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