Move over Hidalgo. After five years of research, conducted by Mary Higginbotham, the Long Riders’ Guild (LRG) has confirmed that in 1910-1911 Nan Aspinwall-Gable was the first woman to ride across North America (from San Francisco to New York) alone. At the age of 31 she rode 4,496 miles in 180 days, instantly becoming the stuff of legends.
The LRG is a cool organization that celebrates equestrians that have ridden at least 1,000 continuous miles. Their web site is a treasure trove of equestrian adventures, profiling both men and women who have undertaken amazing rides across unforgiving and often hostile territory.
Nan Aspinwall-Gable was a celebrity even before completing her historic ride. She was one of the original showgirl cowgirls. She was a trick roper, sharp shooter, stunt rider, bronc and steer rider . . . and a stunning woman who presented her feminine charms to her audiences as the lovely Princess Omene. She was the highest paid performer in the combined extravaganza that resulted from the combination of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West and Shawnee Bill’s Far East shows.
In fact, it was a discussion between these two men that spurred her to make the ride. They didn’t believe that it was possible for a woman to make that kind of ride alone. It was dangerous, it was difficult and a woman alone would have faced a lot of hostility from a population that still thought women should be constrained by Victorian ideals.
But not Nan. Nan rode her thoroughbred mare, Lady Ellen, on her trek and was completely responsible for her care; she even shod the mare 14 times herself. She made the ride wearing pants and split skirts, riding astride, which was likely still illegal in some parts of the country. And she packed a pistol that she was not afraid to use.
Contemporary news report of her arrival in New York state:
“A travel-stained woman attired in a red shirt and divided skirt and seated on a bay horse drew a crowd to City Hall yesterday afternoon,” reported the New York Times on 9 July 1911.
“They gazed upon Miss Nan Aspinwall who had just finished her lonely horseback ride from San Francisco. She had many adventures and once spent a week in hospital after her horse stumbled down a mountainside. ‘Talk about Western chivalry!’ said Miss Aspinwall. ‘There’s no such thing. In one place I rode through town shooting off my revolver just for deviltry. At another place I had to send several bullets into a door before they would come out and take care of me’.”
Equally skilled with a gun or a horse, the Los Angeles Tribune reported that while in New York upon completing her journey in 1911, Two-Gun Nan, “entered a 12-storey building and startled her friends by remaining in the saddle and ascending to the top floor,” (via the freight elevator).
The Long Riders’ Guild is proud to announce the forthcoming publication of the story of Two-Gun Nan entitled “In Genuine Cowgirl Fashion.” This book contains all of Mary Higginbotham’s unique research and will be amply illustrated with never-before-seen photographs of Nan in the saddle and on the stage. For more information about this book, please email The Guild. And don’t forget to check out some of the adventures logged by other Long Riders.