THE GREAT VELOCIPEDE RACE
This account of "The Great Velocipede Race" is taken from _Billy
King's Tombstone: The Private Life of an Arizona Boom Town_ by grass-roots
historian C. L. Sonnichsen, originally published in 1942. As noted in the
book's introduction, Billy King "was a cowboy, gambler, saloonkeeper, and
peace officer in his younger days. He lived at Tombstone from 1882 to 1905
and saw the worst and the best of the wild old times. His reminiscences
form the backbone of this book, though all additional sources including
the Tombstone and Tucson papers and the memories of many an old-timer have
been combed for verification and for additional facts."
At the time he set his world's record Billy King was just another tough Arizona cowboy and never imagined that he had any unusual gifts. He had been a ranch foreman, gambler, and peace officer, and at the moment was working as a deputy out of Sheriff John Slaughter's office in Tombstone. He was a good shot and a crack rider. He could dunk his long black mustache in quarts of whiskey without seeming to be drunk. His leathery little body had weathered many a rough-and-tumble. He was a tough hombre; but he never suspected how great a man he was until the race was over.
It started something like this:
One bright May morning in 1888 Tommy Lyons stepped into the bar of the Timmer Hotel in the bustling little mining and cattle town of Silver City, New Mexico. He didn't know it, but he was about to make history.
He might not have been disturbed if he had known it, for he had been making history in a small way ever since he could remember. He was a partner in the great Lyons and Campbell Cattle Company with headquarters at the palatial "White House" some sixty miles from Silver City, and his acres stretched from the mouth of Duck Creek to above Mule Springs on both banks of the Gila River. Every water hole and meadow within a day's ride of the ranch headquarters was in possession of a Lyons and Campbell henchman, and any nester who tried to horn in found the going very rocky.
His short, square-built figure, his stiff black hair and mustache just sprinkled with grey, his fiery temper and loud voice were as well known in his part of the Southwest as frijoles in Mexico. He could have posed for a portrait of the traditional old-time cowman--energetic, violent, and ruthless, and at the same time loyal, generous, and warm-hearted. If he liked you, you could have his shirt. If he didn't--look out!
The thing he liked best in the world was making money, and next to that he liked spending it. He was a big sport as well as a big cattleman, and if he didn't have two or three mountainous bets waiting to be decided, he felt that he was frittering away his precious time.
Consequently when he set foot within the Timmer Hotel bar, he sniffed briefly at the familiar aroma of stale beer and looked eagerly around for someone to argue and possibly wager against. His eye brightened when he saw Jeff Clayton and Doc Bolton at the bar, nosing their way rapidly toward the bottom of their glasses and immersed in earnest debate.
They were a very lively pair, those two, and things usually began to happen when they turned up. Bolton was a nonpracticing physician, the black sheep of a good Texas farmily with representatives still living at Waco--a very smooth specimen, though surviving acquaintances describe him as "hare-brained." Dark, handsome, well-dressed, and flashing gold teeth when he smiled, he would never have been taken for the barroom character he was. Clayton was big and blond and talked with a cowboy drawl. He was a simpler soul than Bolton but acted as his partner in many ranching, drinking, gambling, and other enterprises.
Tommy joined them and also the argument.
"I say he can," declared Doc Bolton, holding back a hiccup.
"Can what?" inquired Tommy, scenting sport.
"Can beat any damn horse in the world."
"Mean to tell me you ain't heard of Ashenfelter, the velocipede speeder? Why he's world-famous--the best in the country."
"You mean you think he could outron a horse on one of them high-wheeled contraptions?"
"I know damn well he can. He's done it two or three times. Don't you ever read the papers?"
"That's right, he has," put in Jeff Clayton. "He's run against two good horses and beat 'em both, and I think like Doc here, he'll beat any horse ever was foaled if he gets a fair chance."
"Damn if he will!" shouted Tommy Lyons. "I say he can't, and I got a hrose and a man that'll beat him, only the man ain't here."
"You get your man here and I'll ger Ashenfelter," roared Jeff Clayton. "I've got five thousand head of Mexican cattle that says you're wrong."
"You're on!" Lyons took fire at once. "I'll put two thousand head of my own stock up against your five thousand crowbaits in Sonora."
"The hell you will! I'll take thirty-five hundred!"
It took almost a full day of happy wrangling to get the details adjusted.
The five thousand head of Mex cattle were to be wagered against their equivalent in Lyons' more valuable stock, and there was a side bet of a thousand dollars just to sweeten the pot. The race was planned at first for the Fourth of July, but the days slipped by and the men finally agreed that it should be run early in September. It was to be from the Timmer Hotel in Silver City to Harry Catlett's Cabinet Saloon in Deming, almost fifty miles away.
Some weeks later Billy King was going about his business in Tombstone when he was accosted at the door of the Oriental Saloon by a small and dusty cowboy with a big head, a long mustache, and a gamecock walk. Billy knew him at once. It was Betts Henderson, foreman of the Lyons and Campbell outfit at Silver City and three stiff days' ride from his headquarters. Six years before, on his way from Texas to Arizona, Billy had stopped off at the White House to take advantage of the well-known hospitality of Tommy Lyons and had thereby become acquainted with Betts's fighting disposition and barbed-wire tongue.
"How are you, old timer?" inquired Betts affectionately.
Billy at once became suspicious, knowing well that Betts never acted human unless he wanted something.
"Middlin'," he said with proper caution. "How is everything with the Lyons and Campbell outfit and how come they turned you loose from the ranch?"
"Tommy sent me after you. He wants you for a horse race. Anyway half a horse race. The other half is a velocipede."
"A velocipede. You know. One big wheel in the front and one little wheel behind, and if you once get on, you can ride like hell."
"What's it got to do with me?"
"Tommy wants you to ride against the velocipede. He's got a big bet on with Jeff Clayton and Doc Bolton--five thousand head of cattle and a thousand-dollar side bet. Tommy says to tell you he'll pay you a hundred and fifty dollars a month and expenses. If you win he'll give you the thousand too."
Billy was naturally bewildered by this proposition, but he was tempted.
"What's he got for me to ride?"
"Old Figure Two--meanest damn horse you ever see, but the best horse you ever forked."
"You know I'm in the Sheriff's office?"
"Sure, but John'll let you off. Come on, we'll go see him."
Next morning Betts and Billy were headed east. Deputy King, according to Sheriff Slaughter, had gone out of town on business. By the time he reached Silver City three days later he had become another person entirely. His name was now Johnny Hall; he had no strings attached and could devote all his time to horse training. As soon as his mount was taken care of at the Elephant Corral, he went to his own quarters at the Timmer Hotel and found that the place was absolutely his; he didn't even have to buy chewing tobacco. When Tommy Lyons told a man his expenses would be paid, he expected the expenses to amount to something.
The next day they brought Figure Two in from the ranch, and he and Billy looked each other over. There was no love lost on either side. Figure Two was a big cow pony, perhaps half standard bred, a shiny bay with a black mane and tail, a bundle of muscle and meanness without parallel in Billy's wide experience with horseflesh. He would kick a chew of tobacco out of your mouth when you were standing in front of him, said the Lyons and Campbell cowboys, and he would try to kill you every time you put the bridle on him. Billy knew at once that this was a horse in a million, but he was afraid it was going to take a man in a million to ride him.
Originally Figure Two had been known, with good reason, as Rattler, but in addition to the regular L. and C. brand on his hip he had a figure 2 branded on his neck which accounted for his nickname. Betts Henderson had found him very useful for some time past. Whenver Betts developed a grudge against one of his hands, he would order the man to "catch out Figure Two." If the cowboy rose the horse, Betts might swallow his grudge and keep him on, but if the Rattler threw him, he rolled his dough, as the waddies said.
A horse like that is not to be rleied on without severe training, and Billy started educating him right away. Every morning at the crack of dawn he would slip out of town on Figure Two's unwilling back and head down the road to Deming, uphill and down, through sandy arroyos and over rocky ridges. He would first pass the mining camp seven miles out, then Apache Tejo where the Head, Hearst, and Hagen Ranch had its headquarters, and so on to Hudson's Hot Springs, now Faywood, where Old Dick Hudson entertained health-seekers, gamblers, railroad surveyors, cowpunchers, and anyone else with a dime to spend. At Dick's saloon Billy would refresh himself and then start back. Sometimes at night he would take the horse over the same stretch again. The road between Silver and Hudson's Hot Springs was the worst part of the course, and at the end of the two-months' training period both horse and rider knew every pebble along the highway. Even so, Billy was none too confident of what Figure Two's behavior would be when the day of reckoning came.
As the weeks slipped by, the mental temperature of the male inhabitants of the region rose steadily. Everybody had a bet up; everybody was loud in his support of one side or the other. In general the nesters and small cattlemen were for the velocipede, mostly because they wanted to be on the opposite side of the betting from Tommy Lyons, whom they hated. Next to shooting his eyes out, their greatest pleasure in life would have been to bankrupt him. The big gamblers and ranchers were mostly betting on the horse. Herman Oelrichs, a well-known New York sportsman, happened to come down with a party just before the race and stopped at the White House. He laid his money heavily on Billy and Figure Two.
When Ashenfelter, the velocipede "speeder," came in, he ran the fever up a few degrees farther. He was a dark-skinned, Hebraic-looking fellow, a wiry athlete with all msucles including those of the speech organs in perfect condition. he boasted of his record, flashed a row of medals, sneered at the simple cow cultivators who doubted his ability, and displayed himself on his velocipede morning and afternoon. Often he took the road to Hudson's Hot Springs, riding beside Billy for a mile or two and then sprinting ahead with an airy wave of the hand.
"See you at Harry Catlett's," he would shout.
He stayed at the Timmer Hotel also, and he and Billy sometimes mentioned the race, though they never allowed the discussion to degenerate into argument.
"You're a nice fellow," confided Ashenfelter one evening over a lemonade which he was taking at the bar. "I hate to beat you, but you got as much chance against me as a snowball in July."
"If I was you," Billy advised him, "I'd wait and see if I could make it stick before I talked too much."
Ashenfelter roared with laughter, and Billy went off to bed, a wicked gleam in his eye.
Meanwhile all precautions were being taken. Figure Two was kept in a box stall. A few feet from the stall a wooden fence was erected as additional assurance that the horse would not be tampered with. A stable boy slept inside the fence, and Billy was very particular about the identity of that stable boy. He fired the first one offered him because he was afraid the fellow could be fixed. Sometimes Billy himself slept beside the horse, and no hand but his ever touched the animal or offered him food. Figure Two got his rolled barley, his small portion of alfalfa, and his block of salt from Billy personally.
Of course there had to be a few diversions to break this monastic existence. Billy played monte most of the day and a couple of Silver City fillies a good share of the night, with indifferent success in each case. Tommy Lyons was with him most of the time for fear somebody might try to get at the rider as well as the horse.
July and August passed; September arrived. The day of the race was fixed for the fourteenth. Long before that date the news had spread far and wide and drawn in sporting enthusiasts from other towns. About the middle of August the Silver City _Enterprise_ got wind of what was going on and published such facts as it could secure or invent. A great deal of interest was at once aroused in the theory and practice of cycling. Said the _Enterprise_ on Aug. 17, "J. W. Neill of El Paso, who rides a Star bicycle, and R. S. Dimmick, who rides an American Champion, will make a trip over the road today starting this morning on their toothless steeds."
Local horse owners were not behind the bicycle enthusiasts in displaying interest. Several men with good horses talked of putting a mount into the race to show up both Rattler and the velocipede. One man--some say he was a Mexican named Cipriano Baca; others that he was a Mormon--actually groomed a pinto pony and got him into the contest. There were no large bets on this horse. His owner just wanted to see what he could do.
Quietly and unobtrusively, as is sometimes the way with historic happenings,
the day of the race arrived, a perfect morning for the purpose--a little
cool but without a breath of wind and bright with autumn sun. Long before
time to start the crowd began to arrive. Miners arrived in buckboards and
spring wagons from Santa Rita, from Pinos Altos, from Hanover. Whole families
hitched or saddled up and came in from outlying ranches. One party with
more money than sense chartered a special train in order to follow the
struggle, which would take place, for most of the distance, within sight
of the tracks. The town filled up, and spectators began to take positions
along the road to Hudson's Hot Springs. By ten o'clock they were lined
up for twelve or fifteen miles, and at Dick Hudson's palce there were guests
enough to fill to overflowing the broad _portales_ around the adobe establishment.
It was the same at Deming, the other end of the course. The whole Southwest
was apparently in a state of ferment. Perhaps some had visions, if the
velocipede won, of cowboys going about their business on bicycles. At any
rate, they were all on hand to see the race.
The least excited man in the crowd was Johnny Hall, known to his friends as Billy King. He had talked his strategy over with Tommy Lyons time and again and he knew what he had to do. He thought he could win if old Figure Two would just live up to expectations. If he didn't--but there was no use worrying about that!
At daybreak Billy was up as usual and sneaked his horse out for a little limbering-up. At ten o'clock he was in front of the Timmer Hotel waiting for the signal. Ashenfelter appeared with his shiny velocipede. The crowd surged and cheered. Numerous peace officers including Harvey Whitehill, Silver City's perennial sheriff, were out to hold the spectators in check. Every cowpuncher of the Lyons and Campbell outfit was there too to see that the way was kept open. A finishing touch was added when Mr. Hinman, a local merchant and amateur photographer, appeared with his apparatus and prepared to take a picture of the start.
"Are you ready?" chanted Jack Fleming, the mayor of Silver City.
"Ready," said Ashenfelter.
"Ready," said Billy.
Fleming raised his six-shooter and fired. Hinman snapped his shutter.
Immediately Billy King discovered a flaw in his calculations. He had conscientiously prepared his horse for all the emergencies he could think of, but he had forgotten about cameras and pistol shots. Figure Two was nervous when Mr. Hinman draped himself in black and began fussing with the interior of that peculiar-looking black box; then the pistol went off and he felt that it was time for him to let these peole know how he felt. Down went his head and up came his back. Billy thoughtlessly touched him with a spur and he nearly pitched himself to death before his rider finally got that stubborn head up in the air again and straightened him out down the road. By that time Ashenfelter's smoothly pumping legs and confident back were growing small in the distance. Billy restrained himself, however, and didn't push Figure Two very hard.
The worst of the road came at the start. It was cut by arroyos and offered a choice only between rocks on the one hand and sand on the other. Billy came up gradually and was close behind when they reached the mining camp seven miles out. The gulches were bad for about five miles more, and Billy proceeded to push Ashenfelter to the limit so that he would be winded when the good road opened up before them. Two or three times he urged Figure Two up alongside and each time Ashenfelter would grin broadly and spring ahead. He was very confident and showed no sign of fatigue. How he could climb those hills on his velocipede was a mystery to Billy, but he went up them like a mountain goat.
Figure Two showed signs of irritation at the strange machine which he couldn't get around. When he got alongside, he would hitch a hind leg suggestively as if to say he knew one trick that would put the infernal contraption out of commission. But Billy held his horse in and let Ashenfelter stay just a little ahead.
He was still ahead when they passed the crowded balcony at Hudson's Hot Springs, but by that time Billy was about ready to put his strategy into effect. What he had in mind was not a very sporting trick, but he, like most of us, was willing to forego a little sportmanship for a thousand dollars. The idea was to wait until Hot Springs and the last spectator were left behind. That would be at the beginning of the long smooth slope down to the Mimbres River and the town of Deming--twenty-two miles of plain sailing with a firm, gravelly road under the horse's feet. By putting the quirt to the horse and urging him to high speed, he would be throwing enough sand when he cut in ahead of the velocipede to knock the rider off the road.
The only hitch was Figure Two. His feeling about quirts was unpredictable. Sometimes he pitched until his rider nearly rattled to pieces. At Tommy Lyons' suggestion, Billy had given him plenty of whip and spur practice, but the horse had remained his old impulsive self. What would he do at the supreme moment? Billy could only try and see. He hit Figure Two with his quirt.
There was a moment of uncertainty. Figure Two lowered his head and got ready to throw his rider over the moon, but Billy pulled his head up, slashed him again, and they went out in front.
Now a horse has four hoofs which act very nicely as shovels when he picks up speed, and at fourteen or fifteen miles an hour anyone to his rear is going to be well massaged with pebbles. Figure Two had full-sized hoofs and did a good imitation of a desert sandstorm as he went by the velocipede. Ashenfelter gasped, ducked his head, and increased his speed, but Figure Two had plenty of reserve and Billy kept him in front. In fact, he took extra pains to stay directly in front so that Ashenfelter would have to drop back or take a beating.
An hour and a half later they came down the slope to the Mimbres River, which cuts the road a few miles out of Deming. The river bed was dry as a bone and knee-deep in sand. Billy slowed up for fear Figure Two might stumble as he hit the gravel; then as Ashenfelter came up rapidly he applied his spurs and peppered the unfortunate speeder again.
For a couple of miles the road ran more or less parallel with the river bed, crossing and recrossing. Billy ignored the highway and kept on throwing sand where the stream should have been running. Then the road swung up onto solid ground again, and a few minutes later he turned into the main street of Deming, the winner by two minutes and a half.
Ashenfelter began shouting as soon as he came in sight of town that he had been fouled--that Billy had deliberately stayed in front of him and peppered him with rocks as big as your fist. The crowd broke into an uproar. It was a foul! It wasn't a foul! You couldn't expect Billy to stay behind just to keep dust out of the man's eyes.! The Clayton and Bolton supporters were pretty tough and yearned for satisfaction, but the Lyons and Campbell boys were tougher, and nobody started a fight.
The men picked Billy off his horse, half conscious, and set him on the bar inside. They proceeded to pour drinks down him, but he was so exhausted he almost immediately keeled over and had to be carried up to bed in the Buffalo Head Hotel. Next day he awoke, shaky and weak. He knew it would be impossible to avoid a week's drunk if he stayed around, so within thirty-six hours of his arrival he was on his way back to Silver City, riding the same horse.
He had done forty-eight and one-tenth miles in three hours thirty-six and one-half minutes--a world's record for one man and one horse over such a distance. Stories about the race appeared in several sporting papers--the _Clipper_, the _Police Gazette_, the Chicago _Sportsman and Breeder_. For a while Billy was a celebrity.
Unfortunately, he remained a poor celebrity, for Jeff Clayton, pleading that his man had been fouled, refused to deliver his Mexican cattle. Tommy Lyons took down the thousand dollars which had been posted at Silver City, but that was barely enough to pay expenses, and Billy had to be satisfied with his three hundred dollars for two months' work, the proceeds of a few small bets of his own, and his brief hour of glory.
At that, the brief hour lasted for some time. For weeks sporting gentlemen continued to talk the race over again and arrange others in imagination. Jaw exercise was all the action ever taken, but interest in Figure Two and his rider was slow to die. For months cowpunchers riding into Arizona from New Mexico brought Billy news of "that there hoss you rid."
In 1890 people talked about the race again when Doc Bolton and Jeff Clayton, who were probably mixed up in some sort of plot agianst the Diaz regime in Mexico, killed a partner of their named Cavitt on a streetcar in Juraez, failed to escape, and were thrown into the Juarez jail. On Dec. 18, 1890, Bolton escaped in a Mexican army uniform with the connivance of friends in El Paso whose descendants still feel that the matter is too ticklish to discuss. He was later heard of in Colorado, while Clayton, who was not allowed to leave Mexico, settled in Chihuahua.
Again in 1917 the great race was brought to mind when Tommy Lyons was beaten to death and left in a bloody heap in the outskirts of El Paso after being lured away from home on a fake cattle deal.
In 1938, on the fiftieth anniversary of Billy King's feat, Southwestern papers reprinted the notice which originally appeared in the _Enterprise_. Not many people who saw that paragraph in the "Fifty Years Ago" column had ever heard of the episode which made such a stir in '88 or thought of it again after they laid the paper down. Why should they? In the day of the transcontinental airplane there is small need for anyone to concern himself with velocipedes or the exploits of one man and one horse.
But it_ was_ a good race.
(Special thanks to Phyllis Eccleston for sending us this article)
Horse - Bicycle Race
"St. Johns Herald" St. Johns, Arizona Territory.
27 Sept 1888
The much talked of horse-bicycle race from
Silver City to Deming
came off yesterday. Great preparations had been made for it. J. W.
Clayton, the man who backed the horse, paid $350 for a horse to Lyons &
Campbell. He has the reputation of being an ugly but tough beast and it
is said that several times he has made 40 miles in three hours. H. J.
Kennedy rode the bicycle for Doc Bolton. He holds the amateur
championship of Colorado and is a good rider. The general impression was
that the bicycle would beat and there was a great deal of money bet on
it. They got an early start, but it apparently was not early enough for
the bicycle, for the horse made the forty-nine miles into Deming in three
hours and forty-six minutes, while the bicycle took an hour and fifteen
minutes longer. Another horse, Wilson's pinto, traveled with Clayton's
horse and beat it a few minutes. Neither horse seemed the worse for his
trip. -- Lordsburg Liberal.
(Thank you to Rita Ackerman for sending this article to the Clanton Ranch)
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