Some women were just born to the occupation of rodeo performer, trick rider and roper, and Nancy Bragg Witmer was one of those women. Nancy first rode into the rodeo arena to dazzle fans with her talents in 1939. The Kansas native perfected her roping and riding skills as a member of the Tulsa Mounted Troops. The organization trained ambitious young women and men in the art of calf roping and pole bending, a timed event that featured a horse and one mounted rider running a weaving, or serpentine, path around six poles arranged in a line.
While with the Tulsa Mounted Troops (her parents had moved to Oklahoma when Nancy was a child), Nancy caught the eye of well-known equestrian and roping instructor Hank Linton. Linton worked with promising riders to prepare them for an opportunity to work in Wild West shows. Florence Hughes Fenton Randolph, an outstanding trick and bronc rider, was another one of Nancy’s instructors. Florence stuntdoubled in Hollywood films for famous actresses in scenes requiring horses jumping over obstacles or ditches. Everything Nancy learned about dazzling fans and moviegoers from atop a horse she learned from the best in the trade.
By the age of sixteen, Nancy was recognized as the nation’s premier trick rider. In addition to studying roping and riding, she trained as a dancer and excelled in tap and acrobatic movement. Combining her expertise in dance with her riding aptitude, she invented a maneuver that became her signature stunt in the rodeo ring. Known as “the falling tower” the stunt involved standing in the saddle and doing a backbend while the horse was running at full speed.
Nancy performed “the falling tower” for thousands of enthusiastic fans at rodeo arenas in New York, Boston, Denver, Fort Worth, Tulsa, and Chicago throughout the 1940s. During her time riding in such prestigious rodeos, she appeared with celebrities such as singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, singer-songwriter Bob Wills, and baseball legend Babe Ruth.
In 1950, Nancy began competing in barrel racing, calf-roping, and cow-cutting events. She did this while continuing to trick ride. She won several championships, including the coveted GRA World Champion Cutting Horse title, and was consistently ranked high in rodeo competitions. Nancy’s daring exploits in the arena were caught on film in 1954 and aired in the I Love Lucy episode entitled “Lucy Goes to the Rodeo.”
A serious accident during a show at Madison Square Garden in 1956 forced her to retire from the profession at the age of thirty. Four years after putting away her rope and saddle, Nancy married William Bragg, and the couple had three children.
Nancy was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1999. She passed away in 2014 at the age of eighty-seven.