Yodeling cowgirl, taxidermist making dreams come true
By Dana Delgado
ANDICE — Evelyn (Mills) Billington defies description.
Born in Germany, the Williamson County resident spent the first few years of her life in an orphanage before being adopted. Noises bothered her then and to this day she has to sleep with ear plugs to keep out all noises including the chirps of crickets.
She grew up resenting that she had to take home economics in school while the boys were out exploring nature. So she went on her own, studying everything outdoors and collecting fossils from a nearby stone quarry as well.
So consumed, Mrs. Billington believed that someday she would be a paleontologist or work in a zoo. A collection of fossils rest on the window sill of her workshop even today. And America, that faraway cultural and historical place full of intrigue, never was far from her mind as she was growing up.
“My parents thought I was extremely strange,” she said.
So as a young adult, the dark-haired, blue-eyed German-born dreamer set out to take on the world and fulfill her dreams.
“I’m just trying to find myself,” said a beaming Billington, “but I’m happy.”
On one hand, she is an intense, nationally honored and recognized taxidermist who teamed with her husband Mike, a former jewelry designer and a House native, to form a remarkable duo taking on some incredible projects from across the world. Their collective genius is Billington Ranch Taxidermy near Andice.
Their latest work involves an array of mounts that comprise a whole diorama as part of the highly anticipated world-class Briscoe Western Art Museum on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. The Briscoe Museum, which has its Grand Opening Oct. 26-27, preserves and interprets the art, history and culture of the American West through engaging exhibitions, educational programs, and public events reflective of the region’s traditions and shared heritage.
With much excitement, the Billingtons, who have been in business together for nearly 20 years, await working on a lioness attacking a water buck and a kangaroo for another customer in San Antonio. Generally, she does the initial mount work and her husband finishes the final touches.
“It’s taught me to have a lot more patience,” she said as she worked on a deer mount. “And I am more confident with my skills.”
A field mouse was one of her most challenging mounts because of its size while one of the most unusual pieces was a request for a wicked pig for a game room. The pig mount included a hanging tongue and wicked eyes. A life-size cougar was a memorable piece, but the couple has also mounted pieces for a National Park Museum in California, as well as Texas Christian University. Mrs. Billington won a national championship for a lizard mount in a New York competition.
Their work and skill has also earned them movie exposure and credits.
The movie “Stop-Loss” was a 2008 Paramount Picture release starring Ryan Phillipe, Abbie Cornish and Channing Tatum, which dealt with a decorated Iraq war hero who makes a celebrated return to his small Texas hometown following his tour of duty. Mike Billington was asked to teach Phillipe how to skin a rattlesnake.
Mrs. Billington’s start in the taxidermy business, however, came in Killeen. She was a police officer there when some fellow officers who were also taxidermists, took her in on a part-time basis. It rekindled her lifelong love affair with nature.
Mike Billington says that hunters have changed dramatically over the last 15-20 years.
“They are much more aware of herd management and genetics,” he said. “They have field cameras and monitor them closely, but there was this one guy who didn’t want to miss the trophy of a lifetime. He was afraid to scare the deer by opening the windows or going outside, so he just shot through the screen.”
In addition to taxidermy, Mrs. Billington, age 50, is a rising singing artist. On an impromptu occasion last week, she picked up her guitar and belted out masterfully a string of country classics as well as others. Her repertoire is extensive including rock and roll, German Folk and Christmas tunes.
“I always sang as a child and listened to old western songs to learn how to speak English,” she said. “I just love to sing.”
Mrs. Billington, who is known regionally as the “Yodeling Cowgirl”, has written a number of songs including “The Dreams I Had as a Kid,” which is one of her favorites. She says that Elton Britt and Patsy Montana, classic western singing icons, influenced her heavily.
She first started formally singing Patsy Cline songs before friends and a few local people about 10 years ago and was so well received that she quickly taught herself to play the guitar. She now is a regular at some cook-offs and festivals including the Georgetown Poppy Festival.
Mrs. Billington hopes to write more music and cut a demo to get greater exposure. Some professional musicians have given her much encouragement. She’s even played with Hall of Famer musician Buddy Ferguson.
“I’d like to do more gigs, but not where it becomes work,” she said. “It’s too much fun.”
For a little girl from Germany who dreamed of stepping into the cowboy lifestyle in America and stay close to nature, Evelyn Billington has arrived. Dreams do come true.