The Long Riders' Guild

A Dream Fulfilled

by Mary-Jo O'Brian

 

In July 1962, when equestrian travel was in danger of blinking out, three young women set off to ride from Pennsylvania to California. Here is a short but moving account of their adventures.

For many years, two girls had a dream - to travel across country on horseback. This dream was brought to light when Thora Gauthier and Naomi Scully became acquainted with each other as members of the Erie (Pennsylvania) County Sheriff's Mounted drill team, the Rangerettes, and discussed the possibility of making such a trip. As I was also a member of the Rangerettes, and of the female species, I naturally stuck my two cents in. The result? When they definitely decided to make the cross-country trip, I wasn't about to be left behind, although I later found out that the two cents was just a drop in the bucket.

For nearly a year after we decided to embark on our adventure we saved our money, approximated a route to Pasadena, California (one definite stop was at Lackland Air Force Base to see Thora's son) and got together the necessary (and, as we later found out, some not so necessary) equipment - saddlebags, bed rolls, cooking gear, rain gear, canteens, cameras, emergency first aid equipment for us and the horses, the Boy Scout Handbook, portable saw, axe, bathing suits, hobbles, collapsible buckets and, of course, clothing, which consisted of two pairs of jeans, several blouses, underclothes, a jacket and a pair of sneakers. By the way, cosmetics was "some not so necessary" equipment that was sent back home.

With a smile on our lips and tears in our eyes, we left Erie on July 23, 1962, eagerly looking forward to the challenge of the journey.


Mary-Joe O'Brien

Medina, Ohio brought laughter and sore muscles, more sore muscles, that is, as we tried a bit of trick riding - at a standstill, of course! California was still a long way off.

Tears were also shed in Medina as Silver, my mount, had to be sent back home to Erie. His legs just couldn't carry the gear and me, too.

Not to let a little detail like that hinder us, another horse was purchased, thereafter to be known as Sultan, and we once again started on our merry way.


Sultan

The Indiana State Fair was in progress when we went through Indianapolis and the officials invited us to be their guests at the rodeo! Whoopee - we sure did get our enjoys from that rodeo! The stars of the show were Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker and that was an even bigger 'enjoy' - to see two of the 'Bonanza Boys' in person.

Traveling companions for the remainder of the journey, Poncho and Wee Traveler, were gifts of a blacksmith in Greenup, Illinois. And we picked up another hitchhiker in Aurora, Missouri. Unfortunately we had to leave Little Mo behind about a week later, though. She just couldn't adjust to the altitude!

Eufaula, Oklahoma presented us with a sizeable piece of land to enjoy in our leisure hours. After our trip was completed, of course.

And finally came the big state of Texas. With six states down and only four more to go, Texas welcomed us with many challenges and surprises all its own.

We experienced a real taste of the wild and wooly west in Grandview at round-up time and, speaking of round-ups, Texas isn't exactly the easiest state in the Union to find firewood!

Although we had been sleeping outdoors all this time, Texas actually was our first opportunity to cook out. That Boy Scout Handbook sure came in handy in these wide open spaces!

The horses may have had to carry the load but they had the last laugh when it came to chore time. That was all up to us and included such jobs as finding a place to spend the night, unsaddling, caring for and feeding the horses and the kittens, getting our own supper, washing dishes, rolling out bedrolls, writing the log or letters, repairing gear or just plain sitting!

Chore time could come at any hour, too, as evidenced by this picture where we are drying out our bed rolls after having been caught in a "quickie" rain. Believe me, that little old sun didn't shine every day!

Who said this trip was going to be all relaxation?

Oh, ho, ho! Here's where the relaxation part came in - San Antonio, Texas. Not only relaxation, but a chance to put on a dress again. A dress? What's that? Seriously, though, we purposely went to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to see Thora's son, and while there we also met the Cherokee Cowboy, Ray Price, who was staging a show at the Base. It was a terrific show and we had a wonderful time, even though our legs did get a bit cold!

Thanksgiving Day found us just on the outskirts of San Antonio .... and .... Christmas 1962 was spent in El Paso.

El Paso - the city of happiness and sadness for me.

Happiness was celebrating my birthday with a cake sent from home, while sadness was finding out that, because of a paralyzed nerve in his right shoulder, El Paso was the end of the trail for my Sultan.

Well, with two horses down and three more states to go, we weren't about to stop now. So, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which is right across the state line from El Paso, another mount was purchased for me - Compadre.

By the way, this brings us up to New Year's Eve 1962 and you'll never believe where we spent it - camped on the banks of the Rio Grand! Very unglamorous and, I might add, very cold.

Fortunately, this cold weather wasn't to last because we soon came into Arizona with its beautiful desert, tall, tall cactus, and sun-warmed days.

We did notice that the night air was still a bit chilly, though, but maybe that was because our clothes were becoming a bit worn - and torn!

At last, after close to six months on the trail, we reached the Colorado River and the California State Line! You never heard such whooping and hollering and carrying on in all your born days.

And, in answer to your unspoken question - yes, we would do it all over again. It was well worth every second!

As far as Thora and Naomi were concerned, their dream had been fulfilled. They had ridden across this great country of ours on horseback. My long-thought-of dream was yet to be realized.

For many, many years I have admired Bob Hope and my one desire was to meet him.

Back in August of 1962, when we went through Mt. Gilead, Ohio, we were invited to stop for refreshments by Mr. Hope's family and, while there his niece, Margo, gave us a letter to deliver to Mr. Hope when we reached California.

Believe me, that letter was guarded with my life for the many months to follow.

Lo and behold, when we came to Palm Springs, California, Mr. Bob Hope was kind enough to receive us into his home and, as you can see by the picture, we looked nothing like fashion models.

This was quite a thrill in my life and, after meeting and talking with him, I can fully understand and appreciate why people the world over admire Bob "Thanks for the Memories" Hope.

But, much as we enjoyed our stay in Palm Springs, Pasadena was still a few hoof beats away so we bid a fond adieu to Mr. Hope and hit the saddle once again, heading for Pasadena.

Upon reaching Calimesa, California, we encountered an obstacle which the pioneers of the frontier days certainly would not have - the start of the San Bernardino Freeway.  Now this presented a bit of a problem because horses and pedestrians were definitely not allowed on the Freeway and upon observing the traffic for a short while we could understand why and were just as glad.

In answer to our inquiries, we were told that taking the round-about route would get us into Pasadena in approximately two weeks - as the horse walks, that is, and if we didn't have too many interruptions.

After thinking it over we decided to end the horses' part of the journey right here and now. As far as we were concerned, the trip had been a success. The horses HAD carried us all the way to California from Pennsylvania. Their job was completed and they well deserved the rest.

We located someone to truck Tango and Tiny Tim to Covina, California, which is where we planned to live, while I, in the meantime, sold my horse, Compadre.

On February 15, 1963, approximately 6 months after the start of our horseback trip from Erie, Pennsylvania, Thora, Naomi and I arrived in Pasadena, California.

'Twas truly a dream fulfilled!

One cold winter night in the kitchen

While the dishes were being done,

"The Brat" looked at me and tittered,

"California, here I come!"

 

With the planning, praying and saving

Their dreams were drawing near,

Experiences, they'd be having

Would be remembered and held dear.

 

Days, weeks and months of riding,

The kindness of people unfold.

Their goodness and faith weren't hiding,

Now their memories are worth more than gold.

 

They went through all kinds of weather.

Sun, wind, rain, hail and snow.

But our good Lord in his beautiful heaven

Was with them, that they did know.

 

Now that the journey is ended

My thanks to God on high,

And to all those that befriended,

A grateful and thankful sigh.

Mrs. Anthony Alfieri (Mary-Jo's mother)

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