Girls with gumption and a "can do" spirit will get a big kick out of Holly George-Warren’s The Cowgirl Way, which provides a fascinating history of the Wild West and cowgirls, from big names like Annie Oakley to lesser-known gals of the 21st century.
Chapters are interspersed with photos, quotes and memorabilia that nicely complement the text. And though the book's target audience is tweens (ages 10 and up), teens and adults will also enjoy George-Warren’s meticulously researched history of American cowgirls.
The author has long been interested in the Wild West culture. Read on for her take on rodeo fever, pursuing dreams—and why Lady Gaga embodies the cowgirl spirit.
You have written several books on cowgirls, cowboys and the Wild West. What sparked your interest in this culture?
As a girl growing up in North Carolina in the ‘60s, I became fascinated by cowgirls and cowboys and the West. My family used to stop at a tourist attraction called the Buffalo Ranch, which displayed Western artifacts, and real live buffalo grazed in a cow pasture. Plus I really liked watching Westerns on TV and reading biographies of historical figures from the Old West.
Your book begins with a quote from Connie Douglas Reeves: “Always saddle your own horse!” This quote has also been adopted as the motto for the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. What does this line say about cowgirls? Why is it important?
That mandate emphasizes self-sufficiency and independence, and it epitomizes the “can do” spirit of cowgirls. That’s a great lesson for all of us.
What can young readers of The Cowgirl Way learn from cowgirls of the past?
Women in the West had to overcome numerous obstacles to pursue their dreams. They had to break down barriers that prevented women from participating fully in American life. By learning about the courage and tenacity of these Western women, hopefully it will inspire [young readers] to overcome challenges in their own lives.
You quote Florence Hughes Randolph as saying, “I had the rodeo fever, so I left Hollywood and went back to Texas.” Why do you think the cowgirl lifestyle appealed to young women in the early 20th century?
During that time, not many women could work and/or travel independently, and becoming a rodeo cowgirl opened up their options. It also gave women a chance to prove themselves in a traditionally male arena. And as America became more urbanized, ranch life signified freedom and wide-open spaces.
Who is your favorite cowgirl from history? Why?
It’s a tie between Annie Oakley and Lucille Mulhall. Each worked hard to reach the top in an area where women had been shut out, and they opened doors for other women. They were smart, charismatic and courageous, and they got to travel the world and live adventurous lives.
You mention that former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor used to be a cowgirl. Which other public figures embody the cowgirl “spunk, adventurousness and courage”?
Our First Lady Michelle Obama, filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and documentarian Barbara Kopple, Mississippi teenager Constance McMillen and Lady Gaga, just to name a few . . .
What kind of cowgirl would you like to be? A pioneer? An outlaw? Rodeo star? Show girl for Buffalo Bill?
I would have enjoyed being a singing cowgirl like Dale Evans and Patsy Montana, or a ranch woman and photojournalist like Evelyn Cameron.
What is your next project?
I’m writing a biography of the late Alex Chilton, who first found fame as the 16-year-old lead singer of the Box Tops in 1967 and went on to form the influential band Big Star before embarking on a solo career.