fox hastings cowgirl magazine

Cowboy Bill Pickett is credited with introducing the sport of bulldogging to rodeos in 1907.  In bulldogging, the rider dashes after a mad, fleeing steer; leans out from the saddle; throws himself onto the steer’s horns; and bringing the beast to the ground in a swirling scramble of dust and a half a pound of flying beef.  Often the steer is not thrown at once and there ensues a battle between the sharp-horned steer and the barehanded rider until, if the rider wins, the steer lies prone.  

Cowboys have been killed bulldogging, and for decades it has been considered one of the most dangerous stunts performed at rodeos.  Early on, punchers had determined the daredevil event too hazardous for women to take part, but cowgirl Fox Hastings thought otherwise.  At the Houston Stock Show in 1924, Fox became the first woman to tackle the event at that prestigious rodeo.  She managed to bring the steer down in seventeen seconds.

The strong young woman with nerves of steel learned the art of steer wrestling from the man who would become her husband, champion bulldogger Mike Hastings.  Born in 1898 in Galt, California, Eloise Fox (aka Fox Hastings) was just fourteen years old when she decided she wanted to rope and ride.  In 1912, she appeared at the state fair rodeo in Sacramento, competing in the bronc riding exhibition and in the quarter mile sprint at the California Roundup.  Finishing the race in thirty-two seconds, she and her horse placed third in the event.  

While appearing at rodeos from Reno, Nevada, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, she met a variety of influential people who doted on her talent.  Not the least of those individuals was Charles Irwin.  The Missouri born rancher, rodeo cowboy, and showman established a Wild West show from his home in Wyoming that mirrored Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show.  After witnessing Eloise’s work in the saddle, he hired the teenager to be a regular in his program.  Eloise was one of several cowgirls who gave daring riding exhibitions and demonstrations of her rope twirling skills.  

Charles Irwin wasn’t the only one who saw something special in Eloise.  Another member of the show’s cast recognized the skill she possessed.  Champion bulldogger Paul Raymond “Mike” Hastings noticed her fearlessness on the back of a wild bronc and was attracted to her courage and sense of adventure.  Born in 1891 in Casper, Wyoming, Hastings, too, left home at an early age and joined the rodeo.  The first rodeo in which he appeared was in 1910 in Laramie, Wyoming.  In addition to bulldogging, he took part in the calf roping and bronc riding events.  After teaching Eloise all he knew about steer wrestling, the pair wed in 1914.  She then changed her name to Fox Hastings.  The two competed in various contests in rodeos across the country.  Mike set new records in the bulldogging sport, while Fox did the same in the categories for women such as bronc riding.  She was billed as the “Bucking Horse Champion of Cheyenne.”  

A turning point in Fox’s career occurred in August 1916 at the New York Stampede at Sheepshead Bay Speedway in Brooklyn.  Among the performers at the stampede was Bill Pickett.  The fifty-year-old grandfather delivered an impressive exhibition of steer wrestling.  Fox watched him ride his horse into the arena after the steer at neck-breaking speed.  He jumped to the horns of the Texas steer and threw the animal in twenty-six seconds, the fastest time she’d ever seen.  She appreciated all her husband had taught her about the sport and dreamed of combining the skill Mike had shown her with what she witnessed Pickett doing.  She set her sights on becoming a bulldogger that day.

In addition to the privilege of watching Bill Pickett work, the stampede at Sheepshead Bay Speedway was memorable to Fox for another reason.  The number of rodeo stars scheduled to perform was staggering, and Fox was honored to be among them.  

“All told, there were 350 in the party of Westerners, and today the second body will reach here, this party numbering 200,” an article about the rodeo in the August 1, 1916, edition of the Standard Union read.  “Traveling in two special trains, the participants for the world’s championship in Western sports arrived over the Pennsylvania Railroad from Cheyenne.  The first section was made up of the cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians.  In the second section were the horses and cattle.  These included 335 horses, wild outlaw animals, to be used in the wild horse races, 340 bucking horses, 250 horses for use in saddle entries and relay races, and 375 longhorn steers.  All the animals were kept in the cars and taken by floats to Long Island  City, and then by the Long Island Railroad to Sheepshead Bay, where they were put in corrals.  

“When the cowboys, cowgirls and Indians reached Manhattan, a parade up Broadway was started.  They went to the stampede headquarters at Forty-ninth Street and Broadway where everyone registered.  Among the cowboys were noted Scout Mash, who has won many bucking contests, Harry Walters, who lately won the bucking contest at Las Vegas, and Wild Bill Switzler, the champion roper.  With the girls were Eloise Fox Hastings, the bucking horse champion of Cheyenne, Prairie Rose, also a bucking horse rider, and Edith Irwin, who is a noted rider in the West.”

In addition to participating in rodeos in Texas to Canada, Brooklyn to Sacramento, Fox and her husband had the privilege of performing for well- known actors, politicians, and even royalty.  In July 1917, the couple took part in the Medicine Hat Stampede in Calgary.  In attendance was the Prince of Wales and other members of the British Royal Family.  The prince was a small boy, and he was in awe of the Hastings’ talents.  He requested and was granted, a backstage visit with the couple, and Mike gave him a ride on his horse.

In August 1923, the Hastinges appeared at the McCain Roundup in Barber County, Kansas.  The annual rodeo event attracted spectators from Oklahoma and Colorado as well as Kansas.  Fox performed a series of trick riding stunts and rode a couple of unruly horses in the bronc riding competition, finishing near the top of the contest.  Mike demonstrated his bulldogging skills to the ticket buyers winning top honors and the $100 purse.  The Hastinges bunked in a tent on the hillside at night not far from the rodeo arena.  In the evenings after the riding exhibitions, the pair would join the other competitors and townspeople on the dance floor which featured a live band.  During one of the dances, a trio of rowdy cowboys dared Fox to show them what her husband had taught her about steer wrestling.  Mike stepped in, promising the men his wife was an exceptional bulldogger and telling them that in time she would show the community the extent of her talent.

The question as to when Fox would indeed publicly attempt bulldogging followed her to the next rodeo in Joplin, Missouri, where she was to appear.  According to the September 27, 1923, edition of the Joplin Globe, Fox told reporters that until meeting her husband she thought a bulldogger “was some kind of canine.”  Mike encouraged his wife to string the press along in order to build anticipation for the time she did wrestle a steer in an exhibition.  From October 1923 to March 1924, Fox competed in trick riding and roping events with such high-profile cowgirls as Mable Strickland, Louise Hartwig, and Bea Kirnan.  Everywhere she performed, she was asked about whether she would become a bulldogger.  She was coy with her response, careful to give just enough information to keep reporters guessing.

On March 22, 1924, Fox Hastings granted audiences at an exhibition in Houston, Texas, the first look at her skill in a sport relegated solely to men.  “Fox Hastings, the only woman who ever attempted to bulldog a steer, threw a brute of a steer this afternoon in twenty-seven seconds,” a report in the March 24, 1924, edition of the Galveston Daily News noted.  “She was slightly injured during the effort when the steer fell on her left leg.  She had bruised the bone of her leg in one of her early trials last week, and since that time has been under care of a doctor, although she has bulldogged a steer in several of the rodeo performances.

“This afternoon when she started after the steer, just as she was about to throw herself on its neck, the animal halted, and the woman was carried past.  The steer was brought back, and she caught it in the second trial.  The steer fell on her and hurt her leg, and she was unable to hold it down.  The animal struggled back to its feet, but the injured woman hung on, and in a last burst of strength, downed it.”

Fox wrestled her next steer at a privately staged rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 15, 1924.  The woman bulldogger pulled the animal down in forty-six seconds.  She then signed a contract with the Shrine Club Rodeo to repeat the daring feat at an event in Bristow, Oklahoma, in May and at the Tri-State Roundup in July in South Dakota.  Billed as the “only lady bulldogger,” the June 7, 1924, edition of the Daily Deadwood Pioneer Times reported that she “mounts one of the fastest horses and speeds out in pursuit of the longhorn, leaps from the saddle, grasping the bovine by the horns and in a short but desperate hand to horn battle, subdues a wild steer many times her own weight, throwing the animal prone upon the ground.

“This 138-pound Western girl has made history in rodeo sports, has proven that a life in the open and in the saddle brings superhuman strength.  Picture if you will, a girl of this weight riding like the wind in pursuit of a wild and vicious longhorn, making a flying leap from the back of her cowpony to the head and horns of an infuriated steer and grasping the animal by the horns and engaging in a fierce wrestling match, pitting her skill and courage against vicious cunning and brute strength of an eight hundred pound steer, and you have an idea of the courage and daring of the Western girl who has recently launched into the daring sport of bulldogging.”

The dangers of the sport caught up with Fox in July 1927.  She broke her leg bulldogging, and that break kept her out of the rodeo arena for more than ten weeks.  If she recovered in time, she was expected to appear at the North of 36 Rodeo in Houston, Texas, in September.  Fox did recover and managed to participate in the event, breaking the steer’s horns in the process.  Before the end of the year, the fearless rider would become the first woman to bulldog at a major rodeo.  In time, Fox ceased to be a mere novelty.  She didn’t get killed or lose her nerve, and her bulldogging record became a chronicle of fast throws without a miss.  While waiting in the chute before an exhibition, Fox told reporters, “If I can just get my fanny out of the saddle and my feet planted, there’s not a steer that can last against me.”  

From Texas, Fox traveled to New York to ride in Tex Austin’s Rodeo at Madison Square Garden, then on to the Pendleton Roundup in Oregon, the DeMolay’s World Championship Cowboy Contest in Kansas City, and the Tucson Rodeo in Tucson, Arizona.  

The first time Fox competed in a bulldogging event against men was in early March 1925 at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth, Texas.  “No favoritism will be shown to this cowgirl,” an article in the February 10, 1925, edition of the Vernon Record read.  “Fox Hastings will be given a fair chance to do her stuff.  The popular rodeo star is the young lady who will powder her nose then fling herself from the back of her charging bronc into the horns of a swiftly moving steer.”

The coliseum where the exposition was held, located in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyard, was jammed with spectators the afternoon of the event.  More than six thousand enthusiastic rodeo fans scrambled to find a place to sit inside the arena, and many were turned away due to lack of seats.  “Save for a creditable bulldogging of a steer by Fox Hastings, announced as the ‘only lady bulldogger in the world,’ the steers and broncs probably came out with the palm for the afternoon,” the March 11, 1925, edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram announced.  “And Lady Fox herself was winded completely after a long tussle with the unchivalrous steer, though she was given a warm ovation.”  

Fox was in great demand after the Fort Worth event.  She was recognized from coast to coast as an entertainer who could “produce one of the biggest thrills of all whenever she appears on a rodeo program and goes about the business of conquering a steer ten times her weight.”  Newspaper reporters clamored for interviews with Fox, following her into any setting for a chance to speak with her.  On July 24, 1925, she welcomed journalists into her hospital room in Wichita, Kansas.  

“Fox Hastings, a slip of a girl who comes from way out West where women are women, is the heroine of the hour wherever riders and ropers gather for a rodeo,” a reporter with the Ardmore Daily Press later wrote about his time with the bulldogger.  “The reason is a painful exhibition of courageous grit she gave during the rodeo here.  Fox was given the title of the ‘world’s champion cowgirl’ at the last rodeo in Madison Square Garden, New York.  A marvelous rider, she gives thrilling exhibitions of steer bulldogging that make women scream and the men grow pale, her admirers say.  

“In leaping from her horse to grab a steer’s horns, she hit the ground with her leg twisted up under her, and the limb was broken.  Despite this, she downed and tied up the raging steer in the record time of 10 seconds.  Then she arose to her feet, waved at the awed crowd with a smile, and crumpled to the ground in a faint.  

“She is in a local hospital, very unhappy, because she must stay in bed while the rodeo season is at its height.  It will be months, doctors say, before she can dare to try to ride anymore wild bulls.  But Fox is willing to try it with her leg in bandages.”

The injury that led to Fox’s hospital stay happened at a rodeo in Wichita, Kansas.  It kept her from appearing at events where patrons had pre-purchased tickets just to see her.  Rodeo organizers scrambled to line up other attractions they hoped would be just as thrilling, but many ticket buyers demanded their money back if Fox was not going to be there.

By late fall 1925, Fox was back at work participating in rodeos from Florida to California.  At the Ascot Park Rodeo in Los Angeles in October, Fox was once again forced to withdraw from the bulldogging event due to an injury.  A steer trampled on her in front of the grandstands and rendered her unconscious.  

The itinerant lady bulldogger returned to competition in March 1926, appearing once again at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth.  Fox brought the crowd, who gathered to watch the rodeo, howling to its feet when she downed a burly steer in 9.45 seconds.  With such incredible time, Fox’s career soared even more than it had before.  She continued to participate in all the major rodeos on the circuit, thrilling audiences with her strength and agility.  “When I see that old steer come charging down the track,” she told a correspondent with the Coweta Times Star in Oklahoma, “I almost shudder with fright.  But in a moment, it is all over.  I leap from my horse and make a catch for the steer’s horns.  Then there is the tussle to pull the steer’s neck over and finally after I am successful the tonic of the applause from the grandstands.”  

At the age of twenty-eight, Fox Hastings was a cowgirl in high demand.  According to the July 4, 1926, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, her “bravery and daring” were the source of her popularity.  “Bulldogging, or steer wrestling, which even the cow country regards as too hazardous for their women folk, requires tremendous strength, superb daring and as much skill as any outdoor sport, and Fox Hastings excels in the sport,” the article read.  “When a man weighing 150 pounds tackles and throws a running steer weighing in the neighborhood of a half a ton, he must have developed all three combined with perfect coordination of hand and brain.  Yet Fox Hastings, weighing just 140 pounds, beat all records established by men competitors.

“Two cowgirls, two horses, and one bull are required for the bulldogging act.  One of the mounted girls is Miss Hastings, the other her assistant, or known otherwise as a hazer.  The bull is released from the chute between the two riders and immediately tears out at top speed down the field.  A length to the rear on the right gallops the assistant, whose sole duty is to keep the bull from swerving from her direction.  Then up from the rear tears Miss Hastings.  At the instant she is almost abreast of the running steer, she hurls herself from the saddle to grasp the horns of the animal.  If successful in making the leap, she swings her feet ahead of the bull, and when the latter’s head comes down the doggers’ feet are dug into the ground to act as a break to bring the steer to a stop.  Then slowly but surely the bull’s head is twisted until he drops to the ground.  Fox then throws up her hands, and the throw is considered complete.

“Few spectators can stay in their seats after watching her work.  They jump to their feet applauding.”

Fox’s bulldogging profession flourished, but her marriage to Mike Hastings began faltering in mid-1927.  He was jealous of her continued success and threatened by the younger male riders competing in the sport.  Mike was arrested for assaulting up-and-coming bulldogger Bob Belcher at a rodeo at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 1927.  Belcher’s wife, cowgirl Claire Belcher, accused Mike of putting oil of mustard on a steer she was bulldogging, causing her to be thrown and breaking two ribs.  Mike denied the act when confronted by Belcher and then punched Belcher in the eye when the man insisted his “time in the sport was over.”  Mike was fined $5 by the court and instructed to “get his temper under control.”  Fox would complain later he wasn’t able to do as the judge ordered and that over time, he grew more and more belligerent at home.  

Mike and Fox’s marriage limped along until the summer of 1929.  The pair separated shortly after his prize bulldogging horse, Stranger, died.  When the divorce was finalized, Fox began dating a nationally known rodeo star from Kansas named Charlie Wilson.  The two were married on October 23, 1929, in Manhattan, New York.  

Fox maintained her rodeo career after she married Charlie, but, for the first time in years, her interests extended beyond bulldogging.  She wanted to be an aviatrix.  In an interview with a reporter for the El Paso Evening Post, Fox shared that she had always been fascinated with planes and flying and that she wasn’t afraid of the idea of piloting a small engine craft.  She admitted to being truly afraid only once in her life.  “I was in Juarez competing in a rodeo when a man came up to me in the Keno Hall and tried to put his arm around me,” she told the newspaper reporter.  “When I had knocked him down the third time, the police arrested me and took me, fighting, to the police station.  I thought I was going to spend the night in jail, but my friends intervened in time.”

The Wilsons made their home in Winslow, Arizona, and the two rode the rodeo circuit together from 1930 to 1935.  In January 1936, Fox was hospitalized in Tucson, Arizona.  The illness with which she was suffering forced her to withdraw from competitions scheduled for the first half of the year.  In an interview with the Napa Journal, Fox let the public know she was anxious to bulldog again and assured readers that when feeling well she’d “much rather tackle a steer than a broom.”  

Fox spent twenty years of her life following the rodeo circuit.  She had been tossed from horse to horn and had suffered with concussions, broken legs, crushed ribs, and fractured arms.  “I wouldn’t give this up for any other life,” she told the Napa Journal reporter.  “I like the thrill when I match my 135 pounds against a half ton of brute force.  I like the feeling of triumph which surges through me when the animal falls to the ground.”  

Fox recovered briefly from the illness that kept her out of the arena in early 1936.  When the illness was determined to be tuberculosis, she gave up the rodeo and returned to her home in Arizona where Charlie devoted himself to her care.

On July 30, 1948, Charlie died of a heart attack.  He was forty-nine years old.  Fox was devastated.  Less than three months after Charlie’s death, the grieving widow decided to take her own life.  Fox died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Her body was found in a room she had rented at Hotel Adams in Phoenix.  According to the August 15, 1948, edition of the Arizona Republic, Fox left a note behind that read, “I don’t want to live without my husband.”  

Eloise Fox Hastings Wilson was fifty when she died.

The red-headed wrestler of longhorn steers tackled her job as daringly as the most skilled cowpuncher.  When she was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1987, Fox was celebrated not only for bulldogging, but bronc riding and trick riding as well.