History Nebraska Blog

Nan J. Aspinwall, Western Entertainer

Nan Aspinwall was famous as an expert roper. NSHS RG3513.PH6-54 (left).

When Nan Aspinwall arrived in New York on July 8, 1911, after a ride on horseback from San Francisco to New York, it was perhaps the highlight of a long and colorful career as an oriental dancer, sharpshooter, trick roping expert, and vaudeville actress. Born in New York on February 2, 1880, she spent most of her early years in Nebraska, where her parents were storekeepers in Liberty, a small Gage County town. Later publicity during her career indicated that she was raised on a cattle ranch in Montana, although it seems probable that this story was concocted to enhance her stage image as a cowgirl and Western entertainer.

By 1899 Nan was performing as an oriental dancer, “Princess Omene.” Sometime in 1905 or 1906, she began appearing as the “Montana Girl,” an expert horsewoman, roper, and sharpshooter, and by 1906 she was billed (along with husband Frank Gable) as a “Lariat Expert.” By at least 1908, the couple was performing with the combined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Far East Troupe. On a bet from Buffalo Bill, she rode on horseback from San Francisco to New York and back in 1911, supporting herself with exhibitions of roping and riding in small towns along the way. Later she and Frank had their own vaudeville show.

Aspinwall performed as an exotic dancer early in her career. NSHS RG3513.PH6-28 (Right).

In June of 1927 Nan and Frank Gable were in Norfolk, Nebraska, to attend a much-publicized reunion of old frontiersmen. The gathering, highlighted by a parade, was largely instigated by Norfolk’s Dr. Richard J. “Diamond Dick” Tanner and radio personality Karl Stefan. The Norfolk Daily News on June 15, 1927, announced the arrival in town of “Two-Gun Nan” and her husband, identified as “Two Famous Ropers,” to participate in the celebration.

Little is known of Nan’s life after Frank Gable died in 1929 and their show ended. She married again at some point in the 1930s, to Al Lambell, who also predeceased her. She died on October 24, 1964, in San Bernardino, California, after decades of obscurity. The Nebraska state Historical Society has photographs and souvenirs relating to her career as well as a manuscript collection of Aspinwall Family papers.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor /Publications

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