When you think about Texas history, back when Texas was still part of the Wild West, you probably picture cattle drives, campfires, Native Americans and familiar names like Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving. While most cattle drivers were men, there were women on the cattle trails as well, and many of them made their marks. Here are 10 Texas women whose names you should know.
The daughter of Irish immigrants, Margaret Borland lived in Victoria with her third husband, Alexander Borland. After his death from Yellow Fever, Borland drove 1,000 head of longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail to Kansas, and she did it with three kids in tow. The process may have killed her though, as she died several days after completing the journey of an illness described at the time as “trail fever”.
The story of Willie Matthews reads something like a Texan tall tale or a Shakespearean comedy of errors. Samuel Dunn Houston was a cattle boss who hired a particularly industrious young man who rode the trails with cowboys for four months before collecting pay and leaving. The story goes that after Willie left, a young woman returned to reveal that she had been Willie all along, and had dressed as a man to find out what it was like to drive cattle.
Lizzie Johnson Williams
Lizzie Johnson Williams is thought by historians to be the first woman to accompany her own cattle up the Chisholm Trail, and is widely known as a Texas cattle queen. She did business with famous Texan cattle barons George Littlefield and Charles Whitis, and at the time of her death in 1924 she had amassed a fortune of over a quarter of a million dollars ($3.6 million in today’s money).
Araminta Corum Holmsley
Known to her friends as “Minta”, Araminta Holmsley was the wife of Texas cattleman James Monroe Holmsley. Minta joined her husband on cattle drives, and even developed a medicine for treating poison oak on the trails. She was a smart businesswoman, even completing a shrewd sale on her own just before the market price of cattle dropped severely.
Kate Malone Medlin
After losing her husband in the civil war, Kate Medlin took her four children with her on a cattle drive from Hays County to California. The group ended up losing about half of the herd during a skirmish with a tribe of Apaches along the way. It was an arduous journey and yielded more death and illness than gold and riches. Not one to be easily defeated though, Kate kept her calm under attack and kept her children and the other women safe in one of the wagons.
Mary O. Taylor Bunton
Mary Bunton cataloged her experiences on the trail in her book A Bride on the Old Chisholm Trail. She only rode the trail one time, but she worked the Bar S Ranch with her husband for many years. In one tale (off the trail) she is said to have caused such a commotion by simply wearing breeches and sitting astride her saddle that the ruckus caused the cattle to stampede in the pasture.
Lucinda Elizabeth Matthews Reynolds
Lucinda Elizabeth Matthews Reynolds was known as “Bettie” to her family. Bettie joined her husband, George Reynolds, and other family members on the Goodnight Loving Trail to sell their cattle in New Mexico. After weathering Comanche attacks and illness, the Reynolds finally sold their cattle for a good profit and spent the next year living the high life in San Francisco.
Amanda Nite Burks
Amanda Nite Burks joined her husband Franklin Burks on the cattle trails because the couple was so in love that he couldn’t stand to be without her for so many months. While on the cattle drive, the cowboys were fond of Amanda, even though she once accidentally started a huge prairie fire by lighting a match in dry grass.
Hattie Standifer Cluck
Hattie Standifer Cluck gained notoriety after riding up the Chisholm trail while pregnant. Despite her delicate condition, Hattie was a strong woman, she even crossed the Red River on horseback in a flood.
Mary Ann Dyer Goodnight
The wife of famed cattle baron Charles Goodnight, Molly Goodnight is possibly one of the most famous historic Texas women. She eventually earned the reputation as the mother of the Panhandle for her kindness and charitable works. Along with her husband and others, Molly drove a herd of cattle to the Palo Duro Canyon to help establish the now famous JA Ranch.