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‘The Great American Distance Horse Race’

This is the third of a series documenting an event sponsored in 1908 by the Denver Post titled “The Great American Distance Horse Race.” We are telling the story because Pagosa Springs pioneer W.H. “Billy” Kern was a participant.

The race started at 6 a.m. May 30, in Evanston, Wyoming. The finish line was 600 miles across the Continental Divide in Denver.

The first of many checking stations along the way was Carter, Wyoming, about 47 miles from the Evanston starting line. A rider by the name of Workman was there by 10:30. J.A. Doling riding Little Minnie was close behind.

The next station was Green River, about 65 miles beyond Carter.

Workman checked into Granger, about halfway, at four in the afternoon. Doling had dropped back, but Smith on Dick Turpin and a man named Trew on Little Archie were only eight minutes later. The three men drank two glasses of milk each and, by five ,were on the road again. Several of the riders who came into Granger decided to spend the night there.

Meanwhile, the front three pushed on.

They were a varied lot. Three men from three states, Wyoming and Colorado and New Mexico, they were on three very different horses. One was a big brute of a bronc, one a gallant little thoroughbred, and one a sturdy, half-breed with blood of the great track racer Electioneer in his veins. They stayed bunched most of the way.

Then Dick Turpin faltered, caught with cramps and colic. His rider, Jack Smith, had watered him too soon after feeding him a bucket of oats at Granger. He made it to Green River, but the vet there recommended that he drop out and his owner agreed.

Big Teddy and little Archie led the way into Green River a little after ten that night. Charlie Trew spurred Archie into a last-minute spurt that brought them into town first. He won a prize for covering the most distance in the least time in a single day’s run.

The first two horses had covered 112 miles in a little over twelve hours. The checking officials were amazed at the freshness of the horses.

The score for the day: two men thirty miles ahead of the field resting at Green River; two men out of the race; and the others resting at Granger.

On Sunday, May 31, the second day of the race, several of the Granger resters left town before daylight. Workman and Trew in Green River slept later, but left town together at a reasonably early hour. Ahead of them was Wyoming’s Red Desert, the worst part of the race. Horses’ hoofs sank into the sand up to the fetlocks.

Teddy was moving in his long, swinging, tireless trot. Little Archie had to break into a lope to keep up. They stopped together at a stable in Rock Springs for water, then moved on toward the next checking station at Point in the Rocks, a rough, tough twenty-five miles.

They arrived at Station 2 together, spent an hour receiving their checkup, then moved on bound for Bitter Creek.

On this stretch, Teddy ran Little Archie out of contention, not out of the race. Workman and Teddy passed through bitter Creek alone at 4:30 in the afternoon. Those who saw them pass through said Teddy was fighting the bit and trying to run. His rider, Workman, knew the next stretch was uphill to the Continental Divide, so he worked hard to keep him reined in.

(More next week on this 600-mile horse race.)

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