Estelle Gilbert Papers
Scope and Contents
The Estelle Gilbert Papers is arranged into three series: Correspondence, Subject Files, and Photographs. The collection features more than 40 letters written to Gilbert by Hastings over a period of 18 years and almost 20 photographs of New York rodeos and rodeo performers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A Mike and Fox Hastings scrapbook covering 1925-1927, photographs of early rodeo performers including a Mabel Strickland photograph inscribed to Fox Hastings, and a reminiscence of Fox Hastings by Reba Perry Blakely are also included.
- Creation: 1923 - 2003
Conditions Governing Access
The Estelle Gilbert Papers has no restrictions and is available for research. If you are interested in researching the materials, please contact the Dickinson Research Center to make an appointment.
Conditions Governing Use
The Estelle Gilbert Papers is the property of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Materials, even if owned by the NCWHM, may be protected under third party copyright. It is the patron’s responsibility to research and secure any such additional copyright and pay any required fees or royalties. It is not the intention of the NCWHM to impede upon any third party rights, and the NCWHM cannot be held responsible if the patron is involved in legal action due to violation of third party copyright claims.
Biographical / Historical
Estelle Gilbert was born December 8, 1912 in Ansonia, Connecticut, but moved to Great Neck, Long Island when she was four years old. As a child she learned to ride horses and always had a great love for animals. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City where she took a position as a secretary for an insurance company. In 1939, Gilbert bought a horse, which she boarded at Cimarron Ranch, a dude ranch near Peekskill, New York. She enjoyed life at the dude ranch, and in 1940 accepted an office position at the ranch, which allowed her to spend more time riding. Work as a trail ride escort and riding instructor soon followed. She became acquainted with Mike Hastings, a former rodeo performer who was foreman of the ranch.
She also worked for a time at Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch near Ardmore, Oklahoma, a job she got through Hastings who had worked as a stock contractor for Autry. Under the tutelage of Hastings, she was able to expand her riding abilities to include barrel racing and trick riding, and she was eventually able to rodeo competitively in these events in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this period she became a dude ranch commuter, spending summers at the Cimarron Ranch in New York and winters at the Desert Willow Ranch near Tucson, Arizona.
In the late 1950s, she settled down near the Cimarron Ranch on her own “two-horse ranch.” She was friend and companion to Mike Hastings until his death in 1965. She continued to live in the Peekskill, New York area, most often working as a waitress, until 1979, when she moved to California. She eventually settled in Yucaipa, where she became active in civic affairs, including the local animal shelter. She died at the age of 90 on August 17, 2003.
0.50 Linear Feet (1 document box, 1 oversize folder)
Language of Materials
Papers and photographs of Estelle Gilbert, a horsewoman, rodeo performer, and longtime friend of Rodeo Hall of Fame steer wrestler Mike Hastings. The collection features more than 40 letters written to Gilbert by Hastings over a period of 18 years and almost 20 photographs of New York rodeos and rodeo performers in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A Mike and Fox Hastings scrapbook covering 1925-1927, photographs of early rodeo performers including a Mabel Strickland photograph inscribed to Fox Hastings, and a reminiscence of Fox Hastings by Reba Perry Blakely are also included.
Series 1: Correspondence (1940-2001)
This series is comprised primarily of more than 40 letters written by Mike Hastings to Estelle Gilbert between 1940 and 1958. These letters by the rough-hewn and unlettered Hastings document his life on the Cimarron Ranch and working for Gene Autry, the lives and loves of his friends and associates, injuries and illnesses, and his evolving relationship with Gilbert. Hastings relates incidents such as a horse theft by a gang of teenagers and the shipment of some saddles to Autry’s Oklahoma ranch, which were eaten by insect larvae before they could be unpacked. Mentioned in the correspondence is rodeo promoter Frank Moore, Cimarron Ranch owners Vern and Lu Walters, and Vern’s brother C. J. Walters, who also owned a dude ranch in the area. Also included in the correspondence are two typed Cimarron Ranch daily schedules and a mid-1950s brochure for New York dude ranches.
Other correspondence includes some letters to Gilbert from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame concerning the donation of items belonging to Mike Hastings, correspondence with friend and rodeo performer Harry Tompkins, and a 1952 letter from author and illustrator Paul Laune that discusses his wife’s problems with alcohol and mentions photographer Charles Eggert’s trip out west to photograph in the National Parks.
Series 2: Subject Files (1925-2003) This series includes newspaper and magazine clippings about Gilbert, Hastings, and other rodeo friends; a legal document concerning a 1945 Florida land purchase; some items related to rodeo, including photocopies of one of Gilbert’s Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Rodeo pay stubs and the original 1936 Rodeo Cowboy Turtles Association petition; and some short writings by Gilbert. Collection highlights include a nicely-done Mike and Fox Hastings scrapbook covering 1925-1927 that includes the usual newspaper clippings, but also some more unusual items such as a 1926 subpoena for Mike Hastings to testify in a criminal trial of rodeo clown Red Sublett in Tucson, Arizona. There is also a 1976 reminiscence of Fox Hastings written by fellow rodeo cowgirl Reba Perry Blakely.
Series 3: Photographs (1923-ca. 1960) This series primarily documents Gilbert’s rodeo career and her friendship with Hastings and others associated with the Cimarron Ranch, but also includes some earlier rodeo performers known by Mike and Fox Hastings. Included are four panoramic group photographs of the performers from the 1946, 1947, 1951, and 1952 World’s Championship Rodeos at Madison Square Garden, which include Gilbert; group photographs featuring Gilbert, Hastings, Jasbo Fulkerson, Sally Rand, Roy Rogers, Vern and Lu Walters, and others; backstage photographs from the 1951, 1952, and 1953 Madison Square Garden rodeos; photographs, some autographed, of Tex Austin, Eddie Burgess, Ruth Roach, Mabel Strickland, and other early rodeo personalities; and several late-1940s photographs of performers from Gene Autry’s Flying A Ranch Rodeo, including Estelle Gilbert and Gene Autry. Also included is a short 16mm color film of Gilbert riding at Cimarron Ranch dating from the early 1940s.
The Estelle Gilbert Papers was donated in two parts to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The first accession came from Estelle Gilbert in 1993 and the second was donated by Jerry Cape in 2004.
- Autry, Gene, 1907-1998 (Person)
- Eggert, Charles (Person)
- Fulkerson, Jasbo (Ralph), 1904-1949 (Person)
- Hastings, Fox, 1882-1948 (Person)
- Hastings, Mike, 1891-1965 (Person)
- Rand, Sally, 1904-1979 (Person)
- Rogers, Roy, 1911-1998 (Person)
- Strickland, Mabel DeLong, 1897-1976 (Person)
- Sublett, Red, 1894-1950 (Person)
- Tompkins, Harry, 1927- (Person)
- Language of description
- Script of description