I was reading a nifty book called Cowgirl Legends the other day, which has short biographies of dozens of women who performed in rodeos in the early 1900s. Back then there were touring rodeo companies featuring trick riding, bronc riding, steer wrestling and so forth that toured the big cities in the US, drawing huge crowds. Some of them even toured overseas, putting on shows across Europe and Asia. There were a lot of well known female trick riders, but also a fair number of cowgirls who rode broncs and competed in more typically male sports like steer wrestling.
The traveling rodeo seemed to be the kind of thing one ran off to join, like the circus, although a few of the women grew up in rodeo or show families, and carried on the tradition from there. The most fascinating story for me was that of Gene Krieg, who grew up with the call of the rodeo in her heart, scaring her neighbors by standing on her horse and galloping down the street. When she was sixteen she was sent off to take care of her sister. A newspaper announcement about the Cheyenne Frontier Days caught her eye, and she switched trains to join the rodeo show. She was a hit in bronc riding and trick riding. She traveled around the world. Her career ended tragically with an accident at Madison Square Garden. She lived another 50 years, but never performed again.
The stories of the women in "Cowgirl Legends" are collected from The Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. The museum website has an overview of the exhibits, past and present, and some photos of items from the collections. There's a small online gift shop, too. It looks like a great place to visit!
And my favorite is Cowgirls: Women of the Wild West, which is chock full of photos of the clothing, saddles, boots, guns, and other gear used by cowgirls. It doesn't focus just on cowgirls in the rodeo shows, but looks at the daily life of women on ranches, on the frontier, outlaw cowgirls, and depictions of cowgirls in Hollywood movies and novels, too.