In any given Western, a woman will be portrayed as the buxom rancher whose main job is feeding her dusty, parched cowboy when he comes home from a long day of doing the “hard work.” She hangs the laundry out back, raises the children, gathers the chicken’s eggs, and doesn’t wait up for her man. Despite the fact that cowgirls can work just as hard as cowboys, they’re not represented as equals. In fact, the reality is we don’t see cowgirls at all. But which came first, the Western cinematic portrayal of female ranchers or the societal pressure for a woman to stay behind and leave the ranching for her man? Nearly a century later, we still don’t know much about real-life cowgirls, and most people don’t have a reference that goes beyond Annie Oakley. But there’s a whole population of cowgirls, who are carrying the torch of western culture and making John Wayne look like a wuss.
Unknown to most country, in Fort Worth, Texas, these cowgirls are represented at Cowgirl Museum—one of the only organizations that honors them, even though they’re a kickass group of women who have excelled in the horse world and have been recognized for their tireless work, their skill, and their bravery. Each year, the museum honors a group of women and inducts them into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. And once a year, the key honorees from the Cowgirl Hall of Fame gather at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana for a weekend of nature, namaste, and badassery.
And because chances are you’ve never heard of these women, their work, or even known that cowgirls were a thing and not a style vibe for country music festivals, here’s a look at the county’s most underappreciated western heroes.