneer for women.

6. In what year was Esther Hobart Morris born?

7. Show on the timeline the year in which Esther became the United States’ first female justice of the peace.


Profile shot of Annie Oakley taken in New York between 1902 and 1904.

Annie Oakley

Have you heard of Annie Oakley? She’s one of the most famous women in the history of the American West and even inspired a musical, Annie Get Your Gun! Annie became an international legend in her own lifetime based on her shooting skills. Born into poverty in Ohio, Annie taught herself to shoot to help feed her family. A shooting contest against future husband Frank Butler put her on the road to stardom.

8. In what year was Annie born?

In 1885, she joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as the only female performer. She traveled the globe as the World’s Champion Markswoman, hosting shooting clinics and performing onstage.


9. Indicate the year Annie joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show on your timeline.

Mary Elizabeth Jane ColterMary Jane Colter

Mary Jane Colter was one of the few female architects of her era. Eleven buildings she designed are on the National Register of Historic Places and five of these buildings have been designated National Historic Landmarks. At the time Colter began her career, architectural styles in the United States were mainly based on European ideas. She was one of the first architects in America to turn toward more natural, local design influences.

10. Mary Jane Colter was born nine years after Annie Oakley. Indicate on the timeline the year Mary was born.

Bright Angel Lodge

Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon National Park’s south rim, designed by Mary Jane Colter.

Mary Jane went to design school in San Francisco when she was a teenager. After graduating she began a fifteen-year career as an art teacher at a high school in Minnesota.

In the summer of 1902, she was contacted to work as decorator on her first Harvey House project, beginning her long career with the company as designer and architect. Harvey House was a chain of restaurants, hotels, and other tourism based businesses built alongside railroads in the western United States. If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon you’ve probably seen some of her buildings!

For the next four decades, often working in rugged conditions, Mary Jane completed more than twenty projects for Harvey House, including a series of landmark hotels and commercial lodges throughout the Southwest.

11. How many years did Mary work for the Harvey company as an architect and designer?

Bernice Walsh McLaughlin

Bernice Walsh McLaughlin showing her record jump of 6’ 2” on “Smoky” at the Calgary, Alberta Spring Horse Show, 1911 Courtesy National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Fort Worth, Texas

Bernice Walsh McLaughlin

Bernice won the Canadian Rodeo Champion High Jump contest in 1911, setting a new record. According to the book, Buried Treasures: Famous and Unusual Gravesites in New Mexico History, she cleared 6’2” on a horse named Smokey.

She was a natural horsewoman, winning numerous jumping contests and relay races. Raised doing ranch work, she and her husband homesteaded in New Mexico. After he died, Bernice managed to keep the ranch and increase its size and success.

She was a devoted horse woman to the very end. At 93, Bernice asked that her son-in-law drive his stagecoach by her hospital window so she could see the horses before he drove them in a local parade. A book has been written on her life entitled, Prairie Trails of Miz Mac by Rhonda Coy Sedgwick.

12. In what decade was Bernice born?

13. Indicate the year Bernice and Smokey won the Canadian Rodeo Champion High Jump contest on the timeline.

Margie Roberts Hart

Margie Roberts Hart, winner of Ladies Bronc Riding at Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1941 Courtesy National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Fort Worth, Texas

Margie Roberts Hart

Margie was one of the top women bronc riders from the 1930s through the 1950s. She broke horses for her father and neighbours while still in grade school! As a teenager she rode in the summertime for the Clyde Miller Wild West show, coming home each winter to attend high school.

She rode steers and bucking horses and developed a trick riding act that took her all over the country. One of her innovations in trick riding was the dive, in which she leaned rigidly far out over a running horse’s neck at an almost impossible angle. Her ability to ride rough stock led to winning the Ladies Bronc Riding Championship at Cheyenne in 1941 and a career as a trick rider. Retiring from rodeo, Margie worked with horses much of the rest of her life. She was also an accomplished artist.

Horse Talk – rough stock: Rough stock events are those in which cowgirls and cowboys ride bucking broncs and bulls. Each cowgirl and animal pair is scored by two judges, and both rider and mount earn points based on level of skill shown in their ride.

14. In which century was Margie born?

15. Indicate on the timeline the year Margie won the Ladies Bronc Riding Championship at Cheyenne.

cowgirls in history

Polly Burson trick riding, circa 1950s Courtesy National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Fort Worth, Texas

Polly Burson

Polly Burson was one of the best stuntwomen in Hollywood history. She was born the daughter of Oregon ranchers and rodeo riders, beginning trick riding at fourteen and relay racing at eighteen. She decided to try her hand at stunt work in the movie industry, and worked on a variety of films, including The Perils of Pauline, and the classic, True Grit. Between films, she toured France with a Wild West show and sailed the Pacific in her own sailboat for three years.

16. Polly was born three years after Margie Roberts Hart. In what year was Polly born?

In Hollywood, many actresses could not ride. Because of her excellent riding skills, Polly soon found herself doubling for these actresses. Back then, the stunt profession was mostly dominated by men. Smaller men usually doubled for female stars, but during the making of The Perils of Pauline the man doubling for the film’s star was injured and Polly completely replaced him, doing everything required of her. It was her breakthrough film in 1947.

Polly was finally recognized for her accomplishments and honoured with a Golden Boot award in 1991. The Golden Boot Awards honour actors, actresses, and crew members who have made significant contributions to the genre of Western television and movies. In her acceptance speech, Polly stated the picture business had been good to her. She had fun doing it and loved every minute of her exciting career working with the great stars and directors.

17. Indicate the year Polly won the Golden Boot award on the timeline.

cowgirls in history

Temple Grandin at a talk and book signing for The Autistic Brain, Decatur GA June 19, 2013

Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

Temple Grandin is a champion of the agriculture and livestock industry. Grandin has published four books and well over 200 articles and essays on the subjects of animal welfare, livestock handling, and other topics relevant to the livestock industry. Temple has designed the livestock facilities for six different countries, and at least thirty percent of the handling done in North America is done through one of her designs.

She developed a system which causes the animal to feel minimal anxiety while providing greater safety and efficiency for the plant. Grandin overcame double adversities of being female in a male-dominated industry and the challenges associated with being autistic. She has published on the subject of autism and speaks publicly to better inform others about the developmental disorder. Grandin earned a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1989, and is currently a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University.

18. In what year was Temple born?

19. Indicate the year Temple earned her doctoral degree in animal science on the timeline.

Julie Krone riding Halfbridled at 2003 Breeders' cup

Julie Krone, Santa Anita. After winning the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Halfbridled.

Julie Krone

As a girl growing up, nothing but racing held Julie’s interest; she always knew she wanted to be a jockey. She began her career exercising horses at Churchill Downs and was racing in a year. Eventually earning over $80 million in purses, Julie made more than 3,500 trips to the winner’s circle.

In 1993, Julie became the first woman jockey to win a Triple Crown race when she rode Colonial Affair to win the Belmont Stakes. In 2000, she was the first female jockey inducted to Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame. Julie retired on April 18, 1999 as the top female jockey in the history of horse racing.

20. In what year was Julie born?

21. Indicate on the time line the year Julie became the first female jockey inducted to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.  

Despite these accomplishments, what matters more to Julie is the fact that she was able to provide an example. “Athletes tend to be known for their success,” she said. “But I would rather have some little girl say, ‘Oh, Julie Krone fell down, but she came back. She wasn’t afraid.’”

If you watch horse racing on TV sometimes you might see her—because now she works in television broadcasting as a race analyst!

Stacy WestfallStacy Westfall

Stacy is a professional horse trainer who specializes in reining. She was the first woman to compete in and win the “Road to the Horse” competition.

One time in a competition, she accidentally dropped a rein while in a traditional reining competition on her mare, Can Can Lena. A move that normally results in disqualification, this gave her the idea to test herself with a new challenge. She then began to perform bridleless in freestyle reining, a form of reining competition where exhibitors design their own routines and perform to music. In 2006, she won the American Quarter Horse Congress Freestyle Reining competition on the black mare, Whizards Baby Doll, riding both bridleless and bareback!

The video of this ride went viral on the internet and brought Westfall to the attention of the non-horse world.

22. In what year was Stacey born?

23. Indicate on the timeline the year Stacey and Whizards Baby Doll won the American Quarter Horse Congress Freestyle Reining competition.  

Would you like to watch the video of her ride?

So, what does it take to be a cowgirl? You’ve read about Sacagawea’s amazing life and adventure, Esther Hobart Morris’s fight for women’s right to vote, and Mary Jane Colter’s innovative and timeless building designs. Why are they included in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame? It’s clear—you don’t have to ride horses to consider yourself a cowgirl.

Perhaps Dale Evans, a member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame herself, explains it best,

“Cowgirl is an attitude, really; a pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head on, lives by her own lights and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands. They speak up. They defend the things they hold dear. A cowgirl might be a rancher, or a barrel racer, or a bull rider, or an actress. But she’s just as likely to be a checker at the local Winn Dixie, a full-time mother, a banker, an attorney, or an astronaut.”

So—you can be a cowgirl too.

Common Core:
3.MD.A.1 – Timelines
4.MD.A.2 – Elapsed time: word problems

National Cowgirl Museum by Billy Hathorn; CC BY-SA 3.0
Sacagawea; public domain
Esther Hobart Morris; public domain
Annie Oakley; public domain
Mary Jane Colter; public domain
Grand Canyon National Park: 0507_02 Bright Angel Lodge by the Grand Canyon National Park Service; CC BY 2.0
Bernice Walsh McLaughlin courtesy of the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
Margie Roberts Hart courtesy of the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
Polly Burson courtesy of the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
TGrandin-33 by Counse; CC BY 2.0
Julie Krone, Santa Anita. After winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Halfbridled. by Harlan1000; CC BY-SA 3.0
bridleless by Monica King; CC BY 2.0

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2 Responses to “Cowgirls in History”

  1. Eleanor Dumont
    September 17, 2017 at 9:28 am #

    Should cowgirls be considered as a myth or as icons ?

    • HLM
      September 20, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

      Interesting question. I think of a myth as being a story meant to reveal a truth with content that is itself fiction. So, I don’t see cowgirls are not a myth.

      I looked up the definition of icon and read this, “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.” I think cowgirls are certainly that, symbols of strong, independent, adventurous, capable women.

      Have I missed any adjectives?

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