Anything goes -
first Great Endurance Race, page 2
only problem was that the three hundred would-be cowboy riders had not showed up
in Chadron. There was no sign of
the Sioux warrior Spotted Wolf either. And
his saddle pal He Dog was off running somewhere else, too.
Even the mysterious Emma Hutchinson had failed to appear.
There were some as nodded wise heads and said that things were bad enough
in Chadron without a gal riding astride showing up in town.
And to make matters worse, some said Emma was really a he pretending to
be a she.
when Chadron needed every red-blooded range rider to help put to rest the
perfidious Yankee liars, no one could be found.
almost no one.
was always Doc Middleton.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch had written exaggerated accounts of criminal records for
several of the contestants.
are one of the most daring and famous bands which ever threw leather on a bronco
for the jaunt together, and nearly everyone on the list of riders has a
reputation all through the West in the line of riding, fighting and general
were find words reminiscent of Paralyzer Maher’s style of journalism.
now in its time of civic desperation, Chadron turned to her adopted son, former
outlaw, horse-thief, bootlegger, whiskey seller to the Indians, hard riding,
straight shooting Doc Middleton was highlighted as “one of the boldest
all-around bad men in the Black Hills district.” That wasn’t far from the truth.
Middleton “the golden-toothed lover of other folks’ cattle” had “emptied
a few saddles,” as he once put it. Men
had crossed him and men had died. But
after serving a few years of “vile durance” in the Nebraska prison he was
looking to settle down and raise a family.
If not exactly respectable, at least he was not getting shot at on a
daily basis. Chadron quickly threw
their emotional support behind the Jesse James of Nebraska.
enthusiasm and excitement knew no bounds. People
were pouring into town to bet and drink and talk.
Many of them wanted to see the infamous outlaw.
Doc had received a new saddle blanket and white Stetson from local
merchants. Chadron had its favorite.
The town was abuzz with excitement.
the Governor of Illinois was caught in a dilemma. He issued a carefully-worded statement in which he urged
officers of the law to make sure no laws protecting animals were broken.
At the same time his dual-purpose proclamation warned the oncoming
endurance riders, “We will welcome the so-called ‘cowboys’ into our state
and bid them come in all their glory and have a thoroughly enjoyable time while
among us, BUT we cannot permit the laws of Illinois to be trampled under foot as
a matter of sport.”
said, back in Chadron things were getting hotter by the minute.
OFF – FINALLY
other equestrian rovers had laid down their money, making a total of nine men
who would risk their lives to race to Chicago.
were no Indians and no mysterious ladies, just nine granite-tough range riders
and seventeen steel-hard horses:
Abbott riding Outlaw and Joe Bush.
Campbell riding his one horse, Boom-de-aye.
Douglas riding Wide Awake and Monte Cristo.
Joe Gillespie riding Billy Mack and Billy Schafer.
Jones riding Romeo and George.
Smith riding Dynamite and Red Wing.
Pete Stephens riding General Grant and Nick.
Middleton riding Geronimo and Bay Jimmie.
Berry riding Poison and Sandy.
caused an uproar when he entered at the last minute. He had been on the committee that laid out the secret route.
Thus he had time to thoroughly study it.
Also, it was claimed he was riding blooded horses, not western range
mounts. The Chadron Racing
committee disqualified him. Despite
his official disqualification, Berry was mounted and ready to start with the
other eight contestants, when the race almost ended before it began.
T. Angell wasn’t done with Nebraska.
Fontaine, secretary, and W.W. Tatro, agent of the National Humane Society,
arrived in Chadron the morning of the race, determined to see it stopped.
little prairie town had swelled beyond all expectations. More than 4,000 people, twice the town’s population, had
poured in looking for excitement. While
townspeople and visitors milled around anxiously, horses stamped impatiently and
endurance riders fumed, Little Bear Iager and the town fathers cut a deal behind
closed doors with the two fellows from back east.
members of Jester’s Freak Band, a local cornet ensemble, tried to keep
everyone entertained, an agreement was made allowing Fontaine and Tatro to watch
the race and inspect the horses at the registering stations strung along the
route. This way they could see for
themselves that the horses’ health and comfort was taken care of in every
possible manner. Plus they were
given the unqualified authority to disqualify any horse they found to be unfit
to continue. Tatro, a veterinarian,
then examined the endurance horses prior to the race and found all of them to be
in excellent condition.
at 5:34 p.m. June 13, 1893, Fire Chief Hartzel strode to the balcony of the
Blaine Hotel and looked down at the mob crowding around the nine assembled
the time for the Great American Cowboy Race to start is upon us.
Be kind and take care of your horses.
Conduct yourselves as gentlemen and uphold the name of Chadron and
Nebraska,” he said, then raising the gold-plated Colt revolver, he fired a
shot into the air.
Colt boomed. The crowd roared.
Whiskey and beer flowed. Pandemonium
ruled. Jester and the Freaks played like mad and the racers set off
from Chadron, the birthplace of American endurance racing.
AMERICA – THE HARD WAY
in the know, and plenty in Chadron claimed that honor, said the winner would
have to set a pace of 50 – 60 miles a day to win the race.
Joe Gillespie, aged 58 and weighing the heaviest at 185, wasn’t given much
chance. Little Davy Douglas was
still a lad in his early teens and thought to have a slim chance too.
Doc Middleton remained the crowd’s favorite.
John Berry was denounced by many as a four-flusher.
route ran through Nebraska, across Iowa and on into Illinois.
Though there were no mountains to cross the mileage involved made it
impressive. Despite the fears of
George T. Angell about crazy cowboys misusing whip and spur, the endurance
riders left Chadron at a walk. No
one even broke into a trot until the town lay in the distance.
These hardened plains riders knew something the critics back east did
not. No man could expect to win,
even finish, if he pounded his mounts into the prairie dust looking for speed.
The word endurance hadn’t been coined yet.
Folks back then talked about how a hose had a “deep bottom,”
referring to his staying power. All
nine riders knew that the race would be won by the team who could tough it out,
not race to the finish line.
first three days saw the riders spreading out as the long grind began to settle
in. During the heat of the Nebraska
summer days the cowboys averaged four miles an hour. During the cool hours of early morning and evening, they
doubled the pace.
Old Joe, Rattlesnake Pete, Little Davy, Doc Middleton and the others rode across
sunny Nebraska, the Humane Society representatives were beginning to cautiously
change their tune. To a man, the
riders always made sure their horses were taken care of before attending to
their own concerns. They would
tumble into tiny towns at all hours of the day and night, half starved, burnt by
the hostile sun, thirsty as Bedouins, and refuse to satisfy their needs until
the horses were safely fed and bedded. As
the race progressed veterinarian Tatro found all of the horses to be in
excellent condition. The reputation
of the animal rights activists in the west, however, was in tatters.
local columnist reported: “Their
(Humane people) intentions are no doubt good, we think they are, but they have
been overzealous in this instance and made themselves the laughing stock of the
west. They have but little idea of
this country and underestimate the people who inhabit it. This was clearly shown by dubbing the riders
cowboys’ horses who rode into O’Neill were in excellent shape and showed no
evidence of having been ‘ridden both night and day under whip and spur.’ Instead of the boys being received ‘with hisses and cries
of Shame,’ they have been greeted by brass bands and escorted through the
different towns along their route in a manner that would have flattered a Roman
bands or not, the riders were beginning to discover that saying you are going to
ride 1,000 miles is a far cry from actually accomplishing it.
the sun had set on Nebraska, Doc’s favorite horse Geronimo went lame and was
disqualified by Tatro and little Davy Douglas had come up sick and dropped out.
the time they reached Iowa both Rattlesnake Pete and his horse Nick were in
trouble. Pete was coughing up
blood. Nick had colic. Though many people questioned his concept of the medical
arts, Rattlesnake Pete bought a bottle of whiskey and pushed on with his horse,
the race progressed the excitement grew. Towns
turned out in droves to watch the passing of the famous cowboy riders.
Reporters paced all night next to ferry crossings and rushed to be the
first to get the news off to New York and Europe.
Fried chicken and brass bands were waiting in many villages.
But as the miles mounted and the weariness set in, the riders became more
interested in snatching a few hours’ sleep than listening to another speech by
some windy politician.
THE WINNER IS ………
broad Mississippi river lay behind them. The
Humane Society threat had been put to rest.
Only little Davy Douglas had quite.
There were still eight riders toughing it out. Folks in Chadron were getting anxious. This had turned out to be a real hoss race.
It was early on the morning of June 27th when Buffalo Bill Cody was informed that the winner of the Great Cowboy Race was about to reach the 1,000 mile tree outside his Wild West Show tent. Buffalo Bill and Chicago city officials waited outside for the triumphant entry of the victor of the plains. Instead of seeing Doc Middleton or even Old Joe Gillespie, both favorites, they were surprised to see John Berry riding up the street on his stallion Poison.
|Old Joe Gillespie and John
Berry pose with their horses, Billy Mack and Poison, in front of the
thousand mile tree that marked the finish line of the Chadron to Chicago
Click on picture to enlarge.
stepped up and offered Berry his hand.
are the first man in. You are all
right, John, you are all right,” Cody said.
of the spectators did not agree. Poison
was mud-splattered but fine. Berry,
however, was the “sorriest, sleepiest and tiredest” man anyone had ever
seen. He had averaged seventy miles
a day, covered the last 150 miles in twenty-four hours, and been in the saddle
eight hours short of two weeks.
the next 48 hours the rest of the riders struggled in. Emmett Albright was disqualified after it was learned that he
had shipped himself and his horse part way by train under an assumed name.
Ole Joe Gillespie came riding in second, waving his hat at the excited
crowd. Charlie Smith and Dynamite
were fifteen minutes behind him. Rattlesnake
Pete kept spittin’ blood, but made it. And
Chadron’s favorite outlaw son, Doc Middleton, shook Buffalo Bill’s hand as
was a disagreement as to who was the winner.
Cody said Berry had been the first man to reach the 1,000 mile tree, so
he gave Berry the $500 first prize he had offered. The Chadron race committee believed Old Joe was the real
winner. He got most of the town’s
$1,000 prize money. In the end,
though, every contestant, except little Davy Douglas, received a portion of the
prize proceeds. Berry got the Montgomery Ward saddle. Old Joe Gillespie packed home the gold-plated Colt.
more important than money, America’s first endurance riders had put to death
the misconception of brutal Westerns and inadvertently introduced the concept of
veterinarian involvement in endurance racing.
the Humane Society veterinarian summed it up when he wrote, “It started in
foolishness and was foolish business all through, but it has been an educator of
the people, showing them that the so-called cowboys are not a set of horned
animals, all wild brutal men, and the Humane Society discovered it was wrong in
supposing that the riders would treat their horses badly.
We consider the race a big success in every way.”
that “Paralyzer of the Truth,” John Maher, must have been happy when he read
Back to Page
1 Frank T. Hopkins
to see the world's largest collection