American Cowgirl

Honoring the Spirit of Women and Horses

Cowgirl Dreams

Olive May Tootsie Gasser
My Grandmother, an American Cowgirl

A petite young woman mounts a 750-pound steer, and hangs on to nothing but a rope tight-wrapped around one hand. That she stays on this bucking, twisting, snorting beast for ten seconds, eight seconds or even two seconds, seems a miracle.

This is the intriguing picture of my grandmother I have carried in the back of my mind since I was a little girl. Ever since I began to explore fiction writing as opposed to journalism, this idea has been nagging at me, telling me I needed to write about her.

And so, in 1999, I began a novel, with the working title Cowgirl Dreams, hopefully to be published in 2009–ten years after I started writing it.

My grandmother, Olive May “Tootsie” Bailey, grew up the daughter of homesteaders during the early 1900s in the Sunburst-Cut Bank area of Montana, near the Canadian border and east of the Rocky Mountains.

Although she no longer rode in rodeos when I came along, “Gramma” was an avid horsewoman and ranch wife, equally at-home on the back of a horse as she was in a dress and heels. She and my grandfather, Otto Gasser, were equal partners in rural Montana ranching.

She died when I was only twelve, so I never got to talk to her about life as a rodeo cowgirl. But she had taken many pictures, created photo albums, scrapbooks and journals, from which a story emerged. My dad also told me stories about his growing up in the 1920s and ’30s. The spark grew to a flame, and I was hooked.

The 1920s were the heyday of rodeo, where the cowgirl was as much a part of the festivities as the cowboy. This decade is where I chose to start my story. While my grandmother apparently rode only in small town and neighborhood rodeos, she was friends with, and competed against fellow Montanans, Alice and Margie Greenough, Fannie Sperry Steele, and Marie Gibson. Trixie McCormick was another Montana trick rider who performed during the 1940s.

Fame and fortune was as much of a dream then as now, and those dreams became the backdrop for Nettie’s story in Cowgirl Dreams.

My novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is coming soon from Treble Heart Books.

http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
www.heidimthomas.com

9 Responses to “Cowgirl Dreams”

  1. Fascinating subject! How I envy you the collection of your rodeo grandmother’s photos, scrapbooks, and journals. Looking forward to the book with much interest.

  2. This is a terrific story. I didn’t know anything about women in the rodeo until I stumbled across a story about Tad Lucas (she did the death drag). It turned out, she lived not far from me! There is a nice tribute to women in the rodeo at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. Let ‘em now about your book when it’s published :-)

  3. I’m looking forward to reading your book. I grew up in Montana and Idaho (Libby & Bonners Ferry)
    My dad worked ranches in Wyoming and packed horses for the Forest Service in Montana. I’ve always loved horses and the western way of life. You must be so proud of your grandmother. She had to have had plenty of grit, besides she looks so cute in her cowboy hat.

  4. This photo of your grandmother is wonderful! It makes me want to read more about her. Congratulations for preserving her story and sharing her your readers.

  5. Trixi was my great grandmother…pretty neat to see it is a small world.

  6. Lindy "Uhl" Borden says:

    My mother was an acrobatic dancer and worked with Trixie McCormick most likely in the 1950 because I was born in 1948 and still remember Trixie’s act in part. But mostly remember riding on her horses between acts and days thay did not proform. Mom died 2 days ago wish I had found this before she died she would have loved it. She was 84. I came accross a flyer of Trixie in mom’s things while preparing for her service. It is 4 pages in purple and white on the back it says Trixie MCCormick Permanent address: Post Office Box 12, Colma 25, California my mom wrote after the address or Drummond, Montana. Inside and the front are pictures of her and her horses. It was a good memory Trixie was so kind to me and my brother as a child. If you want this flyer let me know and I will send it. Even though it is a great memory for me as her grand child it will mean a whole lot more to you. You may have found pictures of my mom I have so many on them and don’t need any but thought if you did you might find it interesting she is sitting on her head in a lot of her pictures. She entertained the troops in WWII and is in the WWII hall of fame for women.

    Lindy “Uhl” Borden

  7. Ross Rainville says:

    Trixie McCormick was my aunt. My memories of her are primarily of when she owned and operated Trixie’s Antler Saloon in Ovando, MT. I still remember her bring her horse Silver Dollar into the bar to perform some of his old tricks.
    Seeing a site like this brings back a lot of memories.

  8. Kerry Brunette says:

    Trixi is my Grandmother. I have many, many pictures of her performing and would love to put a book/history of all of these riders. Anyone who wants to share in doing this and preserving more of the history can contact me at p o box 851 hayden ID 83835. She was a marvel – we tried to ride like her on her horses – not knowing that she had a special saddle – we tried it bare back – ouch!

  9. Leissa Wages says:

    Kerry – You might remember me. Regardless, I would love to help you with a memorial book for your grandmother.

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