The brothers got into trouble about halfway to Santa Fe. As they were crossing a stretch of badlands, a black cloud suddenly arose, covering the sky. It began to hail. The boys got off and crouched under their horses' bellies. But the storm worsened and the hail increased in size. Even the unruffleable Sam Bass was becoming hard to hold and Temple's pony was whinnying and jumping. "That hail was about the size of a baseball," Temple says. "A chunk of it hit me on the head and even through my hat liked to knocked me cold. We were right out in the middle of a bald prairie—not a tree, not anything to find shelter under. But over to our right, about half a mile, was a low range of hills and Bud yelled at me he saw something looked like a hole in it."
They tore across the alkali flat and rode straight into a cave in the side of the hill. "It was so black you couldn't see your hand in front of your face," Temple says. "We were pretty beat up and pretty tired and I laid down right there and went to sleep. I don't know what would have happened to us if that cave hadn't been there, because the storm went on for hours."
As they traveled, word began to spread and, often, when they came to a town they found that the news of who they were and what they were doing had preceded them. "As a matter of fact," Temple says, "a lot of women were indignant about anyone letting two small boys cross the country a-horseback. Dad came out there to Santa Fe while we were visiting with the governor, and when he was going back on the train there was a bunch of women wanted to take him off and hang him. Of course Bud and I didn't think anything about it. We didn't know what it was to be scared. Wasn't old enough, I guess."
Except once. "We'd stayed with a ranch family and they showed us the direction to take next morning," Temple says. "The rancher told us if we saw a herd of horses, to give 'em a wide berth. Not to go within half a mile of 'em. What it was was a herd of mares that had been turned out with a big jack to get mules. Now a big jack, especially one with a herd of mares, will kill a horse. Horse hasn't got a chance. Anyway, we topped a little rise and there was the herd. I guess we didn't swing out wide enough because that old jack winded us and here he come. We put the horses in a run, but that jack was gaining. My little pony couldn't keep up and pretty soon the jack was breathing down my neck. I could hear him bawling and hee-hawing right behind me. I looked back and there he was, snapping his jaws. Looked about a foot wide. Bud dropped back and went to quirting my pony and Geronimo put on enough speed so that we got a little lead. Then Bud, who was always a level-headed lad, saw a fence up ahead with a gate. He yelled at me to come on and he put Sam Bass in a high run and got to the fence in time to open the gate for me to sail through and then he slammed it shut right in the face of that jack as he came tearing up. I tell you that scared me. It did."
It took the boys a little more than two months to make the round trip, including a week's stay with the governor of New Mexico. When they returned they discovered they were celebrities. In part, this was because of their famous father, Roosevelt's friend, but what they had done was looked upon as a staggering accomplishment for two children, riding through country that would give grown men pause. But that trip was only a tune-up.
The next year, 1910, Roosevelt, now an ex-President, was returning from a hunting trip in Africa and Jack Abernathy decided to go to New York to welcome him home. During Roosevelt's presidency Abernathy had been summoned to Washington on many occasions. Temple says that when his daddy was there, the President would dismiss his bodyguards, declaring that Jack Abernathy was all the protection he needed.
The boys didn't need any excuse to go to New York. Roosevelt's return was enough. On April 5 they saddled Geronimo and Sam Bass and rode out for New York. Again they took bacon, bread, oats and the checkbook. Along the way Louie cashed many checks for food and lodging, but they were to discover later that a lot of them were never turned in, people preferring to keep them as souvenirs.
Oklahoma had been a state for only three years and much of the eastern part was settled by Indians and inhabited by bandits and people who preferred seclusion. One night, riding late, the boys came on a solitary house on a prairie. Inside were half a dozen rough-looking men wearing guns. "They made us welcome." Temple says, "and took care of our horses and took us in the house. Wasn't any furniture, just an old wood-burning stove. For supper they killed a beef and we had fresh meat. Next day we noticed them following us a few miles back. They stayed with us all that day, newer coming any closer than a mile. A long time later, after we got back from New York, there was a letter there for Dad. the marshal. It was from the men, who said that they'd made us welcome and taken care of us and then seen us on through some territory that might have been a little risky. Said if Dad would come out. they'd give him a different kind of welcome. It was a gang Dad had been trying to run down for some time."
Before the boys could get out of Oklahoma, Geronimo began to fail. They had ridden hard one hot day and Geronimo had drunk too much water. The next day he started to founder. They made it in to Hominy, Okla., where one of Jack Abernathy's deputies lived. He took them out to a herd of about 40 horses and told Temple to pick one. Temple chose a paint horse that had only been ridden once. The boys stayed there for several days while Louie gentled the horse and then they left. Temple named the paint Wylie Haynes after the deputy. "He was the best horse I ever owned," Temple says. "Never gave me a moment's trouble, and we did get into some tight spots every once in a while."
North of Springfield, Mo., in the Ozarks, the boys were hit by a spring norther. What began as freezing rain turned into sleet and then into snow. They were miles from anywhere, with a cutting wind blowing. After a time they were forced to dismount and walk to keep from freezing to death. Icicles hung down from the brims of their hats and the horses' tails and manes were similarly coated. They walked for hours until they came to the town of Union. There was a hotel there, but it was now well into the night and it took a lot of hooting before they could rouse anyone. The clerk, who had gone to bed, couldn't believe that anyone could have survived such a night without shelter.