The University of Oregon Archives

Arctic Circle Productions

swursta@arcticproductions.com

Official Selection


Astoria International Film Festival 2010

As seen on Idaho Public Television

The University of Oregon Archives
From 
Cheyenne
 to
 Pendleton
a film by Steve Wursta

The Ladies Bucking Contest, The Pendleton Round-Up, 1914

Learn More about the filmLearn_More.html

“From Cheyenne to Pendleton”


Our new film explores the 25-year rise and fall of the western rodeo cowgirl through the lives of Idaho’s Bonnie McCarroll, Colorado’s Bertha Blancett and Washington’s Mabel Strickland.


The two-hour film follows their lives and achievements while it goes outside of the rodeo to answers the question of where did these talented women come from and what led to their eventual removal from the rodeo arena.


The film opens in 1904 as 21-year-old Bertha, arrives in Cheyenne, Wyoming for 8th

annual Frontier Days Rodeo–the first year women were allowed to compete in the bucking bronc competition.


The film ends with the tragic and avoidable death of Bonnie McCarroll at the 1929 Pendleton Round-Up.


While it was the environment of the west that allowed young girls to escape the restrictive urban culture to develop the skills to be called ‘cowgirls’ and eventually popular fixtures on the rodeo circuit. It was also the changing  environment of the west that would remove women from the rodeo arena in favor of the cowboy.


Since there are no records of why rodeo committeemen made their decisions on women’s competition, the film explores a variety of issues: urban vs rural, changing social mores, the Hollywood film industry and, of all things, the price of wheat and cattle. Odd as it may seem, commodity prices reveal a great deal about the level of women’s participation in the rodeo.


“The reason I made the film was to answer the simple question ‘why?” says Wursta. “Why were women allowed to compete in the rodeo and why were they removed from the arena?”

Many historians point to the death of Idaho’s beloved cowgirl Bonnie McCarroll at the 1929 Pendleton Round-Up as the reason for the expulsion of women from the rodeo arena, but in reality, the tide had turned against the cowgirls many years earlier.


Both the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo and the Pendleton Round-Up had difficulties with Mabel Strickland, a 98-pound steer roper who set the world’s record at Frontier Days in 1924 – an accomplishment that was written up in newspapers and magazines across the country. Both rodeos barred this petite woman from competing against the cowboys.


The problems with cowgirls reached a boiling point before the start of the 1926 Pendleton Round-Up when the Round-Up committee announced that competition for women had been eliminated in favor of paid exhibitions.


The reason they gave was rather odd.


It was because a 21-year-old girl had been given a New York City ticker tape parade for swimming across the English Channel faster than the fastest man–only a month before the start of the Round-Up.


As Pendleton’s East Oregonian newspaper explained September 18th, 1926:


“Women now swim the English Channel and they can ride about as swiftly as can any man who ever walked, hence they do not require nor do they desire the same degree of attentiveness when the Round-Up was young.”


While on the surface this statement may not make much sense, it fits quite well with the pattern of social and economic changes that pitted the now conservative rural farming communities against the more liberal urban cities of the east against after World War I.


Throughout the 1920s the rodeo cowgirl was loosing ground to the Rodeo Queen, an invention of the Pendleton Round-Up, which was viewed as the more ‘appropriate’ role for women.


By the spring of 1929, the newly formed Rodeo Association of America had already announced that 1929 would be the last year for women in the rodeo.


“When the RAA formed they implored them to include women’s events and make rules for them...for reasons we will never know they refused. Simply wanted no part of it,” explained rodeo historian Mary Lou Lecompte.


In the end, Bonnie McCarroll’s tragic and avoidable death at the Pendleton Round-Up became the excuse to remove women once and for good.


“You can’t begin to understand the history of women’s rodeo unless you understand the current events of the early 20th century,” says Wursta. By the spring of 1929, the Rodeo Association of America had already announced that 1929 would be the last year for women in the rodeo.




 

Many historians point to the death of Idaho’s beloved cowgirl Bonnie McCarroll at the 1929 Pendleton Round-Up as the reason for the expulsion of women from the rodeo arena, but in reality, the tide had turned against the cowgirls many years earlier.

What happened to the Cowgirls?

The film was made possible, in part, through a generous grant from the Idaho Humanities Council. Thank You!

Bonnie McCarroll

Mabel Strickland

Bertha Blancett