Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Mystery Cowgirl Revealed!

Tom Henderson is seated in front, Bea Kirnan, Maude Tarr in rear with other unidentified performers.

 On May 22, 1919, news of the big rodeo roundup at the Indianapolis State Fair was reported in the Indy Star. They were set for record breaking crowds to welcome Tex Austin and all the performers of his Wild West Rodeo. Two box cars of wild, untamed bronco's had already arrived and Tex reported, "many had never seen more than a dozen human beings in their entire existence." Austin himself guaranteed that there would be no "rehersin'" before the final event and every cowboy and cowgirl who dared ride one of the beasts would be competing for a share of the $6000.00 in prize money.

The roundup was expected to draw the biggest crowd ever to attend the State Fair. Word had gone out earlier of the star performers expected to attend and compete and they were among the best. Leonard Stroud and his wife Mayme had already written with their intention to compete in every major event. Jim and Ruby Wilkes, another fine husband and wife team. Best of all, the greatest cowgirl bronc rider in the country was said to be coming along with her bronc busting and bulldogging husband, Tom and Prairie Rose Henderson. Maude Tarr and Dora Keen would also be competing with Prairie Rose Henderson in the Cowgirls Saddle Bronc Contest.

Seems Maude would be competing for a little more than the bronc contest. She and Tom Henderson had been married for several years. Prairie Rose and Tom had never been married but had traveled together, performing in earlier rodeo's and roundups years before.

It was not an acceptable habit for unmarried women to travel with unmarried men in those days. In the early days of rodeo and the wild west shows, cowboys and cowgirls would sometimes jump the proverbial broom stick and announce they were 'husband and wife' in an attempt to be deemed acceptable to polite society. The marriage lasted as long as the rodeo engagement and both parties would then go happily along their way. The cowgirls liked this arrangement for it provided a chaperone in the somewhat wilder, freer environment of roundup days.

Cowgirl, Fox Hastings spoke highly of cowboy manners when asked by a New York City reporter if she felt safe on the rodeo road?  She said, "I'll bet I'm a lot safer than many of the secretaries working in offices here in New York City. I've never been manhandled by a cowboy and they have always treated me with respect."

Rose and Tom were never married but the name Henderson fit and stuck with Prairie Rose throughout her career.

Stuck with Maude too. Way down deep in her craw.

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