According to Crow tribal historian and elder Sarge Old Horn, the Cowgirl dance started in Mandaree, N.D. around 2006 or 2007. It is an offshoot of a dance that was sponsored by Ronnie Smith in the 1960s. Old Horn said that Smith liked to dance and also rodeo, and he didn’t have time to change into his regalia so he wore his cowboy gear and danced. When Smith passed away Art Smith and family sponsored a dance in honor of Ronnie in the early 2000s.
Old Horn said, “So they sponsored a cowboy dance. A lot of the cowboys, they kind of more or less kept their distance from the Indian Dance ways.” The cowboy dance bridged the gap between the rodeo life and the Native American dance life for some cowboys who were ashamed of being “Indian”.
The shame some of the Indian cowboys felt stemmed from the church. “The churches were preaching that it was no good to be Indian, it’s no good to dance, and it was no good to have giveaways, this type of stuff. But this dancing from these Indian cowboys kind of bridge that gap and started coming back to the Indian dance ways.” Old Horn Said.
Old Horn said that Mandaree N.D. community member Dennis Johnson had a daughter (Old Horn couldn’t remember her name) who was a fancy shawl dancer and a cowgirl. It was she that Old Horn thinks sponsored the first Cowgirl Dance Special in Mandaree N.D. in 2006 or 2007. He said it attracted a lot of the Native dancers and caught on fast because it was colorful, “It was an added attraction to the routine from the fancy dance, fancy shawl dance, fancy jingle dress. It was a change from just the same routine.” Old Horn said.
Other tribes started to copy it, “Before we knew it, it was all over Indian Country” Old Horn said. Crow women soon brought it back to the Crow tribe and sponsored dances. According to Old Horn, Della Bighair-Stump sponsored a Cowgirl Dance Special during Crow Native Days and also competed in both Cowgirl Dance Specials held during Crow Fair 2016.
Bighair-Stump enjoys participating in the Cowgirl Dance Specials in addition to her traditional dancing because it’s a mixing of the country/western style and Native American style. “The style of dress is mixing both worlds together. Very unique.” Bighair-Stump said. In addition to the mixing of regalia she also carries a family heirloom when she dances, “It's a cork whip, came from my great grandmother Florida House who was a bare back horse racer. She was among the first group of Crow women to participate in horse racing.” Bighair-Stump said.
Powwows are in a constant state of evolution, some dances will always be apart of the dancing while some fade away. Regardless if the Cowgirl Dance is here to stay or will eventually fade away, the dancers will always be here. “It's a great honor to carry on our family tradition. I dance with honor for my family, it's because of them I'm here”, said Bighorn-Stump.