Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) Old West Museum (OWM) possesses a collection of Daily Programs that list contestants and events and the Ladies Cowpony Races
were first run in 1899. Proud of their skills as horsewomen, young cowgirls used the packed grandstand at Frontier Days as a showcase. These races were the earliest competitive rodeo events for women. The winner of the first race was Anna McPhee,
a ranch girl from north of Cheyenne who won $45. These races, and their much more thrilling sister, The Denver Post Ladies Relay Race,
formed the backbone of the women's competition for nearly 50 years. These women were some of the first professional women athletes in the world.
The first woman to make a difference at CFD was Prairie Rose Henderson.
A story tells how Prairie Rose demanded a chance to ride in the cowboy's broncbusting contest in 1901. The officials finally let her make an exhibition ride as a curiosity. Prairie Rose Henderson continued to be a personality at the rodeo for 25 years. She rode in all the races and made exhibition rides on bucking broncos. She was also one of the first trick riders. In 1912, The Wyoming Tribune
reported that Prairie Rose was "roughriding" in a red velvet divided skirt and high boots. Trickriding required a more tailored outfit than the full divided skirt;
Prairie Rose solved the problem with her "Turkish Trousers." A women's rights trailblazer, she is best remembered for wearing a flamboyant outfit made of light green chiffon with bloomers to the knee and a long vest trimmed with fur. Her big hat, high boots, white silk stockings and mischievous grin completed the costume. Rose rode in Wide West Shows, traveled the circuit, won many prizes and had several husbands.
The second woman was Bertha Kaepernick,
a rancher's daughter from Sterling, Colorado. In 1904, bad weather threatened to close down the contest held in the old Pioneer Park. The cowboys refused to compete in the mud; they said it was too dangerous and they went on strike. According to CFD Committee Chairman Warren Richardson, Bertha seized the opportunity, got on a mean bucker and took off. In Richardson's words: "She mounted one of the worst buckers I have ever seen and she stayed on him all the time. Part of the time he was up in the air on his hind feet; once he fell backwards, and the girl deftly slid to one side only to mount him again as he got up. She rode him in the mud to the finish, and the crowd went wild with enthusiasm. Result... the cowboys thought if a girl could ride in the mud they could too, and the show was pulled off.
Following World War I, the CFD Committee launched a public relations effort and a charming you woman, Helen
was dubbed "Miss Wyoming." Under the wing of Public Relations Chairman T. Joe Cahill, Helen rode a horse into the Congress Hotel in Chicago to deliver an invitation to Mayor William Hale Thompson from Wyoming Governor Robert Carey. She road up Fifth Avenue in New York City and brought the McAlpin trophy as an award of the champion cowgirl. Photographs of Helen appeared for serval years from 1919 to 1921 in the rotogravure section of The Denver Post.
She represented CFD for those three years before the advent of Miss Frontier as we know her today.
a ranchowner from Oregon, was one tough cowgirl, according to old timers. She dominated both relay racing and bronc riding from 1920 to 1924 and won the McAlpin Trophy in 1921. A daring trickrider, she is credited with being the first woman to ride under the belly of a running horse.
was a small lady, refined and happily married to Hugh Strickland, a champion cowboy. In the 1920s, they traveled around the rodeo circuit in a special horse trailer. Covered with leather and painted with lacquer to protect it from the weather. it was pulled by car. Upon reaching a campsite, the horses were evicted and the trailer cleaned thoroughly. Then the couple welcomed everyone to their home-away-from-home. The Stricklands pioneered "going down the road." Mabel won the McAlpin
Trophy in 1922. Hugh taught her to bulldog steers and rope. She was truly an all-around gal. Mabel continued to compete, ride in relays and trick ride until 1941.
In 1924, Tex Allen, a rodeo promoter, took a delegation of cowgirls to England where they were introduced to Jodhpurs.
The women of rodeo abandoned the divided skirts and Turkish Trousers and Jodhpurs became the style. With their huge 10-gallon hats and their boots, they dazzled the eye and sparked the imagination. The ranks of these spunky women never exceeded 20 competitors in any one year. They were 18 here several times, and 20 attended in 1929. All the big names came: Tad Lucas, Vera McGinnis, Bonnie Gray, Gene Kreig, Ruth Roach, Alice
and Marge Greenough. Bonie McCarroll
was killed while competing at Pendleton in 1927 and ladies' bronc riding was eliminated that year.
Note: Special thanks to Shirley Flynn as this information and photographs come from her book - Let's Go! Let's Show! Let's Rodeo! The History of the Cheyenne Frontier Days.