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A horse story to beat them all

My favorite horse story was printed in a 1908 edition of the Denver Post.

My copy of the story was provided by Karen Hine, a descendant of Pagosa pioneer Maude Hart, whose son-in-law was Billy Kern. Both were Pagosa pioneers from the earliest days of settlement.

The Rocky Mountain West of the first decade of the 1900s still had a lot of Wild West character. Cars and trains and steamboats — even the Wright Brothers’ airplane — had all been invented. Still, horses were the main means of transportation “way out west.”

Everybody knows westerners loved a good horse race.

One-time famous cartoonist Homer Davenport was apparently a horse enthusiast. He happened to remark while visiting Denver that Arabian horses could travel farther and faster than any other breed.

Davenport’s remarks incited the Denver Post to promote a long distance race to see if Arabians really were better.

After much debate, conditions for the race were established.

Called the Great Endurance Race, the path stretched from Evanston in the southwest corner of Wyoming to Denver. It was a treacherous trail over the Continental Divide, some of the roughest of western terrain.

The race would start the morning of May 30, but all entries were due by midnight of the twentieth. The Post would charter a special train leaving Denver on the twenty-sixth to carry the riders and their horses assembled there and would pick up others at specific points along the way. Other expenses and all risks would be borne by the entrants.

There were prizes for the top six finishers; $500, $350, $200, $150, $100 and $50. An additional $300 in gold would be paid to the one finishing in the best condition.

Stations were established about 50 miles apart along the way. Riders could run as they wished, stopping anywhere to rest, but each had to stop for at least one hour at each station. During the stop, each horse was examined to make sure it was in good enough condition to continue. If it was determined a horse was not in good condition, it would not be allowed to finish the race.

There were no restrictions on the types of saddles or other equipment, but each rider, including his equipment, had to weigh at least 160 pounds.

During the first week of May, seventy entrants had already signed up. Most were from Colorado and Wyoming. A few were from Nebraska and New Mexico and Kansas each contributed one horse and rider.

Many breeds were represented including Thoroughbred, Standard Bred, the Morgan, Hambleltonians, and American Trotters. Of course there were many broncos, as the horses ridden by most western cattlemen were called. Breed designations in 1908 were not identical with designations today.

The Post horse editor received a lot of mail as interest in the race climbed. One entrant, Charlie Workman from Cody, Wyo., urged the Post to hurry up and mail his entry form because he intended to ride his horse 400 miles just to reach the starting point of the 600-mile race.

Ranch hand Frank Wykert from Severance, Colo., wrote that his horse would be tough to beat. His horse’s name was Samuel and he was a strain of copper-bottom stock crossed with bronco. The horse editor listed the horse simply as: breed unknown.

(Motter: The story will be continued next week. The winner will surprise you.)

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