An American Cowgirl: Connie Douglas Reeves
Even if you don’t know who Connie Reeves was, I’ll bet that you recognize her from photographs. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the pictures of the late Constance “Connie” Douglas Reeves with her beloved horses reads like a series of “get-off-your-rump-and-live-life” motivational books. Those pictures scream about the power of positive thinking louder than Normal Vincent Peale ever could have. And Connie Reeves didn’t even have to stand on a podium to do it. . . she managed it all, quite nicely, from a saddle.
Connie once said, “The past is dead unless somebody records it…my life’s not important to very many people. But, what I have done may be something that will motivate someone else. I hope so.” Well, I believe her life was important to a lot more people than she ever realized and I certainly hope this little story of her life will motivate everyone who reads it.
It was a Very Big Year
1906 was a very big year. Teddy Roosevelt was President of the U.S. and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was the year of the great San Francisco earthquake. It was the year construction began on the Panama Canal. And, it was the year Connie Reeves, at the age of five, received her first horse. Long after Teddy Roosevelt became better known for the teddy bear than for his politics, San Francisco started peddling Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat!), and the Panama Canal came under the control of the Panamanian government, Connie continued to ride. In fact, she continued to ride horses for the next 96 years!
The Accidental Cowgirl
Connie Reeves was born in Texas and Texas was as much of the world as she ever saw. But she made the most of it! She received a degree in Speech from Texas Women’s University before entering the University of Texas School of Law. She was one of the first women admitted into that law program. However, as with so many students of that time, the Great Depression necessitated that she drop out and find work.
She found a job teaching high school English in San Antonio. And, to satisfy the cowgirl in her, she worked as a riding instructor part-time at a local stable. While the door may have closed on law school, the door to the stable was opened wide and Connie Reeves was more than happy to enter into what was to become her lifelong career!
In 1936, Connie began working for the equestrian program at Camp Waldemar, in Hunt, TX. She felt so at home there that she stayed on for sixty-seven summers! Yep. Sixty-seven! It is estimated that she taught more than 36,000 girls to ride horses. Oh, fercryinoutloud! I’m getting misty just thinking about it. . .
It was at Camp Waldemar that Connie met a man named Jack Reeves. And, yep, you guessed it. . .the cowgirl married her cowboy in 1942. Together, the two managed a 10,000-acre cattle and sheep ranch for more than forty years. That ranch happened to be owned by Lyndon B. Johnson. Of course, in the summers, they went to Camp Waldemar! Connie and Jack never had children of their own, in the traditional sense. . .but, of course, we all know that they had about 36,000 “daughters”!
Jack passed away in 1985, but Connie bravely faced life without him. It’s not so much that she had a second chapter to her life. It’s more like she had a second verse to a very beautiful song. There was no need to try something new. She was already living her dream.
“Always Saddle Your Own Horse”
Connie’s motto was, “Always saddle your own horse. Always stand on your own two feet.” Those are not the words of a shrinking violet. She was a no-nonsense kind of gal. When a fall from a horse rendered one of legs shorter than the other, she knew just what to do. Limp? Heck no! She simply had the heel of one cowboy boot made a little higher. Connie should be the role model for anyone interested in entering the role model business.
I Married a Cowboy
In 1995, Connie’s autobiography, entitled I Married a Cowboy: Half Century with Girls and Horses at Camp Waldemar was published. She was 94, at the time of publication. Hooray! Finally, someone wrote a life story about a life. I’m sick to death of the Hollywood crowd writing memoirs at a ripe old age that is neither ripe nor old! I would like to decree that only people who understand that support hose really can aid circulation should write autobiographies. All others should be limited to blurbs in Us Weekly. (This means you, Justin Bieber!) I don’t care to take life lessons from someone who has not yet come to understand the importance of fiber in your diet! But I digress…
Hall of Fame
At the age of 96, Connie Reeves was inducted into National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. If ever there was someone who deserved the honor, it was Mrs. Reeves! It was 1997 and she was still serving as director of horseback riding at Camp Waldemar. At first, modesty prevailed and she didn’t feel she was worthy of the honor. Then, she rightly decided that she had as much right to the induction as anyone. Did she ever!
In 2002, she rode horseback in the parade to honor the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, when it moved to its new Ft. Worth headquarters. She was fairly easy to spot. She was the only 100-yr-old woman on horseback!
Ride, Connie Ride!
Connie never was content to spend her days reminiscing from a front porch rocking chair. Much to the chagrin of her doctors, she continued to live life on her own terms. After all, there were trails to ride!
In 2003, shortly before her 102nd birthday, Connie was out riding her favorite horse, Dr. Pepper, when she was thrown. She suffered a broken neck and died twelve days later of cardiac arrest.
In a 2002 interview with NPR, Connie said, “As long as I live, I’m going to be trying to ride a horse.” Well, Connie did just that. And, of course, she saddled it herself!
Watch this wonderful video about Connie Reeves from the American Cowgirl series! And a special thanks to photographer Jamie Williams for her sensitive photos of Connie. To learn more about the American Cowgirl project visit their website, www.AmericanCowgirl.com
Happy Trails y’all,