Arizona Cowbelles Beef and Cattle Women Heritage

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Last October, at the 75th anniversary party of the Douglas Cowbelles, it was overheard: As long as you have cattle ranchers Cowbelles will be around.

Little did the original 1939 group of Douglas Cowbelles — some 16 ranch women gathered to share social news and cattle talk about drought and ranch life — know that their informal club would spread through Arizona and 29 states, eventually becoming the American National Cattle Women’s Association.

Keili Summey
Keili Summey, Arizona Beef Ambassador, sharing National Beef
Cook-Off brochures while Marie Pyeatt refills in the background.

Today there are 12 Cowbelle locals in Arizona, from Gila to Yuma, Yavapai to Santa Cruz, with 225 state members mostly from ranching families.

Modern Cowbelles not only provide a historical record of life on Arizona ranches, but form a unified, professional organization of generations of Arizona women who support the cattle industry, educate consumers and youth about nutrition, conservation of the land and humane treatment of animals, as well as produce profitable businesses and important community work. The Cowbelles also work with the Arizona National Livestock Show in publishing Arizona Pioneer Stockman ranch histories.

Janice Bryson, an Arizona Cowbelle who writes about Cowbelle history, is from a 4-generation cattle family. Named Top Wrangler by the Cattle Growers last year for her research and support of the cattle industry, Janice shared some Arizona Cowbelle historical tidbits:

On Cowbelle facts:
Through the years, Cowbelles in Arizona became a vital part of the cattle industry in the state.  During the 1950’s and 1960’s, a period of low cattle prices and terrible drought condition, the Cowbelles introduced a female presence on the Arizona scene.  Arizona Republic’s cartoonist Reg Manning’s “Lil’ Dudette” became a Cowbelle mascot and was everywhere around the state promoting beef productions.  They also initiated programs such as “Eat Beef and Keep Slim” and “Beef for Father’s Day.”

The Arizona State Cowbelles were honored as one of the first recipients of the Arizona Culture Keeper’s Awards. In 2004 they were recognized by the Arizona Historical Society for their preservation of the history of Arizona’s ranching culture.

On BBQ and Ranch Cooking:
Ranch cooking has a distinctive style around Arizona.  Ranches along the border do a lot of Mexican cooking, with Basque ranchers adding flavors from Spain. Northern AZ has staples of meats, beans and potatoes. During the days of chuck wagons — roasts and various pieces of meat were cooked in Dutch ovens.  Cooking meat in a pit is popular as a large amount can be done at once. It’s one of the oldest methods of cooking. Dig a hole in the ground, fill it with fire, add the meat, cover, and cook!

On Arizona Cowbelle ranching families:
There are many Arizona Cowbelle families, each involved in the cattle business for more than a century. Here are some examples of Arizona families with 100 years or more in ranching:

  • Marie Pyeatt: Pyeatt Ranch, Santa Cruz Cowbelles. Ranching since 1899
  • Rose Awtrey: VM Ranch near Alpine, Blue River Cowbelles.  Family ranching since 1897.
  • Shannon Bales & Mary Jo Nicholson: Daughter & mother, Corporal Stripe Ranch near Willcox.
    Both members are of Willcox Cowbelles. Ranching since 1885.
  • Trudy Teskey Birkmeyer: Dugas Ranch near Dugas. Yavapai Cowbelles. Ranching since 1877.
  • Sue Krentz: Krentz Ranch near the Mexican border at Douglas.
    Member of The Cowbelles. Ranching since 1907.
  • Marka Moss: Mustang Ranch east of Elgin. Santa Cruz Cowbelles. Ranching since 1912.
Tubac Amado Cowbelles
Tubac-Amado Cowbelles at the Patagonia Festival:
Mary Simon, Randy Glennie, Gabrielle Ollendick, Lee Taylor

On community activities and upcoming events:
Locals continue to participate in beef promotion, ranch heritage projects and scholarship programs in their communities. For example, the Santa Cruz Cowbelles established a ranch history museum in Nogales and participates in Empire Ranch Days. They also held two steak frys for military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at Ft. Huachuca.  Wilcox participates in Pearce Days and Wings Over Wilcox.  Blue River established a library down on the Blue.

With the Arizona Beef Council, the Cowbelles partner to spread the good word about beef.  Cowbelles travel to Yuma for Lettuce Days (Feb 28 & Mar 1) and also participate in state activities including Phoenix Cooks and the Arizona Beef Ambassador program. At a recent Tucson Festival of Books, Cowbelles distributed 2,000 pieces of AZ beef jerky from the U of A Meat Sciences Lab; 1,800 National Beef 2013 Cookoff recipe cards, and 2,200 copies of various beef promotional and educational materials.

Originally, those 16 ranch wives in Douglas intended “to promote family and social relations between cattle people and to cooperate for the best interests of our industry, our community, and our country” with their social club. This month we tip our hats to these strong local women, and the generations of new Cowbelles building on their accomplishment.



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