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Youthful riders arrive safely in Roswell

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Brothers Louis Abernathy and Temple Abernathy, ages 9 and 5 respectively, arrived in Roswell by horseback in August 1909. They traveled from Guthrie, Oklahoma, and were the sons of U.S. Marshal John R. Abernathy. They came to Roswell via Portales and Estaline, Texas. They were several days on the road and in the “pink of condition” after their long, hard journey. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society for New Mexico)

Two sons of a Texas U.S. Marshal made long-distance horseback trips that drew attention of NM governor and President Theodore Roosevelt

A front-page article in the Aug. 25, 1909, Roswell Daily Record. (Image courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico)

In 1909, two little boys, Louis “Louie” Abernathy and Temple Abernathy, “the Abernathy Boys,” ages 9 and 5 respectively, rode horseback from their home in Guthrie, Okla., by themselves, to Roswell, then to Santa Fe and back home again.

Louis, the oldest, was born in 1899 in Texas, and his younger brother, Temple, was born in 1904 in Tipton, Oklahoma. Their father was U.S. Marshal Jack Abernathy. He was also a cowboy and was personal friend’s with President Theodore Roosevelt. The boys’ mother passed away in 1907, leaving their father to raise six children alone, four girls and two boys.

This was a trip the boys had planned and dreamed about. They had studied maps by the light of the kerosene lamp, night after night. Going to bed each night they imagined the adventures that lay ahead and the stories their father had told them, about the country they wanted to travel to. They had planned and mapped their journey, day after day and night after night. Their dad had told them about the fruit orchards and the farms here in the Pecos Valley, and they wanted to see Gov. Curry’s house in Santa Fe.

When they had proven to their dad that they had memorized the route, he decided to let them try a short trip alone as a trial run. He told them if they could ride from their home in Guthrie to their ranch near Tipton in Southwestern Oklahoma, that would prove their ability for the longer journey. This ride took them about four days, and went off without a hitch!

After they had successfully navigated this short journey their dad gave them his blessing to do the trip from Guthrie, to Roswell, to Santa Fe, the Texas Panhandle, and back home again.

In preparation for their trip their dad opened a checking account for each of the boys and deposited $100 in each of their accounts. He told them this would be the money for food, and lodging, and any any emergencies they might run into along the way.

So, in July of 1909, they started their journey, into the great unknown, in the hottest time of the year.

Their dad had instructed them not to push their horses too hard, not more than 35 miles a day, so before they left home they had estimated how far to ride every day, and where to stop and spend the night, each night.

Before they left, their dad gave them a Bible and instructed them to say their prayers each night.

After leaving their home in Guthrie on their way to Roswell they encountered many dangers, as one might imagine.

They had to cross the Red River, where their dad had told them to be careful of pockets of quicksand. Approaching the river at dusk, the boys couldn’t see enough to know if it was quicksand so they decided to let Bud’s trusty horse (Sam Bass) take the lead, and carefully choosing the way, he led them safely across.

They spent the first night in Estelline, Texas, boarding their horses and staying in a hotel.

The next morning was hot and Temple was thirsty, so he drank lots of gyp (gypsum) water, which gave him diarrhea later in the day. They spent the next night in Turkey, Texas, where he had a very uncomfortable night. His brother gave him a big dose of castor oil in hopes of helping him feel better.

The next morning it was only worse, but they started on. He was having to get down off his horse every few minutes. They came upon a mercantile store where he had a strawberry pop and some crackers, and he started feeling better. He felt well enough to even talk his brother into buying candy for later in the day.

They spent two more nights on the very hot and dusty trail, and on the last night they camped between Portales and Roswell. During the night they were awakened by a pack of wolves. Louie fired the shotgun, until Temple could gather enough wood to put on the campfire to keep the wolves at bay.

When they arrived in Roswell, everybody seemed to know all about them. They stayed here several days, viewing the apple and peach orchards their dad had told them about and marveling at the irrigation systems. People were friendly, and the newspaper editor even invited them to stay at his house, which they gladly accepted.

Riding on from Roswell to Santa Fe they encountered a hail storm and Indians, they lost their Trail for a while, but they made it into Santa Fe safely, and from there, back to Oklahoma, but with many more exploits along the way.

After this trip they achieved so much notoriety they planned a cross country horseback ride to New York City to meet their dad’s old friend Theodore Roosevelt. They made that trip in 1910, and were greeted with a ticker tape parade behind a car carrying Roosevelt.

While in New York City they purchased a car, which they drove, again by themselves, back to Oklahoma. They shipped their horses home by train.

In 1911, they accepted another challenge to ride horseback from New York City to San Francisco in 60 days or less. They accepted the challenge and again made the trip, but it took them 62 days.

You can read more about their journeys online, or in the book, “Bud and Me,” written by Alta Abernathy. There also is a movie, “The Grand Ride of the Abernathy Boys.”

Both boys grew to be successful adults with Louis later graduating from the University of Oklahoma Law School and becoming a lawyer in Wichita Falls, Texas. He died in Austin, Texas, in 1979.

Temple worked in the oil and gas businessman and died in Teague, Texas, in 1986.

Credits to “Bud & Me: The true adventures of the Abernathy Boys,” written by Alta Abernathy.

Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or by email at jdunna@hotmail.com.