Weekend Tip: Queens of Cattle

Capitol Visitors Center honors women who rocked the Texas cattle boom

Before androgynous hipsters became Austin's herd du jour, fearless frontier blazing Texas women broke gender norms way back during the 19th century cattle boom.

Sure. Texas is most often associated with ranches, longhorns, and tough cowboys. But, like most history lessons, the stories of the Texas cattle boom are only half told. After the Civil War, about 5 million unbranded longhorns roamed Texas, available for anyone to round up. The abundance of cattle made prices low in Texas, but profits were higher in the North. Despite what we often hear, at the turn of the 19th century, women did just as much, if not more, than men when it came to driving cattle, blazing trails, and running businesses.

Bills from cattle sales and a branding iron on display at the "Texas Cattle Queens" exhibit.
Photo by Carmen Rising

The Capitol Visitors Center features the new exhibit, Texas Cattle Queens, which tells the stories of a few top Texas cowgirls of the day. The exhibit also contains a myriad of artifacts that compliment each of the western tales: saddles, old letters, and even a branding iron all capture the essence of the cattle queens.

A skirt and saddles displayed at the "Texas Cattle Queens" exhibit.
Photo by Carmen Rising

One cowgirl of note is the powerhouse Lizzie Johnson, who ran her entire cattle business, wrote for a newspaper, taught school, and made a fortune. Similar to Johnson, Molly Goodnight defied what it meant to have it all: She cooked, cleaned, provided medical care, taught reading lessons, and eventually took on all of the business transactions associated with her ranch.

"Texas Cattle Queens" exhibit at the Capitol Visitors Center.
Photo by Carmen Rising

Each of the women featured in the exhibit did every thing their male counterparts did and more. Some wrote books or kept the house clean, but all of them rocked the cattle-rearing status quo. These ladies roughed it in the cattle business all while wearing long, heavy skirts and riding sidesaddle.


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