Twenty-nine-year-old Florence LaDue laid on her back in the middle of a rodeo arena in Alberta, Canada, twirling a lasso. It was July 1910 and the crowd in the stands watching her work were cheering and whistling. The trick the petite cowgirl was preparing to do was to throw a wide loop over a rider and his horse as they galloped by. Florence had already thrilled the spectators roping six running horses with a single twirl of her lariat. She’d also performed the difficult feat of tying a double hitch in slackened rope with two movements of her wrists and demonstrated her agility and endurance jumping through a loop from side to side. There wasn’t much doubt she could successfully pull off the next stunt from a prone position, but the audience watched with rapt anticipation.
She spun the rope, tossed it high in the air and it landed around the cowboy and his Pinto. She then jumped to her feet and pulled the rope tight around the two. The fans erupted in applause. She waved at them and bowed appreciatively. For more than twenty years, Florence competed against some of the most accomplished cowgirls in the business for trick and fancy roping championship titles – with few exceptions she won the contests she entered. It’s for that reason she’s recognized as “the greatest woman trick and fancy rope of all time.”
The talented roper was born Grace Maud Bensel on June 27, 1883, in Chippewa County, Minnesota. Her mother died when she was a little girl, and she was raised by her father who was a farmer. When she was in her teens, she ran away from home and, at some point, signed on with the Cummins Wild West Show and Indian Congress and changed her name.
While perfecting her roping and riding act at a show in Chicago in 1905, she met a cowboy performer from Canada named George “Guy” Weadick. The two fell in love and were married on November 17, 1906. For the first five years of their marriage Florence and her husband were constantly on the move. They worked with John P. Kirk’s Elite Vaudeville Co. and appeared with Will Rogers in Will Rogers’ Wild West Show. They performed at the Keith-Albee Theater, the Orpheum, and the Pantages, and appeared on Broadway in the show Wyoming Days. The couple also shared their talent with overseas audiences in Glasgow, London, and Paris.
By mid-1911, Florence was working with the Miller Brothers 101 Show and squaring off against their star performer America’s First Cowgirl, Lucille Mulhall. In September 1912, Florence beat out Lucille at the Calgary Stampede Rodeo and was named woman’s champion in fancy and trick roping. She maintained that title until she retired in 1927.
Once Florence stopped competing, she dedicated herself to helping him run the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Rodeo and the Stampede Guest Ranch, the first guest ranch in Canada.
Florence LaDue passed away on August 9, 1951, in Alberta, Canada. She was sixty-eight-years-old.
To learn more about the remarkable women whose names resounded in rodeo arenas across the nation in the early twentieth century read the new book Along Came a Cowgirl: Daring and Iconic Women of Rodeos and Wild West Shows by Chris Enss.