Oklahoma boys rode on horseback to New York and captured the imagination of the nation.
Louis and Temple Abernathy were 10 and 6 years old, respectively, when they set out on horseback from their ranch in Tillman County, Oklahoma, for New York City in 1910. Their purpose? To visit former President Theodore Roosevelt, a beloved family friend, on his return from Europe and Africa.
This would be the second such trip for Louis, whom Temple called Bud, and his younger brother, after riding to Santa Fe the year before to visit New Mexico’s territorial governor and his new mansion.
The boys’ two-month journey was followed by newspapers across the country, and countless Americans embraced the brothers as a symbol of self-reliance and Western toughness.
When they set out in the spring of 1910, they were seasoned horsemen. Their father, widower John “Jack” Abernathy, was the U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Oklahoma. Despite their youth, the boys were accustomed to ranch life and had accompanied their father on many of his travels.
“New York was 2,000 miles away, through country we’d never known, filled with folk who were strangers to us,” Temple Abernathy said in Bud and Me, a book written by his wife, Alta Abernathy. “It would be a wild adventure for two farm-bred Oklahoma boys. Bud and I rode away from Cross Roads, our ranch near Frederick, around the first of April. We were dressed to the nines in new boots and hats.”
Louis was riding his father’s white Arabian named Sam Bass, and Temple was astride a pony named Geronimo. As they rode, their fame began to grow, and they were met with reporters and fanfare in the towns they visited. They paid for their lodging and meals with a bank account their father established for them, and he kept tabs on the boys through telegrams and calls on the telephone — if one was available.
They did encounter hardships including rain, sleet, snow and swollen rivers, but the boys made it to New York in time to rendezvous with their father and welcome President Roosevelt’s ship into the harbor. He gave them a warm greeting.
“When he (Roosevelt) saw Dad, Bud and me, Teddy forgot about speech-making and motioned us toward him,” Temple said. “I guess the high point of the whole trip was the smile he gave us at that moment. ‘You made a long ride to come see me,’ he said to Bud and me. ‘Bless you.’”
But the adventures for Bud and Temple were not over. They managed to talk their father into buying a small Brush runabout for them to drive back to Oklahoma while he followed in a Maxwell touring car. They once rode an elephant and a donkey from New York to Washington, D.C., rode their horses 3,619 miles from Albany to San Francisco in 1911 and rode a motorcycle from Oklahoma to New York in 1913.
A statue of Louis and Temple stands in their hometown of Frederick, Oklahoma.