Saddles, Grit, & Ostrich Feathers: The Life of Prairie Rose Henderson

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She was known for her outrageous self-fashioned clothing, excellence in horse riding, and her mysterious disappearance. You may not recognize her name, but Prairie Rose Henderson became one of the first professional women athletes in the world in 1899.

Saddles, Grit, & Ostrich Feathers: The Life of Prairie Rose Henderson

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Born as Ann Robbins in the 1870s, this cowgirl grew up working on a ranch. By the time she was in her late 20s, she was one of the foremost cowgirl bronc riders in the Westland ranges. After insisting her way into the event, she participated in the Cheyenne Frontier Days, winning a prize saddle. Her transition to be known as Prairie Rose Henderson is uncertain, but she was certainly making a name for herself in the rodeo circuit. Specializing in bareback bronc riding, she also showcased with relay racing, flat racing, roping, and trick riding.

After joining the Irwin Brothers Wild West Show, Prairie Rose drew attention across the country with her opulent riding clothes of her own design. They included feathers, sequins, chiffon, a broad-brimmed hat, knee-length bloomers, and of course, cowboy boots. Like most professional riders, Prairie Rose suffered several job-related injuries. One example occurred in 1920. While participating in a Kansas rodeo, the bronc she was riding ran off the grounds and into a tree. Rose’s head hit the tree and two of her front teeth were knocked out. Ever the show-woman, she stayed on her saddle and continued riding.

Saddles, Grit, & Ostrich Feathers: The Life of Prairie Rose Henderson

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In 1929, she returned to Wyoming, married, and retired from rodeo riding. One fateful night several years later, a blizzard caught Prairie Rose out in the elements, and she was lost until six and a half years later when her skeleton was found by a scouting firefighter. Her identifying mark was a championship belt buckle still worn upon her waist. Local legend says some stormy nights still bear the distress calls of Prairie Rose Henderson. A fascinating woman among others of her day, this trailblazing cowgirl surely was a fan favorite!