Western female heroines in comic books predates the Golden Age of comics with figures such as Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, who were historical figures of the great American west. Youth-oriented publications such as Beadle's Half Dime Library contained stories of these famous women not only to encourage reading among children but also provide role models to them. Sharpshooting was just as natural as cooking, sewing, and child-rearing for girls who were brought up as women in the wild west. Learning how to defend one's home front and children was especially important when the men of the household were off fighting native tribes or on hunting expeditions. Below are ten of the best known western female comic book figures:
Ace of Spades
Not too many women created comic book characters, but Ruth Roche did, along with Matt Baker: Ace of Spades. Her real name was Queenie, and her day job was saloon singer. Ace of Spades had a shady side, however, and had vested interests in local oil. Soon a number of people begin to disappear in the remote western town where she lives, one which includes a United States Senator. In addition to being an outlaw and singer, Ace of Spades was also a skilled horse rider and gunfighter. She is generally depicted wearing an all-black outfit, black hat and boots, with gun holster on her hip and a black mask like the Lone Ranger. Phantom Lady is called in on the case to solve the mysterious disappearances. Ace of Spades first appeared in Phantom Lady number 20, October 1948 (Fox Publications).
Annie Oakley is one of the few historical females to make comic books, along with Calamity Jane. Best known for her sharpshooting skills, and competing with the absolute best sharpshooters including men, Annie was a regular performer in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. As with the real-life Annie Oakley, the comic book version depicted her as being petite at 5 feet tall, with long, curly blond hair, wearing jeans, a button down shirt and vest, or a fringed dress, with her gun holster on her hip. Born Phoebe Ann Mosey on August 13, 1860 as one of nine children near Willowdell, Ohio, Annie lived in poverty with her mother Susan after her father Jacob died when she was six years old, eventually moving out at age nine to work as hired help for a local family. She discovered her natural talent for sharpshooting at the age of fifteen, and soon married one of her first shooting match opponents, Frank E. Butler.
As a comic book character, Annie Oakley appeared in: Six-Gun Heroes Volume 1 numbers 46-82 and Volume 2 numbers 6-8 (Charlton); Cowboy Western Comics numbers 17-65 (Charlton); Four Color numbers 438, 481, 520, 575 (Dell); Annie Oakley and Tagg numbers 4-18 (Dell); Cheyenne Kid number 54 (Charlton); Geronimo Jones number 2 (Charlton); Annie Oakley numbers 1-11 (Atlas), and Hit Comics number 47 (Quality), among many others.
Buckskin Belle/Prairie Kate
Buckskin Belle was in the unusual position of undergoing a name change at one point during the time period she was published. Belle Launders, created by Tex Blaisdell, made her first appearance in The Texan #1 in August 1948 (St. John Publishing). Buckskin Belle was the nominal owner of Circle S Ranch, and cut a western heroine in the classic sense: she routinely went after cattle rustlers, was a skilled markswoman as a six-shooter, and had a supportive family: a younger brother named Billy, and Old Cactus Pete. Physically, Buckskin Belle had blue eyes, short curly blond hair, and chiseled features which made her look tough. Her costume consisted of a leather fringed shirt, red scarf, and red leather fringed skirt. She continued to appear in The Texan numbers 2 to 5, then The Hawk issue numbers 9 to 12. Reincarnated as Prairie Kate, she appeared in The Texan issue numbers 9 to 10 in August 1950, with no change in her looks. What is most notable about these two later issues is that they contain reprints of Buckskin Belle's earlier stories.
Like Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane was a historical figure of the wild west who made appearances in comic books since 1877. Her first appearance was in Beadle's Half Dime Library Issue number 1 in 1877, with her next appearance in New York's Street and Smith Weekly number 37 (January 16, 1882). Not a bad start for a woman born as Martha Jane Canary on May 1, 1852 in Princeton, Missouri. Yet historically, Jane was a prominent figure in the Wild West, a frontierswoman and scout who helped fight against Indians and even knew Wild Bill Hickok. Calamity Jane preferred wearing men's clothes, could drink and cuss just as hard as men, and was also a sharpshooter. By 1876, she finally settled down in Deadwood, South Dakota. Despite all of her toughness, Jane also aided the sick and needy whenever she met them. She also took a liking to creating stories that made her a larger-than-life figure, stories which were repeated over and over again down the years.
Calamity Jane appeared in the following comic books: Cowboy Western Comics numbers 18, 25, and 27 (Charlton); Jim Bowie number 18 (Charlton); Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual number 1 (Popular Press); Red Ryder Comics number 125 (Dell); Buffalo Bill Jr. numbers 6-12 (Dell); Western Roundup number 5 (Dell) 1954; Boy Explorers Comics number 1 (Harvey Publications); Cowgirl Romances numbers 1-3 (Fiction House); and Wild Bill Hickok number 16 (Avon).
Created by Edward Lytton Wheeler and published by Beadle and Adams in New York, Cinnamon Chip made her first appearance in Beadle's Half Dime Library in Volume 37, number 958 in November 18, 1879. Much like Annie Oakley, she was an eighteen year-old tomboy gunslinger who walked with a swagger and knew how to handle every type of man she ran into, whether they were galoots or in her words, “son of a greaser”. Physically, Cinnamon Chip – born Chip Barrett and daughter of Sandy Barrett, a member of Hayden's Exploration Expedition – was of medium height, slender, wore a diamond necklace with men's clothes, and frequently carried a gold-handled cane. Considered to be quite attractive with her round face, brown hair and eyes, Cinnamon Chip was very much one of the guys in Montana where she was born. Being a gunpacker was not her only talent, for she was also an avid hunter, wilderness guide, horse jockey, trapper, and a miner – in short, a woman who did all the things men did in the late nineteenth century old west, including her penchant for smoking cigars. At one point she was engaged to Rosebud Rob, a fellow sportsman. Cinnamon Chip's personality fell somewhere between that of a cowboy and an outlaw, if only because she had her own code of honor to live by, regardless of her spitfire tongue and personality.
The Half-Dime Library was a spinoff from the Dime Library, a series of publications intended for adults. Quite possibly as a competitor with The Youth's Companion, which was published in Boston, Massachusetts from 1827 to 1929, the Half-Dime Library contained many a story of adventure for youth to enjoy.
Firehair may seem like an unusual name for a western comic book heroine – her name was due to her having a full head of red hair as well as her firebrand personality. Born Lynn Cabot, her father was a wealthy businessman who fell victim to a band of outlaws disguised as Native Americans. Being very young when her father was killed, she was raised by members of the Sioux tribe who treated her as one of their own. Among the many fighting skills she learned from her adopted family were archery, knife throwing, hand to hand combat, and canoe rowing. She often rode a horse named Dead-Eye and wore a green dress with fringe at the hem. Nicknamed “Girl of the Golden West”, Firehair became the most skilled member of the Sioux, even more so than the men, and developed a mission to protect Native Americans from exploitation or harm. In addition to her fighting skills, she also worked as a fur trapper. Created by John Starr and Lee Elias, Firehair first appeared in Ranger Comics number 21 in 1945 (Fiction House), then issues numbers 22 through 65, Firehair Comics (Fiction House) numbers 1-2, Firehair (Fiction House) numbers 7-11, Pioneer West Romances (Fiction House) numbers 3 to 7.
Like Firehair, Harpy possessed an unusual name too for her western hero status, although in this case, the name was derived from her costume and aerialist skills which allowed her to mete justice. Born Belle Martin, her father killed by his mining employees over a gold mine which he discovered by El Dorado. In turn, Belle decided to exact revenge for her father's murder, and donned a red costume with large bat wings, a mask, and metal claws which she used to kill her opponents. As an aid to help her fly, she would rig wires and fly from them. Being a former circus aerialist, Harpy could easily navigate these wires which were planted at the scenes where her attacks took place. Before Harpy could reclaim the gold mine, however, she was brought to justice by Ghost Rider, who was really Rex Fury. Created by Dick Ayers, Harpy appeared in only one comic book, Tim Holt number 30, June/July 1952 (Magazine Enterprises).
Created by Rex Maxon, Kate Slocum was the “girl next door” type western heroine, similar to that seen in western movies of the late 1940's to 1950's. While she was the daughter of a rancher, Kate went to school in New York then eventually returned home again to live on K-Bar Ranch where she felt she truly belonged. Kate is an attractive brunette, with a hairstyle very similar to that of the 1940’s actress Veronica Lake. She is often portrayed wearing a yellow button-down shirt with jeans and western boots. Kate had her share of adventures involving local bandits where she brought them to justice. Her skill set included being a crack shot with her revolver, horseback rider, and being resourceful as a fighter. K-Bar Kate She appeared in Western Crime Busters numbers 1 through 8 in 1950 (Trojan Comics).
Kitty Carson seems like the perfect name for a western heroine (there was after all Kit Carson, the famous frontiersman of the west), and she was on a par with her real-life namesake in every manner: she brought her father's murderers to justice, kept law and order in town, and even joined “Jones Wild West Show” to help raise money for a hospital. When it came to sharpshooting, Kitty carried twin six shooter revolvers. She was also an expert using the whip and lasso, while having judo skills on the side. Kitty Carson first appeared in Kerry Drake Detective Cases #12 (Harvey Comics) in January 1949. Created by Bob Powell, Kitty had shoulder length wavy blond hair, wore a red buckskin shirt, jeans and boots. She also appeared in Chamber of Clues #27-28.
Lariat Lucy's appearances in western comics may have been brief, but she was one of the bravest women ever to fight crime in the wild west. Created by Rex Mason (as R. Morton), Lariat Lucy is Lucy Lang, who was just as skilled with a gun as her sheriff father was. Her gun of choice was a .38 special, and she was equally skilled with a lasso, a horsewoman, and courageous enough to take down armed criminals on her own. Visually, Lariat Lucy had shoulder-length red hair, wore a yellow shirt with blue jeans, although she sometimes wore a skirt. Lariat Lucy was also engaged to Deputy Jim Howell. She appeared in Western Crime Busters numbers 9 to 10, February 1952 (Trojan Magazines).
© 2019 MaryGH
Vic on September 24, 2019:
Wow! This is a wonderful write up! Thank you for all the hard work.