Western fans know that every movie cowboy worth his hide had a trusty, four-legged saddle pal to help him tame the “reel West.”
Roy Rogers rode Trigger, Gene Autry had Champion and Hopalong Cassidy brought justice to the silver screen aboard Topper. But what about the frontiersmen of the real Wild West? Good and bad men alike had their favorite steeds, or at least thought enough of them to leave their names for history to record. Here are a few examples.
Among famed frontier scout Kit Carson’s equine sidekicks was a horse called Apache, noteworthy among several mounts he rode while serving as John Fremont’s messenger from California to Washington, D.C., in the 1840s.
A little claybank pony known as Charley carried George Catlin, whose paintings so vividly depict the early Plains Indian tribes. During Teddy Roosevelt’s ranching days in the Dakotas, his favored saddle horse was named Manitou. Texan Sam Houston often rode Bruin, a chestnut mule, but he also liked good horses and among his steady saddle pards were a gentle stallion called Old Pete and Jack, a horse that had no tail.
Wild Bill Hickok owned a couple of horses that he liked: Black Nell, a mare that died in 1870, and Buckshot. (Interestingly, Buckshot was also the name of actor Guy Madison’s appaloosa in the popular 1950s’ TV series Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok.)
Notorious gunman John Wesley Hardin knew good horseflesh and owned quite a few horses during his adventurous life. Rondo, a racehorse he purchased, won several races for the shootist and was much admired by him. Frank, a racehorse Hardin referred to as a “mile horse,” was his equine companion when in June 1874, he and his desperado compadre Jim Taylor (riding a quarterhorse called Dock) boldly charged into a large band of Texas Rangers. Frank was shot in the melee but was not seriously hurt, and he continued on in good stride. As Hardin later said of his four-legged friend, “Good horseflesh is a good thing in a tight [spot].”
Other outlaws, too, had mounts they put their trust in. Oklahoma Territory’s Bandit Queen rustler Belle Starr often rode Venus, a spirited black mare said to be her favorite. As can be imagined, brothers Frank and Jesse James had a number of horses. One of Frank’s best-liked equines was Dan, while Jesse rode a horse called Cyrock, although his hands-down favorite wore the moniker Red Fox. Jesse reportedly sold a horse named Katie to young Emmett Dalton, but it was a steed known as Red Buck that Dalton rode during his ill-fated raid on Coffeyville, Kansas, in 1892.
It’s been said that the highways of history are paved with the bones of horses, and the gunpowder trails of the Old West were certainly no different.