The race is on, with Billy Kern in the running

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
The Fourth of July being celebrated in Pagosa Springs in 1901. The Native American dancers include Jicarillas and possibly Utes and Navajos. The location is at the juncture of San Juan and Pagosa Streets in front of today’s courthouse.

We continue with Pagosa pioneer Billy Kern’s involvement in the Denver Post’s Great Endurance Horse Race in 1908 from Evanston, Wyo., to Denver, a distance of 600 miles. As we finished last week, the 25 horses lined up on Main Street in Evanston had just received the command to “Go!”

The first of many checking stations along the way was Carter, Wyo., about 47 miles from the starting line in Evanston. A rider by the name of Workman reached Carter by 10:30 a.m., followed closely by J.A. Doling riding Little Minnie. The winners of the first lap had averaged about 10.5 miles an hour.

The next station was Green River, about 65 miles beyond Carter. Workman checked into Granger, about halfway to Green River, at 4 p.m. Doling had dropped back, but Smith on Dick Turpin and a man named Trew on Little Archie were only eight minutes later. The three men drank two glasses of milk each and by 5 p.m. were on the road again. Several of the riders who came into Granger decided to spend the night.

Meanwhile, the front three pushed on. They were a varied lot, as different as their horses, and came from the states of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. One was on a big, black brute of a horse, one a gallant little Thoroughbred, and one on a sturdy, half-breed with the blood of the great track racer Electioneer in his veins. They stayed bunched most of the way.

Then Dick Turpin faltered, caught with cramps and colic. His rider, Jack Smith, had watered him too soon after feeding him a bucket of oats at Granger. He made it to Green River, but the vet there recommended that he drop out and Smith agreed.

Big Teddy and Little Archie led the way into Green River a little after 10 that night. Charlie Trew used a last-minute spurt that brought him into town first. He won a prize for covering the most distance in the least time in a single day’s run. The first two horses had covered 112 miles in a little over 12 hours. The checking officials were amazed at the freshness of the horses. The score for the day — two men 30 miles ahead of the field resting at Green River, two men out of the race, and the others resting at Granger.

On Sunday, May 31, the second day of the race, several of the Granger resters left town before daylight. Workman and Trew in Green River slept later, but left town together at a reasonably early time. Ahead of them was Wyoming’s Red Desert, the worst part of the race. Horses hooves sunk into the sand up to their fetlocks.

Teddy was moving in his long, swinging, tireless trot forcing Little Archie to break into a lope to keep up. They stopped together at a stable in Rock Springs for water, then moved on toward the next checking station at Point in the Rocks, a rough, tough 25 miles. They arrived at Station 2 together, spent an hour receiving their checkup, then moved on for the next destination, Bitter Creek.

On this stretch, Teddy ran Little Archie out of contention, but not out of the race. Workman and Teddy passed through Bitter Creek alone at 4:30 in the afternoon. Those who saw them pass through said Teddy was fighting the bit and trying to run. His rider, Workman, knew the next stretch was uphill to the Continental Divide, so he worked hard to keep him reined in.

Continued next week.

This story was posted on July 7, 2017.