Girls and Guns discussion

Gun-girl genres > Pistol-packing Cowgirls

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message 1: by Werner (new)

Werner Over in the Action Heroine Fans group, we have a few threads focusing on particular types of action heroines. I thought it might be interesting to create some of these in our group as well, and cowgirls seemed like a good subset to start with. To be sure, I'm not well-read in Westerns in general, and even less so on the distaff side; but if I get the ball rolling, I'm counting on others to add to the picture!

The American West of the mid-to-late 1800s wasn't as violent a place as later books and dramatic media made it out to be; but it was violent enough, and it wasn't unusual for women in that time and place to know how to handle guns, and use them to protect themselves and their families. It was in the West that the saying originated that "God created men and women, but Col. Colt made them equal." :-) Real-life gun-toting females like Calamity Jane and Belle Starr (and more respectably, Annie Oakley) figured in the pop culture of that day, and the first two's exploits (usually highly embroidered and exaggerated) were grist for lurid dime novels.

In the early 1900s, around the time that the Wild West was newly settling down to tamer ways, the Western genre, as we know it, began to take shape in literature and film. Especially in the first couple of generations, though, through mid-century and beyond, Western writers and readers tended to be male; conventional stereotypes about women's roles were taken as fact, and gunfighting action was seen as a strictly male province. Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Bandit of Hell's Bend (1924) was an important exception that bucked the trend; ERB's protagonist is male, but his love interest, Diana Henders, is a capable woman who packs (and can use) a Colt. Slightly later, pulp-era writer Les Savage Jr. (1922-1958) was another trail-blazer with his Senorita Scorpion stories, featuring Anglo-Hispanic heroine Elgera Douglas, a Robin-Hood style outlaw who defends her family and others from the depredations of powerful vested interests who use the law as a corrupt tool. Through its Altus Press imprint, New Pulp publisher Pro Se Press has recently brought this corpus of stories back into print in The Complete Adventures Of Senorita Scorpion Volume 1 by Les Savage Jr. and Complete Adventures of Senorita Scorpion, Volume 2 by Les Savage Jr. . (I haven't read these, but they're on my to-read shelf!) They've also published a short collection of modern pastiches of the character, The New Adventures of Senorita Scorpion by Andrea Judy .

More recently, Roy Chanslor's Cat Ballou character, from his 1965 novel The Ballad Of Cat Ballou, became fairly well-known through the loose movie adaptation, though my understanding is that the book is vastly more serious than the movie. (My wife, who's an avid Western fan, has read and liked the former.) A few later 20th-century Western writers with some name recognition in the genre, such as Ray Hogan, also have occasionally featured gun-wielding heroines in a few of their works, such as The Vengeance of Fortuna West by Ray Hogan .

Action-style heroines have grown more popular in recent decades in several genres, with the greater gender equality in the culture as a whole, though my impression is that Westerns still have a gender gap. (We're not considering the so-called "adult Westerns" here, which have their distaff versions; those bear no more resemblance to real novels, or to empowering treatment of women, than Internet porn does to Romeo and Juliet.) But there are still exceptions, some of them in unlikely places, such as a blending of the Western and romance genres; bounty huntress Cody Jameson in Bobbi Smith's Lady Deception by Bobbi Smith is a good example, IMO.

If anyone's interested, my reviews of some of the books cited above can be found at these links:

message 2: by Werner (new)

Werner Although it isn't book-related, the equestrian sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting (in which competitors shoot revolvers at targets from horseback while the horse is galloping) is one of the few sports where men and women can compete for titles against each other. The current issue of Cowgirl magazine has an article on the (I believe) reigning World Champion of the sport, Kenda Lenseigne, which can be read here: .

message 3: by Werner (new)

Werner It's been awhile since I've gotten back to this thread! In the years since, I've made the acquaintance of a few more straight-shooting ladies of Western fiction.

Spur Award-winning writer Stephen Overholser wrote a whole series of novels about "Fenton Agency" (think, Pinkertons, under an alias :-) ) Western detective Molly Owens. (And yes, the Pinkerton agency really did hire female detectives!) Molly and the Gold Baron (Molly Owens #2) by Stephen Overholser Molly and the Gold Baron is the second book in the series (I've never read the first one). My three-star review is here: .

All three of the heroines in the books of the Sophie's Daughters trilogy, set in the West in the late 1870s and early-to-mid 1880s, were raised on a working ranch and have experience punching cattle right along with their stepdad and his ranch hands. And all of them are firearms-adept and have legitimate action-heroine credentials. Author Mary Connealy comments: "I like to include tough women in my books, in case you haven't noticed. I like to think I've raised four tough women." The novels are: Doctor in Petticoats, Wrangler in Petticoats, and Sharpshooter in Petticoats. My wife and I are reading the series together; the first book got five stars from me, and we're on the second.

As the title implies, Susan Page Davis' Ladies Shooting Club trilogy ( The Sheriff's Surrender (The Ladies' Shooting Club Series, #1) by Susan Page Davis The Sheriff's Surrender; The Gunsmith's Gallantry (The Ladies' Shooting Club, #2) by Susan Page Davis The Gunsmith's Gallantry; and The Blacksmith's Bravery (The Ladies' Shooting Club, #3) by Susan Page Davis The Blacksmith's Bravery) is about the ladies of an 1880s Idaho town who, in the first book, motivated by an unsolved murder in the community, form a club to learn how to handle firearms for self-defense and the protection of their families and property. Their teacher is Gert Dooley, sister of the local gunsmith, who's taught herself to be a crack shot from years of test-firing the guns her brother's repaired. This was another series my wife and I read together, and I'd highly recommend it.

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