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Wyoming State Museum
Barrett Building
2301 Central Avenue
Cheyenne, Wy 82002
(307) 777-7022

Featured Artifact

Original Drawing of Bucking Horse and Rider

Category: Artworks


A-1948.38.2

As more Americans purchased automobiles in the early 20th century, license plate counterfeiting became a common practice. To overcome this problem in Wyoming, then Secretary of State Lester C. Hunt came up with the idea of developing a unique plate that could be changed as necessary. Hunt wanted the new license plate design to be ready by 1936 and settled on the idea of a bucking horse and rider symbol being part of the plate.

No one knows for sure where the idea for Hunt’s bucking horse and rider originated. Lester Hunt himself never mentioned being influenced by earlier bucking horse and rider symbols, but some believe the example drawn in World War I by Sergeant George N. Ostrom of Wyoming’s 148th Field Artillery Regiment was what gave the secretary of state the idea. Ostrom was a Sheridan area cattle rancher who submitted a sketch of a bucking horse and rider for use as an identification symbol by his Wyoming regiment. It was used in varying forms for decades. Another story contends that a 1903 photo of the well-known bucking horse Steamboat trying to throw off cowboy Guy Holt was used by athletics director Deane Hunton as the model for the University of Wyoming athletics department symbol. This design was in use by the 1920s, and this may have been the seed for the symbol that appears on Wyoming’s license plates.

Regardless of its origins, Hunt pushed ahead with the bucking horse and rider idea over the objections of some colleagues. By mid-1935, the legal papers needed for designing the plate were ready. Hunt called Allen T. True, who had painted murals for both the house and senate chambers of Wyoming’s state capitol, and asked to meet with him to discuss the idea. True came to Cheyenne one Sunday morning from his home in Littleton, Colorado and listened to Hunt explain his concept. True returned a week later with the drawing and received $75 for his efforts. The secretary of state later spoke of the importance of having Allen True make the drawing stating, “. . . Mr. True, through his knowledge of art, understood what design could be stamped out in steel and retain its identity at some distance. He therefore made the drawing with only one bridle rein, and only one front leg on the horse and with only one rider’s foot.” The plate was an instant success. Its primary drawback was that it proved a popular souvenir target for thieves - the plates were often stolen.

The origin of the bucking horse and rider symbol is not the only debate surrounding Wyoming’s license plate. The question most often asked is who are the horse and rider supposed to represent? As mentioned above, many people believe the rider is Guy Holt and the horse is the famous Steamboat that appeared in rodeos in the early 20th century. Steamboat is supposed to have had an accident that damaged his nasal cavity which gave him a distinctive whistling sound when he breathed. Only a few men are known to have ridden him during the peak of his career from 1900-1908. Others believe the rider to be Wyoming National Guard Horse Purchasing Officer Chester Cotton, and the horse to be Sergeant George Ostrom’s horse Red Wing who was taken to France during the war and retired there afterward. Ostrom had seen the horse being ridden by Cotton and is said by some to have used this for his inspiration when drawing the regimental symbol during World War I. Another claim is that the horse is Deadman, a horse being ridden by Albert “Stub” Farlow of Lander, Wyoming in a famous rodeo photograph taken in Idaho Falls. Albert Farlow was a friend of Secretary of State Hunt and was mentioned by Hunt as being the “most typical cowboy” he had ever known. This has led to widespread speculation that the bucking horse rider is Farlow although Hunt stated later that while he had Stub Farlow in mind when designing the plate, the rider was not meant to actually be the Lander cowboy.

The debate over who the bucking horse and rider represent will never be resolved. Most researchers contend that the horse is an amalgamation of all rodeo horses, not just those mentioned above, and the rider is meant to represent the spirit of all Wyomingites past and future.

Follow this link to find a unique Wyoming bucking horse tie sold in the State Museum Store.

Written by Jim Allison, Supervisor of Collections

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