Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lucille Mulhall, Wolf Roper & Oklahoma Cowgirl

You’ve heard of Annie Oakley, but have you ever heard of Lucille Mulhall, who at one time was just as famous?

The first rodeo in Oklahoma Territory was held in the mid-1880s, and ironically, Lucille Mulhall was born on her family’s ranch near what would soon be Guthrie, Oklahoma on October 21, 1885. It is said that she could ride before she could walk. The cowboys who rode the plains of the Indian Territories tutored her in the art of lassoing. Her skill at riding, roping, and training horses was evident, and at a young age, she started competing in roping contests.

When Lucille was just ten years old, the mayor of Guthrie invited her to ply her skills and entertain at a cowboy gathering and contest. At age thirteen, she had her first major debut at the St. Louis Fair in 1897, and in a few years, she was performing on the vaudeville stage, entertaining crowds of up to 5,000.

Zach Mulhall, Lucille’s father, organized the Mulhall’s Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers. Lucille was the star of the show, where she met and became friends with Will Rogers and also Teddy Roosevelt, who was then a candidate for the vice-presidency. 

Zach was a proud father and one of Lucille’s greatest fans. He claimed that when his daughter was thirteen, he told her she could keep as many of his steers as she could rope in one day. “Lucille,” he bragged, “didn't quit until she’d lassoed more than 300 cattle!"

In 1900, when her father was roping in El Paso, he bet local cowboys that his daughter could out rope them—and she did. Zach won over $10,000, but Lucille faced a horrible ordeal. The cowboys didn’t believe she was a girl and attacked her, tearing at her clothing to prove she was not a woman. Her brother Charley rescued her just in time.

Later in 1900, Lucille performed at a Cowboy Tournament at a Rough Riders reunion. Teddy Roosevelt was again amazed at her skill. He joined the family for supper, where the topic of conversation centered on the wolves plaguing the area. Lucille offered to get one for Teddy. He agreed, but only if Lucille would rope one. Undaunted by the challenge, she spent the next ten days tracking a wolf pack. One morning, she caught up with them, and as she rode toward them, the pack scattered—all except for a steer-sized wolf she called “loafer”, which ran straight toward her. She roped him, but he gnawed through the rope. She tossed another rope on loafer and tied him to a tree, then cut his throat. She took the wolf to a taxidermist and had it stuffed, then she sent it to Teddy Roosevelt. As a thank you, the Mulhalls and the 101 Wild West Show performed at the McKinley-Roosevelt inaugural parade.

Lucille and her wolf kill made the news across the country, and she was dubbed the Cowpuncher Queen of Oklahoma Territory. Newspaper reported that Lucille was the greatest attraction at the Rough Riders reunion. An article in the Wichita Daily Eagle described her as a little girl who “weighs only ninety pounds can break a bronco, lasso and brand a steer, and shoot a coyote at 500 yards. She can also play Chopin, quote Browning, construe “Virgil” and make mayonnaise dressing.”

1901, Lucille roped five horse simultaneously at a horse show in Iowa. Later, she roped eight at once. The next year, she won a “thousand dollar day championship medal” at the Texas State Fair and Champion Steer Cattlemen’s Convention in Fort Worth. In 1903, Lucille was dubbed “the only lady roper in the world” and won $10,000 when she set a new world record for steer roping.

Lucille married and had a son, but because she left home and returned to performing, her husband, Martin Van Bergen, raised the boy. Van Bergen later divorced Lucille after deciding she would never settle down to domestic life as most women. A second marriage also failed.

Some sources say that Lucille made millions of dollars by performing in silent movies. At one time, she was the most famous horse woman in the world, but she ended up where she began, back on her family’s ranch. She died tragically in a car crash on December 22, 1940.

Lucille performed before European royalty, U.S. presidents, and won the respect of cowboys worldwide for her skill. She became the only female rodeo producer of her time with her show Lucille Mulhall’s Roundup and is well known for opening up the world of rodeo for women. Lucille's popularity was due to her skill, the result of perfect timing with her rope, unusual balance on her horse, and her diminutive size and ladylike demeanor. Most important, she was authentic, coming from a genuine ranch background. She was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1975 and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1977.

So, tell me. Have you heard of Lucille Mulhall before?

Credits: The Chronicles of Oklahoma, Rodeo in Oklahoma is Women’s Business by Tracey Hanshew.

In 2008, I started writing a book called Gabriel’s Atonement, which has stayed on my heart ever since. It was one-third finished when I had to set it aside because I got a contract for another book. I was thrilled, when after several rejections, Gabriel’s Atonement was finally picked up by Barbour Publishing. The book released on January 1, and I’m thrilled to tell you that Gabriel’s Atonement, book 1 in the Land Rush Dreams series received 4 ½ stars from Romantic Times magazine.

Popular historical author Laurie Kingery writes: “This is possibly the best western I've read all year. (2014)”

What it’s about:

Gambler Gabe Coulter is content with his comfortable life—but when a man with a gun confronts him in a dark alley, everything changes. Guilt riddles him for killing Tom Talbot, even though it was self-defense. The dying man said the money he lost to Gabe was meant for his wife and son. The only way Gabe knows to rid himself of the guilt over killing Talbot is to return the money he won to the man’s wife. 

Lara Talbot doesn’t believe Tom had money. She sees Gabe as a charming con artist like her irresponsible husband and wants nothing to do with him. She struggles to feed her family, keep her rebellious sister in line, and care for her young son and sick grandpa. The land rush in the Oklahoma Territory seems the only way for them to get a home, so Lara rides, but her dreams don’t turn out as planned. Could God have a bigger dream for her than she could imagine?

Bestselling author Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie is the award-winning author of thirty-five books and novellas. Her novels include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, and End of the Trail, which won the OWFI 2013 Best Fiction Novel. Whispers on the Prairie was a Romantic Times Recommended Inspirational Book for July 2013. She recently tried something different and wrote Rancher Under Fire, a contemporary suspense for Love Inspired. 

Vickie has been married thirty-nine years to Robert. They have four grown sons, one of whom is married, and a precocious eight-year-old granddaughter. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, antiquing, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website: www.vickiemcdonough.com


  1. This was very interesting! I had never heard of Lucille before!

    1. I grew up in OK and had never heard of Lucille until I read about her in a journal the OK Historical Society puts out. She sure lead an interesting life.

  2. Good ol' Lucille. Great job covering her colorful life, Vickie.

  3. This California gal had never heard of Lucille. She was a remarkable woman who accomplished a great deal. It's sad that her personal life suffered due to her professional fame, though. Celebrities of yesterday faced the same challenges as those of today it would appear.

  4. Keli, your right about celebrities. There a lot of pressure on them that us normal folks don't have to deal with.

  5. Thanks for a fascinating reminder of a fantastic woman, Vickie. I had heard of Lucille Mulhall, having "met" her when I was researching Unbridled Dreams about a trick rider for Buffalo Bill's Wild West, but you taught me more than I knew about her. What an uncommon life for her era. Loved the photographs, too ... she was lovely in a day before Photoshop. And what courage ... roping a wolf? Yikes.

    1. I know--roping a wolf. Crazy, isn't it. And she wasn't all that old when she did it. She certainly lived an interesting life.

  6. I have never heard of Lucille before this posting. Close call there when her clothes were torn off to see if she was a girl. I enjoyed Gabrielle's. Atonement. Sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com