Author Rose Miller has written books about horses, mules, dogs, and now cowgirls. Or, as the title suggests, “girls” can be cowboys, too.
This is a rather lengthy compilation (523 pages) of 37 interviews Miller conducted with her ranch women neighbors. As her introduction states, this is an “eclectic group of ladies” with a love of animals and the land. Miller writes, “Meeting gals to write about is a little like pulling a yarn string, it sort of unravels in its own time and way…(like) following a trail of bread crumbs.” She also intersperses her own story when chatting with the women.
In some sections, this book is like a tutorial on ranching and breeding. It’s full of tips for those who live off the land. Some of the women are cattle ranchers who take great pride in raising “good meat for the public.” They describe what kind of cattle they have and why—Brahma, Black Angus, Corriente—and what breed of horses they use. There are stories throughout the book about cats, dogs, chickens, goats, grasshoppers, snakes, hay, flooding, and fires.
Some women have jobs exercising horses. Some are single moms. One was a cook on a fishing boat in Alaska, with no horses around.
Kimberly Henson rides her longhorn with a saddle and sorts the calves. Keri Krause, the “Bird Lady,” trains cockatiels, finches, and chickens.
A few women have completed the Tevis Race, the pinnacle of endurance riding. It’s one hundred miles from Truckee to Auburn, CA, at an elevation of 7,000 to 12,000 feet, sometimes on days with 100-degree heat and suffocating humidity. Cheryl Searer accomplished it in 1999. Darice Whyte rode the Tevis in 2016, kept a diary, got kicked in the face, and with nose bleeding and an injured knee, took Ibuprofen and was off again. She describes herself as “almost a senior citizen.” Eve Blumenfeld rode a mule (“Ears Looking at You”) in the 2016 Tevis and won an award from the American Mule Association for the highest endurance mileage in one season.
Carolyn Harris lives on famous land. The house on the 600-acre Van Dickson Ranch was built in 1895, homesteaded by pioneers who came to Prescott and Skull Valley with the Walker Party in the 1860s. James (Van) Dickson, world-class rodeo champion, was friends with (and in the movies with) Tom Mix. Van raised polo ponies and leased them to Will Rogers. Now, the ranch is used for wedding events.
Bonnie Ebsen Jackson, daughter of actor Buddy Ebsen, tells about her equine program, helping those with emotional issues or drug abuse and young people from juvenile detention.
Mary Matli is an award-winning cowboy poet (and cowboy) and helps to organize the annual Arizona Cowboy Poet’s Gathering. Bev Petitt is a fine art equine photographer known the world over. A few of the interviewees’ writings are included in the book.
Some women work with search and rescue dogs, or, like Shelly Godfrey, take therapy dogs to nursing homes, retirement homes, critical care facilities, or work with at-risk children in foster care or are victims of abuse. She had a near death experience following a heart attack, was three weeks on life support, and felt God speak to her and send her back to this world, “to get the message of faith out.”
Christy Silverberg-Rose’s Bethany’s Gait Ranch program specializes in PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, adjusting to civilian life, and also rescues horses. She felt prompted by God to “take the fillies” who were scheduled to go to slaughter. Many in the book are women of faith.
Especially touching and inspiring was the story of Amanda Marsh, widow of Eric Marsh, who was the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. He, along with 19 others, perished on June 30, 2013, in the Yarnell Hill Fire. Amanda had a business of barefoot trimming 140 horses. She shares her life after the tragedy, her sobriety, her mission of rescuing horses, and the movie that was made about the Hotshots. She also manages the non-profit, “Eric Marsh Foundation for Wildlife Firefighters.”
Miller has dedicated much time and effort (and miles!) to documenting these stories of amazing, strong, dedicated women of the West. Be sure to give it a read.