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COWGIRL Iconic: Blanche McGaughey

All eyes were on the cowgirl. "Scar Leg" did his best, bucking and kicking furiously, but Blanche rode like an Amazon.

February 20, 2020

Bronc rider and bulldogger Blanche McGaughey sat in the chute atop a fierce Quarter Horse named Scar Leg. “Wait a minute,” she told the cowboys sitting on either side of the gate. She smiled at the men as she tucked an embroidered handkerchief in her belt. “I don’t want to lose my powder puff,” she told them. “Does your nose need some nose paint?” one of the men remarked handing her the halter rope. The mount was released into the arena before she could respond. All eyes were on the cowgirl. Scar Leg did his best, bucking and kicking furiously, but Blanche rode like an Amazon.

Blanche’s talent for riding and roping cattle was perfected at an early age on her father’s Wyoming ranch. “When I was only 8 years old, I thought nothing of riding an Indian pony that had never been saddled or bridled,” she told a newspaper reporter at the Allentown Leader in Pennsylvania in July 1914. “The cowpunchers who worked the spread always let me in on the fun when there were cattle to be rounded up. There’s no place I’d rather be than the back of a horse.”

Blanche’s love of riding led to a job with the 101 Wild West Show. In addition to bronc busting and trick roping, she also wrestled Texas longhorn steers. Her fellow performers credited her with nightly creating the “biggest thrill delivered to the audience.” Blanche was devoid of nerves, strongly built, and never failed to get a “fall” out of the animal. Rodeo goers were in awe of her ability.

“The trick looks easy,” Blanche explained to the Allentown Leader reporter, “but I can assure you it is no child’s play to bring a steer to its knees and then make it turn over. Sometimes the steer will yield after a little vigorous effort, but often it requires not only the utmost brute strength, but also an infinite amount of patience and diplomacy to bring the animal down.”

Blanche consistently won top honors at the Pendleton and Cheyenne rodeos and was recognized as the champion woman bronc buster of the northwest in 1912 and 1913.

The cowgirl suffered through a number of injuries on the road to the title. She fractured her leg while relay racing at a show in Oregon and broke her wrist at a bulldogging contest in Wyoming. During a daring performance at a rodeo in Winnipeg, Snake, the bronc Blanche was riding, threw himself to the ground and rolled over on her, crushing her foot.

Blanche had a reputation for being just as tough outside the rodeo arena as she was inside it. She traveled with several, well-known women riders including Prairie Rose Henderson, Ruth Roach, and Vera McGinnis. In early 1913, Blanche got annoyed with Vera on one of their road trips and let her know how she felt about the cowgirl. The verbal altercation escalated with Blanche referring to Vera as a “chippy.” The pair settled their differences with a fistfight near the horse stalls at Madison Square Garden.

Blanche retired from the rodeo profession in 1917, shortly after being named as a co-respondent in a divorce suit filed in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

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