Abernathy brothers rode their way to fame

President William Howard Taft, all 335 pounds of him, personally welcomed the Abernathy brothers to Washington D.C. on May 27, 1910 and gave the famous travelers a guided tour of the White House.

At only ten and six years of age, Louie and Temple Abernathy already were bigtime celebrities with thousands of unchaperoned miles under their tiny belts. In less than two years, the youngsters had made the lonely round trip to New Mexico from their home in Oklahoma and rode to New York City all on horseback.

The brothers came by their precocious spunk naturally. Having made his own way in the adult world at the tender age of seven, Jack Abernathy saw nothing unusual in his sons’ daring deeds. A veteran cowhand before he could shave, the Bosque County native migrated to the Texas Panhandle where he became an expert broncobuster while barely in his teens.

The elder Abernathy discovered by accident the trick that earned him frontier fame. Attacked by a huge wolf, he thrust his hand into the animal’s mouth, grabbed its lower jaw and held on for dear life. To his amazement, the hold quickly subdued the powerful creature.

Practice made perfect, and Abernathy was soon known far and wide as a world-class wolf wrestler. He performed
the spectacular stunt on countless occasions and sold the captured wolves to zoos and carnivals.

To placate his worried new wife, Abernathy tried a tamer line of work. He was peddling pianos in Fort Worth when their first child Louie came along in 1899, but by the time Temple was born five years later he was toting a badge in the rowdy region north of the Red River.

Cattleman Burke Burnett hosted a wolf hunt for President Teddy Roosevelt in 1904. The star attraction was, of course, lawman Abernathy, who manhandled several wolves for the amusement of the guest of honor. The exhibition so impressed the outdoorsman that Roosevelt upon his return to Washington appointed Abernathy U.S. Marshal for the Oklahoma Territory.

With their mother dead and their father always away on law-and-order business, Louie and Temple learned how to take care of themselves. They were only nine and five, when their dad gave them permission for their first solo ride from their hometown of Guthrie, Oklahoma to Santa Fe, New Mexico and back again.

Afraid to carry money, the boys took along a checkbook in case of emergencies. But few people accepted payment for goods and services rendered, and those that did kept the uncashed checks as souvenirs.

In the spring of 1910, Abernathy made plans to welcome his old pal Teddy Roosevelt back from an African safari
when his ship docked at New York. The boys wanted to be on hand too to greet the former president and with their father’s blessing set out on a nine-state journey.

Making memories that would last them a lifetime, the popular brothers attracted large crowds and local dignitaries at every stop along the way. They met Wilbur Wright only months before the pioneer aviator’s tragic death from typhoid fever, and a hotel proprietor in West Virginia dragged them out of bed in the middle of the night to see
Halley’s Comet.

When Roosevelt returned in June 1910 from his big-game hunt, the three Abernathy’s accompanied him on a ticker-tape parade through mid-town Manhattan. For the trip back to Oklahoma, Jack Abernathy bought two automobiles and the family went home in style. Louie drove a brand-new Brush followed by his father in a
Maxwell.

The next year promoters paid the boys to stage a mock race to the nation’s capital astride the living symbols of the two political parties – a donkey and an elephant. The same hucksters then offered Louie and Temple the stupendous sum of $10,000 if they could complete a transcontinental crossing on horseback in 60 days.

With a rousing sendoff from thousands of cheering New Yorkers, the lads left Coney Island on Aug. 1, 1911. Required by the conditions of the challenge to sleep under the stars, the hardy little heroes braved the elements around the clock.

For two boys with a combined age of 18, the cross-country trek was a feat of epic proportions. Their 3,500-mile trip ended on Oct. 2, 1911, when they arrived no worse for wear in San Francisco. Sadly their odyssey had taken 62 days, and the pint-sized adventurers missed out on the five-figure prize.

Louie and Temple Abernathy returned to Oklahoma and the carefree life of boys their own age. As adults they settled in Texas, where both led surprisingly normal and uneventful lives. The brothers stayed close to home having seen all the sights before they were even in their teens.

Bartee welcomes your comments and questions at barteehaile@gmail. com or P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393.

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