The mesmerized onlookers lining the dusty streets in Denver, Colorado, in 1913 were treated to a grand Wild West entourage. The crowd cheered as Buffalo Bill proudly led his cast and crew down the thoroughfare toward the parade field where they would be performing. The lengthy caravan consisted of 181 horses, eighteen buffalo, elk, donkeys, the Deadwood stagecoach, high-riding cowboys, brave Indian warriors, and a select group of women known as Cody’s American Amazons.
The ladies who made up the American Amazon act possessed a variety of talents, all of which were guaranteed to “thrill and entertain” audiences. Perhaps the best-known Amazon was the charming Goldie Griffith. Griffith was a gifted horsewoman with a flamboyant reputation. She was a wrestler as well as a rider. Often times called a “heller in skirts,” she fascinated the public with her bronco-riding stunts. In a display of independence, Griffith boldly rode her favorite pony up the steps of Grant’s Tomb during a Wild West Show parade in New York. A delighted crowd wildly applauded her audacious act.
Lillian Ward was another daring bronco rider with the Amazons. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lillian learned to ride after relocating to Texas while she was in her twenties. Her equestrian skills were discovered by Cody himself. After watching her ride a particularly cantankerous horse that most men refused to sit, Cody recruited her for his show.
Expert riders Adele Von Ohl Parker and Mabel Hackney added trick riding to the American Amazon repertoire. Adele’s mother taught her to ride as a child, and she quickly excelled at the sport. After touring with the Buffalo Bill show, she used her riding experience in motion pictures, working as a stunt rider.
Sidesaddle rider Mabel Hackney joined Bill Cody’s program in 1898. The sidesaddle she used to ride her trick ponies Vardius and Diamond was a gift from Annie Oakley.
Rounding out the host of bronco riders and trick ropers in the Amazon cast was a dark-eyed beauty known as Miss Victoria. The petite woman from Spain would ride a white steed out into the arena, dismount, and swallow swords, some of which were even on fire.
Buffalo Bill called Amazon performers a “mixture of feminine delicacy and masculine will.” They were a key asset to his show and were hailed by critics as “fine representations of the contribution women made in helping to shape the Wild West.”
Chris Enss is the COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West. For more stories about these wild women, visit www.chrisenss.com for more information on her books.