Two-Gun Nan

Posted on May 17, 2017 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, handicap, history, riding.

two-gun

 

Two Gun Aspinwall and Lady Ellen during their 4496 mile ride across the USA.

The momentum of the cowgirl legacy is still felt today, and their stories remain as relevant as ever. Two-Gun Nan, towered with the tallest of these larger-than-life figures. She did so not only in the show arena as a lead in the rather masculine realm of trick roping, sharp shooting, archery, stunt riding, bronc riding, and steer riding, but also as the sensuous, beautiful, entirely feminine Oriental dancer character she portrayed known as Princess Omene as well. Still, even boasting these startling talents that eventually made her the highest paid star in the biggest show of the era – the combined venture of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East troupe – none of this was what she was best known for. Her most remarkable feat was real, not staged, and incredibly difficult and dangerous.

Two-Gun Nan’s magnum opus came in 1910-11 when she rode from San Francisco to New York on her Thoroughbred mare, Lady Ellen, covering 4496 miles and taking 180 days in the saddle. At 31 years old, she became the first woman to ride from coast to coast. She did it wearing pants and split skirts, riding astride, which was likely still illegal in some parts of the country. She did it packing a pistol, which she used on at least two occasions to shoot up inhospitable towns. And, she made the ride alone.

Two-Gun Nan Aspinwall stunned America and inspired women of a new generation with her transcontinental ride.  “A travel-stained woman attired in a red shirt and divided skirt and seated on a bay horse drew a crowd to City Hall yesterday afternoon,” reported the New York Times on 9 July 1911.    “They gazed upon Miss Nan Aspinwall who had just finished her lonely horseback ride from San Francisco. She had many adventures and once spent a week in hospital after her horse stumbled down a mountainside. ‘Talk about Western chivalry!’ said Miss Aspinwall. ‘There’s no such thing. In one place I rode through town shooting off my revolver just for deviltry. At another place I had to send several bullets into a door before they would come out and take care of me’.”
Equally skilled with a gun or a horse, the Los Angeles Tribune reported that while in New York upon completing her journey in 1911, Two-Gun Nan, “entered a 12-story building and startled her friends by remaining in the saddle and ascending to the top floor,” (via the freight elevator).

The ride became part of the greater Western mythology almost instantly, where it remained solidly for half a century. In 1938, almost three decades after the ride, Nan’s journey was included on the Mutual Broadcasting System’s national radio broadcasts of Famous First Facts, where she reported that it was the suggestion of Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill in 1909 that instigated her to make the ride. The media legend of the ride again was recounted on the radio in 1942 on a broadcast of Death Valley Days. In 1958, Nan’s adventure made the jump to black-and-white television when it appeared in an episode of the Judge Roy Bean television show.

At a time when the frontier to the west had closed, and barbed wire cut across every stretch of once open country along the entire continent, this cowgirl single-handedly found a way to rekindle the American fascination of saddling up, heading to the horizon, and banging around the vast expanse of a country that spread from one sea to another. Perhaps more importantly, she proved this dream and this country were open to women as well as men.

re-posted from horsetalk.co.nz

 

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