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"Hindsights"

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Mary Evans: Cowgirl Icon

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr
The cowboy is arguably the most familiar character in American popular culture, but the cowgirl is a horse of a different color. Most of us have a glossy image of a cowgirl in rhinestones and a fringed jacket, but that image is a myth crafted by television and the movies. Women who grew up working cattle for a living had a little less sparkle and a little more grit.

Mary Taylor was a real Texas cowgirl. She was a lady who was the equal of just about any man when it came to riding, roping and running a ranch.

She was born on November 11, 1853 on a farm near Centerville in Leon County, Texas. Her parents died when Mary was young. An aunt from Willow City took Mary in and raised her.

Mary had two younger brothers who grew up to be famous cowboys. Baxter Taylor's specialty was bustin' broncs. Buck Taylor became a star in Buffalo Bills' Wild West Show. He was the subject of dime novels. People all over North America and Europe knew him as the King of the Cowboys.

Sister Mary could do just about anything around the ranch her brothers could do. By the time she was 13 she could rope steers and ride broncs. She was a crack shot with a rifle.

Like her brothers she liked to show off. A newspaper story told of the time she rode a paint horse to the top of Enchanted Rock.

On October 12, 1870 Mary Taylor, age 16, married Thomas Andrew Evans, a 36 year old Confederate veteran and stock raiser.

Mary and Tom lived and worked on the William Shelton Ranch on Crabapple Creek, 5 miles from Willow City. A few years later they started their own cattle ranch near Nebo Mountain, 3 miles north of Eckert in northeast Gillespie County.

The 1870s were the days of the open range and the Hoo Doo War. Outlaws and rustlers roamed the Hill Country. It was a tough time to be in the cattle business.

Mary worked day and night to keep the ranch afloat. She cooked, kept the house and worked cattle. She milked up to 35 cows a day. She gave birth to 9 children. I wonder where she found the time.

When her husband died in 1900, Mary added ranch manager to her resume.

Her skills on horseback were known all over the Hill Country. The Fredericksburg Standard described her as "an expert horsewoman" who "knew the range as well or better than any of the ranchmen of her section. She was a typical western lady and the stranger within her gates was always given a cordial welcome and true western hospitality."

Early in the morning on September 10, 1918 Mary started for Fredericksburg in a hack pulled by a team of horses. She got to town around 11 o'clock, bought seed wheat and a load of groceries and was on her way back to the ranch by noon.

Her children expected her return by mid-afternoon, and when she was late, her son Louis went looking for her.

Just after sundown Louis found his mother lying dead in a pasture about two miles from the ranch. Groceries were scattered over the pasture. The horses grazed quietly a short distance away still hitched to the hack. There was no evidence of a runaway or foul play.

Justice A. W. Petmecky of Fredericksburg held an inquest at the scene. The coroner ruled death by accident. Mary Evans had asthma, and the best guess was that she had an asthma attack and fell from the vehicle. One of the rear wheels rolled over her.
TX - Mary Evans' Tombstone in Willow City Cemetery
Mary Evans' Tombstone in Willow City Cemetery
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, November 2018
Joe Schaetter & Son of Fredericksburg prepared the body for burial at Willow City Cemetery. "The death of Mrs. Evans," a writer for the Fredericksburg Standard lamented, "marks the passing of one of the most picturesque characters in this section of Texas."

Cowboy heroes in popular culture are too numerous to count, but cowgirls icons are few and far between. Mary Taylor Evans of Willow City was one of them.
TX - Willow City Cemetery
Willow City Cemetery
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, November 2018
Michael Barr
"Hindsights" December 30, 2018 Column

Sources:
"A Smart Cow-Woman," The San Saba News, July 5, 1889.
"Fredericksburg Woman Is Found Dead By Roadside," San Antonio Express, September 13, 1918.
"Twenty-Three Years Ago," Fredericksburg Standard, September 18, 1941.
"Found Dead In Road," Fredericksburg Standard, September 14, 1918.
"Enchanted Rock Scene Of Famed Battle Between Rangers And Indians," Fredericksburg Standard, May 1, 1946.

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