Malcom Heathershaw will spend the next few months healing up from breaking both bones (ulna and radius) in his left arm. “I drew a pretty […]
Back When They Bucked with Glen Bird
Written by: Ruth Nicolaus< Back to Articles
Because of his high school ag teacher, Glen Bird began riding bulls.
The Weatherford, Texas man began his rodeo career at the behest of Mr. William T. Woody, ag teacher at Peaster (Texas) High School, a career that would end up with six International Pro Rodeo Association (IPRA) titles and the high respect of his fellow cowboys. As a child, Glen attended rodeos with his granddad, who loved them, especially the bull riding.
He rode calves on the family ranch then continued the sport when he was in high school.
Mr. Woody had competed as a bull rider at Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas, and he saw potential in his student. Because Glen couldn’t drive, Mr. Woody would enter him in the FFA rodeos held across the state and drive him there. And because many of the FFA rodeos hired professional stock contractors, the bulls were extra rank and the high school kids turned them out, not wanting to get on them. “Mr. Woody knew all them stock contractors,” Glen remembers, “and he’d tell them stock contractors, ‘Look, these bulls are turned out and this boy I brought with me will get on them.’” So Glen ended up getting on five or six bulls at each rodeo. He may not have got them rode, but he was willing to get on them.
He remembers one time at a rodeo in Gainesville, Texas, where Adrin Parker was the stock contractor. He had a bull, No. 36, that nobody wanted. Every performance, No. 36 was turned out and Glen got on him. “He slung me all over that arena. I was so beat up and bruised up by the time I got on the bull I had drawed, Mr. Woody kept ice on me all day.” Two years later, he got his revenge on No. 36; he rode him for a third place finish.
In 1964, after high school graduation, he hit the rodeo road. He was already competing on the weekends, but now he hit the trail hard. He had gotten his IPRA card a few years prior, and, along with Hal Pilgrim, went to rodeos everywhere. “We’d try to go to a rodeo every day,” he said. It wasn’t hard. With bull buckouts at Mansfield, Texas two nights a week and a rodeo on Saturday nights, and rodeos in Simonton every weekend, there was always somewhere to ride.
And Glen and his buddies didn’t limit themselves to Texas. It was common for them to be up at a rodeo on a Saturday afternoon in Texas or Oklahoma or Arkansas, then jump in the car and make a Sunday matinee performance in California. The car was full, too. By this time, Glen and friends Red Doffin (a bull rider) and Ronnie William (a bareback rider) were in the vehicle, along with Bernie Johnson, Glen’s brother Arnold Bird, and Hulen Missildine. “They would go anywhere I entered us,” Glen said. “I always had a full car, and we’d go non-stop.”
In his glory days, Glen and his buddies were competing in anywhere from 150 to 200 rodeos a year. “The thing about it is, we loved it,” he said. “If you can’t travel, you’re not going to ever rodeo. Every day, when we’d wake up, we’d more than likely be in another state, meeting new people. It was unbelievable.” And his riding was unbelievable, too. According to Ronnie Williams, Glen’s style was impeccable. “I think he was one of the greatest bull riders there ever was,” Ronnie said. “He had a perfect style and form, he rode so perfect, that he made it look effortless. And his percentage of winning first place was unbelievable. It seemed like every time he’d nod his head, he was winning first.”
In the early days of his rodeo, Glen rode bareback horses. He didn’t like to, but for a while, he did. And his friend Ronnie knew it, and occasionally set him up for a joke. “That dang Ronnie would enter me in the bareback riding, and I’d get there (to the rodeo) and find out I was entered. But he didn’t enter me in a whole bunch of them, because I was entering him in the bull riding, and he didn’t like that.”
Glen won the IPRA’s bull riding title four times: 1966-67-68 and 1970, and the all-around in 1968 and 1970. The International Finals Rodeo began in 1970, so prior to that, whoever had the most money won at the end of the year was the champion.
Ronnie won eight IPRA bareback titles, and thought his buddy was the best in the business. “I don’t think anybody ever rode with the style he rode with, and was dominant in the IPRA all those years. It was a privilege for me to get to rodeo with him.”
Another traveling partner, Red Doffin, thought the world of Glen. “He had lots and lots of class,” Red remembered. “You talk about a bull rider that looked pretty on bulls. He just turned his toes out and rode them with style, rode them perfect. That’s the way he rode.” Glen was hard to throw off, as well. “He had good form,” Red said, “and when they throwed him off, they throwed him off on the top of his head because he tried as hard as he could try.”
Glen never suffered from a lot of injuries. He broke a leg during his first – and only – semester of college, affixing a spur in the cast so he could continue to ride. He also broke a bone in his left hand, his riding hand that took six months to heal. The broken leg and possibly returning to riding bulls too soon has affected his walking today. That’s not being tough, he insisted, in riding with a cast, “all that was, was stupidity. If I had not have done that, I would be walking so much better today.”
In 1972, he got on the last bull he’d ever ride. His legs were bothering him so badly he took the locks out of his spurs and rode with loose rowels. “I couldn’t stand the pressure it was putting on my legs,” he said. “After a while, anything you do that you burn at it like that, it makes the longevity of it short. It finally caught up with me.”
By this time he had a wife, Judy, and two children, Jennifer (White) and Jason. He got a job with Miller Brewing Co. in Ft. Worth, working there for 33 years. He also started a Limousin cow herd, selling the bulls at the Texas Limousin Association’s annual sale for years. He started his herd from some heifers and a bull that his aunt and uncle had in Oklahoma. He ended up with a herd of 35 purebreds and did very well with the breeding program. Both of his kids showed the cattle, his daughter winning Limousin Heifer of the Year.
When he quit riding bulls, Glen had to quit going to rodeos, for fear he’d get the bug again and hit the road. “I didn’t watch a rodeo on TV for ten years or so,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be able to quit them if I kept around them.” Then one day his friend Sam Roberts called, asking if he’d watched a bull riding on TV. “I can’t, Sam,” he said. “I’ll want to get to riding again.” Sam shot that idea down. “Hell, you ain’t going to do that, you’re too old,” he said. “And I thought, by gosh, he’s right, and now I don’t miss one.”
Inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame in 2010, Glen remembers with great fondness his rodeo days. “I had more fun than the law allows. I thought I was a millionaire. I enjoyed every bit of it. I don’t regret any part of it,” he said. “If I ever got the chance to live it over again, I would.”
And Mr. Woody, the ag teacher? They still stay in touch, even though Glen nearly got kicked out of his class the first day of school. Glen walked into the classroom with his hat on, pants stuffed into his boots, and put his feet on the table. Mr. Woody jumped up with a two-by-four in his hands and said, “We’re going to find out who runs this class right now. You or me? I’m going to ask you to take your feet off the desk and your hat off.” “I looked at that two-by-four,” Glen chuckled, “and I sure didn’t want no part of that.”
Glen and Judy spend their time now “doing whatever we want to,” said Judy, who spent most of her years at home, working a couple different jobs along the way. “We’ve been married for 48 years and we have learned that it’s about being a companion to each other and doing for each other all the time. We go to church all the time and have a lot of friends to spend time with.” They also have two granddaughters, Skylar and Taylor.