The following story was told to me by the late Lloyd Bird (White Turtle) back in 2011. Lloyd was a great horseman and cowboy who thought this story should be preserved in writing for future generations, asking for my help. He in turn heard the story from the late Wesley Whiteman, a very traditional ceremonial man, the last of the Northern Cheyenne contraries, who by the way was a grandfather to me. Also, the late Bisco Spotted Wolf, also a legendary Northern Cheyenne cowboy and Chief told this story. The Cheyenne are very careful to qualify oral history stories such as this one – that way we know it is true and actually happened.
When transcribing oral history stories, it is essential to get things correct. Thus, this story is related as Lloyd told it.
Maybe you have seen the movie “Sea Biscuit”, a little racehorse who started out life in a hard way, but due to his big heart went on to become a champion, rarely getting beat. Guess what? There was a Cheyenne horse just like that back in the 1930’s and 40’s. His name was Hobo.
They say “Hobo” was very small (about 14 hands) and a line-back buckskin. Maybe he was small because he was an orphan. Back then, some white people were driving some horses through the Northern Cheyenne reservation, the Muddy District. A mare had a colt along the way which was too little to make the trip (they were headed to Miles City). Rather than knock it in the head (Yikes, glad that didn’t happen), the white people asked an old Cheyenne man, Grover Wolfvoice who lived nearby if he would like to have it. Of course, Grover said “Yes” and named the little feller Hobo – a little traveler without a home.
The colt survived because of a milking goat. Grover walked many miles to trade for one so the little colt could survive. The goat would climb onto a platform on the porch so Hobo could nurse. Even when Hobo was grown up, he liked to get up on the porch, Lloyd laughed. That goat’s milk must have been good stuff because Hobo grew to have “wings on his feet”. He could run so fast it looked like he was flying.
The Cheyenne word for horse is “Mo-eh-naugh” (phonetic spelling) meaning an elk with no horns. The first time the people saw a horse it looked like that to them and was probably running away really fast which amazed them. Ever since, the Cheyenne have loved a good horse race.
At that time, most of the people were still getting around on horseback, using wagons too. Most were too poor to afford cars, trucks, etc.
Lloyd told how there used to be a big rodeo arena and racetrack right in Lame Deer, where the Tribal office now stands. “Horse racing, especially match races (one on one) was a big deal then. People would make big bets, like a wagon filled with goods. The Crows and Cheyenne had a big rivalry.”
Hobo started his career right in Lame Deer, winning handily. After that he never lost a race!
It was quite a career, making Hobo famous across southeastern Montana, including among non-Indian race fans. He raced and won at Crow Fair, Forsyth Fair, Miles City, Sheridan and even Rapid City. Hobo must have been in good shape because he walked to all those races because he walked to everyone, either tied behind a wagon or sometimes pulling it. In his spare time, Hobo was used for logging and even plowing. By the way, his jockey was a young Cheyenne teenager who got along just fine with the flying machine.
Because he won all the time, it wasn’t long before nobody wanted to “match” their horses against Hobo. They didn’t want to lose their money, goods or what Lloyd called “face”.
Then, the Cheyenne had to get crafty. Lloyd told some funny stories about that. One time a white guy from Miles City who had some good race horses came to Ashland. He had some good runners, wanted to beat the Cheyenne at their own game and take their money. But he refused to race Hobo. What he didn’t know is that Hobo was there, hitched to a wagon, disguised as a “plug.”
After some close races, the Cheyenne teased the white guy. “Even our team horses can beat yours” and pointed to Hobo.
The white guy fell for it and the old Cheyenne still laugh about that today. For of course Hobo won. Times were tough, but Hobo gave them a reason to feel proud.
Another time, they painted Hobo with black shoe polish, making him look like a paint in order to get him in a match race. Hobo won, but got sweaty. When the shoe polish started dripping, the Cheyenne had to do some fancy talking. Horse racing was serious business. They wound up giving the winnings back and that was Hobo’s last race. It sure makes for a “goot” story though.
Hobo lived for a long time, almost thirty years. In his older age, he became a favorite hunting horse for Elmer Brady, another older Cheyenne man. Maybe by then Hobo had slowed down a bit, or maybe he just ran the deer down.
So there you go, a story about the Cheyenne Sea Biscuit – a little horse with a big heart and “wings on his feet”.
Hopefully those wings carried him right up to horse heaven in next camp. I wish I could have seen him. Don’t you?
(Clara Caufield can be reached at email@example.com)
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