The word cowgirl originally emerged in the early 19th century. However, unlike the term cowboy, which defined a man as one who tended cows, herded cattle or worked in rodeos, the term cowgirl embodied an emboldened, pioneering spirit.
That is perhaps, because in those days it was virtually unheard of for a woman to perform the tasks of a cowboy. However, that didn’t stop some women in history from trying their hand at ‘man’s work.’
Some of the earliest examples of cowgirls in history are also the most recognized among American culture. Names like Annie Oakley and Belle Starr were legendary long before their stories made the big screen.
Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth Chrisman at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska, 1886. (Solomon D. Butcher/Library of Congress)
Sadie Austin in Cherry County, Nebraska, in 1900. (Library of Congress)
Calamity Jane at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, circa 1901. (Library of Congress)
‘A True Girl of the West’, Del Rio, Texas, 1906. (George Bancroft Cornish/DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University)
Lucille Mullhall at 101 Ranch, Oklahoma, in 1909. (Library of Congress)