Invisible women? What do I mean?

Invisible women are all those women who must have been part of the Wild West but who play only minor roles in most westerns except for decoration. My novel The Cowgirl Murders gives women a prominent role. If you want a taste of the novel, here’s a link to an audio version of a short story, Lost on the Trail, which is set about halfway through the book involving several of the characters.

You can now get the whole novel as an audiobook as well as a paperback and e-book.

The cover of the audiobook version of The Cowgirl Murders.

The cover of the audiobook version of The Cowgirl Murders.

Here are ten facts about particular women in the Wild West:

  1. Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey, was a sharpshooter who performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
  2. Calamity Jane, born Martha Jane Canary, was a frontierswoman who was a friend of Wild Bill Hickok. She was famous as a sharpshooter.
  3. Pearl Hart, born Pearl Taylor, was a Canadian-born outlaw. She committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the U.S.
  4. Mary Fields, “Stagecoach Mary,” was the first African American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service.
  5. Lottie Deno, the “Poker Queen”, born Carlotta Thompkins, was a famous poker player and gambler.
  6. Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, Wyatt Earp’s common-law wife, was an actress and dancer.
  7. Carry Nation, was a symbol of the anti-alcohol movement, who vandalized saloons with a hatchet.
  8. Esther Hobart Morris was a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement. She became the first female Justice of the Peace in the U.S. in 1870 in Wyoming.
  9. Nellie Cashman, an Irish-born philanthropist and businesswoman, established restaurants and boarding houses in various frontier towns.
  10. Cathay Williams, born into slavery, disguised herself as a man and served in the U.S. Army under the pseudonym William Cathay.

These facts provide a glimpse into the diverse experiences and contributions of  women during the Wild West era.

Were these invisible women typical?

Some of those invisible women may have been exceptional but here are some facts about the roles of more typical invisible women in the Wild West.

  1. Ranching: Some women worked alongside men on ranches, herding cattle, branding, and even leading cattle drives. For example, Margaret Borland led a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas in 1873.
  2. Homesteading: The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed single, widowed, or divorced women to claim land in their own names. By 1900, women made up about 10% of homesteaders in the West.
  3. Entrepreneurship: Many women owned and operated businesses in the Wild West, including restaurants, hotels, saloons, and brothels. For instance, Mary Ellen Pleasant, an African American, became one of the wealthiest women in the West through her investments.
  4. Education: Women played a crucial role in establishing schools and libraries in frontier communities. In the 1880s, one-third of the teachers in the West were women.
  5. Politics: Although women couldn’t vote in most of the U.S. until 1920, some Western states and territories granted women’s suffrage earlier. Wyoming Territory was the first to grant women the right to vote in 1869.
  6. Medicine: Women served as midwives, nurses, and doctors in the Wild West. Dr. Susan Anderson, “Doc Susie,” was one of the first female doctors in Colorado in the late 1800s.
  7. Entertainment: Women found opportunities in the entertainment industry, working as actresses, dancers, and singers in theatres and saloons. Lillian Smith, a sharpshooter, performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

These facts demonstrate that while many women in the Wild West did keep to traditional roles, others challenged the expectations of the time and made significant contributions in various fields. The experiences of women in the frontier were diverse and complex, shaped by factors such as race, class, and individual circumstances.

Women are not invisible in The Cowgirl Murders

I hope my novel, The Cowgirl Murders gives women in the Wild West their overdue recognition, as well as Native Americans, Black Americans and Irish Americans. I have written about the diverse nature of that society in a previous post.

Perhaps this sets the scene for the Cowgirl Murders for you.

One of the less invisible women in the Wild West, from the cover of The Cowgirl Murders

One of the less invisible women in the Wild West, from the cover of The Cowgirl Murders