Rodeo Queens: On The Circuit With America's Cowgirls

Overview

Rodeo has always been considered a supremely masculine sport, a rough and tumble display of macho strength and skill. But author Joan Burbick shows us the other side of rodeo: the world of rodeo queens?part cowgirl and part pageant princess?who wave and smile and keep the dream of the ideal Western woman alive.

So who are the women behind the candy-red chaps, Farrah Fawcett curls, and rhinestone tiaras? Burbick traveled the backroads of the rural West for years, trying to find ...

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Overview

Rodeo has always been considered a supremely masculine sport, a rough and tumble display of macho strength and skill. But author Joan Burbick shows us the other side of rodeo: the world of rodeo queens—part cowgirl and part pageant princess—who wave and smile and keep the dream of the ideal Western woman alive.

So who are the women behind the candy-red chaps, Farrah Fawcett curls, and rhinestone tiaras? Burbick traveled the backroads of the rural West for years, trying to find out. She interviewed dozens of queens, including rodeo royalty from the 1930s and 40s, women who grew up breaking wild horses, branding calves, and witnessing the sad decline of the ranching life. Stories from white and Native American rodeo queens in the 1950s and 1960s, the golden age of rodeo, reveal the conflicts over gender and race that shaped the rodeo and the Cold War politics of small Western towns. Finally, rodeo queens from the 1970s to the present describe a more fiercely commercial rodeo, driven largely by TV-ratings and sponsorships, glitter and hairspray.

Illustrated throughout with wonderful photographs, this rich tapestry of women's voices echoes and challenges our clichés of the rural West. Their combined stories of fulfilled dreams and lost hopes reveal the tenacity of the myth of the American West, a place of muscled men, golden-haired women, relentless beauty and tragic limits.

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Editorial Reviews

True West
delightful... From contestants to queens, these remarkable women and their life stories are exciting and heartwarming. A true treasure.
August/September 2003
Choice
a sympathetic treatment...Both feminists and rodeo enthusiasts will have to reckon with this illuminating book.
From The Critics
In the testosterone-tossed world of rodeo, Burbick serves up a delectable slice of Americana, illuminating the world of rodeo queens.
Dallas Morning News
[Burbick's] intriguing book shows how changes in the role of rodeo queen have reflected changes in...the American West.
Los Angeles Times
[Burbick] is capable of showing us both the glitter and the glamour of the rodeo subculture and...some of its deepest contradictions.
Hartford Courant
...combines a native's understanding of the territory with an outsider's skepticism. This is a writer and horsewoman who knows her subject.
Oregonian
[What's] interesting...is the historical framework-political, economic, social and cultural-that Burbick builds around the women's stories.
Salt Lake Tribune
what it's like to be a woman in farm country,... an ultimately tough situation that strains typical notions of feminism.
The New Yorker
Before the first postcards arrived back East showing sunlit cactuses and mesas, railroad-company photographers and government surveyors had already begun to document the American West for commercial gain. In Print The Legend, Martha A. Sandweiss writes that as early as the eighteen-sixties daguerreotypes, album plates, and glass lantern slides encouraged railroad barons and real-estate developers to plot their next moves. Desolate flatlands were paired with optimistic text, depicting "a visual story that affirmed and expanded the central fictions of nineteenth-century western history."

The rodeo circuit provides another framework for Western legend; barrel-racing cowgirls spent their time away from the arena "polishing white boots and powdering white hats," according to Rodeo Queens and The American Dream. Author Joan Burbick interviews female rodeo stars, starting with the foremothers of the nineteen-thirties. "Buckle bunnies," as they were called, "were on a strict work schedule. Western heritage was serious business."

Farther west lay California, and particularly Southern California, with its stark contrasts of reality and fakery, history and amnesia. "Accept no man's statement that he knows this Country of Lost Borders well," Mary Austin warned in 1909, but more than seventy contributors take a shot in Writing Los Angeles. One of them, Helen Hunt Jackson, described L.A. in 1883 as a city of "century-long summers" -- an earlier version of Truman Capote's assessment: "Snow is on the mountains, yet flowers color the land, a summer sun juxtaposes December's winter sea." In other words, wish you were here.

(Lauren Porcaro)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586482046
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 1/20/2004
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,151,282
  • Product dimensions: 0.58 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Burbick teaches American Studies at Washington State University. Born in Chicago, she has lived in the Palouse region of northern Idaho and eastern Washington for the last twenty years, writing, raising a family, and, in her free time, working with horses.

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Table of Contents

Breakout 1
1 Rodeo Queen Lament 11
2 The Last Branding 29
3 A Drowned Land 45
4 Trusting the Wild 61
5 Leaving Pochontas 77
6 Queen for a Day 101
7 Hidden Horses 119
8 Separate Belongings 131
9 Rhinestone Cowgirls 153
10 A Perfect Image 173
11 Dreaming Las Vegas 193
The Last Rodeo 205
Acknowledgments 215
Works Consulted 217
A Note on the Photographs 229
Index 231
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