The best books on cowgirls and ranching women

Who am I?

I grew up around ranch and rodeo life, having always been fascinated by it, attended several rodeos each year. Watching Jonnie Jonckowski ride bulls and Martha Josey break records wining barrel races—they were an inspiration. When an opportunity arose for me to build a career around researching and writing about cowgirls, rodeo, and cattlewomen, it was a dream come true.  Hope you enjoy the books about them that I’ve recommended.

I wrote...

Oklahoma Rodeo Women

By Tracey Hanshew,

Book cover of Oklahoma Rodeo Women

What is my book about?

Oklahoma’s central location and ranching tradition gave it a unique connection to the rodeo industry as it grew from a local pastime to an internationally popular sport. From the very beginning, Oklahoma cowgirls played a significant role in developing the institution and the businesses that grew up in its shadow.

Lucille Mulhall’s pioneering roping carved out a place for women in the actual competition, while Mildred Chrisman’s promotional efforts kept rodeo chutes open during the Great Depression. Modern ranchers like Terry Stuart produced the Quarter Horses sought by professional rodeo athletes around the world. From Guymon to Pawhuska and from stock contractors to rodeo clowns, Oklahoma Rodeo Women follows the trail these women blazed across this rough-and-tumble sport.

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The books I picked & why

The Cowgirls

By Joyce Gibson Roach,

Book cover of The Cowgirls

Why did I love this book?

Cowgirls evoke a variety of images: Wild West show shootist, rodeo athletes, working ranch women, and pin-ups. Many stories, dime novels, and a plethora of fiction about the cowgirl confuse her true history and are in many ways responsible for why we have so many interpretations of her. In The Cowgirls, Joyce Gibson Roach unravels the folklore to give us the history of the cowgirl, the good, and the “lady rustlers,” to explain her longevity as heroic cattlewomen who hold our attention and fascination even today. Roach’s narrative is as entertaining as it is informative and is a history any fan of the cowgirl should read.

By Joyce Gibson Roach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cowgirls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An important chapter in the history and folklore of the West is how women on the cattle frontier took their place as equal partners with men. The cowboy may be our most authentic folk hero, but the cowgirl is right on his heels. This Spur Award winning book fills a void in the history of the cowgirl.

While Susan B. Anthony and her hoop-skirted friends were declaring that females too were created equal, Sally Skull was already riding and roping and marking cattle with her Circle S brand on the frontier of Texas. Wearing rawhide bloomers and riding astride, she…

Book cover of Texas Women on the Cattle Trails

Why did I love this book?

Cattle drives although a relatively brief episode in history largely contribute to tales of the cowboy that helped writers and Hollywood to later make him an American icon. Texas Women on the Cattle Trails provides a history of sixteen of the women who contributed to and participated in cattle drives originating from Texas. This edited collection offers individual stories of these women and based on their own accounts which give us an inside glimpse into how this era shaped their lives. Meet real cattlewomen who built ranching empires, who showed courage and spunk, and enjoyed a closeness with nature while viewing buffalo and gazing at the stars along their journeys.

By Sara R. Massey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Texas Women on the Cattle Trails as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Texas Women on the Cattle Trails tells the stories of sixteen women who drove cattle up the trail from Texas during the last half of the nineteenth century. Some were young; some were old (over thirty). Some took to the trails by choice; others, out of necessity. Some went along to look at the stars; others, to work the cattle. Some made money and built ranching empires, but others went broke and lived hard, even desperate lives. The courage of Margaret Borland and the spunk of Willie Matthews, the pure delight of Cornelia Adair viewing the buffalo, and the joy…

Book cover of The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley

Why did I love this book?

Of the many insightful books by Glenda Riley about women in the American West, The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley is my favorite. Although internationally famous as an exceptional markswoman, Oakley is often referred to as America’s cowgirl. In this biography, Riley dispels the tales and speculative accounts of Oakley’s tragic childhood and provides a researched account of Oakley’s life story. One cannot help but admire Oakley’s courage in overcoming her own hard times as a young girl as you follow her story to fame with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. From rural Ohio to performing for the Queen of England, this true story reads like a legendary wild west drama revealing the reasons for her popularity during her lifetime and as it continues today.

By Glenda Riley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a widowed mother and six siblings, Annie Oakley first became a trapper, hunter, and sharpshooter simply to put food on the table. Yet her genius with the gun eventually led to her stardom in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The archetypal western woman, Annie Oakley urged women to take up shooting to procure food, protect themselves, and enjoy healthy exercise, yet she was also the proper Victorian lady, demurely dressed and skeptical about the value of women's suffrage. Glenda Riley presents the first interpretive biography of the complex woman who was…

Book cover of Cowgirls of the Rodeo: Pioneer Professional Athletes

Why did I love this book?

This book is a must-read for any fan of cowgirls, rodeo, or female athletes. LeCompte’s history of cowgirls whom she identifies as “America’s first successful professional women athletes” is one of excitiment equivalanet to live competition. Through the description of early rodeo when women competed with men, performed for presidents and royalty as well as for crowds in the thousands we learn of their athletic talent, their personal sacrifice, and determination to pursue their own careers. They became stars and sometimes won annual earnings that surpassed the men. This thoroughly researched history describes women in rodeo from the mid-1800s to 1992 when Charmayne James Rodman and Scamper set a new world record for earnings in a single event. This book is as exciting as any professional sport.

By Mary LeCompte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cowgirls of the Rodeo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed as a foundational study of rodeo women, Cowgirls of the Rodeosurveys the early rodeo cowgirls' achievements as professional athletes. Mary Lou LeCompte follows the story through the near-demise of women's rodeo events during World War II and the phenomenal success of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association in regaining lost ground for rodeo cowgirls. Recalling an extraordinary chapter in women's history and the history of American sport, Cowgirls of the Rodeo deepens our understanding of the challenges facing women in the American West and in American sport.

Book cover of Rodeo Road: My Life As a Pioneer Cowgirl

Why did I love this book?

This book is fun! A rare autobiography of one of early rodeo’s star athletes, Vera McGinnis tells her story as a non-ranching woman who began a career in rodeo riding broncs and relay racing. This book reads like an action film with an early twentieth-century style of prose. We get bronc rides, relay wrecks, barns even stowaway rides on trains as Vera breaks into rodeo life. Through her firsthand account, readers are introduced to the rodeo “family.” Vera tells of the physical setbacks that rodeo contestants faced, the personal sacrifices cowgirls made to keep rodeoing, and perhaps most enlightening is the almost addictive lure of rodeo that resulted in cowgirls prioritizing it in their life.  

By Vera McGinnis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rodeo Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first woman to travel the rodeo and wild-west-show circuits records her twenty-year career when she successfully competed with the male riders for championships, trophies, prize money, and broken bones

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in rodeos, the American West, and ranches?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about rodeos, the American West, and ranches.

Rodeos Explore 18 books about rodeos
The American West Explore 115 books about the American West
Ranches Explore 46 books about ranches

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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