Riding the Range with Wild Horse Annie
Cross-posted from the Las Vegas Review Journal
Written by JOHN L SMITH
The battle over the fate of Nevada’s wild horses is one of the longest fights in state history. But until recently I wasn’t aware that a woman they called “Wild Horse Annie” was one of the driving forces behind the movement to have the majestic beasts federally protected.
Her real name was Velma Johnston. Back in 1950, she was a 38-year-old secretary living in Reno. On the way to work one day, she encountered a truck loaded with care-worn wild horses that were on their way to be slaughtered for pet food. That experience changed her life, and she began a long fight that eventually resulted in the passage of the first real federal protection for wild horses.
The horse enthusiast realized early the power of the press in promoting her crusade. Her good intentions traveled much further through the stories she received from newspapers from throughout the region. A breakthrough came in 1957, when Reader’s Digest published a laudatory article on Johnston’s battle with the Bureau of Land Management and the ranching lobby. She would be inundated with mail, some of it addressed to “Wild Horse Annie.”
Johnston wasn’t just after publicity. She pulled raids to free captured wild horses, but she knew the only way to ensure the animals would be protected was through federal intervention.
All that publicity helped lead to the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. The law was far from ideal, but its passage was an enormous victory that had come against very long odds. Read full story >>