Thursday, August 6, 2015
WHO'S THAT COWBOY AND WHAT HORSE DID HE RIDE IN ON: THE WYOMING BUCKING HORSE AND RIDER!!
I know I'm a bit bias, but in my humble opinion no other state symbol represents the state so well as Wyoming's buckin' horse and rider. However, the question of what horse and rider is depicted can cause a lengthy discussion down at the Mint Bar.
The short answer is no one knows for sure, although any true Wyomingite will fight to defend their answer.
But we’re not going to listen to the University. We’re going to go with everyone else in Wyoming because we like them better. So, let’s start with the bronc, Ol’ Steamboat.
The year Steamboat foaled is also disputed. I’ve found anywhere from 1894 to 1901. We can discount 1901 since Steamboat “first attracted public attention at the Festival of Mountains and Plains in Denver in 1900.” (Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame) But whatever the year, he was foaled on the Foss Ranch in Wyoming. While gentle when led by Frank Foss’s young son, no ranch hand could hold him long enough to get a saddle on his back. Foss realized the black colt was never going to be a cow pony and sold him to the Two Bar Ranch in Bosler, Wyoming.
Busters at the Two Bar were the only ones busted by the wild horse. The top buster, enraged at being bested by the big black hit the horse across the nose with the butt of his quirt. The blow damaged the horse’s nasal cavity and ever after the horse whistled like a steamboat whenever he got riled up and started bucking. From Texas to Canada the legend of Steamboat “the whistlin’ hoss” was known.
Steamboat was sold to John Coble of Bosler not long after the cruel incident that gave him his name. Coble saw the black for what he was and began entering him in rodeos such as the Festival of Mountains and Plains and Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. The bronc started taking first place from the start, and much to the pain and suffering of many a cowboy his career was off and bucking.
"I've seen 'em all for 65 years and I never saw a buckin' hoss to top Steamboat. First off, he was big and powerful—1,100 pounds—and tireless. Fact is, he was the closest thing to perpetual motion that ever wore hair. He'd start to squat when they threw the saddle on him and by the time the bronc buster was set in the stirrups Steamboat's belly'd be almost touchin' the arena dust. Then, the second they'd jerk that blindfold he'd explode! He'd bust out to the middle of the arena as if he wanted the stage all to himself and he'd put on the damnedest exhibition of sunfishing and windmilling I ever seen. His best trick was to swap ends between jumps and come down ker-slam on four ramrod legs. His head and forelegs would be twisted one way and his rump and hind legs another. When he was goin' all out, he seemed to be on a great big invisible pogo stick. Few men could stand that kind of battering without bleeding from the nose, and most became nauseated as well. Sometimes, no matter how tight a rider laced his buckin' corset, he'd wind up with broken ribs. Bronc riders are harder'n scrap iron, but ol' Steamboat put some of the toughest into the hospital for repairs." (Rodeo buff Jack Bowers in Sports Illustrated interview)
It’s difficult to compare the broncs of yesterday to those in today’s rodeo. Horses did not exit a chute, but were “snubbed to the saddlehorn of a rider” or blindfolded while the rider mounted and then turned loose. Horses were ridden for 30 seconds, or sometimes until they stopped bucking. Regardless of the changes to the sport, Steamboat remains one of the greatest bucking horses of all time. To his last event he never stopped bucking with all he had.
Coble sold Steamboat to Charley Irwin who operated a Wild West Show with his brother. In 1914, Steamboat met a sad end when he contracted blood poisoning after running into a barbed-wire fence.
Steamboat earned the moniker, “the horse that couldn’t be ridden” from his early days at the Two Bar. The truth was, the bronc was ridden by some of the best bronc busters of the early 20th Century including: Harry Brennan, Clayton Danks, Guy Holt, Tom Minor, Dick Stanley and Thad Sowder.
Who’s the cowboy riding Steamboat on the State symbol? Well...we don’t know…
Over the years the debate has been whittled down to Albert Jerome “Stub” Farlow from Lander who rode Steamboat (for a little while at least) at the Albany County Fair Grounds, or Guy Holt. Holt rode Steamboat in Cheyenne.
But I have to agree with the University of Wyoming whichever horse and rider inspired the symbol “the bucking horse and rider represents the toughness and never-say-die spirit that is Wyoming.”
What we do know about the symbol. The first use of the Bucking Horse and Rider dates back to 1918. It was used as an insignia worn by members of the Wyoming National Guard in France and Germany during World War I. The insignia used by soldiers was designed by First Sergeant George N. Ostrom of E Battery, 3rd Battalion, 148th Field Artillery Regiment, AEF. The United States Army adopted the insignia and used it as a means of identification on gun trails, trucks, helmets and other equipment. The BH&R was used extensively by Wyoming units during Korea, Vietnam as a rallying point and “symbol of pride and reminder of home.”
In 1935, then Secretary of State Lester Hunt (he later became Governor) proposed changes to the Wyoming license plate design. He commissioned Mr. Allen T. True to “put to paper” his concept, which included the Bucking Horse and Rider. In 1936, the famous Bucking Horse & Rider license plates debuted and the State obtained copyright for the image.
Wyoming’s license plates have gone through many changes over the years, but every plate design included the famous Bucking Horse and Rider. No matter which horse and rider is depicted every Wyomingite displays this symbol with pride.
If you want to read more about Steamboat a good read is: Steamboat, Legendary Bucking Horse: His Life and Times, and the Cowboys Who Tried to Tame Him by Candy and Flossie Moulton.