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July 24, 2011

'America's First Cowgirl'

July 24, 2011|By Marcia Lynch
  • "America's First Cowgirl"
"America's First Cowgirl" (J.H. Everett )

"Lucille, honey, you'll have to rip out all those stitches," her mother said. "They're all wrong."

Lucille shook her blond curls, and with her blue-gray eyes blazing angrily, threw the sewing down. "I hate this. I'm going to ride my pony."

Lucille rode all over her father's ranch — the Mulhall Cattle Ranch — which encompassed 80,000 acres in 1892. As she finished her ride, she heard, "Come over here, Lucille. "Let's practice your roping skills," Tom, one of the ranch hands said.

At 7 and small for her age, Lucille was determined to learn to toss a lariat, a long rope with a noose at the end. Tom showed her how to hold the rope and twirl it over and over her head before landing it around the neck of the penned-up steer.

"I did it! I roped that steer," she yelled. She ran over to it and removed the lasso while several ranch hands smiled.

Early the next morning, Lucille asked, "Dad, will you let me ride one of your horses? I'm not afraid of how big it is."

After a few circles around the fenced-in practice area, her dad said, "You and Governor can be a team."

After that, cowboys on the ranch were always willing to teach Lucille about lassoing.

"Lucille, to celebrate your 13th birthday today, I'm going to challenge you," her dad said as they walked to the barn.

Her eyes lit up as she asked, "What's the challenge?"

"You can keep as many of my steers as you can rope in one day. Do you think you can get 10?"

Lucille grinned.

By the end of the day, Lucille, dusty and flushed with happiness, shook her dad's hand. "It took me all day, but I got more than 10, Dad. I think I roped more than 300!"

Her dad gave her a hug, "I'm proud of you!'

On the Fourth of July in 1900 when she was fifteen, Lucille performed at a cowboy tournament in front of 25,000 people.

"I lassoed the wildest steer of all of them," she proudly exclaimed.

Lucille's life changed when President Teddy Roosevelt visited the ranch and saw Lucille perform. After the show he met her father and said, "You ought to put her on the stage and let the world see what she can do."

At 15, dressed in a long skirt, western style shirt, a Mexican style sombrero on her head, and her cowhide lasso in her hand, she competed in roping contests and Wild West shows for four years. Her father organized these shows.

She won numerous gold medals and trophies for roping and became the World's Champion Lady Roper. Will Rogers, a famous roper himself, wrote that Lucille Mullhall was America's First Cowgirl.

In 1905, at Madison Square Garden in New York, Lucille lassoed and tied three steers in three minutes and 36 seconds. The older cowboys couldn't beat her time and applauded her when she was awarded the Championship Gold Medal and $10,000.00. She was then known as Queen of the Range.

Lucille not only knew how to ride and use the lasso, but she loved Governor so much that she taught him forty amazing tricks. Together, they put on shows in the U.S. and Europe.

"My system of training consists of three things — patience, perseverance and gentleness which is the most important."

She taught Governor to lie down with his forelegs crossed, put on a man's coat and take it off again, and walk upstairs and down again. These tricks and many others, amazed audiences wherever they performed.

Lucille retired in 1917 at age 32 when Wild West moving pictures were more popular than Wild West shows.

Lucille Mulhall was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame as America's First Cowgirl.

Special thanks to J. H. Everett for his illustration. To see more of his work, visit jheverett.com.

For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids.

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