The Horse Race that Signaled the End of the Old West

Hi, Kit Morgan here, and for those of you that don’t know, my little sister is a professional racehorse jockey. Marijo has been racing for as long as I can remember and made a life-long career out of it. She left high school early to start galloping at the track and train to become a jockey. Her love of horses drove her, not to mention a keen competitive nature. She has recently given up racing for something a bit safer, like training Hunter/Jumper horses. Ahem … anyway … this post isn’t about my sister, but about one particular race held in 1893. But hey, it’s hard to mention anything about horse racing without bringing her up!

In 1893 the western plains were largely settled. By now much of the land was farmed and fenced in. There were no more wild buffalo roaming the plains, no more Indian wars (for the most part) because the Native Americans had been moved to reservations. Telegraph wires were strung up everywhere and Telephone lines were quickly stretching west. The country was moving on and the wild west was dying out.

Then along came a race, one that started out as a gimmick. The brainchild of a crafty businessman named John Maher, (who by the way was one of the first to report from the scene of the Wounded Knee Massacre) devised the race as a way to draw attention to the tiny town of Chadron, Nebraska, which was struggling at the time. What started out as a mere gimmick, turned into something much more.

Hundreds of hard-bitten cowboys, both locals and those that rode in, wanted to be in the race that came to be known as The Great Cowboy Race. One fellow was a western outlaw and horse rustler! A desperado by the name of “Doc” Middleton. The race drew all sorts of folks to it, all eager to enter and win. The route spanned a thousand miles, beginning in Chadron and ending at Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West showground which was right next to the World’s Fair in Chicago. The prize? A new leather saddle, a golden Colt revolver, and a fat cash purse. The race took the entrants over the Nebraska Sand Hills, through the Iowa cornfields, across both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and through the wheat fields of Illinois. 

Driving them on was the truth of their own old age. As they rode they saw changes in the land. Changes that would keep growing, pushing out the old cowboy and his ways. Perhaps they could tell the boys that gawked at Model T Fords what it was like to race across the land on a horse, to have the country watching them. Regale the boys with stories of the old west when they, themselves, were young. They could tell them about the small towns of America, those along the race route, and how the blacksmiths would pound on their anvils, signaling the riders were coming. People lined the streets to watch them and shout encouragement. Boys especially cheered them on. Newspapers also covered the race, bringing to life the old west once more. 

For one summer this race created an unforgettable image of the old west that would live on in the minds of many. Cowboys atop thundering horses, racing to their destination and carrying them into cowboy immortality. 

And this is just one of the reasons I love to write westerns! Maybe it’s about time I wrote a story about a horse race, hmm?

If you would like to check out my books, you can find them at http://www.authorkitmorgan.com

Kit Morgan
Kit Morgan is the author of over 80 books of historical and contemporary western romance! Her stories are fun, sweet stories full of love, laughter, and just a little bit of mayhem! Kit creates her stories in her little log cabin in the woods in the Pacific Northwest. An avid reader and knitter, when not writing, she can be found with either a book or a pair of knitting needles in her hands! Oh, and the occasional smidge of chocolate!
Updated: September 17, 2018 — 1:12 pm

18 Comments

  1. Kit, Thank you for this fun post! I’m impressed that your little sister is a professional jockey.

    1. Yes, and its amazing how many years a lot of them will race. She’s in her fifties (oh gads, I hope she doesn’t see that I wrote that, hahaha!) and only recently switched to doing the hunter/jumpers.

  2. What an interesting post. I love watching horse racing. My ex got me into it. He even travels from Hawaii to California to watch races live. In the last couple years he has bought into partial ownership of race horses through crowd funding. I enjoyed learning about your sister who is a jockey too.

  3. Wow, I’ll have to tell Marijo about that. I didn’t know you could do that with crowd funding.

    1. It’s something fairly new. He’s been doing it for a couple years now.

  4. Love reading about real history. Thank you.

  5. You’re welcome, Jerri. This little piece fascinates me and I just found a book on it!

  6. How exciting to have a sister that was a jockey! What stories she must be able to tell! I loved the book Seabiscuit because it covered the history of jockeying and life in the 1930s. Fascinating reading!

    1. Yes, and we know just about every jockey in that movie. Including Gary who played Iceman. He and my sister both had the same agent for years and are friends. They did a lot of the filming in California and were pulling riders from San Francisco’s Golden Gate track and Del Mar track down south if I remember right. I just remember laughing all the way through the movie and saying things like “Hey, it’s (insert jockey’s name). I wonder what his wife thinks of his film debut!” And things like that. And of course multiple quips about Gary’s hair. Ahem. But today’s horse racing is nothing compared to the race I posted about. I found a book on Amazon about it and am going to get it!

  7. What an amazing story, bith on your sister and Thr Great Cowboy Race. Thank you for sharing.

  8. You’re welcome, Tonya! Glad you enjoyed it. I can just imagine what it would be like to line the street and watch the riders come through a town. What a great event to write a romance around!

  9. Thank you for the interesting post about both your sister and that historical race. How neat you found a book on it, too!

    1. Yes, now I’m very curious to read about the whole thing!

  10. What an interesting piece of history. I will have to research it. Who won the race? Were there any shenanigans or cheating going on during the race? Did they stay in a pack or did they use different strategies? Hotels or camping on the ground? What did they do when the race finished.
    Good for your sister finding a path in life she enjoys following. Thank you for sharing her story and the research you did.

    1. LOL! All of those questions are why I’m going to research this further. I’d like to know too! And yes, MJ has had quite the career in the racing world.

  11. I never heard of this before. What an intriguing bit of history. Thanks so much.

  12. You’re welcome, Debra. I had never heard of it either until I happen stumbled across it a while back.

  13. Kit, this story is new to me, too. Kudos to your sister for going after her dream. You certainly have done well with yours. Keep those stories coming!

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