Sometimes a story comes along that you just swear has to be pure fiction. This one is that. How could two kids – eight and five – ride off on their own over a long distance? How could parents let them?
Louis (the oldest, who was called Bud) and Temple Abernathy were born to parents Jack and Jessie Pearl. Jack was a cowboy and a U.S. Marshal who was well-known for capturing wolves alive by sticking his hand into their mouths, wiring their muzzles shut and tying their legs. He must’ve been really quick and have nerves of steel is all I’ve got to say. But at age 6, Jack had worked as a saloon pianist in Sweetwater, Texas and at 9, he was a full-time range rider on the A-K-X Ranch then the JA Ranch.
It’s important to know this about the father to understand this story.
In June 1909, he allowed Bud and Temple who were 8 and 5 to ride alone from their home in Frederick, Oklahoma to Santa Fe, New Mexico by horseback. A round trip distance of 1,300 miles. Their mother had died or I don’t think she would’ve allowed this.
As newspapers got wind of it, they became the two best known kids in the U.S.
Bud rode his father’s horse Sam Bass and Temple his Shetland pony Geronimo. The trip was not without problems. Five-year-old Temple drank some gypsum water and came down with a bad case of diarrhea. Plus, he sprained both ankles jumping from his pony. Bud sat up all night firing at circling wolves while Temple slept. Once they got riding again, they ran out of food and water and were forced to rely on strangers.
At some point, a group of outlaws followed them. The outlaws scribbled a note with the lead tip of a bullet and delivered it to The Marshal of Oklahoma. Here’s what it said: “I don’t like one hair on your head, but I do like the stuff that is in these kids. We shadowed them through the worst part of New Mexico to see that they were not harmed by sheepherders, mean men, or animals.”
It was signed with the initials of a rustler whose friend Jack Abernathy had killed in a shootout.
Against all odds, the brothers made it to Santa Fe and back. Newspapers were full of the adventure.
The following year, they heard about a grand parade that was to be given in New York City to honor Teddy Roosevelt who’d be returning from fifteen months abroad. The boys were now old hands at 9 and 6. Their father said they could go and helped them plan the trip, again by horseback.
Each town they passed through had red carpets rolled out, bands played, and speeches were made. Even so, the boys had long, lonely stretches and more problems to face. Temple’s horse collapsed before they got out of Oklahoma and they had to buy a new horse and leave him behind. Temple named his new horse Wylie Haynes. Temple had his Navajo saddle blanket stolen at a livery in Chicago. They faced fights with other kids who were jealous of their fame. Bud nearly crushed his leg in a fall but they rode on in driving rain and on muddy roads. Temple came down with a bronchial infection and a fever of 103 and a doctor in New Jersey ordered him to rest.
Despite everything, they arrived in New York City in time for Teddy Roosevelt’s parade. They were VIPs and rode directly behind the flotilla up Madison Avenue. Jack had arrived by train and joined his boys.
Yet, their adventures weren’t over. They decided to ship their horses back home and the boys bought a motorcycle. After spending a day learning to drive it, they left New York City heading home. The boys took turns driving. The trip back, a distance of 2,512 miles took 23 days.
From there, things got real crazy. They starred in silent movie about them, were hired as spokesmen for the motorcycle company, were paid to sit astride their horses on Coney Island and talk about their adventures, and even participated in an elephant and donkey race.
One promoter challenged them to ride from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific in 60 days by horseback. They were now 11 and 7. They traveled over the Rockies, across the Continental Divide, and the Great Salt Lake where they awakened one morning to find their horses gone. They lost three days searching for them and finally found one and eventually caught up with the other but the heat had drained them and they had depleted their water.
Exhausted, they arrived at their destination two days late. But they broke the record for crossing the continent on horseback.
When their celebrity childhood wound down, they enrolled in a military school in San Antonio. Bud went on to law school in Oklahoma and became a lawyer then a judge. Temple joined his father who’d become a wildcatter in the oil and gas business in Wichita Falls, Texas.
You know, when I write about young kids doing unusual great things in my stories, some readers and reviewers say it’s impossible. But Bud and Temple Abernathy prove that nothing is far fetched.
Would you have let your kids do something like this when the land was still so untamed, or in today’s time with modern conveniences? I don’t think I would have. A five-year-old is still technically a baby. Leave a comment to be in the drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card.