Two-Gun Nan Aspinwall

Nan Aspinwall, born in Nebraska in 1880, was skilled at trick roping, sharp shooting, archery, stunt riding, bronc riding, and steer riding. She also portrayed an Oriental dancer called Princess Omene.

She was eventually the highest paid star in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East troupe. None of these things are what she became really famous for. Two-Gun Nan’s true claim to fame came in 1910-11 when, on a bet from Buffalo Bill, she rode from San Francisco to New York on horseback. At the age of 31, she covered 4496 miles in 180 days in the saddle, alone. The 180 days includes a week spent in the hospital when she and her horse ‘fell off a mountain.’

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I have no idea exactly what that means and I couldn’t find details but she and her horse were in good shape when they finished their historical coast to coast ride. Like a true showman, she didn’t end her ride quietly. When Nan arrived in New York she rode into a 12 -story building, on into the freight elevator and rode it to the top floor.

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Two-Gun Nan became an instant legend. At a time when the frontier to the west had closed, and barbed wire cut across every stretch of once open country along the entire continent, this cowgirl single-handedly found a way to rekindle the American fascination of saddling up, heading to the horizon, and banging around the vast expanse of a country that spread from one sea to another. Perhaps more importantly, she proved this dream and this country were open to women as well as men.

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The ride became part of the greater Western mythology almost instantly, where it remained solidly for half a century. In 1938, almost three decades after the ride, Nan’s journey was included on the Mutual Broadcasting System’s national radio broadcasts of Famous First Facts. The media legend of the ride again was recounted on the radio in 1942 on a broadcast of Death Valley Days. About 1960 “Death Valley Days” did a television show about her cross-country ride, for which she was a technical advisor. In 1958, Nan’s adventure made the jump to black-and-white television when it appeared in an episode of the Judge Roy Bean television show.

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Born Nan Jeanne Aspinwall, she added the last name Gable when she married her first husband, Frank Gable, around 1900. These two traveled and performed together, and after 1913 even ran their own touring wild west vaudeville production, Gable’s Novelty Show.

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Frank died around 1929, and Nan dropped from view not long after that. Nan remarried at some point in the 1930s to a man whose last name was Lambell.

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With the new name of Nan Jeanne Aspinwall Gable Lambell, the adventurous cowgirl spent the last 34 years of her life living in anonymity and solitude by choice. She died on October 24, 1964 at age 84 in San Bernardino, CA.

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Her death certificate listed her as a life-long housewife.

Mary Connealy

Mary Connealy
Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series
https://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules
Updated: July 21, 2010 — 12:21 pm

29 Comments

  1. Mary, first thanks for the reminder about Death Valley Days…I watched as a kid, one of my favorites. I think it was probably the show that taught me what an anthology was!

    As far as Nan goes, I want her hair AND her sense of adventure! But even more, I want to know why her death certificate listed her as a lifelong housewife. Was it family request, propriety on the part of the person filling it out, was she disillusioned with her previous life?

    Guess that is why these tales make great fodder for fiction!

    Peace and thanks for a great post, Julie

  2. Howdy, Mary! Did Nan have guts or what? What a wild ride she had…I’m with Julie on the death certificate. I have a hunch her family sat there, scratching their heads at the impossibility of summing up her life. Or maybe in her later years that wildness had faded so thoroughly they really did think of her just as Mom or Grandma.

    Thanks for an interestng read!

  3. “Her death certificate listed her as a life-long housewife.”
    What an understatement that was. What an interesting character, Mary. And I’d never heard of the Far East Days–but it explains Princess Omene.

  4. Amazing post, Mary, and an amazing woman! Life-long housewife? Whaaat? I sense a heroine in the making here. Thanks for letting us meet a terrific woman. oxox

  5. Somehow I blamed her new husband, or maybe CREDITED him. She must have been satisfied with her life. Or he was embarrassed enough by her old life he refused to let her talk about it.

    Very curious, I think.

    The reading I did on her really emphacized how completely she’s dropped from view. It took a lot of research to find her. Different name, different state. No proper obituary.

    The person who wrote about her searched for details for five years before coming up with what ever happened to Nan.

  6. Mary, Nan was sure a go-getter. She was a woman of many talents who didn’t let grass grow under her feet. But how sad that her death certificate listed her as a life-long housewife. She was much much more than that. I wonder if she had any kids. I hate to think of her all alone in her declining years.

  7. A wonderful heroine–and great research, btw! As far as what was filled out on the death certificate, I could imagine it being difficult to condense her exploits onto one line. And anyway, back then, entrepreneur or adventurer meant a man. Even today, people who are “out of the box” tend to be mislabeled.

  8. Hi Mary great post! I think she was far from being a life-long house wife. I don’t think she got enough credit where credit was due, but I think this is just life for women!

  9. Doesn’t it make you wonder what all has been forgotten? Lost in the mists of time.

    What other accomplishments just didn’t make it into the newspaper?

    I wonder too, exactly what that meant, that she ‘fell off a mountain’. A vague reference to a fairly major accident. 🙂

  10. What an interesting person! Makes me wonder what my obit will say….mmmmm. Am I ‘just’ anything?
    Thanks Mary, for giving me something to ponder. Perhaps we should all write our own and see what we would say of our lives.

  11. Hey, that could be the question of the day, Connie. 🙂
    Let’s all write our own obit.

    Or headstone.

    Or not.

  12. Avatar

    With all the repeated publicity about her feat, I can’t believe I never heard about it. With women continually doing these types of things and showing how capable they were, you wonder how they were still considered the weaker and less capable sex.
    Shame on her husband for giving the obituary he did. That just diminished everything she was. Maybe he was jealous and controlling and that was his last shot at showing her he was in charge. (I knew an older woman who was very independent and active. She married an old bachelor who when she became ill became very controlling and abusive. Kind of an unfortunate way for such a wonderful woman to spend her last days. I think he was jealous of her friends and all that she was.)
    thanks for another interesting and informative post, Mary.

  13. And regarding headstones:

    I am a perfectionist. I can spot a crooked picture hanging on a wall the moment I enter room and it will drive me crazy unless I straighten it.

    My husband is of the belief that anything is good enough. We have been remodeling and doing home and garden projects together for many many years. You can imagine the head butting in our working relationship.

    I have forewarned him that if he dies before me, I am going to have his headstone set off to the side of his grave, and upon it I will have engraved, “That’s close enough.”

  14. Hi Mary,
    I love reading about characters in the old west and Two-Gun Nan is right up there.

    BTW:
    Since Mary is so modest (a gene I happen to be missing) I’ll say it in case some of you missed it: MARY FINALED TWICE IN THE AMERICAN CHRISTIAN FICTION WRITERS CAROL AWARD!

    Hee Haw!

  15. Big congratulations, Mary!!!

    I too find it very curious as to how she seemed to just fade away. What a shame.

  16. A life-long housewife!!! Who wrote that obit???

    FYI-on my blog http://bit.ly/N4yOf I’m featuring your own Margaret Brownley who’s up for a RITA. Drop by and see what MB has to say about that!

  17. She was widowed a second time and ended up living near her brother. No children of her own. Once who ever started hunting for her, found her family, they had extensive albums full of her accomplishments but for whatever reason, they never bragged about it.

    Maybe she had a nice, full life after her youthful fame that she loved, devoted to nieces and nephews…who’s to say.

    But once she was ‘rediscovered’ her family seemed really proud of her and they’d carefully saved tons of pictures and news clippings.

  18. Wow, what great info for one of my upcoming characters. I’m gonna have to do more research on her and other women who rode with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

    Mary, you always find great fodder for me to feed off of!

  19. Thanks for introducing me to Nan! She sounds like an amazing lady.

  20. WOW! what an amazing woman!
    i would like to think i would have the guts to ride across the country alone…but i don’t think i’d make it
    musta been a dang good horse to fall off a mountain..finish the trip then take an elevator ride as the finale 🙂

    i’ve always thought being a housewife was the toughest job of them all…so maybe it’s how she summed it all up, lol
    i didn’t know they put that kind of stuff on a death certificate…i thought just what you died of?…maybe she died from the housewife part?

  21. I heard of her because she’s originally from Nebraska.
    My writer friend Stephanie Grace Whitson is a big fan of Nan. HEY that should be her fan club’s name.

    Fan of Nan.

  22. What a terrific post! She was beautiful in her photo, and certainly adventurous. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Thanks,Mary, for bringing this great lady to
    our attention!

    Pat Cochran

  24. Nan was the inspiration for my character Liberty Belle in Unbridled Dreams. I made Liberty Belle a trick rider because I know a lot more about horses than I do weapons, but it was amazing to sit at the Nebraska State Historical Society reading Nan’s scrapbooks. What a life! I’m glad to see someone has done a magazine article about her. Some of her paraphernalia and photos were on display not long ago here in Lincoln at the history museum. It was like seeing an old friend after spending so much time with her researching Unbridled Dreams.

  25. Winter, the Buffalo Bill Museum in WY was very helpful when I was researching. Also, there’s a master’s thesis in theatre on the subject of HOW Cody moved his production with lots of fascinating tidbits about the backdrop, the lighting, etc. If you’re interested, e-mail me and I’ll be happy to dig it out and give you the title. Steph Whitson

  26. Thank you for the great research and saving Nan from obscurity. Everyone respnded with great appreciation : http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=217307224972364&set=a.189903124379441.35396.189896404380113&type=1&theater

    As to her obit, the romantic in me wants to think that after a lifetime of adventures, Nan found the most rewarding and challenging event in her life was Family and that being label a “Lifelong Housewife” is a term of honor and respect, not one meant to demean.

    Like I said, a romantic. Keep up the good work. I’ve sent this post onto my sister who is Library Director at the Gene Autry Museum of the West.

  27. I found Nan a few years ago while researching my family’s history. When I give a speech about the Aspinwall’s, I bring up cousin Nan and all her accomplishments. The Aspinwall women love to hear about this great lady. Jerry Aspinwall

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