Mary Gibson, Lady Buckaroo

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Montana Historical Society, Mackay Collection X1952.01.20

She was born Antoinette Marie Massoz on Aug 28, 1894, in Holland, Man., one of four children born to Joseph and Marie Charlotte Massoz. The family had emigrated from Belgium, briefly settled in North Dakota and later moved to Saskatoon, Sask., where Marie’s father ran a livery stable and her brothers, Alex and George, broke horses. Marie helped gentle horses and started trick riding.

Her parents later moved to the Havre area in Montana, but Marie remained in Canada and married. At 16 her first child, Lucien, was born. Three years later, she and her little family followed her parents to Montana, settling along the Milk River west of Havre.

Unfortunately, the marriage failed and her husband, Joe Dumont, returned to Canada. Marie stayed on at the ranch and kept her family of three children going by working in Havre while her parents babysat. She met her neighbour, Long George Francis, and his friends Ray Ellis, Jack Maybee and Clayton Jolley when she would stop at Long George’s ranch and watch the boys break horses. Soon, with their encouragement, Marie was riding broncs and trick riding.

Marie’s dynamic rodeo career began in 1917 when she competed in the Francis- and Maybee-produced Great Northern Montana Stampede, winning third money in the horse race. The 5’4” tall, 135-pound, blue-eyed wonder also won the heart of Englishman Tom Gibson, a top Canadian bronc rider from the Red Deer area and they eventually married. Unfortunately, Tom’s bronc riding career was cut short when he was run down by a drunk driver in 1923. He stayed at the ranch with the children and Marie hit the trail.

Marie plunged into the rodeo circuit, competing at Nelson, B.C., Medicine Hat and Calgary, Alta., Moose Jaw and Regina, Sask., and all stops in between. A big boost to her career came at the Saskatoon rodeo in 1919. There she won the Best Woman Bronc Rider award. The show was attended by English royalty, and after her win Marie was escorted to the Royal Pavilion where she had a personal audience with the Prince of Wales, who would eventually be crowned King Edward VIII. Although honoured to meet the “handsome young man,” Marie was appalled at her post-ride appearance, and had wished she’d had time to clean up a little first.

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Mary Gibson (centre) gambles with fellow rodeo riders. Photo courtesy National Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

Her career hit a high lope and she competed in every big show in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The next major highlight occurred in 1923, when she was offered a spot at the first of Tex Austin’s invitation-only New York City nine-day rodeo.

The following spring, Austin arranged to take his performers to London for the 30-day British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium. There, Marie performed her trick and bronc riding every day in spite of sustaining several injuries. While touring England with the travelling “Wild West Show” she had the opportunity to meet the Prince of Wales again (as well as the Queen of England) at a party at Buckingham Palace (christened Bucking Horse Palace). This time she had the time to be “presentable,” and discovered she had made a better impression than she’d thought, as the Prince well remembered their meeting several years earlier. Marie’s ready grasp of languages (she spoke French, Russian, Belgian, Cree and English — all with a French accent) stood her in good stead and she enjoyed her time in Europe.

Although still on the mend from the injuries sustained in England, upon her return stateside Marie next won the Women’s World Bronc Riding Championship at Cheyenne Frontier Days.

By 1930, she had grown weary of the demanding rodeo life. Even though she was reportedly earning $5,000 a year on the circuit, many of her rodeo performer friends had been killed along the way to stardom. She planned to quit the rodeo circuit when her sons, Lucien and Buster, completed high school (daughter Lucy had died in infancy), and to settle down on their ranch with husband, Tom Gibson.

Sadly, those dreams never materialized, for her career ended on September 23, 1933, at Idaho Falls. She had just completed an event when the pickup man’s horse and Gibson’s collided. Her horse crashed to the ground, and the head injuries she sustained resulted in her death a few hours later. She was 39 years old.

Marie travelled the world on a bronc saddle, won numerous titles, including the Women’s World Bronc Riding Championship at Cheyenne in 1925, and the World Champion Cowgirl Bronc Rider in 1927 and 1931.

In 2008, Marie Gibson was inducted posthumously into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame in Big Timber; in 2011, she was inducted in the National Cowgirl Museum’s Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Tex. She is buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Havre.

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