JF Ptak Science Books Post 1707
- [This post continues a series on the cowboy and the American West, prompted by a re-reading of Larry McMurtry's novel, Lonesome Dove.]
I’ve not seen this picture of the nine cowboys who starred and started the Great Cowboy Race of 18931. They gathered with a frenzy on the little town of Chadron, Nebraska (population 2,000, which doubled in size as the event’s opening grew near) determined to announce the “best “ cowboy, the first to cross the finish line near the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and shake the hand of Buffalo Bill Cody (well on his way to becoming a shell of what used-to-be). The contest was supposed to take two weeks and average 50-75 miles a day, which is a lot to ask of a team of horses (and the riders). So there was the expected shenanigans, and the man who "won” evidently helped plan the secret route, and someone else rode a trains with his horses for a bit, and so on.
The result doesn’t matter--it seems an overall sad story, these guys winging their way to the windy City, a race to oblivion. (Some of the cowboy contestants were already about half-faded away into Limbo judging from the photo touch up that had to be done of their faces.)
Ironically these cowboys were racing to the cosmopolitan host of the World’s Fair in which the historian Frederick Jackson Turner read his paper "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," —a significant theoretical piece announcing why Americans are so different from Europeans, and also that the American frontier had clearly, absolutely, been broken and installed in the gauzy national psyche. The fate of the Cowboy had already been determined 20 years before with the introduction of refrigerator cars, railroad expansion and barbed wire--all of which cut the West into smaller and smaller parcels, until they restricted the Cowboy to its own Reservation. A crooked race to Chicago seemed to crystalize the Cowboy's tenuous grasp on existence, depicted finally by the new(ish) half-tone photo process of Stephen Henry Horgan, making a half-portrait of empty circles, the image disappearing more and more the closer we look at it..
It was just a sorry show for the cowboy all the way around, and a story that doesn’t need to be told here. I did just want to publish this picture. There’s a long and good story here http://www.thelongridersguild.com/chadron2.htm about the entire affair.
I include the list of the riders, mainly for the names of their horses:
Emmett Abbott riding Outlaw and Joe Bush.
Joe Campbell riding his one horse, Boom-de-aye.
Davy Douglas riding Wide Awake and Monte Cristo.
Old Joe Gillespie riding Billy Mack and Billy Schafer.
George Jones riding Romeo and George.
Charlie Smith riding Dynamite and Red Wing.
Rattlesnake Pete Stephens riding General Grant and Nick.
Doc Middleton riding Geronimo and Bay Jimmie.
John Berry riding Poison and Sandy