LUCAS, BARBARA (1902-1990)
"Rodeo's First Lady" was born Barbara Inez Barnes on September 1, 1902, on a ranch near Cody, Nebraska. As the youngest of twenty-four children (hence the nickname "Tadpole," shortened to Tad), she was familiar with competition from the start. Riding from a very young age, she was winning steer-riding contests by the time she was fourteen, and by twenty she was a full-time professional cowgirl. She met and married cowboy James Edward "Buck" Lucas shortly before heading to London, where she competed in trick riding for the first time.
The 1920s and early 1930s were a Golden Age for women in rodeo, giving them the opportunity to compete as rough stock riders, trick riders, and relay racers. Fascinated by trick riding, Lucas mastered stunts such as a back drag (arching back so her head was just shy of the galloping hooves) and changing sides of a running horse by crawling under its belly. A fearless performer, she was the only woman ever to ride a Brahma bull in Madison Square Garden. Her trick-riding skills won her an assortment of titles across the country, and starting in 1928 Lucas proved the diversity of her abilities by winning the all-around champion at Madison Square Garden three years in a row, retiring the prestigious ten-thousand-dollar MGM Trophy.
During World War II many women's rodeo competitions were dropped, so in 1948 the Girls Rodeo Association (now the Women's Professional Rodeo Association) set out to revive women's role in the sport. As a charter member, Lucas added credibility to this new organization, and her undisputed success and popularity eventually earned her a place in all three rodeo Halls of Fame: the National Rodeo Hall of Fame (1967, first woman elected), the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum's Rodeo Hall of Fame (1978), and the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame (1979).
Lucas retired from her long career at the age of fifty-six. Her daughter Dorothy hated rodeo, but second daughter Mitzi loved it enough to become a respected trick rider herself. Tad Lucas died on February 23, 1990, in Fort Worth, Texas. The Tad Lucas Memorial Award honors women who excel in any field related to western heritage.
Sonja Rossum University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lecompte, Mary Lou. Cowgirls of the Rodeo: Pioneer Professional Athletes (Sport and Society). Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.