Fannie Sperry Steele is another real cowgirl like Lucille Mulhall who lived around the same time, 1887-1983. I wonder if they ever met and shared stories. I bet that would make for some great tales to tell around the campfire out on the range.
Cowgirl Bucking Champion
As the title says Fannie became the first lady bucking horse champion, not only at the Calgary Stampede that day, but of the world. The event took place on September 1, 1912. Fannie drew the bucking horse, Red Wing who had recently killed a cowboy bronco rider.
For her effort of staying aboard Red Wing, Fannie won $1000. in cash, a $300. gold belt buckle, and a hand-tooled saddle.
A few years later she was asked if she was scared to ride Red Wing. She said, “You just forget about being scared when you ride horses.”
Fannie won many other awards during her rodeo career. In 1904 at age 17 she won the Woman’s Bucking Horse Champion of Montana. Later in life she was brought into the Rodeo Hall of Fame of the National Country and Western Heritage Museum in 1975. She was the first cowgirl born in Montana to be entered into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1978.
Author Dee Marvine wrote a book about Fannie called The Lady Rode Bucking Horses. The front of the book shows a picture of Fannie riding one of the bucking horses; her hand in the air and her braid catching the wind.
Fannie’s whole life was being a cowgirl. She came by her love of horses from her mother Rachel who taught her to ride. They both preferred the Pinto horse.
She was proud of the fact she rode her entire rodeo career “slick”. This means she didn’t have the stirrups tied together under the horse like the other cowgirls rode.
The Cowgirl Marries Her Cowboy
On April 30, 1913 Fannie married her cowboy, Bill Steele. He was a rodeo rider and clown who helped the bull riders get away safely from the bulls after their ride.
Fannie and her husband started their own Wild West show and traveled all over Montana until retiring in 1925. After that they settled on their ranch in Helmville, Montana. She got to use all her roping and riding skills in running the ranch.
They took guests out on hunting trips too.
Horses In Heaven
Fannie lived to be 96. She’s the one who said, “If there are not horses in heaven, I do not want to go there.” I’d read that quote or heard it somewhere, but didn’t know who said it.
She continued, “But I believe there will be horses in heaven as surely as God will be there, for God loved them or He would not have created them with such majesty.”
The last time Fannie competed was in Bozeman in 1925. She still could be seen riding in exhibitions at 50 years old and older.
She finally gave up her horses and saddle for good at the age of 87 in 1974 when she had to move to a rest home in Helena Montana.
She was one tough cowgirl riding broncs, riding in wild west shows, running a ranch; Fannie did it all with style and the cowgirl spirit.
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