Chadron to Chicago Horse Race began in 1893 | TheFencePost.com

Chadron to Chicago Horse Race began in 1893

Beth Gibbons
Crawford, Neb.

Photo courtesy of the Dawes County Historical MuseThe original horse racers in 1893 were lined up and prepared for the 1,000+ mile, three week race.

On June 13, 1893, nine rugged rural Nebraska cowboys began a 1,000 mile race from Chadron to Chicago which put northwestern Nebraska on the map for the world. The race was delayed to straighten directives. When they began it was at a walk or slow trotting gait of the nine horses and their riders observed by a cheering town people of Chadron, Neb., their population swollen double to 4,000 people along the route.

The rugged race was harder on the men than the horses. Each rider was allowed two horses, one to ride and another to lead. Several turned lame and were left in stables for care along the way.

The idea began as a practical joke by the Dawes County clerk John G. Maher who was known for astonishing eastern readers by his outlandish exaggerated accounts of pioneer life. Chadron people shrugged the news report – they knew Mr. Maher. The outlandish idea was picked up by the eastern media and Europe accepted the idea as fact. Letters poured into Chadron from all over asking for race details.

Town leaders met and elected a committee to set up rules for ‘the race.’ It would begin at the Blaine Hotel. All entries must ride western horses, with a western saddle and equipment. An entry fee of $25 was charged. The purse was $1,000. Local businesses provided prizes to their favorite cowboys. Lowenthals gave Doc Middleton a cowboy hat and spurs.

The president of the American Humane Education Society was the most outspoken critic and the most misinformed spokesman. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Parent American Band of Mercy were influential and vocal spokesmen opposing the race also. The humane society groups tried to stop the race but eventually agreed to provide two representatives, one a veterinarian, to ride the route on a train and check the horses at every stop. At each location the horses were pronounced in excellent condition and well cared for. The riders didn’t look so good.

At 43, Doc Middleton, a reformed horse thief, was Chadron’s favorite. John Berry was ruled disqualified because he had been a railroad scout and helped lay out the race route stopping places. He stubbornly rode anyway and had his stops verified. Buffalo Bill Cody put up $500 and said he would recognize Berry as a contestant. Joe Gillespie at 58 was the oldest and heaviest rider at 185 pounds. Teenager Dave Douglas got sick and had to drop out.

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The cowboys were given extravagant titles like Cockeyed Bill, Dynamite Jack, Rattlesnake Pete, Snake Creek Tom and the “boldest all-around bad man” outlaw Doc Middleton were listed as early contestants. Some said the cowboys would be booed along the way. Cowboys and their horses were greeted and treated to rest and meals as they traveled. Some bands played and provided escorts to lead them through their towns.

Berry came in first, but was not an official winner. The official record announced Joe Gillespie the winner and Charles Smith second place. The money put up by Chadron was divided with finishing contestants excluding Berry. He was given a cut of the Buffalo Bill award money however. Doc Middleton dropped out and took a train to finish still he was included in the race payoff.

The valiant efforts by these country cowboys and their horses have never been beaten. The tough qualities of the western horse and riders were recorded and noticed. Both gained respect and admiration worldwide. Chadron was on the map.

The race information, pictures and the hide of Gillespie’s the winning horse are displayed in the Dawes County museum three miles south of Chadron. The memory of the race continues. Chadron is recognized as the race origin. Cowboys and horses still abound in rural Dawes County.

Years later a group of Dawes County residents staged a recreation of the Chadron to Chicago race. They took their time and rested but made quite a splash. The media loved the riders and followed the action with pictures and stories for the duration.

Doc Middleton later was living in Wyoming where he died in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave. The others returned to their normal country lives around Dawes County.

On June 13, 1893, nine rugged rural Nebraska cowboys began a 1,000 mile race from Chadron to Chicago which put northwestern Nebraska on the map for the world. The race was delayed to straighten directives. When they began it was at a walk or slow trotting gait of the nine horses and their riders observed by a cheering town people of Chadron, Neb., their population swollen double to 4,000 people along the route.

The rugged race was harder on the men than the horses. Each rider was allowed two horses, one to ride and another to lead. Several turned lame and were left in stables for care along the way.

The idea began as a practical joke by the Dawes County clerk John G. Maher who was known for astonishing eastern readers by his outlandish exaggerated accounts of pioneer life. Chadron people shrugged the news report – they knew Mr. Maher. The outlandish idea was picked up by the eastern media and Europe accepted the idea as fact. Letters poured into Chadron from all over asking for race details.

Town leaders met and elected a committee to set up rules for ‘the race.’ It would begin at the Blaine Hotel. All entries must ride western horses, with a western saddle and equipment. An entry fee of $25 was charged. The purse was $1,000. Local businesses provided prizes to their favorite cowboys. Lowenthals gave Doc Middleton a cowboy hat and spurs.

The president of the American Humane Education Society was the most outspoken critic and the most misinformed spokesman. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Parent American Band of Mercy were influential and vocal spokesmen opposing the race also. The humane society groups tried to stop the race but eventually agreed to provide two representatives, one a veterinarian, to ride the route on a train and check the horses at every stop. At each location the horses were pronounced in excellent condition and well cared for. The riders didn’t look so good.

At 43, Doc Middleton, a reformed horse thief, was Chadron’s favorite. John Berry was ruled disqualified because he had been a railroad scout and helped lay out the race route stopping places. He stubbornly rode anyway and had his stops verified. Buffalo Bill Cody put up $500 and said he would recognize Berry as a contestant. Joe Gillespie at 58 was the oldest and heaviest rider at 185 pounds. Teenager Dave Douglas got sick and had to drop out.

The cowboys were given extravagant titles like Cockeyed Bill, Dynamite Jack, Rattlesnake Pete, Snake Creek Tom and the “boldest all-around bad man” outlaw Doc Middleton were listed as early contestants. Some said the cowboys would be booed along the way. Cowboys and their horses were greeted and treated to rest and meals as they traveled. Some bands played and provided escorts to lead them through their towns.

Berry came in first, but was not an official winner. The official record announced Joe Gillespie the winner and Charles Smith second place. The money put up by Chadron was divided with finishing contestants excluding Berry. He was given a cut of the Buffalo Bill award money however. Doc Middleton dropped out and took a train to finish still he was included in the race payoff.

The valiant efforts by these country cowboys and their horses have never been beaten. The tough qualities of the western horse and riders were recorded and noticed. Both gained respect and admiration worldwide. Chadron was on the map.

The race information, pictures and the hide of Gillespie’s the winning horse are displayed in the Dawes County museum three miles south of Chadron. The memory of the race continues. Chadron is recognized as the race origin. Cowboys and horses still abound in rural Dawes County.

Years later a group of Dawes County residents staged a recreation of the Chadron to Chicago race. They took their time and rested but made quite a splash. The media loved the riders and followed the action with pictures and stories for the duration.

Doc Middleton later was living in Wyoming where he died in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave. The others returned to their normal country lives around Dawes County.

On June 13, 1893, nine rugged rural Nebraska cowboys began a 1,000 mile race from Chadron to Chicago which put northwestern Nebraska on the map for the world. The race was delayed to straighten directives. When they began it was at a walk or slow trotting gait of the nine horses and their riders observed by a cheering town people of Chadron, Neb., their population swollen double to 4,000 people along the route.

The rugged race was harder on the men than the horses. Each rider was allowed two horses, one to ride and another to lead. Several turned lame and were left in stables for care along the way.

The idea began as a practical joke by the Dawes County clerk John G. Maher who was known for astonishing eastern readers by his outlandish exaggerated accounts of pioneer life. Chadron people shrugged the news report – they knew Mr. Maher. The outlandish idea was picked up by the eastern media and Europe accepted the idea as fact. Letters poured into Chadron from all over asking for race details.

Town leaders met and elected a committee to set up rules for ‘the race.’ It would begin at the Blaine Hotel. All entries must ride western horses, with a western saddle and equipment. An entry fee of $25 was charged. The purse was $1,000. Local businesses provided prizes to their favorite cowboys. Lowenthals gave Doc Middleton a cowboy hat and spurs.

The president of the American Humane Education Society was the most outspoken critic and the most misinformed spokesman. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Parent American Band of Mercy were influential and vocal spokesmen opposing the race also. The humane society groups tried to stop the race but eventually agreed to provide two representatives, one a veterinarian, to ride the route on a train and check the horses at every stop. At each location the horses were pronounced in excellent condition and well cared for. The riders didn’t look so good.

At 43, Doc Middleton, a reformed horse thief, was Chadron’s favorite. John Berry was ruled disqualified because he had been a railroad scout and helped lay out the race route stopping places. He stubbornly rode anyway and had his stops verified. Buffalo Bill Cody put up $500 and said he would recognize Berry as a contestant. Joe Gillespie at 58 was the oldest and heaviest rider at 185 pounds. Teenager Dave Douglas got sick and had to drop out.

The cowboys were given extravagant titles like Cockeyed Bill, Dynamite Jack, Rattlesnake Pete, Snake Creek Tom and the “boldest all-around bad man” outlaw Doc Middleton were listed as early contestants. Some said the cowboys would be booed along the way. Cowboys and their horses were greeted and treated to rest and meals as they traveled. Some bands played and provided escorts to lead them through their towns.

Berry came in first, but was not an official winner. The official record announced Joe Gillespie the winner and Charles Smith second place. The money put up by Chadron was divided with finishing contestants excluding Berry. He was given a cut of the Buffalo Bill award money however. Doc Middleton dropped out and took a train to finish still he was included in the race payoff.

The valiant efforts by these country cowboys and their horses have never been beaten. The tough qualities of the western horse and riders were recorded and noticed. Both gained respect and admiration worldwide. Chadron was on the map.

The race information, pictures and the hide of Gillespie’s the winning horse are displayed in the Dawes County museum three miles south of Chadron. The memory of the race continues. Chadron is recognized as the race origin. Cowboys and horses still abound in rural Dawes County.

Years later a group of Dawes County residents staged a recreation of the Chadron to Chicago race. They took their time and rested but made quite a splash. The media loved the riders and followed the action with pictures and stories for the duration.

Doc Middleton later was living in Wyoming where he died in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave. The others returned to their normal country lives around Dawes County.

On June 13, 1893, nine rugged rural Nebraska cowboys began a 1,000 mile race from Chadron to Chicago which put northwestern Nebraska on the map for the world. The race was delayed to straighten directives. When they began it was at a walk or slow trotting gait of the nine horses and their riders observed by a cheering town people of Chadron, Neb., their population swollen double to 4,000 people along the route.

The rugged race was harder on the men than the horses. Each rider was allowed two horses, one to ride and another to lead. Several turned lame and were left in stables for care along the way.

The idea began as a practical joke by the Dawes County clerk John G. Maher who was known for astonishing eastern readers by his outlandish exaggerated accounts of pioneer life. Chadron people shrugged the news report – they knew Mr. Maher. The outlandish idea was picked up by the eastern media and Europe accepted the idea as fact. Letters poured into Chadron from all over asking for race details.

Town leaders met and elected a committee to set up rules for ‘the race.’ It would begin at the Blaine Hotel. All entries must ride western horses, with a western saddle and equipment. An entry fee of $25 was charged. The purse was $1,000. Local businesses provided prizes to their favorite cowboys. Lowenthals gave Doc Middleton a cowboy hat and spurs.

The president of the American Humane Education Society was the most outspoken critic and the most misinformed spokesman. The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Parent American Band of Mercy were influential and vocal spokesmen opposing the race also. The humane society groups tried to stop the race but eventually agreed to provide two representatives, one a veterinarian, to ride the route on a train and check the horses at every stop. At each location the horses were pronounced in excellent condition and well cared for. The riders didn’t look so good.

At 43, Doc Middleton, a reformed horse thief, was Chadron’s favorite. John Berry was ruled disqualified because he had been a railroad scout and helped lay out the race route stopping places. He stubbornly rode anyway and had his stops verified. Buffalo Bill Cody put up $500 and said he would recognize Berry as a contestant. Joe Gillespie at 58 was the oldest and heaviest rider at 185 pounds. Teenager Dave Douglas got sick and had to drop out.

The cowboys were given extravagant titles like Cockeyed Bill, Dynamite Jack, Rattlesnake Pete, Snake Creek Tom and the “boldest all-around bad man” outlaw Doc Middleton were listed as early contestants. Some said the cowboys would be booed along the way. Cowboys and their horses were greeted and treated to rest and meals as they traveled. Some bands played and provided escorts to lead them through their towns.

Berry came in first, but was not an official winner. The official record announced Joe Gillespie the winner and Charles Smith second place. The money put up by Chadron was divided with finishing contestants excluding Berry. He was given a cut of the Buffalo Bill award money however. Doc Middleton dropped out and took a train to finish still he was included in the race payoff.

The valiant efforts by these country cowboys and their horses have never been beaten. The tough qualities of the western horse and riders were recorded and noticed. Both gained respect and admiration worldwide. Chadron was on the map.

The race information, pictures and the hide of Gillespie’s the winning horse are displayed in the Dawes County museum three miles south of Chadron. The memory of the race continues. Chadron is recognized as the race origin. Cowboys and horses still abound in rural Dawes County.

Years later a group of Dawes County residents staged a recreation of the Chadron to Chicago race. They took their time and rested but made quite a splash. The media loved the riders and followed the action with pictures and stories for the duration.

Doc Middleton later was living in Wyoming where he died in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave. The others returned to their normal country lives around Dawes County.