Cowgirls, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1996, $22.95 paper.
Ah, cowgirls! Where would cowboys be without them? Probably back in the saddle again. Sure, there was Dale Evans riding next to Roy Rogers in the movies and Annie Oakley shooting next to Buffalo Bill in Wild West shows, but what about real cowgirls in the Wild West? Well, it’s true that not many females were driving steers up the Chisholm Trail last century, but there apparently were some. Author Candace Savage says that ranch owner Lizzie Johnson Williams followed her herd up that famous trail in the 1880s, counting her cattle and collecting more than her share of dust. Savage also mentions a cowhand named Willie Matthews who was actually a “Wilhelmina,” adding, “We will never know how many cowboys were, in fact, cowgirls enjoying themselves, but Willie Matthews could not have been the only one.” There were lady ranchers (cattle queens) here and there even in the early phases of the cattle industry, but women became involved in much greater numbers beginning in the 1890s, when much of the Western land was broken up into smaller parcels. “Although the women who lived on these holdings did not often work for pay, thousands of them worked with cattle as part of their contribution to the family legend,” Savage writes in the “Real Cowboy Girls” section of her 144-page book. In the second section, “Living Legend,” she mentions such show-stoppers as Annie Oakley and such early rodeo champions as Lucille Mulhall. The last section deals with “Rhinestone Cowgirls,” including Dale Evans. A lively text and more than 100 nicely presented images make this book a real treat for today’s cowgirls and cowboys.