Zora and Josie – famous circus women of the early 20th Century

Here are a couple quotes that really begin to form my opinion about the era and how (circus) women were perceived:

Zora and her husband, Fred, protect their cattle grazing land from the sheepmen who were notoriously impossible to keep from one’s land. The book describes the history of all out war between the sheep and cattle ranchers. The implication is that Zora was even more infamously dangerous than them.  It also seems that word got out and no more sheepmen attempted to graze their flock on Zora’s land again:

“I dressed as hurriedly as possible, then, running forth to the corral, threw a halter upon my saddle horse and mounted him bareback; there was no time to be lost. If I could only reach there before actual conflict! To that end, I took a short cut of precipitous grades through dense brush which lashed my face and scraped my knees as the horse hurried with none too much care along the twisting trail, at last to come into the open and see before me the sheep camp, still undisturbed.
”Please!” I begged of the flockmaster.  “Won’t you go?  My husband’s coming armed, and he means it.”

“Does he?” sneered the other man.  “Well, we’re armed too.”

It aroused every fighting instinct within me.  The enmity between sheep owner and cattle owner is a primal one.  My jaws set — and I suppose my features must have given good indication of the resentment within me.
”Well,” I answered, “I’ve tried to plead with you — simply because I don’t want to see you killed.  You know,” and I put emphasis into the sentence, “it isn’t murder in this country to shoot a rat of a sheepman!”

He looked at me queerly.  Suddenly his eyes widened.
”You’re that lion-tamin’ woman, ain’t you? he asked.  I merely answered with a not.

An instant later Fred came riding out of the brush, his right hand moving toward his holster.
”Well,” he asked.

“Goin’ right out, Brother,” said the flockmaster.  “Goin’ right out — an’ I don’t want you to think that this here is my fault.  I just got them there boundary lines mixed up, that’s all.  Never meant to trespass on your land; never meant it at all.”

Josie DeMott Robinson experienced more exhaustion and her body was more fraught with pain when she tried to keep her waist corseted to 18″, that she ever was in her rigorous circus training as an athlete and horse riding acrobat.  Josie has decided to learn to ride a bicycle in order to get back into shape. She describes how a local minister tries to inhibit her from riding a bicycle:

So I took up bicycle riding. This does not sound like a very revolutionary thing to say nowadays, when our girls rush about the land in high-powered cars or do fancy dancing in a piece of gauze and a pair of ballet slippers.  The bicycle was at this time just coming into vogue, but the women were not numerous riders as yet.  I was a real pioneer.  And I wore a real sport suit of the day — a jacket with huge sleeves and a divided skirt of some brevity.

When I had manged to learn the thing well enough to keep out of the ruts and avoid boulders instead of making straight for them, I decided to ride a few blocks down our street, around the church at the corner and so back home.  There was a good sidewalk there, and I knew most of the people living on those blocks, and hoped that, by showing them a little skilful riding I might induce them to take it up too, and perhaps later we could form a club.  So in my new suit and cap forth I sallied.  As I rounded the church corner I met the minister coming out, and since he was the one who often attended our Home Mission meeting, I greeted him cordially, hopped off my wheel, and talked to him with my best manners.

I called his attention to the make of my wheel, showed him where its construction was better than others, mounted and dismounted to show him how easy it was to become proficient in a short time, and then rode along slowly with him, since he was evidently going in my direction.  We parted at our gateway, and I finished my ride by circling our drives.

Later the minister called me up and asked if he might call and see me for a few minutes.  I thought perhaps he had come to ask the name of my wheel with a view to buying one for his wife, but not so.  He asked me if I did not consider it a little unbecoming to ride a wheel.  I was taken aback,  but decided he was a nice gray-haired, old-fashioned thing, so I explained the benefit I derived from the exercise, and he listened in silence.  I thought I had converted him, but as soon as I was through explaining, he rose to go.

“Of course, my dear Mrs. Robinson,” he said, “if you will insist on this I cannot prevent you, but will you be good enough to take some other street and not ride past the church?  It has a bad enough effect on the young people anywhere, but seeing it go past a church is a corrupting thing for them and all of us.”

He left me trusting I would think it over. And I did, but not in the way he meant.

The following excerpts are from The Circus Lady by Josephine DeMott Robinson and Sawdust and Solitude by Lucia Zora.