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Old Steamboat, the ‘Cheyenne Rule’ and Wyoming’s license plate

Old Steamboat, 1896-1914, was one of the very first great bucking horses and became world famous due to his later career with the touring Wild West shows. Born near Chugwater, Wyo., he spent his beginning years with the huge Swan Land and Cattle Company, was then purchased by John Coble of the Iron Mountain Ranch on the Laramie River drainage near Bosler, Wyo., northwest of Cheyenne and put in his bucking string.

Coble was one of Tom Horn’s best friends and supported him clear to the “hemp rope.” Horn’s earlier service was as an Army Scout and interpreter, a Pinkerton operative, then a cattle detective. On Nov. 20, 1903, he was hanged in Cheyenne for the murder of 14-year-old Willie Nichols, to which he claimed innocence to his demise.

Charlie Irwin, another of Tom Horn’s friends, then bought Steamboat and took him to fame. The early hot bed of matched bronc riding centered around the Cheyenne Frontier Days, started in the early 1890s, the Denver Mountain and Plains Festival and Laramie’s Albany County Fair.

Sired by a Percheron stallion and a hot blooded Mexican mare, he was a sun-fishing belly roller with his front legs in one direction and his hind legs in the other while in the air, then landing with stiff-legged jolts. He whistled like a steamboat, due to a broken bone in his nose as a result of hitting his head hard on the ground while being thrown to be gelded. He had a visible square nose from the injury.

Today’s Wyoming license plate is controversially believed to be taken from a 1903 photo by Professor B.C. Buffum of Guy Holt on Old Steamboat at the Laramie Albany County Fair. The plates are taken from Denver artist Allen True’s rendition, also believed to be just a composite of a bucking horse and rider.

Of the most likely, Jake Maring, Guy Holt or Sub Furlow, Holt is most agreed. Steamboat is undisputed as the bronc. The plates were first published in 1936. To be functional on a tin plate the horse only has one front leg and only one hackamore rope. Take notice the next time you see a Wyoming plate at a rodeo or shopping center.

Traveling with the Irwin Brothers Wild West Show, Steamboat got a very bad wire cut, spooked from a lightning-thunder storm at Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1914. Blood poisoning set in and at Cheyenne’s Frontier Park he was mercifully put out of his misery with the very same rifle that played a part in the death of 53 men. Shortly before Tom Horn’s hanging he gave it to his friend Charlie Irwin. Old Steamboat was buried in the Cheyenne dump.

Harvey Brennen of Sheridan, Wyo., one of Steamboat’s riders in 1901-02 was the first to “rake a bronc” from the shoulders to the saddle cantle in what was called “The Cheyenne Rule” that has become custom of today’s scoring system. Others just “tight legged and D-ringed” them to get by. I’m sorry to say that some of us still have to do that today. The “Cheyenne Rule” gives clue that it might have been the first rodeo to score rides that way, but I’m just guessing on that.

Dee Pickett, followed by Clayton Danks, perfected steer wrestling by biting the steer’s upper lip as they threw it. Clay stated, in respect, he always brushed his teeth first.

Here’s a list of some other great broncs of 1900 to 1940. Young Steamboat, a half brother to Old Steamboat, Teddy Roosevelt, Milbank, Red Wing, Regalong, changed to Cheyenne and given to Theodore Roosevelt, Tipperary – 1905-32, a high-rearing bronc from Camp Crook’s Harding County of South Dakota. Midnight – 1910-36, owned by Eddie McCarty of Canada and Five Minutes to Midnight from 1924-47. There was Tip-Top, Hells Angels came from the Learis Parks Ranch at Dillon, Mont., from 1927-42.

The 66th annual Match of Champions bronc riding is this coming Saturday, Aug. 6, at the natural bowl arena at Home on the Range near Sentinel Butte, N.D.

Check out those Wyoming license plates.

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