It was 1912. The Pendleton Round-Up was 2 years old. And Tillie Baldwin, a 26-year-old cowgirl, had been honing her craft for 12 years.
Moving from Norway to her aunt’s farm on Staten Island, she saw American icon Will Rogers perform in her new hometown. It was the moment that would change her life. She told the New London Day in 1935:
One Sunday, I saw Will Rogers was performing at the park. I had an intense desire to ride and after the show I asked him how much he wanted to teach me to ride.
He laughed at the idea but put me on his horse. In a couple of days I could pick up a handkerchief with my horse trotting. Before he left Staten Island he had taught me many tricks. He was going to put on a show at the opening of a ball park in Philadelphia. He took me with the troupe. That was in 1900 I was with him quite a while. Later I teamed up with the Lucky Baldwin Outfit.
At the 1912 Round-Up, Baldwin was crowned champion at trick riding and wild bronc riding. She later would become the first woman to attempt “bulldogging,” an extremely dangerous event where an individual jumps from a horse to a wild steer and, by its horns, wrestles it to the ground.