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COWGIRL Iconic: Bea Kirnan

Audiences were promised to be “thrilled and mesmerized” by Bea’s work in the saddle.

June 05, 2020

Roadside flyers posted around major cities from Amarillo, Texas, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1929 invited rodeo fans to come and see trick roper and bronc rider Bea Kirnan and “gasp with amazement and wonder at her daredevil talent.”  Audiences were promised to be “thrilled and mesmerized” by Bea’s work in the saddle.

Born on October 9, 1903, in South Dakota, Beatrice Brosseau Kirnan was a champion relay and Roman rider. Roman riding involved two horses – the rider would stand with each foot on the back of the pair of horses and race around the arena. The balance and leg strength required to perform the act was daunting, and Bea was one of the best Roman riders in the country. She perfected the dangerous trick while working with the Ringling Brothers Circus.

Bronzed and self-reliant, Bea was a rodeo favorite, endowed with beauty that came with perfect physical fitness. From the age of 16 she began devoting her every waking hour to competing for riding and roping prizes held between Calgary, Canada and El Paso, Texas; and between California and Kansas.

Bea held her own against more than a score of young women who made their living bronco riding, trick riding, fancy roping and even wrestling steers at rodeos. She shared the headlines with such well-known cowgirls as Mabel Strickland, Rene Shelton, Velda Tindell, and Tad Lucas.

While performing in the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1915, Bea met an accomplished trick rider named Tommy Kirnan. The two fell in love and married on November 25, 1915 in Chicago, Illinois. Bea and Tommy combined their talents, performing together in rodeos from coast to coast including such famous venues as Madison Square Garden. The couple were recognized as one of the most famous rodeo duos of the era.

From atop her horse, Rubio, Bea entertained crowds with a variety of difficult tricks. Including hanging from her saddle by one heel with her other foot pointing toward high noon while riding full speed across the arena to retrieve a handkerchief off the ground. Bea attributed her successful career as a trick rider to her horse. Rubio was a gift from a fan who saw her ride in a wild west show in Latin America. According to an article in the August 9, 1919, edition of The Hutchinson Gazette, she doted on Rubio. “Do you know, I think Bea thinks more of that pony than she does of her man,” the article joked. “Why she was actually seen washing its teeth with a tooth brush.”

In July 1922, Bea was injured while performing in a Roman Standing race in Oklahoma. She was riding a pair of spotted ponies when she fell from the steeds as they took a sharp turn. She suffered a broken wrist and was bruised slightly. To make matters worse, someone stole her boots while the doctor was treating her.

Bea retired from roping and riding shortly after her husband passed away in 1937. She found work in a variety of areas including operating a restaurant, designing western costumes, running a commercial fishing venture, and working in an aircraft plant.

Bea Kirnan was killed in a car accident on December 3, 1960. She was fifty-seven-years-old.

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