The Heartbreak Trail to Texas
Every generation sees an army of young boys who dream about saddling up a horse and riding off in search of the legendary “Old West.”
Few have the courage to mount up and ride off on a quest for that elusive mirage.
Marshal Ralph Hooker, one of the Founding Members of The Long Riders’ Guild, made such a journey in the early 1920s. Thirty years later another brave lad stepped up to the saddle, then cantered off in search of adventure.
And like Marshal Hooker, young Tom Cashner found it too.
It was 1951 and Cashner was barely eighteen when he set off on an equestrian Odyssey across a still largely rural America.
But while Paladin, Yancy Derringer and a host of other television westerns were peddling the cowboy fantasy, young Tom Cashner was out living the equestrian reality.
And what he found was nearly two thousand miles worth of adventures and hardships.
It was a journey both remarkable, and in many ways ordinary, one day full of tragedy, a few miles later full of unexpected romance.
By the time Cashner stepped down from the saddle, he was in state he never expected to visit, on the other side of an invisible barrier that would forever set him slightly apart from those he left behind.
Because the boy who left was not the man who arrived.
Along the way “Tom” had lost his heart and his horse. But “Tex” had discovered a new name and an appreciation for life that comes to those who are brave enough to seek out the extraordinary.
Here is his never before published story.
The following are edited extracts from Tex Cashner’s diary, in which he recorded his 1951 Long Ride from Canton, Ohio to Ardmore, Oklahoma. His original companions were his beloved horse Streak, whom he had owned for ten years prior to the journey, and Cougar, a stray dog.
Dear fellow Long Riders,
Good morning or good evening. Whichever suits the situation.
Here is a diary of a trip that I took back in 1951 when I rode a horse from Canton, Ohio to Ardmore, Oklahoma and then on to Dallas, Texas.
I was 18 years old at the time and always had a fascination for the west, cowboys, etc. My mother always said I was born 100 years too late, and she was probably right. My mother had a good friend, Lois Middle, who happened to have an uncle who lived in Ardmore, OK. She used to tell me stories about him and his ranch. I got the idea in my head to go out there and possibly work for this gentleman. As I had always had horses, I thought – Well, if I’m gonna be a cowboy, I might as well ride my horse out there. After some discussion, I called the man in Ardmore – at that time I thought his name was Middle also, which will come up later in the story – and he said, “Yeah, come on out and I’ll give you a job on my ranch.”
I said, “OK, I’m gonna come, but I’m gonna ride my horse out there.”
He said, “No, you’ll never make it, don’t do that. Come out, but you’ll never make it horseback.”
I had a friend in high school, Eugene Wohbold. Eugene had been in the army and had come back to finish high school. He was the original hippie, and, as many of the Vietnam vets are today, a renegade. We both liked guns and horses and we both fantasized about the Old West. In fact we got arrested one time for carrying our six-guns while riding our horses in North Canton, Ohio. Eugene was going to go with me on this trip, but at the last minute he backed out.
I lacked that courage and started out alone. I chose the date of April 2, 1951, to leave, instead of April Fool’s Day.
The desire, and a woman, are the reason for the following pages. The desire: to someday own a ranch. The woman is Pat Sammiter. Without her, the picture would not be complete. I know that I would go to the ends of the earth to obtain her love.
This morning at 11 o’clock I started on an 1800 mile journey to fulfill my dreams. Before I left, some people from the Repository came to take some pictures and got the story of the trip. I wasn’t too sure about this but I finally consented. It was very cold, and got colder as I road along. About 5 o’clock I made camp in a pasture right inside the Stark County line. It was very windy and I had a hard time getting the fire started. At 7 o’clock I made ready for bed. Cougar was asleep and Streak was munching grass. All night I had to keep getting up to keep my feet warm. I had one blanket. At 6 o’clock I found out that the temperature was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. When I stop to think of the trip ahead, it scares me a little. I hope my efforts will not be in vain.
I started this day off on the wrong foot by taking the wrong road out of Millersburg. There was a slight rain all day and it was quite windy. It puts a damper on one’s spirits. The things a man will go through to help his dreams along. Evening found me in Brinkhaven, Ohio, about 65 miles from Columbus. The sky is clearing up and it promises to be a nice day tomorrow. Streak seems to be developing a slight limp in his right front let. I hope it’s nothing serious.
I woke this morning to a beautiful day. It frosted some through the night, but it soon left. I crossed the Michigan River and the Sososing River today. That makes the second time Streak has waded into the Michigan. Streak’s leg is alright now. It must have been my imagination. The people along the way were very nice and I have made a lot of friends. This makes me very happy. Today I rode as far as Utica, Ohio. It is about 37 miles from Columbus. Columbus seems to be my greatest article. Once on the other side, I will really be away from home. I called home today and my mother told me that the Grimes had sworn out a warrant for my arrest because Cougar, their dog, came with me. Funny that people can’t realize that just because you buy a dog, it doesn’t mean that you buy his love. A dog’s love, like a person’s, has to come from the heart, or it isn’t true love.
Cougar belonged to Pat’s neighbor, but was my constant companion. They treated him badly and he came to me for affection. I cannot remember going for a ride when he was not at my horse’s heels. I did not tell them that he was with me on the trip. When my picture and story were printed in the newspaper, they realized what had happened to their dog.
Today was a really bad one. The rain came down in sheets. I only made about 10 miles today. Towards evening it cleared up and I camped in L. A. Dorm’s pasture at Black Lick, Ohio. The rest of the evening was spent talking about politics and the world situation with Mr. Dorm.
Around 3 o’clock this afternoon, I came to Gahanna, Ohio, about three miles from Columbus. I stopped at the Dorsey farm and put Streak with three cows in the pasture to rest up before going to Columbus. The Dorseys are really wonderful people. They invited me to eat with them and I accepted. I had intended to go through Columbus about 1 o’clock Sunday morning. While waiting for the time to pass, some kids who had seen me riding through called and asked me if I wanted to go to a barn dance with them. I went and had a swell time. I didn’t get back until 2 o’clock. It was raining cats and dogs, so I slept in a car until morning. At 6 o’clock I started through Columbus. It was raining and the traffic was light. I stayed right on Rt. 62 all the way through the middle of town. The Lincoln Tower was the tallest building in Columbus at that time and my horse actually stopped and stared up at it as we rode by it. I was mortified. He looked like the original country hick. The ride through Columbus was not as bad as I had expected. All in all it took an hour and a half.
When I got all the way through I stopped to call home to tell them where I was and the folks and Pat were coming to see me and were bringing a chicken dinner. My family actually caught up with me about 3 o’clock and we stopped in a nice place under some trees to eat. I had prayed for the sun and my prayers were answered. The sun was shining and we had a fine time. Dad brought me a camera and a hammock. He took the hammock home – I have no use for one. Before they left for home, the folks went to the next town to have a tire change.
Pat stayed at camp with me and I had a chance to say some things that had been on my mind. When my folks left, I used my bedroll to good advantage and made love to Pat under the trees in broad daylight. They finally went home about 5 o’clock and I decided to camp for the night. When I went to bed the sky was clear and the stars were out. Along about 1.30 it started raining. I thought it might pass over so I stayed there. At 2 o’clock I was lying in puddles and soaked to the skin. There was a house across the road so I headed for it. The man let me sleep in his basement as there was only one bed in the house. He told me later that his wife had not slept a wink all night and that she had made him pile furniture in front of their bedroom door.
When I left Mt. Sterling it was threatening to rain. Along about 1 o’clock it started and at 1:30 I met my first rat of the human clan. His name is H. W. Clark. It was raining had and I stopped at his farm and asked if I could go into the barn until it stopped raining. All he said is, “We have no room for you.”
I said nothing and kept on going. I really felt sorry for the guy.
About a mile and a half up the road I stopped at the Nizely Grocery to get dry. Around 6.30 I rode into the Washington Courthouse. I put Streak up at Dr. Junk’s barn and went into town where I got a room at the Fayette Hotel. When the manager took me to the room, he checked to see if the night-lock worked. It didn’t. he said nothing and left. Before I went to bed, I put a chair against the door as a lock. When I woke this morning the chair was moved about 3” down from the knob. Someone had tried to gain entrance but didn’t quite make it.
The bed, by the way, had more bumps than a toad.
Today I came as far as Ripley, Ohio. Tomorrow I will cross the Ohio River and be in Kentucky. The first state is behind me, the second is before me. I have many happy memories of days riding through Ohio and a few sad ones. I feel a little blue today, I keep thinking of Pat. I don’t think I could go on if it wasn’t for her. I hope that someday she will realize how much I love her. If she does not, then I don’t know what will happen. A great man once said, “it all comes to the man who waits.” Well, I am waiting.
ferry man was not keen on a horse trying to go across the Ohio River on it.
After much talk, it was decided that if Streak got on board the first try,
he would take us across. Streak walked on the boat like he did it every day
and stood there looking around. We made it across OK and the trip ended up
Click on photograph of Streak to enlarge it.
The end of the day finds me in Kentucky. Today our small band is cut down to two. One of the Grimes boys came and got Cougar. If he hadn’t brought a cop with him, I think I would have punched his face in. This is where Cougar left us. The owner’s son showed up and had a sheriff with him. There was a shouting match and some pushing and shoving. After hearing my story, the sheriff was on my side but had no choice but to let Grimes have the dog. If I had made it across the Ohio River into Kentucky, Cougar would have stayed with me as the warrant was only valid in Ohio. Grimes pushed to have me arrested but the sheriff told him, “You have your dog back, I suggest you get out of my county now.” The last sight I had of Cougar was him looking out of the back of Grimes’ car as they drove away. I will never forget his big brown eyes staring at me as if I had betrayed him. I was told a short time later that Cougar was dead. Pat always felt that the Grimes had killed him. I never did know for sure.
I crossed the Ohio River today on a ferry. This is my first experience of this kind so far as I can remember. In Ripley today I received four letters. Pat didn’t write. I suppose she didn’t have time. The ferry was a small affair that could carry four or five cars and was privately owned. The ferry man was not keen on a horse trying to go across the Ohio River on it. After much talk, it was decided that if Streak got on board the first try, he would take us across. Streak walked on the boat like he did it every day and stood there looking around. We made it across OK and the trip ended up being free.
Today I rode 40 miles and I feel as though I have ridden 40 miles. I am now about 32 miles from Lexington, KY. I called Dad tonight and they said they might drive up this weekend. I hope so. Anything to be able to see Pat again.
I saw my first rattlesnake today. It was sunning itself on a rock when I went to water Streak. Streak is out in a pasture resting up. He needs it. He was kind of tired this evening. All in all I rode 9 hours today.
I rode today as far as Versailles, KY. The sun shone brightly all day and tomorrow promises to be nice also. I am staying all night at the hotel so I can see if I get any mail. I sure hope I do. A letter from Pat would boost my morale by leaps and bounds. I wish I didn’t miss her so much. It makes everything so much harder. Oh well, I am still waiting. We shall see what we shall see. I am now about 52 miles from Bardstown, KY. That is where I hit Rt. 31. Bardstown is right in the middle of Kentucky.
I went to the post office this morning but there were no letters. I hope they haven’t forgotten me so soon. Just in case, I told them to send any letters on to Bardstown. When I went out to get Streak this morning, there were some kids all ready to go with me on their bikes. It took some talking but I finally persuaded them to wait until they were a little older. I made camp tonight in a pasture about 32 miles from Bardstown. The folks aren’t coming down so I may as well ride tomorrow. Streak is munching grass and seems to be contented. He is certainly in good shape. He hasn’t had a sweat on him for a week. I have no doubt but that he will finish the trip without any trouble. His shoes are wearing very, very well. They should last at least another 200 miles.
No one can explain what it is like to sleep in a pasture twenty miles to the nearest town either way, several hundred miles from home and the rain soaking you to the skin. No matter which way you move it is more uncomfortable than the last. As a man whose name I can’t think of once said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” How true this is, and anyone who has slept in wet clothes will know what I mean. There is a feeling of utter contempt for anything and everything. All you can do is lie there and wonder what could possibly be worth all this misery. Of course, you can usually find the reason. I have a reason, and it’s a good one; at least, I hope so.
After what seemed like eternity, dawn finally came. The sun shone for at least three minutes and then it started all over again, only this time it was accompanied by wind. Night finds me 13 miles from Bardstown and in a tourist home. I took a bath and now I feel I can start again with no trouble. According to the sky it will be nice tomorrow. I do wish Pat could be along to see what I go through for her. She will never know. Perhaps I should say, “for us.” I think this trip will help us both some day.
When I woke this morning, little did I know what would happen in the next hour. I ate breakfast and then went to the farm to get Streak. About a mile out of town I suddenly had the feeling that something was missing. I looked in my saddle bags and, sure enough, my gun was gone. I went back to the barn as quickly as possible but the gun was not there either. Then I went to the police. He questioned several people and then he took me to where I had camped the night before. The gun wasn’t to be seen. When we got back the gun was in my saddle bags again. I don’t know who took it, and I don’t care. I have my gun and that is all that matters.
Later: I had stayed in the barn of the local police chief. I found out later that his son had stolen my 44 Colt Peacemaker while going through my saddle bags. Needless to say I did not make a complaint and was happy to have my pistol back. I’m not sure how this occurred, but somehow the gun got back in my saddle bags when the Chief of Police brought me back to the barn. I think his son had second thoughts when he found out we were searching for the weapon. His son was about 12 years old.
I went to leave Elizabethtown, KY about 10 o’clock this morning. Along the way I stopped to get a drink of cider and saw some jackets. It was one of my weak moments, and so I used $8 of my dwindling supply of money and bought one for Pat. I may be hungry but at least Pat might be happy.
I rode as far as Upton, KY today. I stopped at a farmhouse to let Streak rest up for a day. I went back in the hills and found a big cave that went way back under the ground. I crawled back into a small room about 25’ long and about 10’ high. The ceiling was covered with spiders and there were a few bats. I got out faster than I came in. I slept in the hayloft because it rained very hard last night. The ground around here is red clay and after a rain it is a sloppy mess. I tried to call home today but there was so much static I couldn’t hear a thing.
I left Upton, KY today looking like a mud pie. I had ridden about 6 miles when some guy stopped and told me he wanted to come along. He owns a restaurant in Bonneville, KY and so I’m going to wait until he comes back from the farm.
Later: I am in the restaurant now. About five minutes ago, a truck pulled up and Streak broke his rein. I’ve wrapped some rawhide around the rein and it will have to hold until I can get it fixed. People would sometimes drive up close to my horse when he was tied and blow their horn or rev their engines. It was as though they had never seen a horse with gear tied behind the saddle and a bullwhip across the horn.
I figured that guy wasn’t serious about coming with me, and I was right. Along the trip, I have had many people say they wanted to come along with me, but none ever did. They like to think about it, but the commitment is not there. I treated each one as a possible companion and only discouraged the very young.
The end of this day finds me about 17 miles from Bowling Green, KY. The heat was terrible today and my progress was slow.
About 3 o’clock I rode into Bowling Green and picked up my mail. There as still no letter from Pat.
I rode about 29 miles today. I am now about 9 miles out of Deltree, KY. It was raining like hell and I am staying in a barn alongside the road. My bed for the night is an old pig trough turned upside down. The thunder and lightning is terrific.
I started out this morning about 5.30. The sky is overcast and it is very windy. After I had gone about five miles I stopped at a farm to warm up. I had been there about 15 minutes when Jim Bream and his wife drove up. I had stayed with them a few nights before. They had breakfast for me in the car. They finally talked me into letting Streak stay there and coming back with them to their home until Monday.
When we got back to their farm, Jim and I went in the truck to get some fertilizer. On the way back he said that he would like to take me to the Grand Ole Opry in nearby Nashville, Tennessee. So when we arrived at his home once more, I washed my clothes and got ready to go into Nashville. When we got there I shook hands with Little Jimmy Dickens and heard Eddy Arnold sing the Kentucky Waltz. I saw Roy Akoff and Minnie Pearl. It was an experience I will not readily forget. At the time the Grand Old Opry was still in the original old building and a very historic place. A friend named Mr. Kirk had gone there also and met us. He knew everyone at the Grand Old Opry. He took Jim and I backstage where I met all the cast. They tried to talk me into going onstage to be introduced, but I was bashful and declined. I wish now that I had done this.
I didn’t get up until about 9 o’clock this morning as we didn’t get home until 3 o’clock last night. I spent the day at Jim’s dad’s house where we had a delicious chicken dinner. The remainder of the day was spent loafing around trying to digest all the food.