Cowgirl Up

Sometimes it seems as if women are almost invisible in the history of the West, but the truth is that they were there the whole time, working cattle, going up the trail, and building ranches all across Texas. Problem is, the only word we have to describe them makes you think of buckle bunnies or Nashville queens. I aim to change that.
Jesse Blue, 22, who dayworks at ranches around Perrin.
Photograph by LeAnn Mueller

Lizzie Crosson and her husband, George, were some of the first ranchers to settle in far West Texas. A cavalry post existed, but by the time the cavalry arrived, the Indian raiders were usually long gone. Lizzie, who was 24 years younger than her husband, soon learned that if she, George, and the livestock were to survive, they needed to be their own police, fire department, and doctor. Sometimes they even needed protection from the cavalry itself. Once, while George was away, Lizzie prevented hungry soldiers from stealing her sheep with a gun hidden under her apron. At George’s death, in 1885, the Crossons owned 640 acres. When Lizzie died, in 1924, she owned more than 30,000 acres. He raised sheep, she raised cattle. She also raised six children and played the piano.

Some years ago, I would have called Lizzie a cowgirl, a proud and honorable title that I used to spend most of my time trying to earn. But now the word has been stolen and corrupted by dime novels, Nashville, Hollywood, and haute couture. Today it hits my ear like a derogatory term, calling to mind a buckle bunny or a concho whore, boots and breakfast or trolling with turquoise. In her introduction to Leaning Into the Wind, a collection of essays and poems by rural women, Linda Hasselstrom wrote, “Over and over, we debated what to

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