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THE GREAT 1,000-MILE RACE FROM CHADRON TO CHICAGO!
Robert Cantwell
September 03, 1962
It started as a private joke in Nebraska, but soon the whole world was following the progress of a handful of cowboys across the badlands and prairies of the Midwest, en route to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. For good reasons of their own, Europe's military experts were especially interested in the results
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September 03, 1962

The Great 1,000-mile Race From Chadron To Chicago!

It started as a private joke in Nebraska, but soon the whole world was following the progress of a handful of cowboys across the badlands and prairies of the Midwest, en route to the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. For good reasons of their own, Europe's military experts were especially interested in the results

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Colonel Cody ran out to greet him, saying, "Berry, old man, I'm glad to see you! How do you feel?"

Berry replied in a hoarse whisper that couldn't be heard. He slowly lifted his leg over the saddle, stepped down and fell to the ground. He put his hand over his eyes, probably, said the Chicago News reporter, because they were swollen from lack of sleep. The cowboys of the Wild West show led Poison to a stable under the grandstand, treating "the noble animal" like a sick infant. They rubbed his joints with liniment and wiped his mouth with a sponge. Berry meanwhile had recovered his self-possession. "I'm all right," he said, "but dreadfully tired." He had covered the thousand miles (set later at 1,040) in 13 days and 16 hours, the last 130-plus in 24 hours and the last 80 miles in nine hours and a half. Humane society veterinarians examined Poison and pronounced him in fine shape.

"Western range horses," cried Buffalo Bill, "are the hardiest and best horses for cavalry use on the face of the earth!"

At 11:13 Emmett Albright, fresh and rested, galloped up on Outlaw. By this time, however, no one took the joker seriously. He was charged with having loaded his horse on a boxcar in Manchester, Iowa and again from De Kalb to the outskirts of Chicago.

Berry was given a drink, slept for half an hour on a sofa in Cody's apartment and appeared at a luncheon Cody had improvised for horsemen and reporters. The crowd continued to grow all day, until the adjoining streets were impassable. At 1:35 the luncheon was interrupted by shouting—Joe Gillespie had just ridden up on Billy Shafer. The fat man was in excellent spirits, and his horse was in better shape than Berry's Poison or Albright's Outlaw. "He's the best hoss I ever thro wed a leg over," said Gillespie. "Give him a little rest and two quarts of oats and he'll throw off another fifty miles this afternoon."

Twelve minutes later Charley Smith galloped up on Dynamite. He smiled cheerfully, but "limped a little when he dismounted." Either Smith or Gillespie might have beaten Berry. But the road they took from De Kalb to Chicago was several miles longer than that taken by Berry. Giving the humane society official the slip was costly. He was so angry that when he eventually caught them "he was not disposed to keep the pair from going wrong" when they took a longer route into Chicago.

Rattlesnake Stephens, who had just arrived in De Kalb, wired his protest against giving the prize to Berry, but the race committee decided in Berry's favor. Middleton, who left Freeport 11 hours behind Berry, reached De Kalb five hours behind Stephens and George Jones. The outlaw had lost his spirit; nothing more was heard from him.

The great Chadron-to- Chicago 1,000-mile race was called the most remarkable feat of endurance of men and horses to be found in the record books. There is some justification for the claim. The scheduled time of the Pony Express from St. Joseph, Mo. to Sacramento (1,980 miles) was eight days. Actual runs came to more than 11 days, though Lincoln's inaugural address was carried from St. Joseph to Sacramento in only seven days and 17 hours. But the Pony Express riders (Colonel Cody among them, in his youth) changed horses every 10 miles, and it was considered remarkable that they covered 75 miles a day. The riders in the cowboy race covered more than 70 miles a day every day for two weeks.

Had the race been carefully planned they could have made better time. But the control points were merely stations where humane society veterinarians examined the horses; otherwise, the cowboys found their own livery stables, feed and hotel rooms, or, like Joe Gillespie, slept in the open. These factors, together with the differences in the country traversed, made any comparison with the German-Austrian cavalry race academic. Yet it was obvious that as horsemen the cowboys surpassed the best of the European cavalrymen. In racing 360 miles the Germans and Austrians lost 30 out of 230 horses in a fair-weather cross-country ride. This was one-seventh of the total—pretty close to combat losses. The cowboys rode more than a thousand miles, much of the way through country as wild as could be readily found, killed no horses and brought some of them to Chicago in first-class condition.

What surprised the Americans about the German-Austrian race was the naivet� of the Europeans. The German and Austrian authorities really thought their cavalrymen had done something wonderful. Here the distances from one town to another were so great that a ride of 360 miles was commonplace. A cowboy's horse was his most prized possession, if not his only possession, and to lose one on a ride from, say, Denver to Santa Fe (367 miles) would have stamped the rider as a lunatic. The cowboy race was a triumph in another sense. John Berry became a renowned frontier figure for his exploit. Doc Middleton, disappointed by the failure of his honest endeavor, returned to crime and died in jail in Wyoming.

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