Women in Transportation History: Nan Aspinwall, Solo Transcontinental Rider

In 1911, Nan Aspinwall made history as the first woman to successfully complete a solo transcontinental trip by horse. She covered a total of 4,496 miles (7,235.6 kilometers), arriving in New York City 180 days after setting out from San Francisco on her thoroughbred mare Lady Ellen. Aspinwall, who had been born in 1880, established that travel record during an era in which transportation milestones were being set regularly with more modern means of mobility such as airplanes and automobiles.

As someone who performed in Buffalo Bill Cody’s popular Wild West show with her husband, Aspinwall was already very much a national celebrity by 1911 thanks to her wide array of talents. Her skills included riding and sharp shooting.

Aspinwall reportedly agreed to travel across the United States by herself on horseback as part of a bet with Buffalo Bill. In the course of her cross-country trek, she and Lady Ellen found themselves riding – in the words of the Washington Post – “over great mountains and deserts, through cities and towns, and across unbridged rivers” before finally making it to their destination on the Eastern Seaboard.

The Washington Post reported that Aspinwall showed up at city hall in Manhattan carrying “in her sun-browned hand a letter from the mayor of San Francisco to the mayor of New York.” While New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor was not there to welcome Aspinwall, she was greeted by Manhattan Borough President George McAneny. Newspaper accounts indicate that Aspinwall subsequently left city hall in search of a hotel for herself and a stable for Lady Ellen.

Aspinwall’s coast-to-coast horse ride elevated her to a whole new level of western mythology. Her accomplishment was highlighted in a variety of ways, including a 1942 radio broadcast of Death Valley Days and an episode of the 1950s TV western series Judge Roy Bean. Aspinwall died in 1964 at the age of 84.

For more information on Nan Aspinwall, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nan_Aspinwall.

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