Though other women like Annie Oakley were called cowgirls, young Lucille Mulhall really lived up to the name by roping steers. As a child Lucille learned to ride a horse along with her brother Logan. After Logan’s death, Lucille became her father’s assistant on the family’s Oklahoma ranch. She learned to train horses, shoot, and brand cattle.
Despite all her talents, she excelled most in steer roping. Steer roping required her to ride her horse near a herd of cattle, and throw her lasso over the animal’s horns so the steer lay on its back. Then Lucille jumped off her horse and tied the feet of the steer together.
Luckily for Lucille, in the late 1890s and early 1900s the American West was full of opportunities for her to display her talent. Wild West shows were popular and performers traveled the country. Most performers were men, but Lucille’s father recognized that his daughter was unique. In 1899, Zack Mulhall created The Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers Wild West Show. Though Lucille was only a teenager, she and her horse Governor were the stars of the show.
Outside the show ring, the team of Lucille and Governor competed against some of the toughest cowboys. In 1903, Lucille set the world record by roping a steer in 30 seconds. At seventeen, she was the only female steer roper in the world.
Unlike other cowgirls, Lucille was considered ladylike and beautiful. She never wore pants; she always wore long skirts. Will Rogers, who rode in the Mulhall show, said Lucille “never dressed like the Cowgirl you know today, no loud colors, no short leather skirts and great big hat…her skirt was divided, but long, away down over her patent leather boot straps…a grey broadcloth, small stiff-brim hat and always a white silk shirt waist.” Her ladylike qualities attracted the attention of Buffalo Bill Cody, who had his own show. He tried to convince her to tour with him, but Lucille continued to work for her father.
Her decision to dress like a lady did not mean she was weaker than other cowgirls, however. Steer roping was dangerous, but Lucille showed determination and strength in times of adversity. One reporter asked her, “Aren’t you afraid your horse will slip and fall?” She replied, “Oh, I expect that. I’m not afraid of getting hurt.” Sometimes Lucille did get hurt by hurting a leg or bruising a rib, but she always returned to the work she loved.
She continued to perform when she grew up. In 1916 she finally joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Farewell Tour Program. This was Cody’s first chance to work with Lucille, and even though her career was ending he still thought she was one of the greatest women riders he ever had in his show.