Bonnie McCarroll: Last of the Lady Bronc Riders
Bonnie McCarroll, 1924 ca. Unknown photographer. Bruce McCarroll Collection of the Bonnie & Frank McCarroll Rodeo Archives RC2006.076.435-1
Saddle Bronc Riding is one of the most thrilling events at a modern rodeo. The sport evolved from the days of the Old West and is based on the task, or art as one might call it, of breaking and training horses to work the cattle ranches. In the early days of rodeo, both men and women routinely competed in the bronc riding events. But the odds are you have never seen a sanctioned women’s event at any rodeo. The reason dates back to one ill-fated ride, 90 years ago.
Bonnie McCarroll was one of the premier performers on the rodeo circuit in the 1920s. McCarroll toured the professional event scene along with her husband, Frank, also a well-known rider. Having survived many close calls during the course of her profession, 32-year-old Bonnie met her match at the 1929 Pendleton Round-Up, the annual rodeo that still takes place in Pendleton, Oregon. McCarroll drew Black Cat, a horse that on this day had been extremely bad-tempered. At the start of the ride, the agitated horse immediately flipped on its back, landing on its rider. Black Cat immediately clambered up and somersaulted forward, landing on her again. Bonnie died eight days later from the injuries she sustained in that accident. As a result, women’s saddle bronc riding has been practically nonexistent on professional rodeo event rosters for nearly a century.
Fast forward to 2017. Daryl McElroy, president of the Texas Bronc Riders Association (TBRA), with the help of his wife, Michelle, began an annual 10-stop ladies bronc riding tour. McElroy’s program has attracted nearly two dozen women who have joined his organization and who compete regularly with the tour. The persistence of the riders and the popularity of McElroy’s events, may prove to be the germination of a movement for a new generation of bronc-busting women.