COWGIRLS by Teresa Jordan


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A potentially strong collection of interviews with American cowgirls of varying ages and circumstances--subverted by excerpts from novels, journals, and songs which interrupt the personal stories and mechanically echo their points. (Helen Musgrove, of NX Bar Ranch in northeastern Wyoming, discusses the problem of being a woman manager: ""But a lot of it depends on the woman and who she has working for her."" Begins the match-up quote: ""As for getting [a man] to work for you if you are a woman. . . ."") The interviews are organized, furthermore, under broad category headings--""Cowgirls from the Cradle: The Rancher's Daughter,"" ""Cowgirls Carry On: The Mother-Daughter Tradition,"" etc.--that seem arbitrary at best, and at worst mock-sociology. Free of the academic trappings, the book could have scored as oral history. Jordan, raised on a Wyoming ranch, is forthright about her desire to give ""the cowboy's female counterpart"" an equal place in the sun. The testimonies themselves make a good case for the physical and mental advantages of this no-nonsense life and its proximity to the elements. (Or the elemental: one cowgirl matter-of-factly describes having to dismember a calf in utero in order to save the heifer.) Some of the women share the responsibilities of ranching with husbands: others--like Emerson's 65-year-old granddaughter, Ellen Cotton--go it alone. But few of the cowgirls, ""liberated"" by economic necessity, identify with the women's movement. (There are occasional grumblings, however, at having to do double-duty, inside the house and out.) The two concluding sections, about cowgirls working the rodeo circuits in past and recent times, have little in common with the rest of the material--though they might be of some independent and/or historical interest. And the hundred or so promised photographs will surely be a boon. Still, only the reader with the wisdom to skip over the excerpts and stick with the narratives will get the best of what the book has to offer.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1982
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday