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Lucille Mulhall Carried Feminist Banner
Into the Cattle Country

Kansas City Star, 11 Jan 1941

The Original Cowgirl, Who Died Recently in a Motor Car Accident, Demonstrated That Skirts Are No Insurmountable Barrier to Roping and Branding a Steer
Will Rogers Wrote in Admiration of Her Prowess

SHE extended women's rights to the realm of boots and saddle. Lucille Mulhall, who died a few days ago in a motor car accident near Mulhall ranch, Oklahoma, could see no reason for cowboys alone. She became te first cowgirl, and got away with it.

Lucille's father was the late Col. Zach [Zack] Mulhall. His ranch once spread over 80,000 acres. Will Rogers was his friend and used to exercise a bronc on that little empire of cattle. Will saw a lot of Lucille and he had a cowboy's respect for her. When her father died Will wrote a piece for his weekly wyndicate column that had more to say about Lucille than her father.

"My show career," he wrote, "dates from the time I first run into the colonel in 1899 at St. Louis. He was in charge of a riding and roping contest. Lucille was just a little kid that year, but she was riding and running her pony all over the place, and that was incidentally her start, too.

"It was not only her start, but it was the direct start of what has since came to be known as the Cowgirl. There was no such a thing or no such a word up to then as Cowgirl. But as Col. Mulhall from that date drifted into the professional end of the Contest and show business, why Lucille gradually come to the front, and his youngest Daughter was the flrst cowgirl.

"She became a very expert roper, and was the first girl that could rope and tie a Steer, not only do it but do it in such time that it would make a good roper hustle to beat her.

"Lucille never dressed like the cowgirl you know today, no loud colors, no short leather skirts, and great big hat. No sir, her skirt was divided, but long, of grey broadcloth, small stiff brim hat, and always white silk shirt waist.

"They were received by the best people in every place. The girls could have had a society career if they had preferred. Lucille received more publicity than has fallen to the lot of anyone you have today, all favorable.

"When the colonel took a small picked bunch of us to the Madison Square Garden in 1905, to work as an added attraction with the Horse Show, Lucille was the big attraction.

"Lucille is left alone on the old Ranch place at Mulhall, OK. Lucille Mulhall, whose name has blazed across more paper than most public men attain in a long lifetime. The first cowgirl, one that could do something, not pose, but ride and rope, the only girl that ever rode a horse exactly like a man. She Is left alone with her memories, and they should be happy, for she has given more than she has received. It's not a bad legacy to leave, the 'Best Horsewoman in America.'"

Where Will said "They were received by the best people in every place," he might have gone into detail about how Lucille gave command perforamces before crowned heads of the Old World. And he might have told about Theodore Roosevelt's regard for her. In fact, Will's newspaper piece sounds restrained and understated in comparison with some of the articles printed about Lucille at the turn of the century. The New York World on July 7, 1900, carried an account of Lucille's appearance at the Roosevelt Rough Riders' reunion at Okalahome City July 6.

"A cowgirl of 14 was in many respects the greatest attraction," said the dispatch. "Her name is Lucille Mulhall. At the exposition of frontier life that formed part of the festival she gave an exhibition of her prowess.

"Little Miss Mulhall, who weighs only 90 pounds, can break a broncho, lasso and brand a steer and shoot a coyote at 500 yards. She can also play Chopin, quote Browning, construe Virgil and make mayonnaise dressing. She is a little ashamed of these latter accomplishments, which are a concession to the civilized prejudices of her mother.

Mrs. Mulhall has two famous daughters, and although she is intensely proud of them, she shrinks from the attention they attract. Miss Agnes Mulhall's adventures suggested to Hoyt the plot of "A Texas Steer," and her own figure may be recognized in the heroine of the play.

"Her little sister, Lcucille, won renown by killing a lobo wolf, and last fall took premiums for lassooing wild steers against competitors from every part of the cowboy country from Canada to Mexico. At the rough riders' reunion Miss Lucille matched her skill and courage against the world of cow-punchers and she covered herself with glory.

"Lucille has spent one term at a convent in St. Louis, but she was homesick for the plains and glad to mount a fiery cow with a lariat coiled at the pommel. And the cowboys welcomed her as if she had been one of themselves. She will never forget the proud moment when, flushed with victory, she was presented to Governor Roosevelt, who bowed to her ceremoniously and told her that not a rough rider in his famous troop could have done better than she.

"The Mulhall ranch is on Beaver creek, fifty miles from Oklahoma City. Its owners are a southern family, and have imported with them into the solitudes most of the refinements of civilization. In the drawing room of the homestead is a baby grand piano, on which the mother and daughters play classical music. They are environed with books and periodicals, and their conversation shows that exile on the prarie does not prevent them from taking a lively interest in the thought and culture of the day.

"In earlier years it was her privilege to claim every yearly calf that she had without assistance roped and branded with her initials, "L. M." This system worked very well for a time, but Lucille's ambition increased with her skill and her private herd kept pace with both. The climax came when, during a short absence of her father, she roped and branded twenty of the finest and wildest steers on the ranch. Wishing to avoid bankruptcy, Mr. Mulhall made haste to repeal the privilege.

"Lucille's wolf adventure was one of the most exciting in her career. The lobo wolf is the largest known in Oklahoma. Ernest Seton-Thompson, the hunter and author, has immortalized its ferocity and wisdom. Miss Lucille's antagonist was an unusually fine specimen of the breed. He probably weighed more than she did. For weeks he had been devouring her father's young calves and escaping under cover of night. Miss Lucille organized an expedition of one and took her Winchester along. She found the wolf and shot him through the heart before he had time to spring upon her. His pelt is the hearth-rug in her mamma's drawing room."

So ended the dispatch to the New York World. It seems a more popular version of the wolf episode had it that Lucille struck down the beast with a stirrup iron. The most remarkable angle to that version is that she won a bet from Teddy Roosevelt by running down the lobo, roping it from the saddle, killing it with the stirrup iron and giving the pelt to Roosevelt. As to these versions, we take no sides; it is enough for us to believe that the little girl killed a big wolf.

It is said Lucille began her stage career at Roosevelt's suggestion. She performed all over the United States and Europe. The Zach [Zack] Mulhall Wild West show appeared at the Independence fair in 1909, and Lucille was slightly injured when her horse fell on her. With horse, gun and lariat, she captured audiences wherever she went. She retired from the stage in 1917.

After her second marriage ended in divorce in 1922, she went to live on the old Mulhall ranch, the once vast range now reduced to a homestead. Occasionally she emerged from retirement, as when she gave an exhibition of trick riding and roping for the Mulhall commercial club's barbecue in 1931, and rode in the Guthrie Eighty-niners' day parade in 1935.

Both of her marriages ended in divorce. Her first husband was Martin Van Bergen, a noted baritone. They had one child, a son, Logan, who now lives in Santa Monica, Calif. Her second husband was Tom Burnett, wsealthy Texas rancher and oil man, who died several years ago.

At the time of her death Lucille was 56 years old. She was buried in the family plot on the Mulhall ranch, and a correspondent for the Daily Oklahoman, who followed her coffin through rain and mud, remarked that cowgirls and cowboys might live longer if they stuck to horses. Tom Mix, for instance, who, like Will Rogers, used to work on the Mulhall ranch, was killed in a motor car accident, as was Lucille. And Joe and George Miller, up the road a piece at 101 Ranch, met death the same way. Will Rogers died in an airplane accident.


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