Twenty-three-year-old Marie Gibson straddled a cantankerous bronco waiting inside a chute at the Havre Stampede in Havre, Montana. It was July 1917, and this ride would be the cowgirl’s first as a professional. Long, black curls dangled from the wide sombrero atop her head, and she wore men’s riding breeches and a flamboyant silk shirt to match. When the onery bronc was set free, he bolted into the rodeo arena kicking and bucking. Marie held on, refusing to be thrown. She placed third in the women’s bucking contest but promised to return the following year to beat the riders that finished first and second – Fanny Sperry Steele and Fox Hastings.
Marie Antoinette Massoz Dumont Gibson was born in Holland, Manitoba, Canada, on August 18, 1894. Her father operated a stable and trained horses at their family home in North Dakota. Marie learned to break horses at an early age and had a natural talent for trick riding. When she was sixteen, she married a businessman named Wilford Joseph Dumont and the couple moved to Canada. They had three children and when their marriage ended in 1916, Marie moved to Montana and found work on a ranch in Havre. It was there she honed her riding skills and learned to rope steers.
After her debut at the Havre Stampede, Marie went to Canada where she rode in more than a dozen rodeos. She was the sole supporter for her family and, in an effort to add to her winnings, she often announced that for a collection from the audience she would ride any horse brought into the arena. Marie was hired to perform with several Wild West shows and traveled all over the world demonstrating her trick riding skills.
Marie married professional bronc rider Tom Gibson in 1919. Five years after their wedding, Tom was involved in a car crash that left him crippled. Marie became the sole supporter for her family. She participated in several rodeos winning titles in steer riding and the money that went along with it. A series of minor accidents while taking part in bronc riding events left her with permanent injuries that required her to use a cane when she walked. But Marie did not let the disability come between her and taking part in various rodeos. She was named Women’s World Bronc Riding Champion at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1925.
In 1931, after winning her third championship, she was badly hurt at a rodeo in Great Falls, Montana, when she was thrown from a horse called Scar Face. As she was coming out of the chute, her foot caught in the fence, tearing her boot almost off her foot. Marie lost her balance and was thrown violently. The horse then turned and struck her with both feet. The next day she rode with a bandaged head.
The plucky champion didn’t fear injury or death. When a reporter asked her about the many times she had been hurt riding she simply said, “It’s to be expected, but the sport is in one’s blood. It’s also a fine way to earn a living.”
Marie Gibson died on September 23, 1933, when her ride accidentally fell on her at a rodeo in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She was thirty-nine years old.