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Cowboy Bill Pickett is credited with introducing the sport of bulldogging to rodeos in 1907. In bulldogging, the rider dashes after a madly fleeing steer, leans out from the saddle, and throws himself onto its horns, bringing the beast to the ground in a swirling scramble of dust and a half ton of flying beef. Often the steer is not thrown at once, and there ensues a battle between the sharp-horned steer and the barehanded rider until, if the rider wins, the steer lies prone.
Cowboys had been killed bulldogging and it was considered one of the most dangerous stunts of any rodeo. Most punchers believed the daredevil event too hazardous for women to take part. But cowgirl Fox Hastings thought otherwise. At the Houston Stock Show in 1924, Fox became the first woman to tackle the event at the prestigious rodeo. She managed to bring the steer down in 17 seconds.
The strong, young woman with nerves of steel learned the art of steer wrestling from the man who would become her husband, champion bulldogger Mike Hastings. Born in 1898 in Galt, California, Eloise Fox, more popularly known as Fox Hastings, was just fourteen years old when she decided she wanted to rope and ride. In 1912, she appeared at the State Fair Rodeo in Sacramento, competing in the bronc-riding exhibition and in the quarter-mile sprint at the California Roundup. She and her horse placed third in the event, finishing the race in 32 seconds.
A turning point in Fox’s career came in August 1916 at the New York Stampede at Sheepshead Bay Speedway in Brooklyn. Among the performers at the stampede was Bill Pickett. The 50-year-old legend delivered an impressive exhibition of steer wrestling. Fox watched him ride his horse into the arena after the steer at breakneck speed. She set her sights on being a lady bulldogger that day.
Fox and Mike Hastings were married in 1914 and he taught her everything he knew about bulldogging. The pair participated in rodeos across the country. At a rodeo in Joplin, Missouri in 1923, she demonstrated to the audience all she had learned about the sport, but she didn’t officially enter the bulldogging contest. From October 1923 to March 1924, Fox competed in trick-riding and roping events in rodeos from New York to Wyoming with such high-profile cowgirls as Louise Hartwig, Bea Kirnon, and Mable Strickland.
After her impressive showing at the Houston Stock Show in 1924, Fox competed against her male counterparts in bulldogging events at every rodeo she could. Billed as the “only lady bulldogger,” newspapers such as the Deadwood Pioneer-Times reported how “phenomenal” she was in the event. In time, she ceased being a mere novelty. She wasn’t killed and kept her nerve, and her bulldogging record became a string of fast throws without a miss. While waiting in the chute before a bulldogging event at the Pendleton Roundup in Oregon in 1925, Fox told newspaper reporters, “If I can just get my fanny out of the saddle and my feet planted, there’s not a steer that can last against me.”
Fox Hastings retired from bulldogging in 1936 and died 12 years later at the age of 50.