By Celia Yeary
Jack Abernathy holds the distinction of being the youngest U.S. Marshal in history. He was twenty-nine years old at the time. Before this prestigious accomplishment, Jack displayed talents that seemed unlikely for the son of a Texas farmer.
He was born in 1876 in Bosque County, Texas. In 1882, his family moved to Nolan County, Texas, where his father entered the booming cattle business. At that time, little six-year-old Jack had become a music prodigy and played the piano in a Sweetwater, Texas saloon. However, when his mother learned of this, she put a stop to it even though he earned $13 a night.
When Jack turned eleven, he worked as a cowboy for the A-K-X Ranch and helped drive a large herd of cattle 500 miles to Englewood, Kansas. At age fifteen, he worked on the J-A Ranch and soon earned a salary increase as "first saddle." His job was to break the meanest, orneriest horses on the ranch so others could ride them.
Jack had become known as "Catch-'em Alive" Abernathy, named such for his unique hunting skill of capturing prairie wolves with only his hands. When President Theodore Roosevelt learned of this, he requested that Jack demonstrate this feat. Teddy was so impressed he appointed him U.S. Marshal of the Western District of Oklahoma Territory, making him the youngest U.S. Marshal in history.
With this position, Jack and his wife Jessie Pearl moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma. Through President Roosevelt, Jack met many famous men of the day--Mark Twain, Jack London, O'Henry, Frederick Remington, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Andrew Carnegie.
His acquaintance with Thomas Edison helped Jack make motion picture films of the wolf hunt and of his sons, Temple and Bud, and their adventures.
And now...for the rest of the story.
Jack Abernathy's two sons, Louis and Temple, inherited their father's self-reliance.
In 1909 the boys rode horseback from Frederick, Oklahoma in the Southwestern corner of the state, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, andback. Louis was nine, and Temple was five.
When the boys completed this first journey, they began planning a horseback ride to New York city, again by themselves, to meet Theodore Roosevelt who had just returned from his trip to Africa and Europe. They made this trip in 1910.
While in New York, the boys supposedly purchased a small Brush Motor Car, which they drove back to Oklahoma.
In 1911, they accepted a challenge to ride horseback from New York to San Francisco in 60 days or less. They agreed not to eat or sleep indoors at any point of the journey. They would collect a $10,000 prize if they succeeded.
After a long trip, they arrived in San Francisco in 62 days, thereby losing the prize but setting a record for the time elapsed for the trip.
As adults, the boys became successful in law and oil.
Their father made this statement to a news reporter:
"Teach a boy self-reliance from the moment he tumbles out of the cradle, and make him keep his traces taut and work well forward in his collar, and 99 times out of a hundred, his independence will assert itself before he is 2 years old. That's my rule, and you don't think I've taken the right tack talk to my boys for five minutes and they'll convince you that they are men in principles even if they are babies in years. God bless 'em."
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