By Ron VandenBoom
A few hundred feet from the main entrance to Highland Park Cemetery a new and modestly elegant tombstone commemorates the life of a premier rodeo trick rider.
Unknown by some and little known by others, this petite five-foot, four-inch, 135 pound dynamo of a woman is a part of Havre history that has somehow slipped through the crack of time into relative obscurity.
Mary or Marie Gibson is indeed a Havre legend, but unlike most legends, her fame and the glory and much of the evidence of her past have been lost in time. This is also true of much of the evidence supporting her accomplishments.
That's why the family chipped in for the tombstone, said Tom Farnham, a nephew of Gibson.
But just how great were Gibson's accomplishments?
Gibson was a professional bronc and trick rider who dazzled fans in Canada, the United States, England, and Mexico. She won hundreds of competitions throughout the United States and competed in Kansas City, Dallas, and even performed in the New York City's Madison Square Garden where she won two national championships.
She was named world champion cowgirl bronc rider in 1927 and also performed in England before the prince of Wales who later presented her with a horse. In 1924 she won the Woman's World Championship Bucking Award at Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1924. she was well known on the regional circuit and had a sterling reputation in Stampedes in Canada.
He list of accomplishments is almost endless, but documentation on most of these awards has been destroyed or lost in archives miles from Havre and ignored by their owners. They are remembered mostly by relatives, local historians, and a little known and now mostly destroyed autobiography.
Despite Gibson's long list of accomplishments there was little in her humble beginnings that would suggest greatness. He parents moved from Belgium to Manitoba, Canada, where she was born on August 18, 1894. She would live briefly in North Dakota and for a time the family even returned to Belgium where it is believed Gibson picked up her disarming French accent.
The family would soon return to Canada, taking up residence this time in Bellevue, Saskatchewan.
Gibson is said to have showed an early talent for handling horses and long trips on horseback to school didn't hurt. She even had some early experience riding unbroken horses during this period.
The family moved to the Burnham area just west of Havre about 1911. Now 16, Gibson stayed in Canada and married a neighbor boy, Joseph Dumont and gave birth to three children, one of which died after three months.
Gibson came south to join her parents west of Havre in 1914. The family had taken up residence on a homestead about 1.5 miles from the home of another Havre legend, "Long George" Francis.
Francis had a cabin on the south side of the Milk River about where the bridge begins at Fresno Reservoir today.
It was a hard beginning for Gibson who gave birth to another son on July 4, 1915. Gibson briefly got her husband to follow them to the United States to take care of the family, but soon he would return to Canada permanently.
It was Gibson's long-running friendship with Francis and his assortment of friends such as Clayton Jolley, Ed Timmons, Jack Mabee, and others that seems to have gotten Gibson interested in trick riding and bucking broncos. They also provided her with assistance and encouragement.
Gibson would even be one of the last people to see Francis alive before this other legendary Havre cowboy met his tragic death on or about Dec. 24, 1920.
When the Great Northern Montana Stampede Association Inc. was formed about 1913, the vehicle was in place to meet one of its most impressive stars. George Francis and Jack Mabee were the first president and vice president of this newly formed organization that would become a Hi-Line tradition and spectacle for years to come.
Gibson entered her first Havre Stampede in 1917 and that same year she entered the Medicine Hat, Alberta, rodeo and for the first time rode a bucking bronco. It was also in 1917 that Gibson met an Englishman, Tom Gibson. They were married and became American citizens. Tom Gibson was also made the legal father of Marie's three children. He was killed in 1923.
Gibson continued to expand her rodeo career at rodeos in places such as Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw, and Calgary in Canada, and by 1919 she was named the best woman bronc rider at the Saskatoon rodeo.
By this time Gibson had also picked up the nickname "Buckskin Mary," a name she did not find at all flattering, but like the hard work, dusty trails, and great traveling distances, the rodeo circuit was helping to pay the bills.
Gibson is reported to have made about $5,000 a year riding the circuit a princely sum for many at that time.
In 1927 she won the title of "World Champion Cowgirl Bronc Rider" at Madison Square Garden and that same year performed in England.
She also is credited with winning the Woman's World Championship Bucking Award at Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1924.
There's no telling how long Gibson would have continued to win titles and entertain audiences had it not been for a tragic accident that occurred on Sept. 23, 1933, at a rodeo in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Gibson had just finished her ride when the rescue horse a rider approached to take her off her mount. The two horses collided and Gibson was thrown. She suffered a fractured skull and died a few hours after the ride. She was 38-years-of-age.
She was buried in Highland Park Cemetery about 300 feet from her life-long friend and teacher, George Francis.
Gibson was a product of her times a uniquely Montana talent that Havre was lucky to call one of its own.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Farnham, his family, and Havre historian, Gary Wilson, the achievements of this unique lady can better be preserved.
Wilson, is still working on getting Gibson recognition for her accomplishments by trying to get her name entered into the National Cowgirl's Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.