More than 117 years ago, the first cowgirl bronc rider “crashed the gate” to compete in the Cheyenne Frontier Days. When Prairie Rose Henderson demanded she ride back in August 1901, the cowpunching judges went into a huddle and decided there was no law against it. With that daring ride, Prairie Rose Henderson became one of the first professional women athletes in the world. The prize she won that day was a 45 dollar saddle. The talented young woman would go on to win countless cowgirl bucking contests.
She was born Ann Robbins in the 1870s and was raised on a Wyoming ranch where she learned to rope and ride. She enjoyed performing dazzling feats of skill from the back of a horse. Not only did she excel at bareback bronc events, but she was a fierce relay and flat racer. By the time she was in her late 20s, she was one of the foremost cowgirl bronc riders in the Westland ranges.
Prairie Rose suffered several job-related injuries. In September 1920, she was participating in a rodeo in Kansas when the bronc she was riding got away, ran to the corner of the grounds and into a tree. Rose’s head hit the tree and two of her front teeth were knocked out. She managed to stay on the horse and continued riding.
Prairie Rose was a champion rider with an exceptional sense of fashion. She designed her own clothes that were adorned with feathers, furs, sequins and chiffon. Her signature garment was full, puffed, Turkish-style pants that gathered just below the knee. Her creative costumes increased her popularity with rodeo fans.
In addition to riding in the rodeo circuit Rose also performed in Wild West shows and in silent Westerns.
In 1932, Prairie Rose was riding to a rodeo competition near Rawlins, Wyoming, when she was caught in a violent snowstorm. Friends and relatives spent weeks searching for Rose but couldn’t find her. Six and a half years after her disappearance her skeleton was found by a fire firefighter working in the area. Her remains were identified by the championship belt buckle around her waist.