By: Caitlin Sullivan
For lifelong cowgirl and trailblazer Connie Douglas Reeves, living life to the fullest meant you had to “saddle your own horse.” Reeves was born in Eagle Pass in 1901. At age five, she received her first horse from her maternal grandfather and quickly became a devoted rider.
Reeves graduated with a degree in speech from Texas Women’s University and enrolled in the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. She never finished, as the Great Depression forced her to withdraw and take a teaching job to help out her family.
While teaching at Main Avenue High School in San Antonio, Reeves organized one of the state’s first pep squads. When that school closed, she taught at the city’s newly opened Thomas Jefferson High School, where she formed a Western-themed pep squad, “The Lassos,” whose signature moves were intricate twirling and rope tricks.
For extra income, Reeves worked as a riding instructor at a local stable. Soon, she was renowned in the area for her horsemanship, and in 1936, she was asked to join the equestrian program at Camp Waldemar, an all-girls camp in nearby Hunt, where she taught riding for 67 years. “She was really tough, but in a good way,” says Liz Pohl, the camp’s present equine director. “She taught the girls so much about horses and life. I met her at age 78, and she was so strong. And when she was 100, I could still barely keep up with her.”
At Waldemar, Reeves met her future husband, Jack, the camp’s head wrangler and a former rodeo participant. They married in 1942, and during their 43-year marriage, the pair managed a 10,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch when camp was not in session.
Reeves found herself a role model for generations of young women, students, campers, and even Waldemar’s wranglers. Until the 1980s, only men worked the camp’s horses, but Reeves believed that women had a gentler way of handling and connecting with horses, so she persuaded the camp to switch to female wranglers.
In 1997, the National Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth recognized Reeves’ legacy by inducting her into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed upon women whose lives exemplify the ideals of self-reliance and independence that helped shape the American West. The following year, she became the first woman to receive the Chester A. Reynolds Award from the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City for perpetuating the history and heritage of the West.
In 2002, at age 100, Reeves rode in a parade celebrating the grand opening of the National Cowgirl Museum’s new building in Fort Worth.
The next year, a few weeks shy of her 102nd birthday, Reeves went riding with a friend at Camp Waldemar and was thrown from her favorite horse, a 28-year-old paint named Dr Pepper. She passed away several days later.
Saddle up and head on over to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, where Reeves’ saying, “Always saddle your own horse,” is an unofficial motto. You can read more about Reeves’ legacy and view photographs of her and more than 180 other Hall of Fame honorees at two interactive kiosks in the museum.
Children can explore the different aspects of ranch life in the Connie Reeves Discovery Corral and read Western stories inside a faux tipi; dress up in boots, chaps, and hats; and pretend to eat dinner from a fireside chuck wagon. Throughout the museum, you can see photos, Western wear, and cowgirl gear that celebrate the independent spirit that helped forge the American West. Don’t miss the popular bucking-bronc simulator, where you can record a video clip of yourself “bronc-riding,” then e-mail it to friends and family. The museum is at 1720 Gendy St.,in Fort Worth’s cultural district. Call 800/476-3263;
From the November 2008 issue.