On Saturday, July 1, 1916, at the Passing of the West rodeo in Butte, Montana, it appeared all the wild, outlaw horses had been saved for the lady riders. It took cowboys ten minutes to corral and saddle the cantankerous animal cowgirl Peggy Warren was to ride. The horse reared and bucked, kicked and plunged, and fought against the harness and the blind. When Peggy finally climbed onto his back and raced out of the chute, the horse threw himself backwards in a vicious lunge. In a masterful display of grit and determination, Peggy held on and stayed in the saddle despite the horse’s extraordinary exhibition of bucking. It was that kind of bold riding that earned Peggy the reputation for being one of the most daring equestriennes of the West.
Born Hazel Agnes Wedderien in California in September 1889, Peggy learned to ride at an early age, and, by the time she was in her late teens, she was recognized as an expert hobbled stirrup rider. She was fearless on the back of a horse. She could ride standing in the saddle, a trick known as the hippodrome; and balance on one foot and perform death defying tricks such as the Death Drag, a trick where the rider hangs upside down from her horse.
Between 1912 and 1916, Peggy participated in the Pendleton Roundup, the Calgary Stampede, the Winnipeg Stampede, and the Los Angeles Rodeo. In addition to bronco busting, she competed in relay and pony races. From atop her horse Babe Lee, Peggy dazzled audiences with her fast riding and trick roping.
She was married twice and began her career using her first husband’s name. Billed as Hazel Walker, she performed alongside other celebrated female rodeo stars such as Fanny Sperry Steele, Lucille Mulhall, and Vera McGinnis. Her second husband was first-class bulldogger Frank Warren. After the pair wed, Hazel changed her name to Peggy Warren.
Peggy won numerous rodeo championships, sustaining more than a few injuries along the way. She was the victim of many sprained ankles, fractured ribs, and broken wrists. One of her most serious injuries occurred in October 1916 at a rodeo in Great Falls, Montana, while participating in an event called the “race for a bride.” Peggy was in the lead, but, in no time, other riders caught up to her. As the riders flanked her on either side her horse spooked, stumbled, fell, and rolled on top of her. She was left unconscious on the ground. “Any ride can end badly,” Peggy later remarked to a reporter at the Great Falls Tribune. “If nothing is broken, you shake it off and get back in the race as fast as you can.”
Peggy Warren retired from rodeo riding in the early 1920s and lived out the rest of her life with her family in Garfield County, Washington.
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.