If you thought the men in the Wild West were tough, just wait until you hear about the women of the era. From owning their own businesses to out-smarting thieves, women of the Wild West were not to be trifled with. They used their bravery and intelligence to prove themselves just as capable as men, and in some cases even pretended to be men so they could vote or fight in battle. Read on to discover how these brave women thrived in the world of horse diving, medical practice, stagecoach driving, shooting, and more.
Sonora Webster Carver
See that crazy person falling through the air on horseback? That’s Sonora Webster Carver, one of the first female horse divers. She rode horses off of towers as tall as 60-feet, landing in an 11-feet-deep pool down below.
She traveled the country performing with William Carver’s team of divers. In 1931, she was blinded after landing in the water in such a way that her retinas became detached. Despite the accident, she continued to horse dive for another decade.
Born just before the Civil War broke out, Annie Oakley had a flair for shooting. She gained recognition for her shooting skills as a teen when she won a contest against Frank Butler. Frank ended up becoming Annie’s husband.
Annie became a headliner in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, where she gained further popularity. She even offered her talents to Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War, but was denied. Annie spent much of her fortune on charities and is the only Wild West woman whose story inspired a Broadway musical.
Lillian Smith was a talented shooter who had already been performing in Buffalo Bill’s show when Annie Oakley arrived on the scene. Both women had practiced their craft from a young age, but it was Lillian who lost to Annie in front of Queen Victoria.
After her disappointing performance, Lillian moved to Oklahoma and joined the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Though she continued to fight for the attention given to Annie Oakley, Lillian remained a successful shooter to the end of her life.
Belle Starr was raised on a farm where fugitives used to hide, so it makes sense that she had an affinity for outlaws, earning her the nickname “Bandit Queen.” She married criminal Jim Reed after the Civil War, and the two went on the run together.
The couple joined forces with a Cherokee Indian family in Oklahoma who was known for horse thievery. Belle was famous for riding sidesaddle and for her bravery in the face of threatening men.
Nicknamed “Doc Susie,” Susan Anderson spent half a century practicing medicine. She was born in 1870 and lived well into the 20th century, working as a doctor until she was 84 years old.
Part of her career was spent tending to patients during the 1918 flu pandemic. The Indiana native moved to Fraser, Colorado where she was the only physician in town for 49 years. Thirty-seven years after she passed, Susan was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
The beginning of Laura Bullion’s life is a mystery, but we do know that it was her affiliation with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch that made her famous. Known as “Rose of the Wild Bunch,” Laura was romantically involved with multiple members of the gang.
It was her involvement in the Great Nothern train robbery that landed her in jail at the turn of the 20th century. Reportedly, her father was a bank robber, which may explain what led Laura to the outlaw life.
The life of Etta Place was full of mystery and questionable scenarios. For instance, she’s pictured here with Sundance Kid, who was her cousin that some think she may have been romantically involved with.
On the other hand, some believe that Etta was at one time the romantic interest of Butch Cassidy. Such a belief would certainly explain why she left her life as a schoolteacher to rob banks with the Wild Bunch. She ultimately separated from the outlaw group and became a cattle rustler.
Bridget Mason fought for her freedom in court a decade before the Civil War. Bridget went on to become a nurse and midwife in California. She ended up becoming the first black woman to own land in Los Angeles.
The clever woman sold a portion of her land and rented the rest of it, building her wealth beyond a quarter of a million dollars. She gave large donations to charities and established the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1872.
Katherine Haroney became known as Big Nose Kate to help eliminate confusion between her and another Kate, both of whom were in the brothel industry. Though she claimed to love not belonging to one man, she started a relationship with Doc Holliday after the two met in Kansas.
It’s believed that Kate set fire to a building in response to Doc being arrested. The fire served as a distraction so that Kate could coerce the guard into letting Doc go. The couple remained together until his passing.
Martha Jane Canary (Calamity Jane)
Marth Jane Canary was a skillful shooter who earned her nickname by defending herself and others against Native American attacks. She is reported to have saved six stagecoach passengers and an army captain.
She became further known when she joined Buffalo Bill’s show at the turn of the 20th century, less than a decade before she died. Though she was married at the age of 33, rumor has it that she truly loved Wild Bill Hickok, who she requested to be buried next to.
Sister of the famous Dunn Brothers bounty hunters, Rose Dunn grew up learning the tricks of her brothers’ trade. She went on to join the Wild Bunch gang when she met and fell for one of its members, George Newcomb.
Rose proved herself to be a vital part of the gang, who she bravely stood by in a battle against US Marshals. Afterward, she even nursed the members back to health. Ultimately, she gave up the outlaw life and married a politician.
Ellen Liddy Watson (Cattle Kate)
Ellen Liddy Watson secured her nickname as Cattle Kate after being wrongfully hanged for being a cattle rustler. It was vigilantes who accused Ellen and her husband of performing the crime.
In actuality, she was a cook at a hotel called Rawlins House, which is where she had met her husband. Ellen attained homestead rights at a location that a wealthy rancher needed to access for its water resources. These days, Cattle Kate is often seen as a victim of an abuse of power.
Josephine Sarah Marcus
Born in 1861, Josephine Sarah Marcus was an actress who toured the country with a theatre group. She ended up staying in Arizona, where she met her future husband while on tour. Her first marriage came to an end when she fell for famous wild westerner Wyatt Earp.
Supposedly, Josephine was the cause of a well-known, 30-second firing match that involved Earp, as well as the infamous Doc Holliday and the Clayton Brothers. At the end of her life in 1944, Josephine still claimed that Wyatt Earp was her true love.