Sunday, February 22, 2015
Vintage Vacations...Spirit of Steamboat!
The Spirit of Steamboat
I am a Western Girl...I was born in the West immersed in the stories of cowboys and pioneers. We tend to travel in western states, seeking out old mining towns and places where hard-bitten folks struggled to carve out a life in a harsh desert environment. As we gaze upon the ruins of their dreams, we can almost hear their voices in the dry winds that drift sand through the streets of their towns, stacking tumbleweeds against rusted barbed-wire fences.
Yes, there are towering mountains in the West, mountains draped in the green of pine trees and lacy veils of tumbling waterfalls. Mountain vistas are cooling to the parched eyes of a desert dweller. My Mormon ancestors looked to the mountains as they crossed through Wyoming on the pioneer trails. I am grateful to live at the feet of some of the most beautiful mountains in the West...but my heart is drawn to desert places and ghost towns.
With only an hour's notice last Monday, we packed our bags for a quick trip to Gillette, Wyoming. George's company does industrial painting and sandblasting...one of our specialties is water treatment plants. In order to bid on the one in Gillette, George needed to attend a pre-construction meeting on Tuesday. Gillette is 9 1/2 hours from Highland, located in the upper right hand corner of the state.
Bucking Horse on Wyoming License Plate
Anyone who travels in the western states knows that there are long empty stretches of highway. Families may play "License Plate Bingo" on their road trips. As a child I would watch for the bucking bronco on the Wyoming plates. Nowadays, we listen to audio books when we travel...it makes the time pass a lot quicker. We love the "Longmire" books written by Craig Johnson. Walt Longmire, the crusty sheriff of fictional Absaroka County is an intriguing character. The author weaves a lot of Wyoming history and lore into his tales. In his short book "Spirit of Steamboat" I finally learned the story of the famous bucking horse...the longest-running license plate motif in the world...Steamboat.
"Steamboat" A VB-25J
A transport version of the Mitchell B-25 bombers from WWII.
On a stormy Christmas Eve, Longmire and his friend Lucian Connally must find a way to fly a desperately sick child to Denver. Finding a plane and pilot is proving to be next to impossible, but they finally end up on an old WWII plane called "Steamboat." During the trip Walt recalls to himself the story of the famous bucking horse. Known as the "Lord of the Plains" or the "King of the Hurricane Deck," Steamboat was a horse that could not be ridden.
Steamboat was born in 1894 on the Foss Ranch in Wyoming. He got his name from the whistling sound he made when he breathed, the result of slamming his head against the ground so hard that he broke the cartilage in his nose. Solid black, with three white stockings, Steamboat enjoyed the attention he received in parades and Wild West shows. He was docile when handled, but could not abide a rider. Steamboat's whistle was the last thing many a cowboy heard just before hitting the ground.
In the mid 1930s, Secretary of State Lester C. Hunt commissioned Denver artist Allen True to depict the horse and rider as the design for the 1936 Wyoming license plate. He was the paid the "princely sum" of seventy-five dollars. There is controversy over who the rider is. Many a Wyoming resident would like to believe it is their own grandpa, but it is widely believed that the rider is a composite of every cowboy who ever rode a bucking bronco. And maybe...just maybe...the horse isn't even Steamboat.
Author Candy Moulton says, "...Steamboat is really the symbol of Wyoming in every sense of the spirit..." Steamboat's story did not have a happy ending. The legendary horse was injured on a barbed-wire fence during a lightning storm in Salt Lake City. He fell victim to blood poisoning and had to be put down...some say with Tom Horn's gun. According to legend, Steamboat was buried in Frontier Park in Cheyenne. But some old-timers will tell you he was carted off to the city dump where he was destroyed. I, for one, hope that isn't true.
I-80...the Lincoln Highway
The next time you travel west on the Old Lincoln Highway and see a license plate with the bucking bronco and his rider hanging on for dear life...I hope you will think of Steamboat and tip your (metaphorical) hat to the horse that embodied the Western Spirit.
A few images from Wyoming...enjoy!