Monday, September 08, 2008

"The Toughest Race" - Frank Hopkins Revisited

By Charles Roth

We were sitting around the club after a ride. The conversation turned to great races and tests of horseflesh. One man held that the Grand National was the hardest race of all, demanding more of horses and riders than any other. From one corner of the porch came a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort. We turned. It came from an old fellow named Thomas.

"A lot you fellows know about hard races," said he. "Let me tell you of one. What would you think of a horse race 1,800 miles in length?"

"Impossible!" said a youngster.

Thereupon Thomas told us about the longest horse race ever held in America, also the hardest: a race clear across the United States from north to south; a horse race, 1,799 miles long. All the men within hearing-distance were horsemen, but I doubt if any one of them had ever heard of this race before. Yet it took place within the lifetime of at least six of those present and was publicized at the time.

It was held in 1866. Two enterprisers of that age, Elias Jackson (Lucky) Baldwin and Richard K. Fox, promoted it. Horsemen from all parts of the country took part.

The winner of the race, one of Americas greatest horsemen, is still alive. His name is Frank T. Hopkins and he lives in retirement in Long Island City, across the river from New York. He had been dispatch rider for Generals Cook, Nelson A. Miles, Terry, etc., had come up from Arizona, where he had carried dispatches in the Geronimo campaign, and he learned of the race from his old friend, Buffalo Jones, who paid his $150 entry fee and backed him to win. Mr. Hopkins signed on in a small store opposite the post office at Fort Russell, Wyo.

As soon as I learned of the race and of Mr. Hopkins I sought him out to learn from him the true story of the hardest test on mount and man in the annals of American horsemanship.

The start of the race was at Galveston, Texas. The finish line was at Rutland, Vermont...


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