Friday, May 15, 2009

Bertha Kaepernik Competes With Cowboys, 1904

by Shirley Morris
©2009 All rights reserved
Spirits dampened as the skies opened and rain came down in buckets. The cowboys had decided to postpone the broncho riding event but the cowgirl from Colorado would not be denied her hard fought opportunity to showcase her skills. At 5’9” and weighing close to 165 lbs., Bertha Kaepernik was a sturdy woman with ranch bowed legs and halcyon blue eyes. Some claimed you could see clear through the world and right into her soul when you looked into those eyes. Casting a rueful glance toward the cowboy riders, she walked out to the middle of the sodden arena.
More than 15,000 people were sitting in the wooden grandstands watching history write a page as Bertha mucked her way toward the snubber holding the bronc ready. Many of the spectators that day had come just to see Bertha ride. Some were looking for her to make her ride. Others … well, they just wanted to see her leave the deck. There were those who just couldn’t wrap their mind around a woman riding rough stock with the men. They didn’t believe it was proper and God did not intend it. A girl’s cow pony race was one thing but rough stock, riding with the boys, well, that was something real different.
Newspapers across the country had been reporting an alarming story about women, like Bertha who were in danger of becoming so muscle bound, they would loose their womanliness if they continued doing such masculine things as the cowgirls do in the west.
She didn’t seem to notice the crowds, some rooting for her, some not. Nor did she notice the rain rolling down the wide brim of her tall, Montana pitched hat and onto her yellow wild rag. Her shiny green satin shirt and leather fringed split skirt were soaked clear through, still she maintained her focus on the blindfolded cayuse in front of her.
Bertha moved slowly toward the prairie savvy roan and noticed a steamy cloud rising from his quivering body as every muscle tightened with anticipated danger. The wild pony quickly moved his focus to Charlie Irwin, the snubber busy earring him down. Blindfolded with a piece torn from a grain bag, the pony had no choice but to accept his fate.
Wasting no time, Bertha mounted, grabbed the bucking rope tightly in her left hand, readied her hat in her right hand to fan the beast and finally, she gave the shout, “Let ‘er buck!”
Before the last word escaped her mouth, she was headed for the heavens. With each heaving breathe, the screaming, snorting beast pitched higher and higher, landing rigid on locked front legs and a sunfishin’ rump. That cowgirl stuck to the whirlygigin’ cayuse like glue until suddenly, in one horrifying moment the bucker snorted, threw his head back and lost his footing. Still high in the air he somersaulted, tumbling over on his back. The horrified crowd braced for the worst, jumped to their feet shrieking, fearing for the cowboy girl, but it didn’t seem to phase or panic Bertha in the least.
Bertha took great pride in riding straight up and slick, her stirrups were free. She considered it a mighty insult for anyone to think she would ride hobbled and tie her stirrups just to look good and get a free ride, like some of the so-called circus cowgirls do. She wasn’t tied in – and she rode just like the cowboys, just as her daddy had taught her on the ranch.
Riding slick that day saved Bertha’s life and gave her the opportunity to free her boots from the stirrups and jump off – and not a spit second too soon! She waited for the bronc to right himself and with the finesse of a mountain cat, she lept back into the saddle to finish her ride.
The cowboys, not wanting to be outdone by a girl, all came out and one by one they competed that day in the rain. Some made their ride, some didn’t.
A local cowboy, Harry Brannon was proclaimed winner and champion of the cowboy’s saddle bronc riding event and he was presented with a $250.00 championship saddle.
But it was Bertha Kaepernik who brought the house down.


Diligent Daydreamer said...

I found this quite interesting...when I think of the wild west it is usualy cowboys and not cow girls that come to mind. Thank you for the interesting read.

The Lone Cowgirl said...

That's how I pictured it as well. I really had no idea these women existed before I started researching them. I sure wish I had known about them when I was a child. So many of them had such wonderful, sometimes heroic tales to tell and we need all the heroes we can get our hands on.
Thank you for your feedback.

Christine Kaepernick Weihing said...

Way to go, Bertha! It is fun to read about ancestors who weren't afraid to go after appears Kaepernick women were always taught to reach for the stars!!