10 things to see at the only cowgirl museum in the country
Sure, even cowgirls get the blues – but not at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.
This celebratory space is all about empowerment and inspiration, and it reveals a side of western history that’s rarely discussed: the female side.
“We are fortunate to house the artifacts and stories of some of the nation’s most remarkable women – from retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to Annie Oakley,” said Diana Vela, Ph.D., Associate Executive Director, Exhibits and Education. “So often our history of the west is decidedly masculine, and we are the only museum in the nation that tells the stories of those women who shaped the west – and changed the world.”
The Cowgirl Museum showcases more than 750 amazing women, including its 228 Hall of Fame Honorees, and it continues to expand.
While the second floor undergoes a major renovation, Dr. Vela offers an exclusive look at 10 of the artifacts that are especially significant to the Museum – and to the history of the women we admiringly call cowgirls.
Annie Oakley 1883 Parker Brothers shotgun
Annie Oakley and her “first real gun” — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
There is hardly a cowgirl who is more recognized than Annie Oakley.
This 1883 Parker Brothers shotgun is likely the gun that she referred to as “my first real gun” in “Powders I Have Used,” and is probably among the ones she took with her on her first European tour which included a performance for Queen Victoria during her Jubilee.
This gun has not been held outside of Annie Oakley’s blood relations until the Museum acquired it in 2013.
Promotional postcard shot by Annie Oakley
Promotional postcard shot by Annie Oakley — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
One of the most prized of Annie Oakley collectibles, this mini postcard from the early 1900s features her signature bullet hole through the heart. This one is even better because it is addressed in her hand to William J. Butler at “Douglass, Wyoming.”
Oakley shot holes through these cards for use as promotional materials. Americans started calling any free ticket to an event an “Annie Oakley” in reference to the holes punched in tickets upon validation to prevent re-sale. This is an early example of a person’s name being adopted for use in language.
Lucille Mulhall spurs
Spurs belonging to Lucille Mulhall, who is considered the original “cowgirl” — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
The first woman most people associate with the term “cowgirl,” Lucille Mulhall was one of the first women to directly compete with men in roping and riding events. She performed with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show, formed her own company and, in 1917, was one of the first women to go into rodeo production.
This leather, nickel and silver pair of spurs was crafted by O. Crockett, one of the best-known spur makers in Texas, circa 1920. Cowgirl-sized spurs were uncommon pre-1940s. One estimate suggests that for every 50 pairs of spurs made, only one was for a female.
Lucille Mulhall’s spurs are important to the museum because they demonstrate that women, when on the back of a horse, were equal competitors with men.10BESTWant to go to Westworld for real? Head to Nevada
Lulu Bell Parr beaded bolero vest
Lulu Bell Parr’s beaded bolero vest — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
Lulu Bell Parr earned a local reputation as a bronc rider in the 1890s. She decided to quit competitive rodeo to become a wild west show performer. She was one of the first famous female bronc riders and was an international headliner; she also shot and trick rode.
Female wild west show performers went to great lengths to reassure a sometimes nervous Victorian era public that they were still female. One of the ways they accomplished this was through their outfits, adorning them with heavy beading, fringe and bright colors.
Parr’s clothing, which she often made herself, was even more eye-catching than many of her contemporaries. This fully beaded Sioux vest with full fringe is a good example. It’s ashort, bolero style with four horses: two on back and one on either side of the front panels.
Beaded Sioux gauntlets — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
Clothing was important to female wild west show performers. It had to be “acceptable” to audiences while making them stand out.
This is an exquisite pair of women’s beaded Sioux gauntlets, circa 1900s. They were likely worn by a wild west performer and are embellished with leather and glass seed beads which must have shone under the lights in arenas.
Judy Lynn’s gold and rhinestone saddle designed by Nudie Cohn
Judy Lynn’s gold and rhinestone saddle designed by Nudie Cohn — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
Nudie Cohn was the custom tailor for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and his designs have become highly sought-after collectibles.
He designed this saddle for country music singer, and Miss Idaho 1955, Judy Lynn in the 1950s, and it’s no wonder she became known for her dazzling costumes. With 8,077 rhinestones, this saddle is absolutely blinding when under lights. The attention that this saddle – and, consequently, Judy Lynn – commanded in an arena must have been a brilliant display.
Fern Sawyer boots
Fern Sawyer’s collection of handmade boots — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection/Sheila West
An all-around champion cowgirl, 1976 Hall of Famer Fern Sawyer became the first woman to win the National Cutting Horse world title in 1945. She also became known for her distinctive clothing, and her closet housed over 150 handmade boots with high steep riding heels and her brand, STL, often worked into the tops.
Fern Sawyer was a cowgirl’s cowgirl. She worked on the ranch, she was an expert horsewoman, she was fiercely independent, she was a solid competitor – and she had an unbelievable sense of style. The museum holds over 100 pairs of her boots in their collection; each demonstrates a different facet of her personality.10BESTAt the ESSE Purse Museum, Women’s History Is in the Bag
2005 Open Freestyle Champion belt buckle
Stacy Westfall’s 2005 Open Freestyle Champion NRHA Affiliate Championships North American award — Photo courtesy of Stacy Westfall
Stacy Westfall won this freestyle event in 2005 – without tack. This artifact is significant because it shows the triumphant connection between women and horses, as did her best-known bridleless and bareback freestyle ride in 2006 at the All American Quarter Horse Congress freestyle reining championship.
She performed to the song “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw and dedicated the ride to her father, who had died 24 days before her performance. When a video of that ride was posted on her website in February 2008, it went viral and came to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who brought both Westfall and her horse, Roxy, to the studio to appear on her show.
Compilation of a Thousand Stories by Ashley Collins
Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
2017 National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Honoree, Ashley Collins, is an internationally successful contemporary painter recognized for her powerful large-scale paintings.
Collins’ layered works incorporate portions of horse silhouettes along with historic documents, vintage photographs, pages of literature and postcards. Her emotionally charged pieces are in hundreds of private and public collections worldwide. This piece beautifully represents the complexity behind the undeniable bond between women and horses.
Miranda Lambert Gibson Hummingbird guitar
Miranda Lambert’s pink Hummingbird guitar — Photo courtesy of National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Collection
Miranda Lambert composes on a Gibson Hummingbird, and she plays a custom signature pink guitar on stage.
Lambert, a native Texan, represents the cowgirl in all of us. She has written about emotions that everyone, cowgirl or not, can relate to, and she is a creative force in the country music industry. She signed and dedicated this guitar to the museum.