Raised on a ranch at Nogal, New Mexico, Fern Sawyer (1917-1993) grew up doing a man’s work and often competed against men in rodeos. In 1945, she bested a field of men and women to become the first cowgirl to win the National Cutting Horse Championship. A colorful and outspoken promoter of New Mexico ranching , Sawyer received appointments to the State Racing Commission and State Fair Commission and was elected to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1976. She died in 1993, still in the saddle, with her boots on.
Cowboys Real and Imagined includes Sawyer’s jacket, boots, spurs, arm band and photographs (courtesy Candace Good Jacobson); her hat and license plate (courtesy Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame); and her championship belt buckle (courtesy National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame).
Photo by Blair Clark, New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs
Note: Representative image at left is often cropped for display purposes. Downloaded high-resolution images are not cropped.