A strong gust of wind blew a pair of tumbleweeds into the path of a team of horses hitched to a wagon. It spooked the animals, and they reared and bucked and then bolted. The gray-haired woman holding the reins of the team screamed. The wagon pitched and swayed as the horses jerked it around. The woman cried out for help.Suddenly a magnificent stallion was hurrying toward the out-of-control wagon. The confident horseback rider, adorned in buckskin britches and a jacket, spurred the stallion along until it caught up to the team. Springing forward, the rider leapt out of the saddle and landed on the back of one of the horses. The brave rider swerved the team out of the path of a group of townspeople just as they were leaving a church. A shout went up from the onlookers. The lady driving the wagon regained her composure and pulled back on the reins. The daring horseback rider helped quiet the team to a stop.A thunderous round of applause echoed around them. The lady in the wagon stood up, removed the gray wig on her head, and took a bow. The rider dismounted, removed her cowboy hat, and waved to the crowd of spectators. The audience that had assembled to witness the performances in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was not disappointed by the expert display of horsemanship exhibited by the high-riding Parry sisters. Ethyle and Juanita Parry were known as the famous cowgirl twins and were a major attraction to Bill Cody’s program in the early 1900s. Historical records differ on whether or not the two were born in Oklahoma and raised in Riverhead, Long Island, or if it was the other way around. What is certain is that the Parrys left home when they were teenagers to find their fortune. Their love for horses and their ability to ride well led them to a job with one of Buffalo Bill’s rival shows, the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West production.In 1916 Cody and the Miller Brothers combined their shows, giving the twins an even bigger audience to entertain. Among the Wild West cast and crew, the twins were called the Cossack Girls because they performed all the reckless and daring feats of horsemanship attributed to the Russian Cossack cavalry men.The twins were adept at riding wild broncos and were exceptional ropers. Newspaper reviews hailing the ladies’ performance at a show in Minnesota noted that not only could the Parrys ride well but “they were pretty and attractive, and nice to look at on or off a horse.”After a successful run with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the twins joined Barnum and Bailey’s Wild West program. During an exhibition in 1917, Juanita was thrown from a bronco and trampled to death. Ethyle never completely got over the loss of her sister. She retired from Wild West show business not long after the accident.Ethyle married Buffalo Bill’s nephew, William Cody Bradford, in 1921. She passed away from natural causes in 1942 at the age of seventy-three.
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.