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Born to be a Cowgirl

Author Shelley Fraser Mickle
Air Date 6/20/2001

Road Trip Transcript

Shelley Fraser Mickle is here with us today, remembering an important, and early, career choice. 

When I was five years old, I announced to the world that I wanted to be a cowboy. All those ten-cent Saturday morning movies that were so important in our culture in the 1950s put the idea in my head. Oh, how wonderful it was watching Gene Autry and Roy Rodger and Rex Allen go galloping across the silver screen! They rode horses that were clearly smarter than my brother; they crooned songs around campfires, and lassoed bad guys and sent them to the clinker. But whenever I said that when I grew up I was going to be a cowboy, my mother quickly corrected me. “You mean,” she said, “you want to be a cowgirl.” 

My mother, though, had it all wrong. Because in those cowboy movies it was never quite clear what the cowgirls were doing. Most often, they were inside slinging hash, and they were usually acting pitiful by being in some situation that Roy Rodgers or Gene Autry or Rex Allen had to save them from. Then they’d all sit around a campfire and sing about it. 

Now, though, through a new book called Born to be a Cowgirl, the author Candace Savage has pointed out what all along I should have known. Because even before I was born, there was such a thing as a cowgirl who did more than sling hash and get into trouble that she couldn’t get out of. I just didn’t know about them. And that’s what the book Born to be a Cowgirl is all about. It gives a fun clear history of the few women who broke from tradition in our American past – women named Fanny Sperry and Lizzie Williams, along with the famous ones like Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. There were women named Sally Parrott and Sarah Patello and Melanie Martin who actually had their own cattle brands. Arizona cowgirl Georgie Sicking at the age of five came up with a clever way to climb onto her big horse named Buster. She would drop a biscuit on the ground and when Buster put his head down to get it, she would climb onto his head and crawl up his neck and be on his back – where she continued to ride him for the next twenty years. 

I have to admit, though, that my favorite cowgirl in the whole book is Bonnie Gray, who made extra money by jumping her horse King Tut over automobiles. On her wedding day in 1925, she jumped King Tut over the car in which her new husband and her maid of honor were seated. Now if you ask me, that’s one cowgirl who knew how to do it all. 

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