Joyce Gibson Roach

Journey to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame

2010 Cowgirl Honoree – Texas

With roots in Jacksboro, Texas, Joyce Gibson Roach is an author and lecturer on the Southwest. She has published countless articles, and short stories and is the author of the foundational text The Cowgirls published in 1990. Joyce is a three-time Western Writers of America Spur Award winner for both fiction and non-fiction. She has been a columnist for the Star-Telegram, a professor at Texas Christian University, is a Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association, and Fellow of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University. Passionate about Western heritage, Roach has cemented her place as a historical preservationist in cowgirl culture.

Joyce Gibson Roach's induction speech October 28, 2010:

On such once-in-a-lifetime occasions as induction into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, I’ve been asking myself how it happened, what trail led me here; when—epiphany, defining moment, turning point—such a notion was born in my mind, my soul. Some people know and can detail the beginning. I can’t, but neither can I say there was no path; that it just happened. Looking back, there is a thread, a trace, a trail.  It began with a horse.  

    When just a baby, my daddy, mother and I, an only child, came to Jacksboro and that town was and remains Home to me. At the same time I was taught my own personal ancestry, I learned the history of Fort Richardson, the pioneer and cavalry era, the cattle kingdom. And the descendants of the earliest settlers became my best friends, to this day.  But there was more in Jacksboro: Examples such as the Worthington sisters, Ada, Jackie, and Mary, who rode, roped, and ranched—as good as the men-folks.  Plentiful horses and plenty who could ride them. I fell in love with horses and land, filling every minute possible riding as much of Jack County as I cover on the Lupton’s Coca Cola Ranch with the Gustin boys, Loyd and Lewis. On the back of a steel jawed, jug headed, mean tempered, stubborn son-of-satan named Billy that belonged to someone else—Kit Moncrief’s family—I learned the ropes and became as good a rider as was able to stay on Billy. Certainly nobody else wanted to ride him. I supposed that everything belonged to the foreman and therefore to me.  

     A hunger for horses and my own land remained all my life.  But something more was at work:  In Jack County rhythms imprinted my being—the iambic-pentameter of loping horses certainly. But there was the rhythm of the kitchen beginning the day; the noises of motherhood as Ann moved through her domain; her hands braiding my hair, or stroking my cheek; her voice delivering measured messages of guidance and correction. My daddy’s skill as a butcher and sharpening his knives in a 2/4 scrape across the steel; the country phrases occurring in steady repetition as part of his already country vocabulary. The cadences of speech of cowboys and ranchers as they swore at cattle, or bankers, or weather; the voices of women, sometimes as strong as their men, but always mixed with the soft waltzes of words, universal, that only the female voice conveys.  Range rhythms; the one-beat snap of a rope as a calf hit the ground; the count of one whole note held for a two measures as brands singed hair and hide. The bass voice of Brother Billberry, who also knew cattle, as he read the poetry of the scriptures, preaching a sermon as if from the same ordered divisions of stanzas; the moving 3/4 beat of  hymns that drew sinners to the mourner’s bench—Just as I am without one plea;  Softy and tenderly Jesus is calling. The foot stomping, quick stepping tempo of Western music was ever in my ears and voice; fiddle and guitar. The unscored, inconsistent noise of prairie winds; of roaring tornado; the gentle or violent staccato of rain; and the terrible silences without it when only the sun pulsed the earth.    

     I took those rhythms inside me when I went to Fort Worth, the center of my universe where the West began.  East Texas petered out in Dallas, as Amon Carter noted, and I was, and am, scared of cities to this day. There was not enough space in cities. The greenery was crowded and suffocating; concrete forests where I was always lost because I couldn’t see, couldn’t pick up the rhythms of space because the noise was all mixed up and couldn’t be separated.

     But Fort Worth!  Their ways were not the stranger’s ways. My special places began in the Stockyards, where I walked the catwalks overlooking hundreds of head of bawling cattle and saw some of them ascend the ramp to the slaughter house; saw Tad Lucas pace her horse’s strides as she performed a ballet on the top of a saddle or under it. Then Will Rogers Coliseum, where I partook of the western myth and reality at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo; downtown Fort Worth where I had my first taste of gourmet food in Leonard’s basement cafeteria. And TCU where I learned everything I would ever need to know to become truly human and therefore educated. Each place in Cowtown offered its tempos to me, either reconfirming the ones known and embedded or adding new ones.  

     Except for the demise of Leonard’s, each of those Cowtown places remains important to me.  My heart still lifts when the majestic pink, stone court house comes into view at the end of Main Street or when the Stock Show Parade fills the streets, remembering that I once was one of the riders.

      It was at TCU that I first began to think, really think, about what my place in the Southwest meant not only to me but to the world. Horses were central to the history, the story, the glory, the romance, but also the gore and wrong-doing of history initiated on the back of a horse. The firing of Colts and Winchester, the slash of saber and knife also have rhythms. 

     Knowing I couldn’t cover the face of the Southwest on horseback, or own much of it, I learned to write and discovered words and how to use them; how the meters of phrases can capture time and place. What is written down becomes somewhat immortal even if the flesh is not, if we can judge by the writing of Willa Cather, Laura Engels Wilder, Dorothy Johnson.   

    During that time, there was marriage to a would-be cowboy and rancher, whose career was in federal law enforcement, Claude Roach. He turned my head and my heart—played football at TCU under both Dutch Meyer and Abe Martin and had a horse. And then two children, Darrell and Delight, both TCU grads and both who satisfied every longing and every wish any mother ever had. Now grandchildren, Trey and Hollyann, follow the ways of horses and cattle on our small ranch, Crosswinds, in Wise County, just four miles from the Jack County line. Even my in-law children, Connie and Brooke, embrace the family cadences.

     My thanks to the Cowgirl Hall, those who dreamed it and made it happen—especially Kit Moncrief; to the ones honored here today who exemplify what it means to make a hand. Thanks to my family; thanks to friends, old neighbors, colleagues, associates, teachers, to those who have held my hand and whose pulses I know—all continue to inspire me to this day.  They’ll all do to ride the river with. Thanks to those who let us be who we are; who let me be who I am. 

     The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is a stone vessel reverberating with the voices of Western women from the frontier to the footlights, from the arenas to the halls of state, to artistic, spoken, and written expressions of living, past and present. Always the perspective is from the back of a good horse, not on the ground but above it, where we can see for ourselves, through our own eyes, and rejoice in who we are.

    The liquids of that vessel spill out across a hungry world that longs to be reminded of our sense of place, our Western world that remains rooted in land of open spaces, unlimited horizons, rhythms that move us each to the beat of our own drum.

     To paraphrase Walt Whitman: From the back of a horse, I have seen the world in a blade of blue stem grass, am a woman of the prairies at home in the world.

      Kit Moncrief, when you ride so splendidly in the Grand Entry of the Fort Worth Rodeo each year, know that you are riding for me.  With every drum of your horse’s hooves against the ground, I feel it, am reminded of a horse named Billy, and am made glad.


Joyce Gibson Roach

October 2010

National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame Induction Luncheon