Here is a great and sad story. Patricia McCormick sees a bullfight when she is seven, and 15 years later is a professional who faces hundreds of bulls over 11 years, becomes an international celebrity, then disappears for 40 years and almost becomes homeless. In the video, she says, “It has to be a passion, and you have to do what you love to do.” Below is the entire NY Times article by Bryan Mealer. My infatuation with bullfighting may have started with a Hemingway novel, but I did read other books, see fights in Spain and faced a calf in a bull ring for tourists. I was most taken with the movements of the banderilleros, who placed the barbed sticks in the bulls.
During the 1950s, when young women from West Texas were typically expected to take care of the home, Patricia McCormick bucked social convention and became the first female professional bullfighter in North America. Ms. McCormick, who died in Del Rio on March 26, performed in hundreds of bullfights during her career as a torera, receiving top billing in stadiums from Mexico to South America. Rafael Solana, the bullfighting critic, once called her “the most courageous woman I have ever seen.”
Born in St. Louis in 1929, she was introduced to the sport during a vacation to Mexico City when she was 7 years old. For months afterward, she staged mock bullfights in her yard using neighborhood children as her bull substitutes.
When she was 13, her family relocated to West Texas, where her father was chief engineer at Cosden Petroleum in Big Spring. After graduation, Ms. McCormick attended what was then Texas Western College in El Paso, where she studied art and music. Once there, she began crossing the border into Juárez, where she rediscovered the bulls. She watched fights at the Plaza de Toros and became a student of the form, practicing technique in her dorm room.
“I had a World War I blanket my dad had given to me to keep warm, and I used that as my cape,” Ms. McCormick said in a 2007 documentary “The Texas Torera.” She left college and persuaded Alejandro del Hierro, a retired matador, to be her mentor. Ms. McCormick made her bullfighting debut on Sept. 9, 1951, in Juárez. The Big Spring Daily Herald reported that a bull trampled her twice and tossed her with its horns before she plunged the estoque between its shoulders. The crowd showered her with roses, and the judges awarded her the bull’s ear, signifying a superior performance. Over the next year, she honed her skills in the Mexican minor leagues, and in 1952 she was the first American woman to be invited to join Mexico’s matador union.
For the next 10 years she fought in stadiums, drawing thousands of fans. An international celebrity, she was the subject of profiles in Time magazine, Sports Illustrated and Look. Although her fights received top billing, Ms. McCormick could never shake the title of novillera, or apprentice fighter. Elevation to the highest rank required an alternativa ceremony and sponsorship by a male matador, and no one would do such a thing for a woman.
Though she faced the same dangers as her male counterparts, who marveled at the artistry of her cape work, the fact that she was a woman prevented her from achieving greater stardom in a sport dominated by men.
“Had she not been born a woman,” one of Mexico’s elite matadors told Sports Illustrated in 1963, “she might have been better than any of us.”
Ms. McCormick demanded to fight on equal terms with men. Over the years, she was gored six times. The worst was in September 1954 in Ciudad Acuña, Del Rio’s Mexican sister city. According to newspaper accounts, she turned her back while she was performing a quite, or pass, and the bull caught her in the thigh. “The horn went right up my stomach,” she told The Los Angeles Times in an interview in 1989. “The bull carried me around the ring for a minute, impaled on his horns.
“They gave me the last rites there. The doctor said, ‘Carry her across the border and let her die in her own country.’ ”
Ms. McCormick fought her last bullfight in San Antonio in 1962, before disappearing from the sport. She spent the next 40 years living quietly in California, mainly focused on her artwork and rarely mentioning her past.
In the early 2000s, she returned to Texas, moving to Midland. It was there, according to friends, that she fell into financial trouble and nearly became homeless. A sad fate might have befallen her had Gary Humphreys, a gun shop owner from Del Rio, not intervened.
Mr. Humphreys had a personal connection to Ms. McCormick; he was 9 years old in 1954 when she was rushed to the hospital in Del Rio after the near-fatal goring, and his mother’s best friend had been her nurse. Decades later, after seeing an old poster of Ms. McCormick in Ciudad Acuña , he spent eight months searching for her.
“Here was this legend who’d made such an impression on my childhood,” he said, “and she was about to go live in her car.”
Mr. Humphreys helped her financially and encouraged Ms. McCormick to take advantage of her fame. In 2006, Ciudad Acuña honored her at its annual Running Las Vacas event,
“Even though she’d been gone over 50 years, people still ran up and called her by name,” Mr. Humphreys said.
Ms. McCormick moved to Del Rio, and in the years that followed she enjoyed a small resurgence of fame.
In 2007, the Heritage Museum of Big Spring opened an exhibition on her life and career, and invited Ms. McCormick to demonstrate her cape work. People waited two hours in line to meet her.
Ms. McCormick died in a nursing home in Del Rio. She was 83. She is survived by one cousin, who said it was Ms. McCormick’s wish that her ashes be scattered over the Gulf of Mexico, between the two countries where she had spent her life.
Bryan Mealer, the author of “Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town,” is working on a book about Big Spring.