The Great Horse Race of 1908 comes to an end

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Henry Gordon rode from Texas into Pagosa Country driving a herd of longhorns with the O’Neal family in 1876. He settled on the upper Piedra near the O’Neals in an area still called O’Neal Park. Gordon Creek runs off of Pagosa Peak and into O’Neal Park as a reminder of Gordon’s homestead.

This week we conclude the story of the Great Horse Race of 1908 sponsored by the Denver Post. The race started in Evanston, Wyo., and ended in Denver. All manner of horses were entered, but a big, raw-boned mustang from Wyoming was favored and took the early lead. Almost unnoticed at the start was William Kern, a onetime pioneer sheriff in Archuleta County who was now 50-years-old and riding a mustang at least 30 years old.

We’ve already recounted the first five days of the race, which ended with the Wyoming cowboy called Charlie Workman in the lead on his favored mount Teddy followed by “Old Man Kern” on Dex. A few days earlier Workman’s lead had been over 30 miles. Now Kern and others were closing in. Did Kern and Dex have a chance? Maybe Teddy had been pushed too hard and was wearing out.

By the end of the eighth day, Workman was still in the lead. Close behind was a cowboy from Colorado named Dode Wykert on a horse named Sam, Old Man Kern on Dex, and two other riders.

According to one newspaper account, the riders were in the Brighton-Henderson area on their way to Denver when the officials declared all bets were off and the race a tie. Because the horses were worn out, Wykert and Workman were ordered to walk into Denver side by side led by an automobile.

As the two riders approached the finish line applauded by as many as 25,000 spectators, Wykert manipulated Sam around the car and over the finish line first. Nevertheless, Wykert and Workman were declared tied for first and Old Man Kern finished third.

A different article published in “The World Today” magazine reported the following order of finish: Wykert first, Workman second, a man named Edwards third, Kern fourth, Castro fifth, and Lee sixth.

A third article describes the finish this way: “As the procession turned on Champa and moved down the street to the finish line in front of the Denver Post, Wykert and Sam tried to pass the car. The driver prevented their first effort, but as they neared the finish, 25,000 spectators got a thrill when Wykert neatly out-maneuvered the leading automobile and Sam scooted across the line first! Some 523 miles in less than seven days! Sam and Teddy were declared tied for first; Clipper, Dex, and Bluebell, all broncs, were judged second, third, and fourth.

“The reception was tremendous. Dode Wykert was officially declared Colorado’s greatest horseman. The bronc, Sam, was easily in best condition, so the Wykert brothers picked up the $300 ‘best condition’ award. Dode also received a silver-trimmed saddle, two pairs of boots, and many other gifts. Sam’s own personal reward was the rare privilege of grazing on the state capitol lawn the following day.”

And, of course, Pagosa pioneer Kern, riding 30-year-old Dex— whose full-time job was pulling a milk wagon in Pueblo — was no slouch with his third-place finish.

This story was posted on July 27, 2017.