The Cowgirl Behind “Cowgirl Dreams” by Heidi Thomas

In a scrapbook I have from my grandmother is a clipping from the Sunburst Sun (Montana) newspaper, Aug. 26, 1922, that reads:
1:00 Parade of cowboys and cowgirls, headed by Cut Bank brass band
2:30 Tootsie Bailey will enter competition with entire field, riding wild steers with only one hand on cirsingle

     Another clipping states “Tootsie Bailey won first and Mary (Marie) Gibson second prize in the steer riding.”
Marie Gibson was a well-known Montana cowgirl and won national awards for bronc riding.
Tootsie was my grandmother and she would have been 17 at that time. I did have the opportunity to spend time with her, ride horseback, and get to know her pretty well before she died suddenly when she was only 57 and I was 12.

     I know that she was an avid horsewomen and that she was more at home on the back of a horse than behind a dust mop. My dad told me she had competed in rodeos, riding steers, when she was young. I kept thinking how courageous that was, especially as I got older and watched bull and bronc riders. Grandma was petite—five-feet two-inches and weighed a little over 100 pounds. I was amazed that she would pit herself against an animal that weighed 900 pounds or so, one whose sole purpose was to get that pesky rider off its back and then maybe stomp on her!

While my grandmother most often dressed in men’s jeans and did a man’s job, riding horseback and working cattle, she also “cleaned up nice” and dressed very feminine and fashionably when she was in social situations.

     Following is an excerpt from Cowgirl Dreams when my character, Nettie, donned a pair of her brother’s denim pants, sneaked out of the house one morning and rode in a neighbor’s informal rodeo. She loved the freedom of riding her horse Toby, wearing pants and especially riding the steer in the rodeo. The adrenaline of staying on the back of that bucking, twisting, angry beast had her hooked and the clothing allowed her to ride unencumbered by the extra fabric of a skirt, divided or not. (I don’t know that my great-grandmother was as opposed to her daughter’s rodeo riding as my character’s mother, but I know, from research, that it was often a family issue and a social stigma.)

     When Nettie arrived home, her mother was horrified to see her daughter dressed as a man. And having heard that Nettie had ridden in the rodeo against her wishes, Mama was highly upset.

     “You.” Mama stepped forward, her face dark red with anger. “You defied me.”

     Cold dread pooled in Nettie’s belly. She’d never seen Mama so mad. “No, I—”

     “Young lady, you were supposed to stay home today. Work on that pile of darning. You know Mrs. Connors wants it done by tomorrow, otherwise we don’t get paid till next week.”

     The darning. She hadn’t given it another thought after she’d decided to sneak out. Oh dear. Icy prickles of guilt stabbed at her. “But. Lola. Why couldn’t she finish it?”

     Mama stepped closer. “And, we had to hear it from the neighbor’s hired man. You. Rode. In. A rodeo.” With each word, she jabbed her finger an inch from Nettie’s face. “You know how I feel about that.”

     “But, Mama, I stayed on. I didn’t get bucked off.”

     “Don’t you sass me, girl.” Mama’s voice shook now. “And wearing pants in public, too.” She closed her eyes a moment and sighed. “You will take that basket of socks, go to your room, and don’t come out until they’re all finished. No supper. No No riding. For a month.” She turned on her heel and stalked out of the kitchen.


     horse-earrings-smThank you, Mary, for hosting me on Petticoats and Pistols. Today is my first stop on my virtual book tour. Please leave a comment to enter a drawing for some cool gifts. today, on Petticoats and Pistols, the drawing is for a pair of horse earrings. Perfect for P & P readers.

And join me tomorrow at L. Diane Wolfe’s Circle of Friends blog

     For the itinerary of all my stops on this tour and a list of prizes, go to my blog

Click on the book cover to purchase

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31 thoughts on “The Cowgirl Behind “Cowgirl Dreams” by Heidi Thomas”

  1. Hi Heidi, that was very interesting to read about your grandmother. I enjoyed reading the excerpt from Cowgirl Dreams. I will have to get this book.

  2. Hello Heidi,

    Your grandmother sounds like one very cool lady. Would loved to have met a woman who could out do the men. Loved the excerpt of your book. Have a great day.

  3. That was a wonderful story about your grandmother. I was very close to my grandmother and she died when I was 37 when she died. She would have been 86 the year she died. We did all kinds of things together, went shopping, we even took a trip to Ireland and Scoltland, she was 70 and I was 21. I miss her so much. So your story is a fitting tribute to your grandmother.

  4. Hi Heidi. Loved your post. Made me wish I knew more about my own grandmothers’ past lives. My father’s mother died just before I was born and all I really know about her is that she lived a hardscrabble life raising 12 children. My mother’s mother, whose career was comprised of working in a shrimp factory until her own children were grown, was around through my growing up years but never really talked about her past. Wish now that I’d thought to ask her about it.

  5. How fun to have such memories to share! It’s wonderful your grandmother kept a scrapbook. Too much history like that is gone, so you definitely have a treasure indeed!

  6. What a fascinating post. It was interesting to read about your grandmother’s life. I enjoy learning about the past and wish we could learn more about these amazing lives and how they shaped the person. Sometimes we leave it too late and didn’t appreciate knowing about them when we had the chance. Thanks for this glimpse.

  7. Hello Heidi Welcome to P&P! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting your grandmother through your blog and enjoyed your excerpt. If I had to choose between darning socks and riding a bull in a rodeo, I’m not sure which I’d go for. I admire your grandmother’s spirit!

  8. Hi Heidi, your grandmother sounds very courageous and adventurous. Such happy memories you must have of her. My mother who is 89 has kept 2 family scrapbooks, one her side one my dad’s side. She has promised I can have one. Can’t wait to read your book.

  9. Hi Heidi, welcome to the junction! Your grandmother must have been really someething! To have a scrapbook with all that information in it would have to be a great thing to own! I don’t have anything like that in my family. Your book sounds like a great read. I will have to put in on my wish list!

  10. Heidi,

    Your article is heart warming. I wish I would have been as close to my grandmother. You have a huge heart and to have a family that is close is wonderful.

    Your book sounds wonderful


  11. Wow what cool family history… Your grandmother sounds like a really wonderful person to have known. Thanks for sharing with us… great excerpt! 😀

  12. Hi All,
    Thank you for your wonderful comments! Grandmothers are treasures, aren’t they?! I’m afraid too much wonderful family history is lost because we don’t write it down and that’s part of what spurred me to write this book. Even though it’s fiction, it is still based on real history and a real person. I feel fortunate to have known my Grandma Toots.

    I’ll check in here occasionally, when I can. I’m out of town this weekend.

    Thanks again, P&P for hosting me todqy!

  13. Fascinating post, Heidi. What a fun lady to have as a grandmother. Mine homesteaded in Arizona and wrote greeting card verses in addition to rearing six kids.

  14. Love the story and the excerpt! The dialogue sounds so true to the times. It’s always fun to read about women who “bucked” the system, no matter what the timeframe. 🙂

  15. Hi and welcome Heidi. You go gir(Tootsie). This is very interesting and entertaining. She was a woman beyond the then and now and of the future.

  16. that is supposed to be you go girl(Tootsie). Sounds like your grandma was adventurous and stepped outside the comfort zone for women/females of that time.

  17. Great post, Heidi! Your grandmother sounds like my kind of heroine 🙂 Thanks so much for visiting with us today and sharing her story—and yours!

  18. Hi Heidi! So nice to meet you! That’s a treasure to have that scrapbook! What wonderful history to have on your family too. She so indeed sounds like one committed horsewoman! Reading this except I too know what it means now by a cowgirl! I never realized that! Huge congrats on your release.

  19. Hi Heidi! What great history with your own grandmother! I’m glad you got to know her and wonderful that you have the treasure of her scrapbook!

  20. Heidi,

    I’m a little late in the day but glad you stopped by today. I imagine your grandmother was a delightful woman to know.

    My grandmother’s favorite story is how she would climb on her mother’s buggy horse, Babe, and ride bareback all over their North Dakota farm. She loved the freedom of being a little tomboy.

  21. Great start to your tour, Heidi. My grandfather was a cowboy in Texas during the latter 1800s but he died before I was born. Wish I’d had a chance to hear some of his stories. Good luck on the rest of your tour.

  22. Congrats, Heidi. I’ll be following you around on your tour. And you, we all love Nettie, your protag in your novel based on your Grandmother. I would have liked to have known her too.

  23. Welcome, Heidi. Your grandmother sounds like a very special person. How sad the the special ones so often die much too soon. The things you could have talked about and found out had you been able to be with her when you were an adult.
    Your book sounds like it will be a good window into history for women. Good luck with it.

  24. A HUGE thank you to all who stopped by today! It’s been so neat to read about your grandparents too! This has definitely been a labor of love for me.

    Congratulations RobinL on winning the drawing for today!!


  25. Hi Heide,

    What an audience niche you’ve found. Terrific story about your grandmother too.
    My grandfather recently ded at 103 and I was able to collect a lot of stories from him and my parents that I will incorporate into a reall cool thriller after I finish the Breakthrough trilogy.

    Its amazing how much inspiration one can draw from parents and grandparents, especally those who had lived through two World Wars and the Great Depresson.

    Stephen Tremp
    Author – Breakthrough: The Adventures of Chase Manhattan

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