As we approach the NFR, let’s take a look at some of the fearless and fantastic women who helped make rodeo the sport it is today.
The first cowgirl, Lucille Mulhall, made a name for herself after impressing Theodore Roosevelt with her riding and roping skills. Roosevelt told Mulhall he would invite her to his inaugural parade if she was able to rope a wolf, three hours later she returned dragging a wolf behind her. Mulhall was one of the first cowgirls to compete against the men in large events, and earned several titles over her career.
One of the earliest cowgirls was Annie Oakley. Widely known today as a sharpshooter in the “Old West,” Oakley began honing her skills as a young girl who hunted to feed her family. When she challenged the widely known shooter Frank E. Butler and won, it sparked a courtship between the couple. After they married, Oakley joined Butler’s shooting act as his assistant and worked her way up to being the star of the show. Oakley toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show for 16 years, around the US and in Europe. She was passionate about women’s empowerment and encouraged women to learn to shoot for protection.
Charmayne James began barrel racing at a young age, leading her to become one of the greatest cowgirls of our time. James has won 11 World Championships, qualified for the NFR 19 consecutive years and won the NFR 7 times. She currently holds clinic around the U.S., Australia and South America where she preaches having a healthy mental attitude.
Tad Lucas began racing horses as a girl, and participated in her first rodeo in 1917 (she was 14), where she won the steer riding. During WWI, she rode bulls in the street to raise money for the Red Cross. Lucas quickly made a name for herself as a trick rider, winning several titles. In the 1940’s she was a part of the founding of the Girls Rodeo Association (later renamed to the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, WPRA) after women’s events were dropped from rodeo events. The GRA ensured a place for women in rodeo, and continues to this day. In 1967 Lucas was the first woman to be inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. She later was also inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame.
We can’t have a complete list of influential cowgirls without Amberley Snyder. Snyder started rodeoing from a young age, and was a part of the National High School Rodeo Association where she competed in barrel racing, pole bending, breakaway roping and goat tying. Snyder did well in her high school rodeo career, qualifying for nationals and earning an All-Around title. Snyder planned on continuing her rodeo career while in college, however, in 2010 she was in a life-altering car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Only 4 months after her accident, Snyder was back on her horse, working toward her goal of continuing her rodeo career. Today Snyder competes in rodeos and inspires many with her drive and dedication to the sport. You can learn more about her story in the movie about her, “Walk. Ride. Rodeo.”
Jackie Crawford is a modern-day cowgirl who played a large part in adding breakaway roping to the NFR event schedule. Crawford began her riding career in barrel racing, pole bending and flag racing as a child. It wasn’t until she was 14 or 15 that she began roping. Crawford competed in the 2020 NFBR, where she won, making history, while 6 months pregnant. Crawford holds 20 WPRA world titles and is continuing her roping career at this year’s NFR coming up in December. Crawford is also an avid user of LubriSynHA, “It gives us the advantage in the arena I’m looking for.”
As Chris Cagle sang,
“Let there be cowgirls for every cowboy, and make them strong as any man.”
Rodeo wouldn’t be the same without these fearless women.