In Billings, MT, I had the great pleasure to meet Birdie Askins Johnson, daughter of Montana bronc rider Bob Askins and a well-known trick rider in her own right. She is a delightful lady, and like many of the “old-time” cowgirls, began riding as soon as she could sit on the back of a horse on her own–about three years of age, she says.
Birdie’s first trick riding performance was in Ekalaka MT when she was 15, and she followed this career throughout the 1940s and ’50s. Then she spent 30 years with a wardrobe and makeup trailer in Tucson, AZ, catering to movie stars on location. She worked with many well-known actors and singers, such as Burt Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Keifer Sutherland and Kathy Matea.
I took some “poetic license” in my novel, Cowgirl Dreams, and included Birdie in the story when Nettie begins to rodeo. In reality, Birdie wouldn’t be riding for another 20 or so years.
Birdie is her real name, she says. Her dad, on the rodeo circuit when she was born, wired home, “Name her Birdie,” after her maternal grandmother Bertha, nicknamed “Birdie.”
This is one of the rewards of my Montana book tour, a memory I will cherish for many years.