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Estelle Gilbert Papers

Estelle Gilbert Papers, 1923-2003
0.6 cubic feet (1 document box, 1 oversized folder)
Location: 0174; Flat File 2/Drawer 1
Collection #: 064
Accession #: 1993.009, 2004.104


Papers and photographs of Estelle Gilbert, a horsewoman, rodeo performer, and longtime friend of Rodeo Hall of Fame steer wrestler Mike Hastings. The collection features more than 40 letters written to Gilbert by Hastings over a period of 18 years and almost 20 photographs of New York rodeos and rodeo performers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A Mike and Fox Hastings scrapbook covering 1925-1927, photographs of early rodeo performers including a Mabel Strickland photograph inscribed to Fox Hastings, and a reminiscence of Fox Hastings by Reba Perry Blakely are also included.


Estelle Gilbert was born December 8, 1912 in Ansonia, Connecticut, but moved to Great Neck, Long Island when she was four years old. As a child she learned to ride horses and always had a great love for animals. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City where she took a position as a secretary for an insurance company. In 1939, Gilbert bought a horse, which she boarded at Cimarron Ranch, a dude ranch near Peekskill, New York. She enjoyed life at the dude ranch, and in 1940 accepted an office position at the ranch, which allowed her to spend more time riding. Work as a trail ride escort and riding instructor soon followed. She became acquainted with Mike Hastings, a former rodeo performer who was foreman of the ranch.

She also worked for a time at Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch near Ardmore, Oklahoma, a job she got through Hastings who had worked as a stock contractor for Autry. Under the tutelage of Hastings, she was able to expand her riding abilities to include barrel racing and trick riding, and she was eventually able to rodeo competitively in these events in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this period she became a dude ranch commuter, spending summers at the Cimarron Ranch in New York and winters at the Desert Willow Ranch near Tucson, Arizona.

In the late 1950s, when she was too old to rodeo and commute, she settled down near the Cimarron Ranch on her own “two-horse ranch.” She was friend and companion to Mike Hastings until his death in 1965. She continued to live in the Peekskill, New York area, most often working as a waitress, until 1979, when she moved to California. She eventually settled in Yucaipa, where she became active in civic affairs, including the local animal shelter. She died at the age of 90 on August 17, 2003.

Mike Hastings, who is a primary focus of the collection, was born Paul Raymond (Mike) Hastings in Cheyenne, Wyoming on October 23, 1891. At 11, he ran away from home and found work breaking wild horses. He entered his first rodeo in 1910 at Laramie, Wyoming. He was an old school rodeo performer who was willing to take a crack at just about any rodeo event, but steer wrestling was his claim to fame. It is said that African American rodeo cowboy Bill Pickett, who introduced the bulldogging or steer wrestling event to rodeo, taught Mike his technique, which included biting the lower lip of the steer after throwing it to keep it down. He was also the owner of Stranger, one of the greatest bulldogging horses ever.

In 1917, when the late Duke of Windsor (then Prince of Wales) was a boy, he and the Royal Family attended a rodeo performance at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in which Hastings was participating. During a backstage visit, Mike put the young Prince on a horse and led him around the corrals. In 1924, when Mike was participating in the first international rodeo in London, the Prince presented Hastings with a thoroughbred horse in appreciation of the thrill he had had riding a real American cowboy horse.

Mike Hastings was married to Eloise Fox Hastings, who ran away from convent school at 16 to join a Wild West show. After she met up with Hastings, he taught her to ride and rodeo, and in 1924 she became the first woman steer wrestler. Later they were divorced.

Between 1928 and 1936 Hastings was the stock boss for rodeo impresario Colonel W. T. Johnson. In 1939, after he returned from working rodeo in South America, he took a ride up to the Cimarron Ranch dude ranch near Peekskill, New York; he fell in love with the place and was at Cimarron until the end of his life in 1965. He was responsible for the ranch livestock and staged weekend rodeo performances for the guests.

His only two extended absences from Cimarron were at the request of Gene Autry. In 1941 he purchased the stock that served as the nucleus of Autry’s new Flying A Ranch Rodeo, and in 1942 Autry brought Hastings out to help on his ranch near Ardmore, Oklahoma, which he did until Autry entered the United States Air Force in 1943.

In addition to his work on the Cimarron Ranch and his friendship with Estelle Gilbert, Hastings also found time to mentor Peekskill local Harry Tompkins, who would go on to be one of the top bull riders in the world. Mike died in 1965, and Estelle Gilbert scattered his ashes on the Texas property owned by the children of Col. W. T. Johnson, which had been his request. In 1974, Mike Hastings was inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame.

LeCompte, Mary Lou. Cowgirls of the Rodeo. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Porter, Willard H. Who’s Who in Rodeo. Oklahoma City: Powder River Book Company, 1982.

Scope & Content Note

The collection is arranged into three series, Correspondence, Subject Files, and Photographs.

Series 1: Correspondence (1940-2001)
This series is comprised primarily of more than 40 letters written by Mike Hastings to Estelle Gilbert between 1940 and 1958. These letters by the rough-hewn and unlettered Hastings document his life on the Cimarron Ranch and working for Gene Autry, the lives and loves of his friends and associates, injuries and illnesses, and his evolving relationship with Gilbert. Hastings relates incidents such as a horse theft by a gang of teenagers and the shipment of some saddles to Autry’s Oklahoma ranch, which were eaten by insect larvae before they could be unpacked. Mentioned in the correspondence is rodeo promoter Frank Moore, Cimarron Ranch owners Vern and Lu Walters, and Vern’s brother C. J. Walters, who also owned a dude ranch in the area. Also included in the correspondence are two typed Cimarron Ranch daily schedules and a mid-1950s brochure for New York dude ranches.

Other correspondence includes some letters to Gilbert from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame concerning the donation of items belonging to Mike Hastings, correspondence with friend and rodeo performer Harry Tompkins, and a 1952 letter from author and illustrator Paul Laune that discusses his wife’s problems with alcohol and mentions photographer Charles Eggert’s trip out west to photograph in the National Parks.

Series 2: Subject Files (1925-2003)
This series includes newspaper and magazine clippings about Gilbert, Hastings, and other rodeo friends; a legal document concerning a 1945 Florida land purchase; some items related to rodeo, including photocopies of one of Gilbert’s Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Rodeo pay stubs and the original 1936 Rodeo Cowboy Turtles Association petition; and some short writings by Gilbert. Collection highlights include a nicely-done Mike and Fox Hastings scrapbook covering 1925-1927 that includes the usual newspaper clippings, but also some more unusual items such as a 1926 subpoena for Mike Hastings to testify in a criminal trial of rodeo clown Red Sublett in Tucson, Arizona. There is also a 1976 reminiscence of Fox Hastings written by fellow rodeo cowgirl Reba Perry Blakely.

Series 3: Photographs (1923-ca. 1960)
This series primarily documents Gilbert’s rodeo career and her friendship with Hastings and others associated with the Cimarron Ranch, but also includes some earlier rodeo performers known by Mike and Fox Hastings. Included are four panoramic group photographs of the performers from the 1946, 1947, 1951, and 1952 World’s Championship Rodeos at Madison Square Garden, which include Gilbert; group photographs featuring Gilbert, Hastings, Jasbo Fulkerson, Sally Rand, Roy Rogers, Vern and Lu Walters, and others; backstage photographs from the 1951, 1952, and 1953 Madison Square Garden rodeos; photographs, some autographed, of Tex Austin, Eddie Burgess, Ruth Roach, Mabel Strickland, and other early rodeo personalities; and several late-1940s photographs of performers from Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Rodeo, including Estelle Gilbert and Gene Autry. Also included is a short 16mm color film of Gilbert riding at Cimarron Ranch dating from the early 1940s.

Subject Terms

Personal Names:
Autry, Gene, 1907-
Eggert, Charles
Fulkerson, Jasbo, 1904-1949
Gilbert, Estelle, 1912-2003
Hastings, Fox, 1882-1948
Hastings, Mike, 1891-1965
Johnson, W. T.
Laune, Paul
Moore, Frank
Rand, Sally, 1904-1979
Rogers, Roy, 1911-
Strickland, Mabel DeLong, 1897-1976
Sublett, Red, 1894-1950
Tompkins, Harry, 1927-

Corporate Names:
Cimarron Ranch (Peekskill, N. Y.)
Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Rodeo

Subject Headings:
Cowboys—New York
Cowgirls—New York
Dude ranches—New York
Rodeo honorees
Rodeo performers—New York
Rodeo performers—Wyoming
Rodeos—New York—New York
Steer wrestling

Processing Information

The collection was donated in two parts: by Estelle Gilbert in February 3, 1993 (Accession #1993.009) and by Jerry Cape of Yucaipa, California in April 2004 (Accession #2004.104). Librarian Karen Spilman reviewed the 1993 collection and wrote a brief scope and content note in 2003. Jonathan Nelson processed the collection in May 2004, combining the two accessions. Seven rodeo programs were separated to the Rodeo Program Collection and five items of rodeo memorabilia were separated to the museum’s rodeo collection.

Preferred Citation

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

Container List

Series 1: Correspondence

Box/Folder# Folder Title/Description
001/001 Mattie Gautier, 1955
001/002-004 Mike Hastings, 1940-1958, n.d.
001/005 Paul Laune, 1952
001/006 National Cowboy Hall of Fame, 1976
001/007 Harry Tompkins, 1986-2001

Series 2: Subject Files

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/008 Business Records, 1945
001/009 Rodeo, 1936-1977
001/010 Rodeo, Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Rodeo, 1941
001/011 Rodeo, Estelle Gilbert, 1977-2003
001/012 Rodeo, Mike Hastings, 1934-1978, n.d.
001/013 Rodeo, Mike & Fox Hastings scrapbook, 1925-1927, n.d.
001/014 Rodeo, Paddy Ryan, 1980
001/015 Rodeo, Harry Tompkins, n.d.
001/016 Writings, ca. 1940s-1976

Series 3: Photographs

Box/Folder # Folder Title/Description
001/017 Estelle Gilbert, ca. 1950s [3]
001/018 Estelle Gilbert, Riding at Cimarron Ranch, ca. 1940 [1 16mm film reel]
001/019 Groups, ca. 1948-1958 [4]
001/020 Mike Hastings, ca. 1925-ca. 1960 [4]
001/021 Sally Rand, ca. 1935 [1]
001/022 Rodeo cowboys, 1923, n.d. [5]
001/023 Rodeo cowgirls, n.d. [5]
001/024 Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Rodeo, New York, ca. 1946 [3]
001/025 Unidentified venue, Fox Hastings, n.d. [2]
FF2/DR1 World’s Championship Rodeo, New York, 1946 [1]
FF2/DR1 World’s Championship Rodeo, New York, 1947 [1]
001/026 World’s Championship Rodeo, New York, 1951 [2]
FF2/DR1 World’s Championship Rodeo, New York, 1951 [1]
001/027 World’s Championship Rodeo, New York, 1952 [5]
FF2/DR1 World’s Championship Rodeo, New York, 1952 [1]
001/028 World’s Championship Rodeo, New York, 1953 [3]

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