COWBOY DREAMS–THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF THE ABERNATHY BROTHERS! by Cheryl Pierson

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.Temple_&_Bud_in_Manhattan--1910page81-2[1]

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.”

Jack Abernathy

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. Temple_and_Bud_in_Amarillo2[1]

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.

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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, over 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.

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Cheryl Pierson
A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
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43 Comments

  1. Tough kids.

    1. Boy, they were! I can’t even imagine doing that as an adult, much less a kid.

  2. Wow, I’ll have to check out the statue in Frederick the next time I’m close to it. Thanks for sharing. I’ve heard of them before, but had forgotten. Have a great week.

    1. I’ve posted about them before but I’m so amazed by them I have to repost periodically. Still, all these years later, I am just awestruck by what they did. I would love to drive down to Frederick and see the statue, too.

  3. Avatar

    I love the story of these two adventurers and I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. Funny how in that time they were revered and now people would freak out! Thanks for sharing! They led an awesome life!

    1. I know, Stephanie. Man, I would have been freaked out no matter what!I imagine if those boys’ mother had still been alive, that would never have happened. But you’re right–it all worked out in the end and they did live an awesome life! Just amazing.

  4. So enjoyed reading this blog! What amazing lives those boys journeyed. History … you just can’t beat it.

    1. Kathy, I am so amazed by their lives. I’m surprised that their dad let them do it. He sure had a lot of confidence in them.

  5. I can’t imagine such young kids traveling like that. I don’t think it would be very safe today either.

    1. I don’t think it would have been safe really, ever. As a mom, I just shudder to think of it. But I’m a worrier, for sure.

  6. That’s quite an adventure for someone that young.

    1. Janine, I cannot even imagine. Such responsibility!

  7. What an interesting piece of history!

    1. Isn’t it, Estella? I still just have trouble wrapping my mind around this.

  8. Wow! Amazing little boys!

    1. They really were, Melanie. I am just amazed at the adventures they had–and lived through.

  9. What an amazing story. They were amazing individuals

    1. They really were. Though as their dad, I would have been worried sick.

  10. Wow, that is very hard to imagine! Definitely couldn’t do that today.

    1. No, you sure couldn’t. Those kids would be dead for sure in this day and time.

  11. Wow, pretty amazing. Trying to picture my great-grandkids doing this and can’t. They wouldn’t be able to do it, and it wouldn’t be safe. Great post, thanks.

    1. Sally, I would be a nervous wreck. I’m the mom who had to secretly follow the school bus the first day I let my daughter ride it. LOL

      1. Exactly!

  12. Wow! Those two certainly were brave little boys!! Not sure what to think of their father, though!! What stories those two could tell!

    1. Trudy, I thought the same thing. I cannot even imagine a father okaying a trip like that–he must have had such confidence in his sons. But even so…SIGH. I couldn’t have done that.

  13. WoW Wonderful history lesson I never knew

    1. I live right here in Oklahoma and went to school here–nothing was ever mentioned about this. What a great lesson this would have been! I am going to go visit that statue one of these days.

  14. Wow! That’s just crazy. As a parent, I can’t imagine ever thinking that would be okay. I’d like to learn more about their father, too. I bet he was an interesting character. History is so fascinating.

    1. Christy, there’s actually quite a bit about their dad. Yes, he certainly was a character–good friend of Teddy Roosevelt and had a reputation (and the nickname–“Catch ‘Em Alive Jack) for catching wolves with his bare hands. So maybe the criminals were a bit afraid of him just for his reputation as a lawman and being so tough. But still…

  15. I’m sitting here with my mouth open. Amazing. Confidence in your kids is one thing, but what the neck was dad thinking ? I can’t imagine. I’m happy to hear they managed more trips and got home safe and had good lives .

    1. Isn’t that the truth? I mean…what if something HAD happened, and you know I’ve always thought what a terrible lot of pressure that was for the older boy, Bud, at only 9 years old to be responsible for his little brother AND to also be the one that would bear the most responsibility for their navigation and trying to keep going no matter what. Must have been really tough on him.

  16. If a parent let their children do that today they would be charged with child endangerment or neglect. A woman in NYC was when she let her son go a few blocks by himself. If I remember the story correctly, he was 10. She said she was trying to teach him to be independent so he could help himself if something happened to her. How times have changed.

    I don’t think I could have let a nine and five year old go off that far by themselves. Our parents did let us ride our bikes to the store two miles from home when we were eleven and twelve. It was all farms and people we knew along the way and not nearly the traffic there is today.

    1. Alice, yes! Goodness, I grew up in a very small Oklahoma town and my mom would say, “Don’t go across Strothers!” I wonder how many Seminole kids’ parents gave them that same border? LOL It was one of the “busy” streets on our side of town. But we could ride down to the local grocery store and get a candy bar and come back–never alone, always with a group. That was IT.

  17. Welcome Cheryl. Wow this is something. Pretty sure a mother wouldn’t let this happen to ones so young. But all of this probably made these boys strong and independent. Thanks for sharing this. I love these tid bits of history with people

    1. Lori, they DID grow up to be very successful businessmen, and survived–so I’m like you–glad it all worked out but if their mother had been living, I doubt any of that would have happened!

  18. Cheryl, I’ve always found the Abernathy Brother’s story incredible. How many kids today would have the courage and strength it took to do this? Probably none. I know my grandkids couldn’t and they’re older.

    1. Such different times these days, Linda. I don’t know any kids that could do that either. I think my daughter might have done that–she was always an “old soul” and could see the “big picture” no matter what age she was, but still…my heart would have been in my throat every minute of every day, wondering where they were and what they were doing. I couldn’t have done it as a parent! LOL Thanks for coming by–I know you are busy. Hugs, sis.

  19. WOWZERS! These boys had quite the adventurous spirit!

    1. Caryl, they sure did! I guess they must have thought of all the adventures they would have out on the trail, and I’m sure they had plenty, but there had to be a lot of monotonous riding and being bone weary, too.

  20. Wow! Amazing kids!

    1. They truly were amazing—maybe that’s why their father let them do it.

  21. What an amazing story. Today we are afraid to have children their age walk a few blocks by themselves. Yes it was a different time, but though different, the dangers were very real and in many cases greater. Most children, and adults for that matter, would never be able to do what these boys did, even at older ages. Not that I would want him to, but our son would very likely have been able to do what these boys did. It was an adventure that necessitated a partner, however. We won’t go into the legality of it, but at 15 he had his own long distance adventure. He finished working at Boy Scout camp, came home and disappeared the next morning. We were in full panic mode and had no idea where he was. He had never driven, as far as we knew and wasn’t old enough to have a permit. 3 or 4 days later we got a call from the NY State Police. He had “borrowed” his brother-in-law’s jeep and driven from Tennessee into Canada, driven around a bit of Canada, and wasn’t stopped until he tried to cross the border back into the US. He wasn’t charged with driving without a license because he was stopped at customs when they discovered he didn’t have one. We drove up and stopped at the State Police station to find out where he was. Their reaction was not really what we expected. They couldn’t believe he had not driven before and had made his way through heavy traffic areas into Canada and back with no problems at all, and not getting lost. We had contacted law enforcement in TN when he first disappeared. When we called them to say he was found and where, their reaction was pretty much the same as NY. They were impressed by his ability. They even said our son-in-law couldn’t charge him for taking the car without permission because he was family. To me that all sent so many wrong signals to him. they are congratulating him for his ability and I want to lock him in his room and throw away the key. He is quite capable in the woods and can fend for himself in a wilderness situation. I just don’t need any more grey hairs.

    1. Oh my gosh, Patricia!! I know you all must have been out of your minds with worry! When I think of some of the ideas I had at 15, I wonder how I made it through those teenage years and lived to tell about it. I’m so glad he got home where he belonged (eventually!) safe and found. What a journey!

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