When you think of the stereotypical Wild West individual, what comes to mind? Does your mind conjure images of dirty, gruff men as mean as rabid coyotes, spitting large chunks of tobacco into metal spittoons? The type of men who would shoot you over a card game and spend their days riding through the vast Western frontier with a revolver firmly attached to their hip? Well, those men certainly did exist, but not many people remember how many tough women and Wild West heroines made their marks upon history.
Women in the Wild West, of course, were limited by their lack of rights, but that didn't stop a lot of them from rising up and making a name for themselves. A lot of the women on this list saw their destinies laid out before them and proudly pursued them no matter what. Women and westward expansion don't generally get discussed in the same conversations, but there were plenty of women who deserve praise and recognition for their actions.
Given that they had to live in an extremely male-dominated world, a lot of these women's actions are even more admirable. Check out the list below to learn about some cool women from the Wild West who are remembered as some of the hardcore folks in the history of the US.
"Stagecoach" Mary Fields (1832-1914) spent her early life enslaved, but after the 13th Amendment was passed, she worked as a mail carrier (the first Black woman postal worker in history) as well as a laborer for a church in Cascade, where she did tough physical work and made 120-mile supply runs to Helena, MT. It was during one of these supply runs that Fields faced her toughest obstacle yet: ravenous wolves.
While out on the trail, the wolves came and went after her horses. She fought off the wolves with her shotgun and her revolver. This six-foot-tall, 200-pound Black woman was one of the most hardcore frontierswomen ever.
Cathay Williams refused to let her gender or race stop her from serving her country. During the Civil War, Williams wanted to fight on the front lines, but at the time, women weren't allowed anywhere near the battlefield as anything more than a cook, laundress, or nurse.
Wanting to actually fight, she disguised herself as a man, naming herself William Cathay, and was soon deemed fit for duty. By doing so, she became the very first African American woman to enlist in the army. Though she was hospitalized several times, no one ever discovered her secret.
In 1898, two Oklahoma women by the names of S.M. Burche and Mamie Fossett, who were fearless and independent, shocked the state by being appointed United States Deputy Marshals.
The article announcing their new positions was very complimentary. Part of it reads:
That a woman should choose the vocation of professional thief taker in the most civilized portion of the land would be strange enough. It is infinitely more so when she chooses field duty on the worst territory in the Union. Criminals in Oklahoma and in Indian Territory, the district where these two girls - for they are maidens - must operate, are of the most desperate and dangerous class. More lives are lost among Federal officers in a year than in all the rest of the nation together. So it would seem that these girls possess metal of exceptional kind to willingly undertake such duties.
The two women served warrants and made arrests as any man could do, working in the Indian Territory.
Nobody knows where Eleanore Dumont came from exactly. Her unique accent had some guessing France, while others thought she originated from New Orleans. No matter where the mysterious woman hailed from, she turned up in San Francisco in 1849 and found herself working as a card dealer. A few years later, she moved to Nevada City, where she opened up her own elegant gambling parlor, serving champagne instead of whiskey and not letting in dirty, unclean men. She wanted a respectable place with respectable people.
Her monstrous success led her to purchase a ranch and start raising cattle. She met a man named Jack McKnight who she thought she could trust and signed over her property to him so he could manage it. Unfortunately, McKnight was a con artist who absconded with all her money and left her in serious debt.
Not content to sit idly by, Dumont decided to hunt down McKnight. When she caught up with him, she killed him with two blasts from a shotgun. Her life never recovered from McKnight's treachery, but at least she got her revenge.