Before roads and Google Maps, they blazed the original Cowboy Trail.
At 5:40 p.m. June 13, 1893 — 120 years ago today — a western Nebraska sheriff stood in front of nine horsemen and a crowd of 3,000 spectators on a dirt street outside the Hotel Blaine in Chadron.
Dawes County Sheriff James Dahlman — who years later moved east and was elected Omaha mayor — cautioned the riders to be careful and to take care of their horses. Then Chadron Fire Chief J.O. Hartzell stepped to the hotel veranda with a Colt revolver and fired a shot into the air.
The Chadron-to-Chicago Cowboy Race was off — at a trot. It ended 13 days later on the grounds of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West extravaganza at the world’s fair.
The race weathered opposition and scrutiny by humane societies and controversy about the rightful winner, but the stunt captured the imagination of the nation as a test of frontier men and their horses. It was America’s longest horse race.
“It put Chadron on the map. It’s one of the things we’re known for,” said Belle Lecher, director of the Dawes County Historical Museum south of Chadron.
The museum’s race artifacts include a pearl-handled, single-action Colt Army revolver given to the winner and the brown cowboy boots worn by the runner-up. There’s even the tanned hide of the first — but not winning — horse to arrive in Chicago. It’s hanging on a museum wall.
Accounts about the roots of the race vary. Some say it was suggested as a lark. Others say showman William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody spurred it on as a way to publicize Chicago’s Columbian Exposition and his own Western show set up next door.
Promoters billed it as a 1,000-mile horse race across three states. The purse was $1,000. Cody added $500 in prize money. Newspapers touted a turnout of hundreds of riders. Organizers expected about 30 on race day.
CONTINUED… (and fascinating reading. Animal advocates watched to make sure the horses were okay. Leave a few comments, as I’m sure a lot of work went into the research for this article. – Jerry)
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