Here is the tale of a long-forgotten publicity stunt that gave Nan Aspinwall national attention as the first woman to cross the North American continent on horseback in 1910.
Billed as “The Montana Girl” on the vaudeville circuit, Nan was a trick-riding, sharp-shooting, lariat-twirling cowgirl performer in the style of Annie Oakley. In 1910 she and her husband Frank Gable came up with the idea to promote their show with a daring solo ride across country from sea to shining sea.
Starting in San Francisco, Nan would carry greetings from the mayor of the city by the Bay to the mayor of New York City. On the journey she gave performances to earn her way. Her husband Frank acted as her advance man, setting up shows and advertising her stunt. He traveled by train. But Nan herself did the entire journey riding on her faithful mare, Lady Ellen, accompanied only by her border collie, Ky-Ipp.
She customarily wore typical Western wear: a divided skirt, boots, a silk or flannel shirt with a bandanna around her neck, and a Stetson hat. She had long blond wavy hair and an engaging smile. She claimed to have grown up on a ranch in Montana, where her father taught her to rope and ride, She looked every bit the Girl of the Golden West.
Not all of her backstory was the truth, as we shall see. But her achievement as the first woman to cross the United States alone on horseback was genuine.
Stay tuned and in future installments I will tell you the true story of Nan Aspinwall.
And how did I learn about Two-Gun Nan? The poster you see above used to hang in my mother-in-law’s house. Her father (actually her step-father) was a cousin to Nan, although I do not know how closely they were related. I am really no relation at all. My daughter always liked this poster and now it hangs in her hallway. She found a book about Two-Gun Nan, a thesis written about her some twenty years ago and published by a small press that specializes in “equestrian travel classics.” Most of the information will come from this book, In Genuine Cowgirl Fashion: The Life and Ride of “Two-Gun Nan Aspinwall, by Mary Higginbotham.
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