SI Vault
John O'Reilly
December 18, 1961
When the male citizens of the small, sunbaked town of Beatty, Nev. shaved off their beards after the recent World's Championship Wild Burro Race, the faces underneath the festive hair bore expressions of mixed dismay and determination. The dismay came from the now-evident fact that the committee had made some horrible mistakes in planning the great burro race. Regardless, the 385 residents of Beatty, who all worked hard on the race, are determined to stage the affair again next year, and every year, until Beatty is known as the burro-racing capital of the world.
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December 18, 1961

The Great Burro Derby

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"You get acquainted with your burro as you go along, don't you?" a lady asked a sweating wrangler.

"Yes, lady, he just kicked me as we topped that rise," concurred the wrangler.

The motorized chuck wagon equipped with a loudspeaker was on hand at Daylight Pass, elevation 4,317 feet, where the first day's run ended. Deputy Sheriff Glen Henderson of Nye County squatted on top of the truck with a microphone and kept up a running comment on the race. Glen made a real hit.

"The town of Beatty has long been known for its burros, and their descendants live there today," he would say, and the crowd would roar. One man said that Glen was so good he could have sworn he was reading from a script. Glen kept putting in plugs for Beatty, the Park Service, the Lions Club and everybody connected with the affair.

"There's no counting of the hours that has went to prepare this thing," he summed up.

When the wranglers from Apple Valley first showed up they were the objects of sly derision. They didn't look like burro wranglers. They hadn't grown beards nor did they wear boots, big hats, loud jackets or heavy clothing. They were dressed light. Instead of big hats they wore handkerchiefs or light caps to keep the perspiration out of their eyes. The Apple Valley gang wore sneakers, and one of them, Jim Gorrell, even wore a pair of skimpy breeches that resembled toreador pants. But beneath his pretty pants Gorrell sported a pair of powerful legs.

The knowing grins of Beatty supporters faded soon after the start of the race. Donnie Wilson of Apple Valley streaked out far ahead of the pack, and right behind him was Jim Gorrell. Their burros would balk now and then just like all the others, but when the animals decided to run, the boys from Apple Valley went like the wind. In contrast, local wranglers, their booted feet festooned with blisters, were often seen being dragged along by their burros. Badwater Bill, a professional oldtimer who resembled a Santa Claus in a prospector's outfit, started out bravely but ended the first day riding in the rear seat of a big sedan. Against the Apple Valley upstarts Badwater Bill never had a chance.

The second day's run was a 20-mile downhill stretch from Daylight Pass to the sand dunes in Death Valley. Going downhill proved even harder than going up. The boots of the Beatty boys slipped on the rocks while the blisters grew and their feet swelled. That was the day that Dick Stone's burro decided he wanted no more of the race. Dick was dragged, kicked and bitten. He was tromped on, butted and scratched up something awful. Other wranglers fared almost as badly. When this grueling second day was over there were only 17 of the original 39 wranglers left in the race. And, to make it worse, the invaders from Apple Valley had increased their lead still more.

The last day's run, a nine-mile stretch from the sand dunes to Stovepipe Wells Hotel, found the bulk of the wranglers in bad shape. Once again the crowd gathered and whooped as a volley of pistol shots put the race in motion. And once again there was little joy for the Beatty boosters at the finish. The winner, Donnie Wilson of Apple Valley, covered the 46-mile course in a total elapsed time of 6 hours 47 minutes and 54 seconds. Runner-up Jim Gorrell of Apple Valley made it in 7:25:28, and third-place Mike Kinney of Apple Valley was clocked in 8:09:09. Then, after a space of time that seemed like eternity, the first clot of Beatty wranglers hove in sight on the rim of the desert.

Although the race already had been won, the local wranglers struggled on for the honor of Beatty. The crowd tried to keep up a front by cheering each time a footsore, exhausted wrangler stumbled across the finish line.

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