Who’s the horse, who’s the rider . . . ?

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE was researched and written
By KRISTY GRAY
Staff Writer for the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune, published Sept 9, 2007
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Wyoming National Guard symbolWho is the horse and who is the rider in Wyoming’s iconic logo?

Ask the question, and you can expect any one of several different answers. It all depends on which corner of the Cowboy State you are standing.

The horse is Steamboat. The horse is Deadman. The horse is Red Wing.

And the rider? Well it’s probably “Grandpa.”

“About once a year, I will have a student or someone writing to me that they were told by a family member that Grandpa was on the bucking horse. And sometimes they will have a photograph of a horse doing just what the horse is doing on the license plate,” said University of Wyoming history professor Phil Roberts.

The image of the cowboy, one hand in the air, holding onto a fierce bronco for dear life, has become Wyoming’s one unifying symbol.

Who wouldn’t want to lay claim to its creation?

Three theories seem to have the strongest claim to the logo. Each offers a viable version of history that put Wyoming on the map — and the state quarter — as a truly wild place. Which one is true? The answer may be as hard to grasp as Steamboat himself. Or Deadman. Or Red Wing.

Version 1: A symbol for National Guard Troops in World War I

When commanders asked for a unifying symbol for the entrenched Wyoming National Guard during World War I, George N. Ostrom picked up a paintbrush and drew a bucking bronco.

The bronco was his horse, Red Wing: a beautiful red sorrel with white socks, a white face and a silver mane and tail.

Ostrom first spotted Red Wing at the Sheridan Rodeo in 1913, according to a 1958 article he wrote for “The Annals of Wyoming.”

The red sorrel colt had jumped the fence and joined his mother in the half-mile horse race. Ostrom bought the colt for $10.

Then Ostrom was called to war. He was a member of the Wyoming National Guard’s E. Battery, 3rd Battalion, 148th Field Artillery Brigade. He rode Red Wing from his Big Horn Ranch to Sheridan. He’d hoped to send Red Wing back with a friend.

“But that was where life changed for the both of us,” Ostrom wrote in the article.

“I was young, the horse was young and we were full of different kinds of fun; sometimes the fun got the better of us.”

Instead, he decided to take the horse with him to Cheyenne. Charged with loading the transport train’s baggage cars, he made a makeshift stall and sneaked Red Wing on board. He snuck him on another train when the company later shipped to North Carolina.

A National Guard captain took a liking to Red Wing and assured Ostrom that he would accompany the other remounts overseas.

But Ostrom’s regiment was split. He was stationed in Bordeaux, France. Red Wing was sent with another non-combat battalion.

While Ostrom was stationed on the Chateau-Thierry defensive, he heard of an order to design a symbol that could unite the Wyoming Guard and rally them in the field.

Ostrom had an image in mind.

On a quiet day, he borrowed a brush and painted the image on a drum rim. It depicted a bucking Red Wing and a cowboy holding on for dear life. It soon emblazoned the company’s helmets, big guns and other equipment.

The company became known as “the bucking bronco regiment from Wyoming.”

Even today, the Wyoming National Guard uses the bucking bronco symbol.

Every time a unit leaves from Wyoming to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan, or anywhere in the world, we give them two things: One is a state flag, and the second is an ‘Entering Wyoming’ sign,” said Wyoming Adjutant General Ed Wright. The sign carries Wyoming’s bucking horse and rider.

At the end of the war, Ostrom went to find Red Wing. He found him in a French equitation school in Tours, France. Ostrom could not afford the $1,500 it would take to ship him home, and he sold him to the school.

He was always glad Red Wing never had to go to the front lines.

Ostrom died in 1982 at 94 years old. His son, George N. Ostrom Jr., lives in Sheridan

“We value it very much. That’s where the bucking horse come from,” Ostrom Jr. said.

The Ostroms never disputed other claims to the horse and rider logo commissioned by Secretary of State Lester Hunt in 1935 for the Wyoming license plate. But neither do they doubt their own story has a place in the logo’s history.

In June 1973, Wyoming Gov. Stan Hathaway issued a commendation identifying Ostrom as the creator of the first-known bucking horse logo, worn by members of the Wyoming National Guard during World War I.

Version 2: Steamboat is the horse, but who is the rider?

It’s tempting to link Wyoming’s most famous horse — a tornado of a bronco throwing riders from his back for nearly 13 years — with the bucking horse in the logo. But is Steamboat really the horse?

Some say he is. Others say he is not.

* ‘It’s Steamboat’: Several pictures of Steamboat, born near Bosler in 1901, show a fierce bronco with an equally fierce buck. Some legends claim he got his name because the snorting from his nostrils in mid-buck sounded like the whistle of a steam engine.

University of Wyoming athletics director Deane Hunton reportedly saw a picture of Guy Holt riding Steamboat and had it made into a logo for UW athletic teams in the early 1920s.

A statue honoring the symbol and UW’s early logo, named “Fanning a Twister,” sits in front of War Memorial Stadium in Laramie.

* ‘It’s not Steamboat’: The Fremont County version of the story claims that the rider is “Stub” Farlow. If that’s the case, some speculate the horse is actually Deadman, another famous Wyoming rodeo horse. A famous picture of Farlow riding Deadman was taken at a rodeo in Idaho Falls.

Hunt was also from Lander — which might appear to give this theory some legs.

But later, as a U.S. senator, Hunt wrote a letter to Lola Homsher, then director of the State Archives and Historical Department: “Many stories have appeared in the press from time to time — their origin I do not know — saying that the bucking horse license plate was a certain horse and the rider was Mr. Farlow. Such is not the case, but I did have ‘Stub’ Farlow in mind when designing the plate.” The letter also said the horse was not Steamboat.

Other cowboys have also been linked to the rider in other versions of the story.

Version 3: It’s a composite of horses and riders.

These are the undisputed facts:

* Secretary of State Lester Hunt paid Denver artist Allen True $75 to draw the bucking horse and rider.

* The logo appeared on the Wyoming license plate in 1936.

* Similar bucking bronco logos were used by both the Wyoming National Guard and the University of Wyoming athletic teams beginning in World War I.

So who gets the credit? Everyone and no one.

Most likely, the image is a composite of many horses and many riders Hunt had seen before.

Just look at the photographs of the time, suggests Roberts.

Roberts took a trip to the Wyoming State Archives in Cheyenne after a conversation with a cowboy active in Wyoming rodeo after World War I. The cowboy showed him a picture of himself on a bucking bronco — and it looked strikingly similar to the logo on the Wyoming license plate.

As it turns out, many pictures from the era look this way — a rider with one hand in the air on a horse seemingly jumping on three legs.

It’s just the way bucking broncs often come out of the chute. And the photographers “would, of course, want to shoot pictures as quick as they could because just a few seconds later, the cowboy might be on his head,” Roberts said.

Roberts believes Hunt saw the logo many times before — either at rodeos or in pictures from rodeos.

“That’s my theory. It’s the sort of universal logo that could be pictured anywhere in Wyoming,” Roberts said. “Every corner of the state could have photographs of cowboys riding in that fashion.”

So, what is the name of the horse and who is the rider in Wyoming’s famous bucking horse and rider logo?

The definitive answer is there is no definitive answer.

True himself said he designed the logo as instructed and had no specific horse or rider in mind.

But the debate will likely continue. The symbol resonates within Wyomingites, and families often prize and fiercely defend their role in this piece of our history.

“I think it is because it is a universal symbol. It’s one of the few symbols that we all share,” Roberts said.

Roberts was on the committee that helped pick the logo for Wyoming’s state quarter.

“The unifying symbol is the cowboy on a bucking horse. It fits anywhere. Everybody can claim to it and take credit for it.”

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