They also had to protect themselves, and thus they had a different code of the west than their male counterparts.
According to The Cowgirls” by Joyce Gibson Roach, the cattlemen of the west adhered to an unwritten code in the use of guns. Eugene Manlove Rhodes in “Beyond The Desert” put it in words: “It was not the custom to war without fresh offense, openly given. You must not smile and shoot. You must not shoot and unarmed man , and you must not shoot an unarmed man . . . ”
But pistol-toting cattlewomen also observed a code, and it bore small resemblance to that of the men but recognized their advantage men sometimes had. Briefly put, the women’s rules advised:
1. Strange men will do to shoot.
2. Shoot first, ask questions later.
3. If you shoot a man in the back, he rarely returns fire.
4. Scare a man to death even if you do not intend to kill him.
5. If a man needs killing, do it.”
I really like these rules. Not that I’m blood thirsty, but there was a different reality when women were alone in what was often a wild west.
One of my favorite heroines was in the Scotsman Wore Spurs. The heroine disguised herself as a lad so she could go on a cattle drive. I worried then that it might be unbelievable, but in “The Cowgirls”, a dangerous woman made use of a disguise and passed as a cowboy traveling over the cattle trails to find a false lover. When the woman found her man, she called him aside and revealed her entity to him. She never said what she did to him but she remarked, “I’ll bet he won’t trifle with another girl’s affections.” You can make your own guess.
Another intrepid woman, Cassie Redwine of the Texas Panhandle, practiced the code on outlaws. While she did not shoot men in the back, she did ambush a few. When robbers were terrorizing the upper Red and Canadian rivers, and when five hundred head of Cassie’s stock disappeared, she decided to put an stop to it. For three days her cowboys pursued the thieves until they discovered three men in a secret camp. Cassie ordered some of her men to surround the desperadoes, capture them and change into their clothes. Cassie’s men then took positions on either side of the camp and when the rest of the robbers rode unsuspectingly into camp, Cassie picked off Black Pedro, the leader, and the rest fell soon after or were captured. Next morning, the prisoners were shot or hanged.
One problem with the code was that a man never knew whether a woman might shot first and ask questions later or whether she was bluffing. It didn’t pay to believe the latter. An unknown south Texas woman who ram-rodded her own ranch and broke her own horses was reported to have blown the top off a cowboy’s head with a forty-five slug when he got fresh and pinched her ankle in fun. No one made the mistake of teasing her again.
I’ve often thought that we as authors can never make up anything or anyone as unique and wonderful as those who have actually lived. There is always someone who has done what our most creative characters have done.
There were many women who spent the entire Civil War disguised as a man. There were warrior queens, and a Scots lass who saved a king. There were women outlaws and ranchers and newspaper editors who are part of the fabric that made the west so fascinating to us. Whenever anyone tells me a real-life heroine wouldn’t do something, I can always point to someone who has.
It’s why I love history so much. You simply can’t make up some of this stuff.
So do you have a real-life heroine – now or in the past – that would make a great fictional one?