California Culture


California Cowgirls

Left photo: Mehl Lawson, Bonita California, is a famed cowboy artist who created High Desert Princess for the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. The horse trainer turned sculptor depicted a cowgirl and her horse. Lawson is a member of the Cowboy Artists of America and has won several gold medals at the prestigious organization's annual exhibition. Other awards include the Remington Award at the Prix de West Show at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the Thomas Moran Award at the Masters of the American West Show at the Autry Museum.

20 cowgirls from California in the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

Reba Perry Blakely

When she was a young child, Reba learned to ride a horse because she had difficulty walking. From that start, she became an accomplished trick roper, rider and World Champion Relay Rider. She left rodeo to teach horsemanship, but with her interest in preserving rodeo history, Reba became a recognized historical researcher, using collected stories from the people she met and her own experiences to become an author of Western and rodeo history.1 979 Cowgirl Honoree

Bertha Blancett

A pioneer in women's rodeo competition, Bertha was the first woman to ride broncs at Cheyenne, marking the start of female participation in rodeos. Making a name for herself as a bronc rider, she joined several Wild West shows, including the 101 Ranch Show, where she married Del Blancett. Bertha moved to California where, with her husband, she worked in films under contract to Bison Pictures. Between movies, she competed at rodeo venues. 1999 Cowgirl Honoree

Faye Blesing

Faye started her career as a movie stuntwoman standing in for many female movie stars. She learned to trick ride and rope, put together an act with her brothers, and went on the rodeo circuit. Headlining the Madison Square Garden Championship Rodeo for seven years, Faye, with her palomino, Flash, became a world-famous rodeo star and was dedicated to promoting the sport. She also appeared in rodeos and films with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. 1978 Cowgirl Honoree

Polly Burson

One of the premier stuntwomen in Hollywood history, Polly was born the daughter of Oregon ranchers and rodeo riders, beginning trick riding at fourteen and relay racing at eighteen. She decided to try her hand at stunt work in the movie industry, and worked on a variety of films, including The Perils of Pauline, and the classic, True Grit. Between films, she toured France with a Wild West show and sailed the Pacific in her own sailboat for three years.  2002 Cowgirl Honoree

Sharon Camarillo

As an accomplished barrel racer, horsemanship clinician and four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, Sharon made her mark on rodeo history as one of the select few women to co-announce the prestigious Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. This Intercollegiate and Women's Professional Rodeo champion is a passionate equestrian educator and teaches thousands of students how to excel at barrel racing through clinics, books, DVDs and television programs. She created her own line of saddle and tack products and produces horsemanship clinics and barrel racing events annually which showcase her true talent as a motivator and Western lifestyle advocate.  2006 Cowgirl Honoree

Kathy Daughn

Growing up in San Francisco, Kathy learned to ride on horses rented by the hour and volunteered at the Golden Gate Park stables. Eventually she began riding and showing hunter-jumpers before moving to Texas, where she learned to train and ride cutting horses. Making her mark in the cutting arena, she is the only woman to win two NCHA Futurity championship titles and is one of the top cutting horse competitors in the country. Her success in the arena is only amplified by her talent as a trainer and her leadership in the National Cutting Horse Association.  2002 Cowgirl Honoree

Bernice Dean (1915-1980)

Bernice was one of the most versatile Wild West and rodeo performers. Her act included singing and dancing, trick riding, trick shooting, knife throwing, tricks with Mexican maguey ropes and bull whips, juggling, and a balancing trick on the rolling globe. She and her husband worked as an exhibition team for 45 years in every state and thirteen countries. Billed in Wild West shows, rodeos, circuses, motion pictures and television, Bernice earned worldwide acclaim. 1986 Cowgirl Honoree

Dale Evans

Beginning her career in show business singing for a Memphis radio station, Dale (born Frances Smith) made her way to Chicago where she was discovered by Paramount scouts. She came to Hollywood, working in films with John Wayne, Joe E. Brown and Roy Rogers, whom she married. Together with Roy, she made 27 films, a television series and raised a large family. Dale was named Texas Woman of the Year and California Mother of the Year. 1995 Cowgirl Honoree

Audrey O'Brien Griffin

Audrey O'Brien Griffin lives the cowgirl life with tenacity, generosity and passion. Before raising her family, Audrey was a member of the famous Flying Valkyries, a roman riding group in the 1950s and also worked in a Wild West show that traveled to Belgium. After her children were grown, her love for equestrian sports took center stage and she started team penning, sorting and excelling in overall horsemanship. Her competitive nature remains strong today as she continues to promote the Western lifestyle. 2008 Cowgirl Honoree

Bonnie Gray Harris

Tall and athletic, Bonnie is best remembered for her amazing stunts and trick riding. Allegedly the first woman to perform the under the belly crawl on a horse, she also jumped her horse over an open car with passengers and was one of the first women to ride bulls in Mexican bullfights. As the movie industry flourished in California, so did Bonnie's career as a stunt rider. 1981 Cowgirl Honoree

Julie Krone

Since her earliest tomboy days, Julie knew what she wanted. Nothing but racing held her interest. She began her career exercising horses at Churchill Downs and was racing in a year. Eventually earning over $80 million in purses, Julie made more than 3,500 trips to the winner's circle. She retired as the top female jockey in the history of horse racing. After racing, Julie turned to work in television broadcasting as a race analyst. 1999 Cowgirl Honoree

Rose Wilder Lane

The daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose was a gifted child academically. She left home at seventeen to work for Western Union, then began a successful but short-lived real estate venture. Rose began a literary career as a feature writer for the San Francisco Bulletin. Leaving that job to work for the Red Cross, Rose traveled the world and wrote of her adventures, gaining national attention. She also served as mentor and patron of her mother's works. Montana, California, Connecticut; 1984 Cowgirl Honoree

Vera McGinnis

Unlike many of her peers, Vera was not born on a ranch, but her athletic ability made her a natural when she discovered the rodeo. Beginning her career as an impromptu relay rider, she soon took up trick riding, bronc and bull riding and Roman racing, winning at all events. A celebrated rider, Vera's most famous trick was the under-the-belly crawl at full speed. Touring with rodeo shows, she performed in Canada, Europe, Asia and the United States. 1979 Cowgirl Honoree

Sherri Mell

Sherri Mell began competing in junior rodeos at age four and never tired of the challenges and thrills of the arena. At thirteen she won her first saddle, and over the next thirty plus years she claimed wins in a number of rodeo events While many cowgirls specialize in just one or two key rodeo events, Sherri enters and often wins an array of rodeo and horse show competitions, but is best known for leading the nation in non-pro calf roping since 1990. In addition, she taught physical education at a San Antonio elementary school, earning the Teacher of the Year Award in 1996. Sherri was also nominated San Antonio's Hometown Hero in 2000 for her work with youth. 2004 Cowgirl Honoree

Patsy Montana

Patsy was the first woman to sell a million records with I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart. The eleventh child and first daughter of an Arkansas farmer, Patsy learned to yodel and play the organ, guitar and violin. Beginning her career in radio in California, she worked rodeos and country programs with the Prairie Ramblers and the Sons of the Pioneers. She wrote more than 200 songs and was recognized worldwide.1987 Cowgirl Honoree

Beverly Sparrowk

Beverly Sparrowk, a champion barrel racer during the 1960s, became a leading cattle rancher and conservationist. She was director of the Girl's Rodeo Association in 1972 and the first female president of the Foundation Beefmaster Association. She won the Chuck Yeager Award from the National Fish and Wildlife Association and continues to be recognized as a top cattle rancher. 2008 Cowgirl Honoree

Wilma Standard Tate

Known as the Texas Tomboy during her rodeo career, Wilma taught herself to rope using a rented donkey for practice. She became a champion roper and trick rider, dazzling audiences with her Roman riding act and her skill with a horse. She also trained and showed cutting horses before establishing her own riding school in California, sharing her knowledge of the show ring with her students. She has won worldwide acclaim for her skill as a teacher. Lived in Oklahoma, California; 1985 Cowgirl Honoree

Alice Van-Springsteen

From her debut as a trick rider in 1930 through her later competitions in trick, fancy and relay riding, Alice performed in major rodeos from New York to Australia. A world champion trick rider, Alice was only the second woman to receive a trainer's license. She eventually began working in the movie industry, becoming one of the most sought-after stunt riders in Hollywood. Alice appeared in many films and television programs as a stunt double.1998 Cowgirl Honoree

Sheila Varian

Sheila Varian made her mark on the Arabian horse community, from her first champion mare, Rotenza, to the Varian Arabians she breeds today. Using three mares imported from Poland in 1961, Sheila's breeding program has risen to worldwide acclaim and she is currently the leading breeder of Arabians in the United States and Canada. She has been awarded the Arabian Breeder of the Year by the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horseman's Association four times. In 2001, she received the Ellen Scripps David Memorial Breeder's Award from USA Equestrian. 2003 Cowgirl Honoree

Sydna Yokley Woodyard

Sydna was one of the founders of the American Quarter Horse Association and a noted quarter horse breeder, but it was her rodeo career that brought her fame. Raised on a Texas ranch, she was a top-notch calf roper and trick rider in the 1940s and 1950s whose performances at Madison Square Garden and Boston caught the attention of Hollywood and the most popular national magazines, helping to popularize women's roping contests. 1977 Cowgirl Honoree

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