“Cowgirls have a can do attitude,” says Barbara Van Cleve. The Montana photographer and National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honoree was the first cowgirl that I encountered when I walked into the huge dining room at the ranch where I was staying. I had signed up for an extended weekend at The Resort at Paws Up, near Missoula, Montana for a Cowgirl Spring Roundup.
The three day weekend at this luxury resort is a horse lovers dream come true, at least it was for me. I’d heard from other friends who had stayed here that the ranch was the epitome of what you’d want in an authentic western Montana vacation. Gourmet food, estate home quality lodging, beautiful surroundings in the majestic Blackfoot Valley and good quality horses. Does a horseback riding vacation get better than that? Well, yes, it does, because guests are able to rub shoulders with honest to goodness hall of fame cowgirls. What’s it take to be a hall of fame cowgirl?
“The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honors and celebrates women, past and present, whose lives exemplify the courage, resilience, and independence that helped shape the American West and fosters an appreciation of the ideals and spirit of self-reliance they inspire.”
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, to my knowledge, is the only museum in the world dedicated to honoring women of the American West who have displayed pioneer fortitude and courage. Established in 1975, the Fort Worth, Texas-based museum has become an educational resource known for its dynamic exhibits, rare photography collection, research library, and Hall of Fame honorees. While I have yet to visit the museum, it is certainly on my “must do” list for things to see in Fort Worth.
Women who shape the West…change the world
During my time in Montana, I learned that a cowgirl can be many different personalities. I was fortunate to meet four National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honorees. Dr. Eleanor Green, DVM, is a pioneer for women in equine veterinary medicine. Having worked in the field for over four decades, Eleanor Green is the first female dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University in Texas. She is a role model for any women wanting to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine and she is a true horse woman.
Like me, Stacy Westfall has been obsessed with horses at an early age. She got her first pony when she was six years old and has been learning the language of horses ever since. Even if you are not an equestrian, you may know Stacy from her appearance on the Ellen Show after her YouTube video from the Freestyle Reining Competition, riding without a bridle, went viral. Stacy also became the first female rider to win the Road to the Horse competition. She also has a wildly popular Facebook page, writes a blog, trains horses, is active on Instagram and is a wife and mother to a couple of boys. I confess that I have a girl crush on Stacy. If you envision a successful career working with horses, Stacy walks the talk.
As I mentioned, Barbara Van Cleve was the first person I met during the Cowgirl Spring Roundup at The Resort at Paws Up. She was seated to my left at dinner. A full-time professional photographer, Barbara circled back to her passion of horses and photography after retiring from her teaching career. She became the youngest dean of women in the United States at DePaul University where she also taught photography and English literature. Her roots are firmly planted in Montana where she continues to ride. She is always on the search for the best light to capture her ranch life photography.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to spend as much time with Cathy Smith as I would have liked. She taught a class on beading that was very well received, and the students who created medicine bags learned a lot. While you may not know Cathy personally, you have probably seen her work. She is known for costume design, making all the costumes in Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves. Cathy is the epitome of a behind the scenes star, preserving the history of 19th century cowboys and cowgirls, as well as the Plains Indians.
“The Cowgirl Hall of Fame Museum creates inspiration and I hope to pass it on,” Nadine Lipson, Resort at Paws Up co-owner and National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame board member.
“The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honors and celebrates women, past and present, whose lives exemplify the courage, resilience, and independence that helped shape the American West and fosters an appreciation of the ideals and spirit of self-reliance they inspire.” Those are the attributes of a hall of fame cowgirl as taken from the honoree yearbook that I picked up during my Montana travels.
If you want to rub shoulders with hall of fame cowgirls, consider attending the Paws Up Cowgirl Spring Roundup in Montana. Wear your cowboy boots and fringed leather jacket (if you have one) on the airplane, because you don’t want to pack that western wear gear in your suitcase. You can pick up a cowboy hat or western apparel at the Paws Up store. They have all sorts of cool stuff for the cowgirl. For additional insider tips follow luxury travel writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter or Instagram @Nancydbrown and @cowgirlmuseum on Twitter.
If You Go:
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (817) 336-4475 http://www.cowgirl.net/
1720 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame article and photography by travel writer and cowgirl Nancy D. Brown. Nancy has owned several Quarter Horses in her youth but no longer owns horses as she is in an airplane more than out on the trail. She strives to exemplify the independence and free spirit of the American cowgirl.