Gray

Bonnie Gray Papers

Bonnie Gray Papers, 1916-1985
1.0 cubic feet (2 document boxes)
Location: Row 8, Bay A, Shelf 5
Collection #: MS103

Biography

Verna Smith, later known as Bonnie Gray, was born in Kettle Fells, Washington, in 1891. She graduated from Moscow Idaho University with a degree in music, and taught music in Kettle Fells for a short time. Bonnie, having grown up around horses, quickly decided to focus on rodeo and trick riding. She married Donald Harris and celebrated by having her horse, King Tut, jump over a car with people inside. This trick was very popular and they performed it often.

Throughout her career she participated in rodeos and shows across the United States and several international countries including, Mexico, Canada, England, and Germany. She is considered to be the first woman ever to attempt, and succeed, riding a horse at full gallop while under the horse’s belly. Bonnie was also a pioneer in the western film industry by being one of the first women stunt and double riders. She often took the place of western stars such as Tim McCoy, Tom Mix, and Ken Maynard. Gray died in 1985.

Sources:
Crandall, Judy. Cowgirls: Early Images and Collectables. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Shiffer Publishing Limited, 1994.
Wills, Kathy Lynn and Virginia Artho. Cowgirl Legends from the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, 1995.

The Bonnie Gray papers consist of several folders of documents, an unpublished manuscript, and a scrapbook which document the life of a woman best remembered for her amazing stunts and trick riding. Included in the documents are three short typewritten passages that describe moments of Gray’s life and a copy of her Last Will and Testament. The undated manuscript is a story Bonnie wrote about her rodeo and trick riding days. The narrator of the story is her horse King Tut. The tale follows King Tut from his colt days in Georgia to jumping over cars at rodeos. The scrapbook contains newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs [including Gray and Gray with her pets], letters from fans and politicians, and signed rodeo contracts.

Personal Names:
Gray, Bonnie
Harris, Donald
Smith, Verna

Subject Headings:
Rodeo
Stunt person
Trick rider

Provenance: Bonnie Gray’s estate passed to June Belmonte upon Gray’s death in 1985. In April 2012, Ms. Belmonte donated the materials to the Dickinson Research Center by way of Pam Boncherding.

The collection is open for research. It is advisable for researchers to discuss their proposed research with staff prior to visiting the Center.

Bonnie Gray Papers, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Bonnie Gray Papers
Box # Folder # Folder Title/Description
1 1 Biographical writings, n.d.
2 Copy of Last Will and Testament, March 5, 1985
3 Manuscript, n.d.
4 Photograph of Bonnie with Bobby Kilgore (pet lynx), n.d.
5 Photograph of Bonnie with Teddy Bear (pet bear cub), n.d.
6 Student recital program from Kettle Falls, Washington, April 15, 1922
2 Scrapbook