Wild Women Of The West: Josephine Monaghan


Little Joe was not what he seemed to be.  In fact, he was not a he at all.  But that fact was not revealed until much later.

Josephine Monaghan was born to a prominent Buffalo, New York, family in 1847.  As a teenager she had a love affair, became pregnant and fled to New York where she was abandoned by her lover.  She gave birth to a son who was adopted by her sister Helen.  In disgrace, she headed west to begin a new life.  It was dangerous for a woman to travel alone so Josephine dressed as a man.

After reaching the Idaho gold country Josephine staked a mining claim and when that failed, she became a sheepherder and later a cowhand.  She learned to ride wild broncs and rope and became an accomplished marksman with a pistol.  The cowboys took to calling her “Little Joe.”

For seventeen years Little Joe worked and saved her money with the hope of one day buying a ranch.  She entrusted her life savings to a friend, a mine superintendent, who absconded with three thousand dollars.

Little Joe desperately wanted a ranch and took a homestead on Succor Creek in southeastern Oregon.  Ove the course of two decades she built an outfit that included stock numbering fifty horses and several hundred head of cattle.  The nearest town was Rockville where Little Joe was an accepted member of the community, voting in elections and serving on several juries years before those rights were granted to women.

Little Joe died of pneumonia in 1903.  As the body was prepared for burial her closely guarded secret was discovered.  

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