This week we’re going to get a little nostalgic and talk about the early beginnings of the Calgary Stampede. When you hear about the very first Stampedes you hear names like Pat Burns, A E Cross and of course Guy Weadick, the entrepreneurial cowboy whose vision for the Stampede was to “make Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Extravaganza look like a sideshow.”
There’s no doubt that Guy Weadick was one kick ass cowboy but his wife, the fabulous Florence La Due, also deserves a lot of credit for helping bring this event to fruition.
Born as Grace Maude Bensel in 1883, Florence grew up on a Sioux Nation Reserve in Minnesota with her grandparents. During her childhood she spent her days bareback riding and learning the ways of her people. At less than 5 feet tall, this fiery little gal was able to rope 5 galloping horses at one time. Florence truly possessed that fearless cowgirl spirit.
As a teenager Florence’s dad tried to educate her on the finer things in life by moving her to the city but she was having none of it. At 17, she ran away to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show where she became known as a fierce roper and trick rider. I’m sure Annie Oakely was peeing herself!
The Wild West Show is also where she met Guy, who would quickly become the love of her life.The two were inseparable and became a dynamic duo on the circuit; impressing audiences with their spectacular showmanship.
When Guy and Florence decided to leave the entertainment business they travelled to Calgary to see about setting up a frontier program. According to certain historians, she was actually more business savvy than Guy and while she supported him in his aspirations to create the first Stampede, she also made sure they had a roof over their heads. Apparently she used to carry a leather pouch around her neck that contained a collection of uncut diamonds. When times were good, she’d purchase more and when times were bad , she’d sell the stones to make ends meet.
Florence not only helped get the greatest outdoor show on earth off the ground, she also set the tone for the next generation of women in rodeo and strongly advocated for the First Nations people to be a part of the Stampede and exhibition. She was a woman ahead of her time.
We tip our hats to you Mrs. La Due!