Legendary, All-Round Cowgirl
Mabel Delong Strickland was born in January 1899 in Walla Walla, Washington.
She learned to ride at the same time she learned to walk. It is no small wonder because her father was a boot maker who introduced her to the world of horses, cowboys and rodeo. She had a natural ability with horses and upon her graduation from Walla Walla high school she began her rodeo career and was sponsored by a local horse breeder, George Drumheller.
Her riding career actually began in 1913 with her first official rodeo competition in 1916. By the time she was sixteen, she was a top rodeo trick rider earning many awards and honors holding this title of top trick rider, for over ten years. She had been taught the craft and coached by rodeo star Bill Donovan. She made rodeo appearances at Madison Square Garden many times. In 1926, she had an accident while performing in the arena. She was executing a trick that required her to duck under the horse’s neck and while galloping she would grab the saddle, and come up on the other side of the animal. This one time she lost her grip and in an instant she found herself on the ground under the belly of the horse. She was injured but in several weeks she recovered and went on to earn many more awards and honors.
Mabel stood just a bit over five feet tall, weighed less than 100 pounds, she was slim, willowy and known to be as gentle as a dove. One would never have guessed by looking at her that she was a star in the grueling and physically tough sport of rodeo. But, a star she was. From 1916 for 25 ears thereafter her name was held in high esteem on every major rodeo circuit. She had a flair for fashion and she accented her natural beauty with many western outfits such as split skirts of red velvet, fancy silk shirts and always matching boots, hats and scarves.
She participated in every competitive rodeo event except bulldogging. Bulldogging, or steer wrestling is an event during which a horse mounted rider chases a steer, drops from the horse to the steer and proceeds to wrestle the steer to the ground by grabbing its horns and pulling it off balance causing it to fall to the ground. This event carries a high risk of injury for the rider. In other events such as steer roping where you throw a calf to the ground and pin its flailing legs she excelled. Tiny Mable Strickland could accomplish this in an impressive 18 seconds.
Strickland had a favorite horse and horse and rider were quite a pair. He was named Joker and before he came to be hers, he had belonged to a Texas sheriff and had been an expert part of that team, tracking criminals and outlaws. Once with Mabel Joker took her through more miles and rodeo honors and wins than any other horse had or ever did.
She won the all around cowgirl title in Cheyenne, Wy, one year then returned to the event the following year winning every single event she entered! In the 1920’s she was awarded two special Hamley saddles for her winnings in relay races in Pendleton and in Cheyenne. (Hamley Saddles were made in Oregon and produced saddles for famous folks like “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Tom Mix, Hoot Gibson and Gene Autry to name a few). As a trick riding expert she gave breathtaking exhibitions where she jumped her horse clean over a car.
Mabel married Hugh Strickland, an Idaho bronc rider, bulldogger and roper. For nearly twenty years the couple traveled the rodeo circuit together. Mable and Hugh competed in rodeos from Calgary to Pendleton when in 1927 Mable was selected Roundup Queen. They had one daughter, April.
Mabel had a brief Hollywood movie career during the 1930’s. She used her skills on horseback to work as a stunt woman and appeared in a few Western flicks, including Bing Crosby’s “Rhythm on the Range” in 1936. During her time in Hollywood, she co-founded the Association of Film Equestriennes. She retired in 1941 and raised Appaloosa horses.
In 1972, she was inducted into the Pendleton Roundup Hall of Fame. Induction into the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo Hall of Fame, National Cowboy Hall of Fame, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame followed, but those (and ERHOF’s) honors are posthumous: On January 3, 1976, champion cowgirl Mabel Delong.