Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fox Hastings, One Tough Gal...

        When you think of pioneer ladies from the early days of rodeo, Fox Hastings name has to be there. She was one of the first female bulldoggers in rodeo history. She also rode broncs and was a trick rider. She was a crowd favorite. It has been said she could smile at the camera, while lying in the mud, and still be holding the horns of a steer she had just thrown.
Eloise Fox was born during 1898 in Galt, California to Wesley Galveston and Susie Agusta Fox. Somewhat of a maverick from the beginning, the rebellious girl was sent to a boarding school at age fourteen. Two years later she ran away. At sixteen, she joined the Irwin Brothers Wild West Show, and met and married Mike Hastings―a well-known performer on the rodeo circuit. She dropped her first name and became known thereafter as “Fox Hastings.” The press loved her name.
It was Mike who first taught her the ins and outs of rodeo. She started by riding broncs and doing trick riding events. Soon, her ability to ride rough stock became renowned. She was known for her enthusiasm, her physical strength, and her expert horsemanship.
In the early part of the 1900s, women competed right along side men in many cases. Fox served as a reminder that women thrive on competition just as men do. She became an inspiration to many young women who previously thought a woman’s place was strictly in the home. By 1924, Fox and Mike had a new plan however.
It was 1924 at Houston, Texas where Fox made her debut as a bulldogger! This was practically unheard of for ladies of the day. The main reason being, bulldogging steers were much bigger and wilder than what you find in today’s competitions. It was dangerous, even for the toughest of seasoned cowboys. She was a huge hit however and wound up being voted the best specialty act of the rodeo.
Thereafter, Fox and Mike gained fame as husband and wife bulldoggers. She put on exhibitions at Wild West Shows and rodeos across the country. Foghorn Clancy, rodeo personality and promoter claimed Fox, “was the most photographed and interviewed cowgirl of the 1920s.”
Fox was quoted in Hoofs and Horns magazine as saying, “I like bulldogging better than bronc riding. Bronc riding is a question of strength and endurance, but in bulldogging you don't tackle two steers exactly alike. You have to learn the difference in the animals size, strength, formation of the horns, build of neck and shoulders and a lot of things. Every move has to be perfectly timed to a split second.” Of course, the steers she was bulldogging usually weighed around 1,200 pounds, about twice what today’s bulldogging cattle weigh—and back then, they literally “bit them on the lip” to help bring ‘em down (hence the name bulldogging)!
Along the way, she suffered a myriad of injuries and broken bones. However, the old adage, “The show must go on,” rang true with Fox and she would continue putting on exhibitions, injuries or no.
In 1935, at the Fiesta De Los Vaqueros rodeo in Tucson, Arizona, Fox was a contract act performing a ladies bulldogging exhibition. On the first day, she suffered a broken rib. She still went on to perform during the next several days of rodeo in spite of the pain. She did not want to let show management down.
She remained one of rodeo's top performing women athletes through the 1930s. Fox was always a press favorite. Unforgettable is an image of her having just turfed a steer, covered in dirt or mud, and smiling at the camera, grinning from ear to ear. There are numerous photos like this in the archives. She literally traveled the world while rodeoing. She proved to be a charismatic, crowd pleaser whenever she appeared in the arena.
Fox summed up her ability this way: "If I can just get my fanny out of the saddle and my feet planted, there’s not a steer that can last against me."
Sometime in the latter half of the 1920s, her first marriage ended in divorce. However, in 1929, she remarried. Her second husband was another champion rodeo hand, Charles "Chuck" Wilson. Together they traveled the circuit from New York to Los Angeles, hitting all points in between. They also relocated their home operation to a ranch near Winslow, Arizona.
During the last half of the 1930s, there were great changes in rodeo. The Wild West shows had pretty well phased out by then (and with it the exhibitions such as Fox performed). Also, the new Cowboy Turtles Association (CTA) was born in 1936, and they soon became the primary sanctioning board for professional cowboys. The new association however, did not allow women performers to enter rodeos. As a result, the Women’s Rodeo Association was formed thereafter.
Whether it was the changes, or just her age (approaching forty by now) Fox Hastings retired from rodeo towards the end of the ‘30s. She and Chuck settled in and became full-time Arizona ranchers.
During the 1940s, Fox became plagued with health problems. Several reports have been given as to what it was, but the most popular theory is tuberculosis. Reports say that Chuck stood faithfully by his wife during this difficult time, often nursing her himself.
Tragically, on July 30, 1948, Chuck Wilson died in Winslow of a heart attack, leaving behind a sickly widow. Two weeks later, at the Adams Hotel in Phoenix, Fox took her own life. The coroner's report states she died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the abdomen and head. She left a note, saying, "I don't want to live without my husband."
In 1987, Eloise Fox Hastings Wilson was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. It was noted her career had included steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, and rodeo trick riding. On October 26, 2011, Fox was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame at Fort Worth.

Jim Olson ©2014