A strong gust of wind blew a pair of tumbleweeds into the path of a team of horses hitched to a wagon. It spooked the animals, and they reared and bucked and then bolted. The gray-haired women holding the reins of the team screamed. The wagon pitched and swayed as the horses jerked it around. The woman cried out for help.
Suddenly a magnificent stallion was hurrying toward the out-of-control wagon. The confident rider, adorned in buckskin britches and a jacket, spurred the stallion along until it caught up to the team. Springing forward, the rider leapt out of the saddle and landed on the back of one of the horses.
The brave rider swerved the team out of the path of a group of townspeople just as they were leaving a church. A shout went up from the onlookers. The lady driving the wagon regained her composure and pulled back on the reins. The daring horseback rider helped quiet the team to a stop.
A thunderous round of applause echoed around them. The lady in the wagon stood up, removed the gray wig on her head, and took a bow. The rider dismounted, removed her cowboy hat, and waved to the crowd of spectators. The audience that had assembled to witness the performance in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show was not disappointed by the expert display of horsemanship exhibited by the high-riding Parry sisters.
Etheyle and Juanita Parry were often billed as the Parry Twins during their short, but illustrious career as Wild West performers and rodeo riders. The pair were however born a year apart. Their father, veterinarian Archer E. Parry, and the sister’s mother, Amy Rothermel Parry, were residents of Riverside, New York. Their first daughter, Etheyle was born on April 18, 1889, and she was named after the chemical compound ethyl-chloride. Dr. Parry had been experimenting with the substance which was similar to Novocain for use on horses. He thought the word ethyl would make a good name. Juanita was born on September 20, 1890.
Dr. Parry’s love for animals, particularly horses, was inherited by his daughters. Born in Denver, Dr. Parry in his younger life had been a cowboy, working on a ranch roping cattle and doing all the other jobs known to cowhands. During his employment at the ranch, he became friends with two other men working at the same location, Theodore Roosevelt, and William F. Cody. Dr. Parry taught Etheyle and Juanita all he knew about horses including how best to care for them. Both young women were exceptional horseback riders. Their talent in the saddle was recognized by Bill Cody who visited the Parrys regularly. In 1907, when the Parry sisters were seventeen and sixteen years old, Cody invited them to join his Wild West Show.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a leading source of entertainment in the early 1900s. During that time of worldwide travel and countless presentations, a myriad of performers captured the hearts and imagination of fans everywhere. The Parry sisters were a part of a sizeable cast of thrill-seeking women who captivated audiences in the United States and abroad. For more than four years, Etheyle and Juanita honed their riding skills becoming one of the top acts for Cody’s program. Some of the trick riding routines they presented involved the pair riding side by side into an arena and leaping from one horse to the other at full gallop. Among the cast and crew, the sisters were called the Cossack Girls because they performed all the reckless and daring feats of horsemanship attributed to the Russian Cossack cavalrymen.
In December 1910, the sisters returned to New York to attend their father’s funeral. Dr. Parry had suffered a stroke earlier in the year and died of complications as a result. In addition to losing their father, Etheyle and Juanita had to say goodbye to the men and women they’d come to know while working for Cody’s Wild West Show. Cody had announced he would be retiring and the Parry’s needed to find another show to join. By February 1911, the women had signed a contract with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show.
Cowgirls were an important part of the popular Wild West show out of Oklahoma. The cast included many well-known riders, ropers, and crack rifle shots. The May 10, 1912 edition of the Butte Miner noted the many talented female acts involved with the show. “There is for instance, Lulu B. Parr, who last season accepted a dare to ride a wild horse in Philadelphia, and despite the fact that she was nearly killed, owing to the breaking of her saddle girth, pluckily attempted the feat again the next day and succeeded in thoroughly taming the vicious animal,” the newspaper article read. “There is Tillie Baldwin, a real ranch girl, who was entered at the recent rodeo in Los Angeles as an “unknown,” and carried off all the prizes for lady riders of unbroken broncos. There is Etheyle Parry, whose name suggests the footlights and Broadway, but who is nevertheless a real cowgirl and has won several prizes for her cleverness as a rough rider at the annual roundups at Bliss, Oklahoma, Cheyenne and Pendleton.”
When they weren’t performing, both Etheyle and Juanita competed in rodeos. They participated in roping and bronc riding events, adding various trophies to their long list of accolades. The Parry women looked enough alike to be called twins and stories about the two carried in newspapers across the country often remarked how unusual it was for the two to be so similar and not be twins. In an interview with the Seattle Star on May 21, 1912, the sisters were quoted as saying, “We have a great deal in common, but are very different people.” Among the things the pair had in common, the article explained, “is the fact that they have always lived on ranches and would rather ride horseback than in the finest and swiftest auto in the world.”
Various newspaper articles about the 101 Ranch Wild West Show often included stories about the women within the cast competing for best lady rider of bucking horses. Etheyle was often listed in a contest for the title with accomplished cowgirls Tillie Baldwin and Lulu Parr. “These girls are all clever and daring riders,” the July 27, 1912, edition of the Des Moines Tribune reported. “The do stunts in the big show that make the ordinary cowboy hesitate. They ride “outlaw” horses, they lasso wild ponies, they dash around the arena on long horned steers, and they perform other feats that make the eyes of the spectators open wide and sends the blood circulating through the veins with a mixture of fear and admiration.”
Juanita and Etheyle kept the routine they used in the wild west show fresh with new tricks. Not only did they not want the audience to become bored with their act, but they didn’t want to become bored either. In the summer of 1913, they perfected a trick that involved picking up items scattered across a performance arena. After a variety of objects were placed on the ground (ranging from a handkerchief to a lasso), the women would race their horses toward those items. When they got close enough to the objects the sisters would lean over in their saddle and scoop them up. The trick ended with Juanita sitting on the ground in the arena and Etheyle spurring her horse toward her. Just when it looked like Juanita would be trampled, she would raise her arms high and Etheyle would grab her sister up and toss her on the back of her saddle.
The Parry sisters received top billing at the 101 Ranch Wild West Show exhibition in Ottumwa, Iowa, in late summer 1913. One of the highlights of the show was an illustration of an attack on a train of prairie schooners by hostile Indians. Etheyle and Juanita played the part of settlers trying to gain control of frightened teams of horses pulling a pair of schooners. “These Oklahoma girls have been expert riders since they were children,” a Decatur, Illinois newspaper noted about the Parry sisters. (Because the 101 Ranch was located in Oklahoma reporters often wrote that the various acts were from that area.) “[The Parry sister] are equally at home on high school horses or on outlaw bronchos, and they excel in roping, picking up articles from the ground while riding at breakneck speed and in all other sports of the range and prairie. Withal, the twins are pretty and attractive, and are good to look at, on or off a horse.”
Both Etheyle and Juanita were experts with the lariat. The Parrys, in addition to five other women with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, were seven of the best female lariat throwers in the world. The Parry sisters were top among the seven with Etheyle being the better of the two. She had the distinction of being the only women who could swing a lariat one hundred ten feet in length.
Etheyle and Juanita’s career with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show spanned more than four years. When they weren’t traveling with the show, they spent time at the Miller Brother’s ranch in Bliss, Oklahoma. While there, they practiced their act and performed in several silent, western pictures starring Broncho Billy and Tom Mix.
In the fall of 1916, the Parrys signed a contract with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The circus produced its own wild west show and Etheyle and Juanita were part of those cast of players. The pair performed in every major city across the country. Not only were they celebrated for their daring feats of horsemanship, but for the elaborate velvet costumes they wore in their act. Their hats, neckerchiefs, gauntlet gloves, and beaded armbands were equally impressive and admired.
On September 7, 1917, the Parry sister were center stage performing before a sold-out crowd in Chicago. Juanita, riding bareback, was executing one of the duo’s most difficult tricks, a double somersault on the back of the horse, when her mount stumbled and fell. Juanita was pinned under the animal. Her neck was broken, and her skull was crushed. She died two days later.
Etheyle Parry escorted her sister’s body back to New York and Juanita was buried beside her father at the Kenesco Cemetery in Westchester County. Heartbroken by the experience, Etheyle retired from the wild west show profession. More than three years after the passing of her sister, Etheyle married Buffalo Bill Cody’s nephew, William Cody Bradford. William was born in 1872 and he and Etheyle had met when they were children. The couple were wed on February 28, 1921, in Casper, Wyoming. The March 1, 1921, edition of the Casper Daily Tribune carried a story about the nuptials. The ceremony was performed by Reverend Charles A. Wilson at the groom’s house in Casper where he was employed with the Northwestern Railroad. Their friends, Mr., and Mrs. Earl Rager, were the only guests and served as best man and matron of honor.
The Bradfords were happily married for more than twelve years. William was a well-respected executive and Etheyle an artist whose paintings had been featured in exhibits throughout the state of Wyoming. In late 1932, William began struggling with his health and a negative diagnosis brought about serious depression. On September 4, 1933, he shot himself to death. William was sixty years old.
Etheyle Parry Bradford passed away on May 14, 1962, at the age of seventy-three. She was laid to rest beside her sister Juanita.