Vermont Historical Society debunks Hidalgo
Library Collections Debunk Current Movie
The value of the research collections of the Vermont Historical Society library were once again demonstrated when horse enthusiasts began to research the background of the movie Hidalgo early last year. The movie, according to early publicity from Touchstone Pictures, was going to be a true story based on the equestrian accomplishments of Frank T. Hopkins.
In February 2003 CuChullaine O'Reilly from the Long Riders' Guild contacted the VHS library asking if we knew anything about Frank T. Hopkins, who claimed to have ridden a horse from Galveston, Texas, to Rutland, Vermont, in 31 days in 1886. O'Reilly wondered if we had any publications from the Green Mountain Horse Association that would document this remarkable feat. We were able to quickly locate a set of The Vermont Horse and Bridle Trail Bulletin on our shelves. Thumbing through the 1940 volume we found an article by Hopkins entitled "1,800-Mile Trail Ride - Texas to Vermont." The VHS library staff also found in its vertical file an undated newspaper article from a Vermont newspaper, perhaps the Rutland Herald, telling the story of the fantastic ride.
Meanwhile, O'Reilly had contacted Jim Davidson from the Rutland Historical Society, who came to Montpelier with his wife, Helen, in early March and meticulously combed through back issues of the Bulletin. The Davidsons found 14 additional articles by Hopkins, all of which were copied and sent to the Long Riders' Guild office in Kentucky.
By the middle of March, after contacting numerous researchers in the U.S. and abroad, the Long Riders' Guild went public with their research into Frank Hopkins' claims. According to the Guild, "Frank Hopkins has earned the distasteful double honor of being the biggest fraud in the history of both the Old West and equestrian travel." They concluded the Hopkins claimed "to have done more amazing things, and to have known more amazing people, than anyone in human history," and that he never rode a horse from from Galveston to Rutland. The Ocean of Fire race depicted in the movie Hidalgo apparently never happened either. It seems that no independent, credible documentation exists to verify any of Hopkins' alleged feats - it all begins and ends with Hopkins himself.
Interestingly, the Vermont Historical Society had discovered the Frank Hopkins hoax more than thirty years earlier. In an article published in the VHS newsletter, News & Notes, the editor asked, "Has someone tried a Texas-sized joke?" He then outlined the research he conducted into this tale, revealing that no one he contacted, nor sources that he consulted had been able to document that the Galveston-to-Rutland ride ever took place. The editor in 1970 asked his readers, "What do you think? Was Frank T. Hopkins, three times winner of the title of 'World's Greatest Horseman" and winner of the Galveston-to-Rutland race he described for Albert Harris' 1941 book, a winner as a teller of tall-tales too?" Now more than thirty years later, the answer seems to be "Yes."
More information about the Hopkins hoax can be acquired on the web from www.thelongridersguild.com/hopkins.htm.