The Hopkins Hoax
Vermont Historian and Librarian Paul Carnahan wrote to The Long Riders' Guild to share a startling discovery. "It looks like the Vermont Historical Society was on to the Hopkins hoax thirty years ago!" he said.
In 1970 Walter Hard Jr. and Charles Morrisey, two Vermont historians, became intrigued with Frank Hopkins' claim to have won an endurance race from Galveston, Texas to Rutland, Vermont and decided to investigate the story. After combing the archives in Vermont without success, they turned to their colleagues in Texas. Historians in the Lone Star state also came up empty-handed.
The following article was published in the Vermont Historical Society's in-house magazine in August 1970, making it the very first time Hopkins' claims were questioned in print. The Guild spoke to the author of the article, Charles Morrisey, who explained that, even after the historians made a public appeal, no one came forward with any substantiating evidence that this race existed.
HORSE RACE IN 1886 FROM
TEXAS TO VERMONT
WAS 1,799 MILES IN LENGTH
(But Did This Race Actually Occur?)
(Has Somebody Tried A Texas-Sized Joke?)
Listen to Frank T. Hopkins, three times honored with the title of “World’s Greatest Horseman,” describe a horse race he won in 1886 that started in Galveston, Texas, and ended in Rutland, Vermont.
“We started from Galveston on September 6, 1886, fifty-six of us. We were riders of every kind – ex-cavalrymen, cowboys, skilled horse trainers and horsemen. My friend Buffalo Jones induced me to enter and backed me to win. The prize was $3000 – a lot of money in 1886
“Conditions were hard on men and horses. We were permitted to ride ten hours a day, no more; we had to report frequently to the judges; we were controlled by a careful system of cards which we had punched whenever we stopped so that judges knew exactly where every rider stood at any time.
“My horse on this ride was a game stallion I had picked up out West. His name was Joe. He was seven years old at that time. I knew the stuff he had, because in Montana I had ridden him on buffalo runs. He was the only horse I ever saw that could finish a run, then be ready to take on another herd.
“I never was a sprinter, but I knew a thing or two about long distance riding. I did not press Joe at first. The others all passed me. Then I began passing them, one by one. I rode for thirty-one days. I came into Rutland. I waited there for two weeks before the second man rode in, and we two waited several days together for finisher number three. We three were the only riders who finished. Three out of fifty-six. My daily average on that ride was 57.7 miles.”
This account was published in 1941 in a book by Albert W. Harris entitled Blood Of The Arab: The World’s Greatest War Horse. According to Hopkins this race was sponsored by Richard K. Fox, owner of the famous magazine, The Police Gazette, and by another man named Lucky Baldwin. But surprisingly The Police Gazette does not contain an account of this race in any issues published in 1886 or in years near that time.
Attempts to find a mention of the race in Galveston newspapers of that era have been fruitless. The Galveston Daily News of the 1880’s has been termed the best newspaper of that time in the Southwest, but Galveston residents who have searched back issues for us report not a single clue about the race to Rutland.
The Texas State Library in Austin searched on our behalf – and found nothing.
Rutland and Montpelier newspapers were gleaned from two months prior to the September start of the race and for two months after the finish in Rutland, but no mention of the race was found. The Rutland Library could find nothing for us. We looked elsewhere – and found nothing.
A letter to the Editor of the Rutland Herald, asking if any old-time Rutland residents could remember any talk about the race, was printed in the Herald’s “letters-to-the-editor” section, but this brought no responses.
Queries were sent to magazines like The American West, on the hunch that some editor with an able eye for a good story might have mentally filed a note after hearing about the Galveston-to-Rutland race, but this produced no results.
Walter Rice Hard, Jr., Editor of Vermont Life, put his effective intelligence service to work on this mystery – and reported no clues.
Sylvester Vigilante of Duxbury, Vermont, the retired head of the American History Room at the New York Public Library and an outstanding authority on the bad men and peace officers of the Old West, drew upon his expert knowledge to see if clues could be found, but he reported no leads. It was Mr. Vigilante who stumbled across the reference to the Galveston-to-Rutland race in the book by Albert Harris and alerted Walter Hard to the prospects of an interesting story for Vermont Life in this adventure if more could be learned about it. Vermont Life is still interested in publishing such a story if facts about it do come to light.
One query to Texas prompted this reply from a “horse expert:” “I do find reference in 1901 that suggests that this ride may not have been entirely honorable and indicates that some of the riders caught a boat ride from the lower Mississippi to Maryland. However there is no documented proof to this supposition.” The writer goes on to say “Now as to the 1,799 miles in just over a month – this is highly questionable from my knowledge and experience of long rides. I once rode one horse a hundred miles in twenty hours and he was practically worthless for several months after that ride.”
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? Your comments are invited.
Article in “News & Notes” –
August 1970 – Volume 21, No. 10.
Copies of this article can be obtained from the Vermont Historical Society, www.vermonthistory.org, upon request.
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