Ruth Roach Cowgirl Magazine


The stylish lobby of the Texas Hotel in Fort Worth was a bustle of activity on Saturday, March 11, 1922.  Well-dressed patrons were arriving and departing.  A string quartet in the corner of the massive entryway serenaded white-haired, prosperous looking gentlemen and their stocky, bejeweled wives being escorted to their rooms by attentive bellboys.  It was dignified confusion with fashionable guests speaking in low, polite tones as they filtered in and out of the restaurant beyond the check-in counter.  Conspicuously absent from the scene were cowboy hats, fringed jackets, and cowboy boots.  Apart from the enormous painting of a steer roundup hanging over the concierge’s gigantic desk to the left of the registration area, there was nothing that would indicate the establishment was Texas based.  The refined décor was more like what one would see in New York or Paris.[1] 

Suddenly, into this busy, polished setting cowgirl Ruth Roach appeared riding a spotted pony.  She was dressed in white satin knickerbocker pants, wearing a flaming red handkerchief, black cowboy boots, and a huge, white hat.  She spurred the animal through the ornate mahogany doors of the establishment, opened for her by a perplexed but accommodating doorman.  Society ladies stopped talking and stockbrokers dropped their newspapers and turned their attention to the horse and rider.  Almost simultaneously the crowd’s manner shifted to that of proud Texans, and they shrilled the yell of a cowpuncher.  “Yippee!  Yee-haw!”[2]

Encouraged by the cries, Ruth urged her mount up and down the length of the lobby several times, standing in the saddle, crossing under the horse’s neck, and doing other daring stunts she usually performed at the spring rodeos in town.

Rodeo manager Tom Burnett hurried into the lobby with the announcer for his rodeos, Ben Keith, and led the onlookers in a round of applause.  Ruth removed her hat and bowed her head in appreciation.  “Ladies and gentlemen,” Ben projected, “May I present Ruth Roach.  The most expert horsewoman in the country.”  The hotel guests cheered loudly.  Ruth and her horse performed a few more tricks for the appreciative group.  The rubber shoes the horse had been fitted with enabled him to do his job without slipping on the slick tile floor.  The guest shouted “Atta-girl” and “Ride em’” as the pair strutted about.[3] 

“Ruth is the undefeated woman rider of the world!” Ben loudly told the noted patrons.  “Her grace and gentility are well-known throughout the great state of Texas.  She has won riding awards in Cheyenne, New York, and London.  There is truly none like her.”[4] 

The inventive publicity stunt conceived by Tom Burnett and flawlessly executed by Ruth, resulted in a record-breaking crowd at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth.  Ruth gave a calf roping demonstration that brought the audience to their feet both nights the rodeo was in town.  She was an accomplished rider and fan favorite.[5]

All-around cowgirl champion Ruth Roach had an unmistakable style in riding, roping and dress.  She had a winning smile and topped off every rodeo outfit she wore with a giant bow fixed to the back of her hair.  Ruth stood out in a sea of other riders.  It wasn’t only her look that brought her attention, but the exciting moves she performed on the back of her horse.  In her twenty-four-year long career with such programs as Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, Ruth entertained audiences with daring feats in the saddle no one could match.

Born in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, on September 17, 1894, Ruth started to ride when she was three years old at her aunt’s farm near Springfield.  Her parents, John and Anna Scantling were strict disciplinarians.  Her father worked construction and her mother worked at home raising Ruth and her two younger brothers.[6]  Ruth was a rebellious teen.  At the age of seventeen she ran away from home to marry Ivan Montgomery, a student at a local automotive school.  Police found the two before they took their vows and escorted them back to their families.  Ruth promised to run away again to be with Ivan.  She did as she said, and the teenagers found their way back to one another.  On September 13, 1912, the two stole a diamond ring from a man in Kansas City and tried to pawn it.  The pawnbroker suspected the couple weren’t the true owners of the item and phoned the police.  Ruth and Ivan were arrested.  They told authorities they were married but had no legal documents to support the claim.[7]

Details on what happened between the time Ruth turned eighteen, the day after the arrest, and the summer of 1913, are lacking.  What is evident is that she did not stay in Missouri.  By June she was a member of the cast of the Lucky Tull and Yoder Brothers’ Dog and Pony Show based out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Ruth had hired on as one of the bronc riders for the program and was traveling about the country performing.  On June 2, 1913, Ruth suffered an accident while enroute to a show that could have been fatal.[8]  According to the June 5, 1913, edition of The Hugo Husonian, the teenager was asleep on the train that was transporting the troupe to the next town they were to appear.  When she woke up, she was confused and didn’t know she was on a train.  She walked to the side door of the vehicle, opened it, and stepped out into the night.  The train was moving at a high rate of speed and when Ruth fell off the vehicle she landed hard on her right side.  Fellow passengers who witnessed the accident signaled for the engineer to stop the train.  The train was then thrown in reverse to return to the spot where Ruth had fallen.  Her companions feared she died, but when they reached the scene Ruth was sitting near the tracks, patiently waiting for the train.  The physicians who examined Ruth could find nothing out of the ordinary outside the injuries to her right shoulder and hip.  There were no broken bones.[9] 

For more than a year, Ruth rode for Lucky Tull and the Yoder Brothers combined wild west show.  While working in the program she perfected her ability to ride broncs with and without a saddle.  She added trick roping to the act and would entertain audiences riding around the arena after a pony and tossing a lasso around his neck.  A small dog was usually riding on the back of the pony.  At some point she left the Tull and Yoder Brothers’ show and joined the popular Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch Wild West Show.  Billed as a trick rider, Ruth rode standing up on the back of a galloping horse or hanging upside down off the side of the horse while attached to a strap.[10]

While working for the Miller Brothers she met an accomplished cowboy named Jefferson Bryan Roach.  Roach was a champion bronc rider.  Some historical references note the pair were married on July 15, 1913, and other sources note they were wed in 1919.  The two, who made their home in El Dorado, Kansas, were enamored with one another for a time and alternated performing for the 101 Ranch and the Carl Hagenback-Wallace Circus.[11] 

On March 13, 1917, Ruth made her broncho busting debut at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth.  Champion rodeo rider Vera McGinnis was part of the same exhibition.  Also in March, Ruth dazzled audiences at the Rio Grande Frontier Days in El Paso with a show of her trick riding skills.  It wasn’t enough for Ruth to develop her own unique riding style, she created a distinctive look to go with it, too.  She wore giants hairbows and boots hand tooled with hearts.  It was easy for rodeo fans to spot Ruth from anywhere in the stands.[12]

Ruth Roach’s name was featured prominently on all the advertisements for the 1919 Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show.  “Of all the features at the Fat Stock Show and Rodeo none is more thrilling than the riding of cowgirl Ruth Roach,” the March 13, 1919, edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported.  The picture of Ruth that accompanied the story was of the rider on the bucking bronco knows as “Wild Bunch.” According to the article, “Wild Bunch is expected to be one of the hardest pitchers she [Ruth] ever attempted to subdue.”[13] 

In an interview after the stock show, Ruth assured reporters who wanted to know about the dangers of bronc busting, that she never gets hurt because she’s always careful.  “I suppose I’m lucky, too, and ought to touch wood,” she added.  “However, leaving all jokes aside, riding wild horses is my business and I take up the task like other women tackle sewing, baking bread, etc.  I have a system and generally stick to it.”[14]

Rodeo fans and journalists alike were charmed by Ruth.  An article devoted to the equestrienne that appeared in the April 10, 1919, edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram reflected the affection many had for her. 

“Thrills may be the feature of the sawdust ring, but romance is an attendant,” the article began.  “Mingling among the crowds of the Fat Stock Show is a small woman clad in the most stylish of costumes, her face radiates happiness as she talks with her comrades.  She is Ruth Roach, a girl who made the aspirations of her childhood the facts of her womanhood.  This daring rider, beloved by all, found the love of her life in Bryan Roach….  He proved to be the hero of her romance.  They eloped.  Her ambitions were realized.  She became a real show woman.[15]

“…At the Coliseum in Fort Worth she rode her first bucking horse and won first money.  Mrs. Roach has ridden in contests in all parts of the country.  She has taken numerous prizes and loves her work with ardor.  She declares that some day she will stop and have a home but not until her husband is ready to settle down.  They then will stop together.  They have ridden together, and they will quit together.  Marriage, instead of being the stumbling block in the path to fame, has been the means by which this town-bred cowgirl has achieved her grandest hopes.”[16] 

Ruth returned to the Fort Worth Rodeo in 1920 to compete in the trick riding contest against Kitty Canutt, Florence King, and Dolly Mullins.  Ruth also took part in the girl’s bronc riding competition at the rode and beat Mabel Strickland and Bea Kirnan for the top honor.  Kirnan bested Ruth in the trick riding category.[17]

The champion bronc rider participated in every major rodeo from Fort Dodge, Kansas, to Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Ruth’s husband regularly accompanied her to the show as he competed in riding and roping events as well.  What seemed like a match at the start turned sour by late 1922.  The report of the Roach’s marriage ending made the news in the spring of 1923. “Ruth Roach, beautiful rodeo queen, whose appearance in the arena at the coliseum in recent years, has attracted the admiration of thousands, has entered this time, not the arena but the divorce courts,” the April 28, 1923, edition of the Fort Worth Record read.  “Friday morning through her attorneys, she entered suit in the forty-eighth district court from her husband, Bryan Roach.[18]

“Mrs. Roach, who has thrilled thousands by her daring in the show ring, says she married Roach in Chickasha, Oklahoma, on July 15, 1913, and that they lived together until January 10, 1923.  She charges that for the last two years she has been neglected and she set out in her petition that she was forced to go home alone.  ‘This proved embarrassing,’ she said.”[19] 

Ruth’s personal issues did not keep her from participating in rodeos across the country and winning trick and bronc riding contests several times.  She also continued to appear in wild west shows as their star attraction.  She was often billed as “Miss Texas, the Finest Horsewoman that Ever Stepped Across the Texas Border.”[20] 

In June 1924, she joined a troupe of talented riders including Rube Roberts, Ambrose “Nowata Slim” Richardson, and Vera McGinnis in the First International Rodeo.  The program, organized by her old friend Tom Burnett, toured Europe and Ruth performed for kings and queens of a handful of countries.  While performing overseas, she fell in love with fellow rider and the world’s champion cowboy, Ambrose “Nowata Slim” Richardson.  According to the January 2, 1927, edition of the Times Union, the two wed in late 1924.  They spent rodeo season on the road and in the winter months at their ranch in Lenapah, Oklahoma.[21] 

By May 1925, Ruth was back in the states competing in bucking bronco contests and winning prizes at the Cisco Rodeo finals in Cisco, Texas, and the Pendleton Roundup in Pendleton, Oregon.  An article in the June 4, 1925, edition of the Indiana Weekly Messenger proved how popular Ruth continued to be.  “Cowgirls do exist outside the pages of fiction and away from the motion picture camera,” the story began.  “They ride and rope with the best of the boys in chaps and Stetsons and, in fact, they exceed in skill and daring some of the male busters of the range.  Many of these women riders will participate in the Chicago roundup and world’s championship rodeo which will be held in Grand Park Stadium beginning August 15.  Among the most famous of these is Ruth Roach of Fort Worth, Texas.  Her daring as a rider has become proverbial as a result of dashing exhibitions of skill in the saddle at previous rodeos.”[22]

At Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in July 1925, Ruth thrilled the crowd in the cowgirl’s bucking contest.  She rode a horse named Paleface who had a reputation for being “the most vicious bucker that had crossed the pike.”  Paleface dived nose down first into the ground, rolled over, smashed Ruth against the fence, tore the fence away, reared up on his hind legs, nosedived again and tore off some more fence, and then started in regulation bucking style.  Ruth rode Paleface until the horse gave up.  Her pluckiness drew cheers from the many watching the event.[23]

Ruth remained one of the country’s favorite rodeo performers throughout the latter part of the 1920s and into the 1930s.  During that time, she and Nowata Slim divorced.  She then married and divorced rodeo director and steer wrestler Fred Alvord.  Fred and Ruth were involved in a domestic violence dispute which resulted in Ruth being barred from competing in any rodeos in El Paso, Texas.  The newspaper account of the event noted that during an argument the pair were having in a moving car, Fred opened the door and Ruth kicked him out.  Before evicting him from the vehicle she blackened his eye and tore his shirt off.[24]

“We went to Juarez for a party and when we came back Ruth wanted to fight,” Fred told police.  I tried to get out of the car, but she tore my clothes off and beat me up before I could fall out.”  Ruth claimed it was Fred that got rough and that she was trying to ‘sober him up.’”[25] 

March 1930 found Ruth as a repeat contestant in the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show.  She entered the bronc and trick and fancy riding competitions as an ex-champion in each event.  She hoped the good showings she’d had in rodeos in New York, Chicago, Calgary, and Cheyenne in the past year would help her to wins in both events.  Sadly, she was thrown from a bronc early on and couldn’t perform as she usually did.[26]

From 1931 to 1933, Ruth took part in wild west shows and rode in special benefit rodeos.  She was in her late thirties and struggled to bounce back after getting thrown.  While participating in a charity rodeo at Madison Square Garden in 1933, she broke her ankle when she was tossed off a bucking horse.  A year later she broke her wrist in a bronc busting exhibit in Fort Worth.  The injuries helped with her decision to retire from the sport.[27]

Ruth might have removed herself from rodeo competitions, but that didn’t mean she was out of the limelight.  She appeared in parades, lent her image for advertisements for upcoming rodeos, and even worked in silent films alongside Tom Mix.[28] 

In late February 1939, Ruth made another trip down the aisle.  This time she married a cattle rancher named Richard Salmon.  The two lived a quiet life on his ranch near Nocona, Texas.[29] 

Ruth Roach Salmon died on June 25, 1986, in Fort Worth, Texas, at the age of eighty-two.  She was laid to rest at the Nocona Cemetery, near the home she shared with her husband.[30] 

[1] Fort Worth Star Telegram, March 12, 1922

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Fort Worth Record Telegram, March 27, 1922

[6]  Ruth Roach Salmon

[7] The Kansas City Times, May 25, 1912

[8] Billboard Magazine, March 22, 1913

[9] The Hugo Husonian, June 5, 1913

[10] El Dorado Republican, November 13, 1916

[11]  Ruth Roach Salmon, The Democrat Opinion, August 10, 1917

[12] Fort Worth Star Telegram, March 13, 1917, El Paso Times, March 11, 1917, Valley Morning Star, October 24, 2010

[13] Fort Worth Star Telegram, March 13, 1919

[14] Ibid.

[15] Fort Worth Star Telegram, April 10, 1919

[16] Ibid.

[17] The Chickasha Star, February 13, 1920, Fort Worth Star Telegram, March 14, 1920

[18] Fort Worth Record Telegram, April 28, 1923

[19] Ibid.

[20] Buffalo Courier, June 10, 1923, St. Louis Post Dispatch, June 5, 1923, San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 1923

[21] Times Union, January 2, 1927, The Standard Union, June 1, 1924

[22] The Indiana Weekly Messenger, June 4, 1925

[23] Fort Collins Coloradoan, July 24, 1925

[24] El Paso Evening Post, October 2, 1929, El Paso Evening Post, October 4, 1929

[25] Ibid.

[26] Fort Worth Record Telegram, February 27, 1930

[27] El Paso Herald Post, October 13, 1933, The Waco News, October 14, 1934

[28] Fort Worth Star Telegram, February 26, 1936

[29]  Ruth Roach Salmon

[30] Ibid.