Real Life Heroines

There were many female ranchers – you might call them sole proprietors – in the west. On their own, they built fences, rode as well or better as any man and drove cattle. And they protected what they had.

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?




+ posts

11 thoughts on “Real Life Heroines”

  1. Great post, Pat.
    I remember in some class I took on fiction writing this comment:
    The difference between writing fact and fiction is, fiction has to make sense. 😀

    Some very weird things happen in real life.

    And this also brought another idea to mind. This is like free associate psycho therapy, huh?

    William Shatner when he used to do…what was it? Rescue 911? Maybe.
    I remember his saying the thing he loved about doing the show and using realy 911 tapes is that in real life, people made the oddest choices in how to react.
    He said there was a little boy who phoned 911 because…oh, his mother had fallen and hit her head maybe. So this poor frightened kid is on tape talking to the 911 operator and whatever the operator says at some point…while they’re rushing ambulances to the scene…makes the child angry and he starts yelling at the 911 operator.

    Shatner said something like, “I’ve done some directing and I’m aware of making choices on how actors need to behave in a scene and I’d have NEVER considered having that child be angry in the middle of his fear and the operator’s attempts to soothe him until help arrived. Real life is just so much more varied and interesting and surprising than fiction.”

  2. Hi Mary. . .
    Loved your example. I’ve always loved to observe people. I’m probably one of the few people today who loves airports. I always make reservations with a large block of time between connecting flights, and not only because I want to make the second flight. I often feel like a peeping Tom, but really I’m just filling my well.

  3. Pat, this is so interesting. I’ve never heard of different Code of the West for women. I think women had to be a lot tougher to make up for their size. After all, they couldn’t very well challenge a man to a fist-fight. lol

    The best real life heroine that I can think of that would make a great fictional one was a woman named Dr. Sofie Herzog. She fought tooth and nail for her right to practice medicine here in South Texas. And she did, no matter that all the women in town turned against her. She always wore a divided skirt and rode astride instead of the customary side-saddle. She was a petite woman but full of fire. She once hit a man with a fireplace poker when he refused to leave her house. Sofie was an expert at removing bullets from her patients and she strung the fragments on a necklace that she wore around her neck. She had 14 children by her first husband. He died long before she came to Texas. Sofie married again at age 60 to a man who was 70. And she bought her first car when she was 60 – a Ford runabout which she drove daily. I saw she was larger than life.

    Great post as always, Pat! Loved it.

  4. wow…great post Patricia! I really enjoyed reading it! I cant think of anyone to mention off hand, but wanted to say that I loved reading your blog!

  5. Hi Pat,
    Your post made me realize how much harder a woman rancher had it in the west. She had to be tough in order to gain the men’s respect. And to protect herself.

    I’m an observer too. I love to people watch.
    As they say, fact is stranger than fiction. I believe it!

  6. You know with rules for women like, Shoot First, Ask Questions Later…it’s no wonder men held the door for them.

    That’ll make you straighten up fast!!!!

  7. I don’t know these persons, and I never will, but to
    me today’s heroes are the women and men whose spouses are away in Iraq. While the troops are serving our country, they are tending the home fires
    and families. Include the spouses of all the wars,
    and you have generation upon generation of heroes
    and heroines. They would make excellent subjects
    for books! God bless them all!

    Pat Cochran

  8. Pat. . .

    I couldn’t agree with you more about those tending the fires while their spouses are overseas. They are the true heroines and heroes.

  9. I know this is about heroines today but I have a pen-friend, Andy, a cancer survivor, who thinks I should write a story about a hero who survives cancer…just like my own personal hero, my hubby, eight weeks in remission from testicular cancer that reared its ugly head out of nowhere late last January –besides being a hero to begin with, a fireman. Today is Cancer Survivor Day and also our son’s birthday, so we are celebrating all around.

    I can’t say enough about heroes/heroines who face this disease and other life-threatening ailments head-on, not too unlike those folks on the frontier who faced danger and the unknown. Any mountain up ahead that must be crossed is kinda the same as any horrific chemo side-effect. Any new experimental treatment is just like the threats back them of drought, flood, outlaw, rustler. You won’t know the lasting effects until you get through it. And maybe you won’t.

    I find these words hard to write even today, even though his stamina is really good and the long-term prognosis excellent. To get through the nights I couldn’t sleep, I blogged about “my hero”. Andy and other T.C. survivors on a T.C. loop that helped my sanity told me, no you all who stand by our sides are the true heroes. But not so, Andy.

    Here’s to true courage! Then and now, home and abroad, boy and girl…and always.

    (hope this wasn’t a weird post to leave…)

  10. Tanya, I’m glad you wrote about it.
    When I think of all the day-in day-out stuff that I let get me crazy a note like yours reminds me to count my blessings.
    And, this happened a while ago, in church. An elderly lady collapsed, just slumped over sideways in her pew and two people moved. I mean I would have moved but I didn’t even have a chance to react before they rushed to her side, then one stayed, another left to call an ambulance.
    I admired that so much, that leap into action. One a nurse, one a member of our local volunteer Fire and Rescue team.
    They truly are heros.

  11. I really miss having a garden. I got so desperate this year the I planted some squash in my flower bed. Why not. It’s a big green plant, right?

    I like any weather where you don’t have to wear a coat, but spring and fall are my favorites, except for the spring allergies caused by all the things in bloom. I love seeing everything so green after it’s been barren all winter.

Comments are closed.