Jo Monaghan: Mystery Cowgirl

Little Joe” Monaghan, Cowboy Joe, or Jo Monaghan the beautiful debutante; who was this young person who stayed mostly to themselves? It’s been written that this is a mystery that will never be solved.

Little Joe was born in 1848, and born a woman, but no one knew that till after she died and people were laying her out for her funeral.

She Preferred a Life of Solitude

It is not known why she lived this way and never told anyone who she really was. Maybe it was a lost love, or the fact she rather live like a man. What ever her reasons, Jo left a legacy of kindness and courteousness and the respect of people who knew her along with a few friends.

She was hardly five feet tall, but she made a name for herself as a horseman, a rancher, and several other occupations. She made a few friends along the way, was always likable and friendly, but never liked to gamble or carouse. She would work along side the men, but never bathed around them or slept close to them. She was careful about keeping her secret to her grave.

Ruby City, Idaho

She preferred taking care of her cows, chickens, and hogs in Ruby City, Idaho. After a ten year stint of this lifestyle, Little Joe became a sheepherder. Finally she found work as a horse trainer. Although in those days I believe they referred to it as breaking a wild horse. Stories are still told of how Little Joe could tame any horse she came in contact with.

Rockville, Idaho

When Little Joe found herself in Rockville, Idaho, she fell in love with the area. Jo settled down on a homestead and raised cattle. Though she liked to keep to himself, she still would vote in elections and even filled a seat as a juror at times. She wouldn’t have been able to do that if the town people knew she was a woman.

In 1897 she became involved in a Wild West show and rode any wild horse brought to the show.

On Film

When a film company heard about the little cowboy and the techniques used to handle a horse, they came and filmed her riding the broncos. When the show ended for the season Little Joe went back home to Rockville and never returned. It just wasn’t her thing and she refused any offers to come back.

Her Last Days

In 1903 while driving her cattle, Little Joe became sick and was taken to a neighboring ranch where the wife, Mrs. Malloy took care of her as best she could, but Little Joe died.

This was sad news that spread fast. Friends gathered to prepare the body for burial and funeral. Then and only then was it discovered that Little Joe was really a woman.

The Mystery Still Lives

There are a couple of answers to who she was and why she lived the way she did, but none of them were ever answered for sure. The one that seems closest to the truth is that she was an unwed mother who left her son in the care of her sister. Then she rode off into the wilds of Idaho to become Little Joe the cattleman, horseman and one of the toughest and truest cowgirls of the west.

Before I published this I found that Jo’s story has been told in a movie called The Ballad of Little Jo. The movie came out in 1993 and starred Suzy Amis as Jo. Has anyone seen this movie? I haven’t, but it sounds like it might be good.

What more can be said about Little Jo? She was a person who didn’t cause any trouble, took care of herself, worked hard, was a loner, but gave of what she had when asked. Apparently she didn’t ask much in return, just to live her life on her terms like any cowgirl would.

Thank you for stopping by. Hope you enjoyed reading about Little Jo. Please leave a comment or ask a question. I’ll do my best to answer.

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