Tuesday, November 2, 2010

THE YOUNGEST COWBOYS




In the summer of 1909, two young brothers under the age of ten set out to make their own “cowboy dreams” come true. They rode across two states on horseback. Alone.

It’s a story that sounds too unbelievable to be true, but it is.

Oklahoma had been a state not quite two years when these young long riders undertook the adventure of a lifetime. The brothers, Bud (Louis), and Temple Abernathy rode from their Tillman County ranch in the southwest corner of the state to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bud was nine years old, and Temple was five.

They were the sons of a U.S. Marshal, Jack Abernathy, who had the particular talent of catching wolves and coyotes alive, earning him the nickname “Catch ’Em Alive Jack.”

Odd as it seems to us today, Jack Abernathy had unwavering faith in his two young sons’ survival skills. Their mother had died the year before, and, as young boys will, they had developed a wanderlust listening to their father’s stories.

Jack agreed to let them undertake the journey, Bud riding Sam Bass (Jack’s own Arabian that he used chase wolves down with) and Temple riding Geronimo, a half-Shetland pony. There were four rules the boys had to agree to: Never to ride more than fifty miles a day unless seeking food or shelter; never to cross a creek unless they could see the bottom of it or have a guide with them; never to carry more than five dollars at a time; and no riding on Sunday.

The jaunt into New Mexico to visit their father’s friend, governor George Curry, took them six weeks. Along the way, they were escorted by a band of outlaws for many miles to ensure their safe passage. The boys didn’t realize they were outlaws until later, when the men wrote to Abernathy telling him they didn’t respect him because he was a marshal. But, in the letter, they wrote they “liked what those boys were made of.”

One year later, they set out on the trip that made them famous. At ten and six, the boys rode from their Cross Roads Ranch in Frederick, Oklahoma, to New York City to meet their friend, former president Theodore Roosevelt, on his return from an African safari. They set out on April 5, 1910, riding for two months.

Along the way, they were greeted in every major city, being feted at dinners and amusement parks, given automobile rides, and even an aeroplane ride by Wilbur Wright in Dayton, Ohio.

Their trip to New York City went as planned, but they had to buy a new horse to replace Geronimo. While they were there, he had gotten loose in a field of clover and nearly foundered, and had to be shipped home by train.

They traveled on to Washington, D.C., and met with President Taft and other politicians.

It was on this trip that the brothers decided they needed an automobile of their own. They had fallen in love with the new mode of transportation, and they convinced their father to buy a Brush runabout. After practicing for a few hours in New York, they headed for Oklahoma—Bud drove, and Temple was the mechanic.

They arrived safe and sound back in Oklahoma in only 23 days.

But their adventures weren’t over. The next year, they were challenged to ride from New York City to San Francisco. If they could make it in 60 days, they would win $10,000. Due to some bad weather along the 3,619-mile-long trip, they missed the deadline by only two days. Still, they broke a record—and that record of 62 days still stands, nearly one hundred years later.

The boys’ last cross country trip was made in 1913 driving a custom designed, two-seat motorcycle from their Cross Roads Ranch to New York City. They returned to Oklahoma by train.

As adults, Temple became an oilman, and Bud became a lawyer. There is a statue that commemorates the youngest long riders ever in their hometown of Frederick, Oklahoma, on the lawn of the Tillman County Courthouse.

20 comments:

  1. Cheryl what a great post! The courage those boys possessed was amazing and a true reflection of the American West spirit!

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  2. Hi Marin,

    Thanks so much! I love this story about the Abernathy boys--like you say, it's such a testament to the spirit of the WEST! Now, I don't know what their dad must have been thinking to let them do all that, but all's well that ends well, I guess. Thanks for commenting!
    Cheryl

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  3. I remember watching a movie about these two. Fun info!

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  4. Hi Paty,

    Yes, they did make a movie about them although I don't think it was very well publicized. Their family has tried to keep their story alive. One of their wives wrote a book, and it seems like a children's book was put out by a family member, don't know if it was a spouse or a child. Fascinating story in any form!
    Cheryl

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  5. CHERYL--I absolutely love this story. After watching my grandsons for a week--12, 11, and 7--I believe they could have undertaken such a trip! Little boys are intrepid, aren't they? The 12-year-old rode his bike in the summer to a nearby town, and back home. His parents weren't too happy, but his daddy is my son, and when he was in Jr. High road 30 miles to Austin and back in one day! He was a little worn down from it--but he was like that, too.
    It's truly amazing about the five year old brother, isn't it? But I believe children a 100 years ago grew up faster than ours did--we tend to keep them babies longer, seeing after their every need.
    What a story! Thanks. Celia

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  6. I can't believe I'd never heard of them. Their story is amazing. My mom grew up in Hollis, Harmon County, Oklahoma and my dad's family were pioneers in that area. Thank you so much for sharing their story!

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  7. WOW I am impressed. And, I was afraid to let my two little girls out of my sight. Very brave boys and even braver and maybe smarter father. Great post!

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  8. Fascinating, and something I had never heard about. As a mother, I cannot wrap my brain around such young boys going alone on this 'adventure' (especially a five year old). I would have trailed them every step of the journey. LOL

    Thanks again for posting this, Chery. And the statue of the boys is precious.

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  9. Hi Celia,
    Glad you made it back from your trip to MI! Yes, I believe the children from the past did grow up a lot faster than they do today in some respects. VERY INTERESTING about your oldest grandson riding his bike to a nearby town! I think that is wonderful--probably made him think he could do ANYTHING after that! LOL Thanks so much for commenting.
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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  10. Hey Caroline! Now when you come back to visit here in OK you will have to travel to Frederick and see the statue and head out to Ft. Sill to see Geronimo's grave! Lots of interesting stuff here in Oklahoma, for sure. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Cheryl

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  11. Hi Paisley,
    I think so much of it was that the times were soooo different--unimaginably different in so many different respects than the life we lead today. Things were safer in many respects--maybe not so much "meanness" as my mom used to say. I would not let either of my kids out of my sight either for many years. LOL Truthfully, I would not hire a babysitter. The only people I let keep my kids in the very early years were family members.
    Cheryl

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  12. Hi Ashley,
    I wish the picture of them in the car had come out better, and the picture of them on their horses had been BIGGER. LOL I'm still getting the hang of adding pics in posts. Anyhow, I'm glad to know you enjoyed the post. I'm like you, I would have been trailing them every step of the way. They probably never would have gone on such adventures had their mother been alive.
    Cheryl

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  13. In the "olden days," kids weren't distracted by movies, video games, school sports, ballet, etc., etc., so they had to learn other things, survival being one of the skills. Probably every kid knew how to ride and care for a horse and how to deal with unpredictable weather. Even when I was a kid, the young people were more capable at earlier ages than they are now. .... When I was school age, I used to walk everywhere I wanted to go and half the time no adult knew where I was or what I was doing. As far as I know, no one worried about it. And there were plenty of hazards to worry about in West Texas, too. I also learned to cook at an early age. Most young girls from my generation just did. ..... Of course, I'm an old lady.

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  14. Hi Anna,

    You are so right about the distractions! I see it just in the time my kids were little to the present time--my daughter is 24 and my son is 21. Even back then, we still played board games--most kids now don't know what a board game IS. My mom told me she remembered standing on a chair to do dishes, she was so little. Times were really different, as you say, where you could walk places and not worry about anything bad happening to you, and learning the care of the horses and such would have been one of the most important things to know. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
    Cheryl

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  15. Fascinating post, Cheryl. Thank you for sharing it. My dad grew up around Ponca City and Tipton in Oklahoma. When he and his brother were what are now termed tweens, they made the hay circuit up into the Dakotas on their own. I always admired their courage, which in contrast to the greater youth and adventurous spirit of the Abernathy boys seems quite tame. These experiences certainly wouldn't be condoned in the 21st century. I'm not sure what that says about our society.
    Again, thanks for sharing, Cheryl. I love stories like this.

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  16. Hi Cheryl, that was the best, funniest, most amazing story I've ever heard. If we wrote something like that, we'd probably be rejected because of unbelievability. Thanks for the wonderful story.

    Jane

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  17. Hi Sandra,

    Well, I tell you, I think your dad and uncle really were adventurous to travel that far away, no matter what the times were! That would be the basis for a story right there! You know, when you think of it, there are probably all kinds of stories like this that took place "back in the day" that we just don't know about--the Abernathy boys' story was one that might be a bit more of a novelty since they were sooooo young. But I think any young person who went off on his/her own back then at even a few years older than these boys probably had some fantastic stories to tell. Children really became adults at a much earlier age then. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!
    Cheryl

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  18. Hi Jane,
    Wow, what a nice compliment! I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much. And you're right, we probably would be laughed out of the publishing world if we tried to write something like the story of the Abernathy boys as TRUTH. I am like you. I still think this is the most amazing story I have ever heard of. Thanks so much for your comments!
    Cheryl

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  19. Cheryl,
    Thanks so much for sharing that story with us. What an intriguing adventure. Makes you wonder how they fed themselves, took care of their horses and stayed warm. Amazing story. :-)

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  20. hi Jeanmarie,

    I suspect that those boys had been taught from the time they could walk and talk about taking care of themselves. Their mother died a year before they undertook their first big adventure, so she'd probably been sick a while. I think they had older sibs, too. But what an amazing story! I still can't imagine it, as a parent, watching them ride off into the distance.
    Cheryl

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