Bruce McCarroll Collection of the Bonnie & Frank McCarroll Rodeo Archives, circa 1900-circa 1940
887 photographic postcards; 38 photographic prints, 11 panoramic photographs, 2 postcards, 1 box of 15 miniature photographs, 2 publications, 1 letter, and 1 scrapbook
2 cubic feet (3 postcard boxes, 2 document boxes)
Location: 0523-0524; 0526
Accession #: RC2006.076
The married rodeo partners, Frank and Bonnie McCarroll, were an extremely popular and successful pair during the 1910s and 1920s. Frank was known for his bulldogging abilities and Bonnie for her trick riding, steer riding, and saddle bronc riding prowess.
Bonnie’s death due to injuries sustained in a bronc riding wreck in 1929 at the Pendleton Round-Up was a significant event, a turning point for women in the rodeo. It marked the beginning of the end for cowgirl participation in rodeo. The women’s bronc riding was scratched from Pendleton and by 1941 the event was banned from all major competitions including Madison Square Garden.
Frank Leo McCarroll was born on September 5, 1892 in Morris, Minnesota on a 1250 acre farm. At the age of 13 he struck out on his own drifting to North Dakota and Montana. He eventually drifted into Idaho where he took up wrestling and boxing. He took a business course in Butte, Montana where he continued to wrestle and box. In 1911, while in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, he wrestled his first steer winning a dollar bet. Having taken up the sport in earnest in 1912, McCarroll broke the world’s record for bulldogging at Boise, Idaho in 1913. It was here that he met Mary Ellen “Dot” Treadwell, better known as Bonnie.
McCarroll won championships in steer wrestling at Pendleton twice, Chicago three times, Cheyenne once, Detroit once, St. Louis once, Fort Worth twice, and three times in New York at Madison Square Garden. Following Bonnie’s death, Frank became involved in the film industry in 1934 McCarroll as a stuntman in The Man from Hell and as an un-credited actor in Romance Revier. Ironically, on March 8, 1954 he died from an accidental fall in his home in Burbank, California.
Born in High Valley near Boise, Idaho in 1897, Mary Ellen Treadwell grew up on her grandfather’s 2,000-acre cattle ranch. She rode her first horse at age 10 and, she wrote, “By the time I was fourteen, I could sit most ‘broke-in’ horses.” At about this time as well, she rode her first bronc. She describes the event, “I mounted, the boys let go, and the broncho began to behave like a wild cat. I held for about five seconds and then all at once I seemed to grow wings. Up I soared, and turned a sumersault [sic], and the earth seemed about ten miles below. Then I went to sleep and woke in bed.”
Following the rodeo events at the Idaho State Fair in Boise in 1913, Bonnie persuaded Eddie McCarty to let her ride his bronc “Bear Cat.” After surviving the wreck, she said, “I was badly bruised and shaken up, but then and there I made up my mind that I would never quit until I became a champion.” It was here also that she met her future husband Frank along with Hoot and Helen Gibson and Art Acord. At eighteen, she married Frank in 1915. While she won first place at her first big show at the Pendleton Round-up in 1915, Bonnie participated that same year in her first professional contest at Vancouver, British Columbia where she rode six horses and won second place. Together she and Frank began traveling steadily the rodeo circuit in 1917.
The blue-eyed, dark-haired cowgirl was a crowd pleaser. Often referred to as “about as big as a minute,” Bonnie was a tenacious competitor while weighing between 95 and 112 pounds. She wrote once, “I don’t have to diet or attend reducing salons or do rolling exercises to keep slim, nor starve to death to wear those boyish-cut things the fashion kings are handing out now. If there is anything a cowgirl can keep, it is the slim silhouette.” When asked if a cowgirl’s life was any different than that of other women, Bonnie replied, “Not at all, I like my home. I like pretty clothes. I like to sew and do all sorts of feminine things. I live in Boise, Idaho, at home with my mother and my husband during the winter. I don’t ride much then, but I do swim and engage in all sorts of athletics to keep myself in trim for the roundup season.” Husband Frank called her “the best little cook in the world and some dressmaker, too.”
In 1922 Bonnie won the bronc riding championships at Cheyenne Frontier Days and Madison Square Garden. In fact she was the first Madison Square Garden cowgirl bronc riding champion. She won again in 1923 at Yankee Stadium and Detroit, Michigan. At the Detroit venue, in what would presage a life-ending event, Bonnie got caught in a stirrup during the bronc riding and was being dragged. Fortunately, clear thinking prevailed and she grabbed the bronc’s tail and pulled herself high enough to keep from being kicked to death.
During June 14-28, 1924 Bonnie won the bronc riding at the First International Rodeo at Empire Stadium in Wembley, England, where she procured the World Champion Cup called the Lord Selfridge Trophy. She won the bronc riding in Chicago in 1926. On July 5, 1927 Bonnie performed before President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge at Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
According to one account, when Bonnie was ready to mount a bronc, Frank would pick her up, “small-boy fashion,” and place her in the saddle. One writer declared that Bonnie had the “distinction of being the only lady rider who rides the wild ones without hobbling her stirrups.”In other words, Bonnie rode slick. When asked why she rode slick, she replied, “We cowgirls have butted in on a so-called strictly man’s game–and if to ‘play’ on the hurricane deck on a sun-fishin’, whirlly-giggin’, rearin’-up, fallin’-over-backward, squallin’, bitin’, strikin’, buckin’, roman-nosed cayuse ain’t a heman’s game, there never will be one–still, as I say, we cowgirls that like the game well enough to play it should play it just like the cowboys do. Why, I’d feel insulted…if I was told to tie my stirrups down!”
On September 19, 1929 at the Pendleton Roundup Bonnie McCarroll participated in her final rodeo. Ironically, she and Frank had planned to retire to their Boise, Idaho home following this rodeo. With her stirrups hobbled (a requirement of the Pendleton Roundup Committee) Bonnie mounted Black Cat. Shortly after his blindfold was removed, the bronc fell and, while attempting to recover, went into a complete forward somersault. Eyewitness to the event, Reba Perry Blakely described the horrific action, “Once all the way over Black Cat did the instinctive thing, he leaped to his feet and continued his bucking while Bonnie McCarroll, so obviously knocked out in that fall, hung head down, her body limp and one left foot still caught in the stirrup. For six more horrible leaps and bucks Black Cat’s weight literally shook the ground and at each leap Bonnie’s head banged on the earth with sickening repetition, until mercifully that boot came off and she lay limp upon the ground.” Suffering severe spinal injury and developing pneumonia, she died eleven days later in a Pendleton hospital on September 29, 1929.
Scope & Content Note
The Bruce McCarroll Collection contains 887 photographic postcards, 38 photographic prints, 11 panoramic photographs, 2 postcards, 1 box of 15 miniature photographs, 2 publications, 1 scrapbook, and 1 letter. The pre-eminent cowgirls of the day are fully represented by the collection. Fox Hastings, Rose Smith, Vera McGinnis, Mabel Strickland, Florence Randolph, Bea Kirnan, Ruth Roach, and Donna Glover were the most famous women athletes of the time. Tex Austin and Leonard Stroud were the outstanding producers.
Of the 887 photographic postcards, 255 contain images of Bonnie McCarroll while 56 have images of Frank McCarroll. The work of many photographers is represented here including W. S. Bowman, Burns, Doubleday-Foster Photo Co., Ralph R. Doubleday, Magruder Brothers, Lee Moorhouse, O’Neill Photo, Ostrom, Russell, White, and Albert Witzel. However, by far the most represented work is by Doubleday (398) and Doubleday-Foster (126).
The scrapbook, 1916-1928 contains clippings about the McCarrolls including newspaper accounts of Madison Square Garden and the London rodeos.
The letter from Francis Harden Steele of Colorado Springs, CO to Bonnie McCarroll of Boise, ID, dated November 7, 1924, discusses Steele’s art work on sheepskin with pen and India Inks.
Searching for images in this collection is accomplished by the Center’s Image Archive Database.
The Bruce McCarroll collection also contains 2 belt buckles, a trophy watch, 6 trophies (including the Selfridge and the Argonne), and an ink drawing on sheepskin by artist, Francis Harden Steele. Stored in the museum’s secured area, these objects are accessioned by the museum under the number 2006.08.
Austin, Tex, 1887-1941
Canutt, Yakima, 1895-
Gray, Bonnie Jean, 1891-1988
Hastings, Fox, 1882-1948
Henderson, Prairie Rose
Kirnan, Bea, d. 1939
McCarroll, Bonnie, 1897-1929
McCarroll, Frank, 1892-1954
Roach, Ruth Scantlin, 1896-1986
Strickland, Mabel DeLong, 1897-1976
Stroud, Leonard, 1893-1961
Stroud, Mayme Saunders, d. 1963
Sublett, Red, 1894-1950
Rodeos-Colorado-Colorado Springs, Monte Vista, Rocky Ford
Boise, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Weiser
Rodeos-New York-New York
Rodeos-Oklahoma-Ada, Sand Springs
Rodeos-South Dakota-Belle Fourche
Accession Note: The Bruce McCarroll Collection was acquired on May 31, 2006. A gift agreement was finalized on June 7, 2006 and the collection was given the accession number 2006.08. On August 2, 2006 the items listed above, i.e. photographic images, publications, scrapbook were transferred to the Dickinson Research Center where they were assigned the accession number RC2006.076.
Processing Note: Between August 24 and September 15, 2006 Charles E. Rand re-housed the photographic items in buffered envelopes and folders within buffered archival and document boxes. They were cataloged by Rand during this time as well and made available through the Dickinson Research Center’s Image Archive. This task was completed on October 12, 2006. This finding aid was completed by Rand on October 13, 2006.
The Bruce McCarroll Collection of the Bonnie & Frank McCarroll Rodeo Archives is the property of the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Literary right, including copyright, belongs to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, with the exception of copyrighted artwork images and published literary works, which are the property of the respective copyright holders. It is the responsibility of the researcher, and his/her publisher, to obtain publishing permission from individuals pictured, relevant copyright holders, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Restrictions on Access
The collection is open for research. It is advisable for researchers to discuss their proposed research with staff prior to visiting the Center.
Bruce McCarroll Collection of the Bonnie & Frank McCarroll Rodeo Archives, Box ##, Folder ##, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The images and data in this collection are searchable through the Dickinson Research Center’s Image Archive Database.
|Box/Folder #||Folder Title/Description|
|1||Photographic postcards, RC2006.076.001 – .225|
|2||Photographic postcards, RC2006.076.226 – .475|
|3||Photographic postcards, RC2006.076.476 – .646
Photographs, RC2006.076.647 – .655
Box of 15 miniature photographs, RC2006.076.696
|4/1||Photographs, RC2006.076.656 – .661|
|4/2||Photographs, RC2006.076.662 – .666|
|4/3||Photographs, RC2006.076.667 – .672|
|4/4||Photographs, RC2006.076.676 – .684|
|4/5||Publications: Outstanding Women, January 1929
Sun Valley Rodeo, program, ca. 1940
|4/6||Duplicate rodeo clippings|
|5/1||Panoramic photographs, RC2006.076.685 – .695|
|No box||Photographs, RC2006.076.673- .675