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Texas History

The Astonishing Ride of the Abernathy Boys

Young sons of legendary U.S. marshal ride horseback from Oklahoma to New York

Louis “Bud” Abernathy, 10, and his brother, Temple, 6, inherited their father’s spirit of adventure and set out in 1910 to ride their horses more than 2,000 miles from Frederick, Oklahoma, to New York City.

Sensational accomplishments ran in the Abernathy family. The boys’ father, Texan Jack “Catch ’em Alive” Abernathy, a United States marshal with a leaning toward picturesque behavior, was born in Bosque County in 1876 and grew up punching cows on his father’s ranch. As an adult, he astonished President Theodore Roosevelt by running down a prairie wolf on his horse, leaping from the horse onto the wolf and capturing it alive with his gloved hands. “This beats anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a great deal,” Roosevelt commented.

The boys’ father agreed to their cross-country ride and helped them plan the route. Abernathy postulated a few rules before they set out: They could not travel more than 50 miles in one day; they could not cross water without an adult present unless they could see the bottom; they could not carry more than $5 with them at one time; and they could not travel on Sundays. The boys’ arrival in New York was planned to coincide with the return of Roosevelt from an African hunting expedition. Abernathy, a longtime friend of Roosevelt, planned to meet them there.

On the trip to New York, Bud rode Sam Bass, his father’s wolf-chasing horse, and Temple rode Geronimo, a half-Shetland pony. Temple was so small he had to mount from a porch or tree stump, and Bud had to saddle his horse for him every morning. They left home in April, carrying a few clothes, two bedrolls, oats for the horses, and some bacon and bread. At night, Bud laid his lariat around their bedrolls, an old cowboy trick he learned from his father to keep snakes and scorpions at bay.

“We prepared for the trip,” Temple explained in the book Bud and Me, written by Temple’s wife, Alta Abernathy, many years later, “estimating how far to ride each day and pinpointing the best places to spend the nights.”

Crossing Indian Territory, the boys stopped to visit their father’s friend, Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanche. News of the Abernathy boys’ odyssey spread, and families living along the route frequently invited them to stop and share a meal. They carried a note from their father stating that they were not runaways, and Bud had a checkbook with a $100 emergency fund set aside in case it was needed.

Early in the ride, the boys awoke one morning in Hominy, Oklahoma, to discover that Geronimo, Temple’s pony, was down and could not get up. He had foundered, a crippling disease that often renders horses permanently lame. Bud was forced to pull out the checkbook and buy a new horse. Temple chose a red-and-white paint that he named Wylie Haynes after the sheriff of Hominy. The first part of the journey was the most difficult. Long stretches of open land, snowstorms and a treacherous river crossing slowed their progress. As they rode east, newspaper reporters gathered to meet them.

“Special entertainment is to be provided for the young sons of United States Marshal John R. Abernathy,” the newspaper in Columbus, Ohio, reported. “They are in Columbus en route to greet ex-president Roosevelt when he arrives from Europe. The father of the boys was one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.”

The Abernathy boys’ first glimpse of the New York skyline came two months after they started their amazing ride.

Abernathy was waiting. He rode with Bud and Temple down Fifth Avenue with the Rough Riders in the parade to welcome Roosevelt home. More than 1 million people lined the streets of Manhattan that day, but no one enjoyed the day more than the two resourceful boys.

Martha Deeringer, a member of Heart of Texas EC, lives near McGregor.