Long before Louis L'Amour, Max Brand, or Zane Grey thought about swinging up into a saddle, women were blazing a trail for the Western story. Even prior to 1902 with Owen Wister’s The Virginian which is widely respected as the novel that put the genre on the map, female authors were far ahead on the drive. Some may consider James Fenimore Cooper’s romanticized “Leatherstocking Tales” series as a forerunner of the Western, but the genre as we know it can be traced back to 1860 with Ann S. Stephens’ Malaeska; the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, and as Western historian Ron Scheernotes in How the West Was Written Vol. I 1880-1906, women like Mary Hallock Foote (The Led-Horse Claim, 1883) and Helen Hunt Jackson (Ramona, 1884) had nearly a twenty-year jump on the celebrated Wister.
Though the men may have muscled their way through the batwing doors in ever greater numbers, seizing the spotlight, the ladies were there at the start and have been maintaining the high standard for over 155 years. Here are three modern wordslingers—Washburn, Mims, and Foley—who are still leading the charge.