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A Racing Novelty

Horse racing has long been popular in Nebraska. Early newspapers include numerous accounts of such races, which took place in all parts of the state. The Omaha Daily Bee in the spring of 1889 advertised an unusual race pitting horses owned by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody against champion bicycle riders. The Bee on February 16, 1889, included a letter to the sporting editor accepting on Cody’s behalf an earlier challenge by John S. Prince, a champion cyclist of Omaha:

 

 “My attention has been called to Mr. Prince's challenge . . . . I am authorized by Col. Cody to make a match as follows: We will back two cowboys, using twenty horses and relieving each other when they please against any two champion bicycle riders Mr. Prince can produce. . . . Yours, EVELYN BOOTH.”

 

The proposed event may have been inspired by an earlier race between two Cody cowboys on horseback and two champion cyclists in November 1887 during the Wild West’s tour of England. Broncho Charley Miller and Marve Beardsley from the Wild West challenged two cyclists, Englishman Richard Howell and American W. M. Woodside, to a six-day race, to take place at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, London, for a prize of three hundred pounds. During the event, staged largely to publicize the Wild West, the riders raced for eight hours a day; thirty horses were used and changed every hour. The cowboys won by two miles and two laps.

 

Less than two years later, a similar race was planned for Omaha. The Bee on February 27 reported ongoing negotiations for “one of the leading sporting events of the season”: “Preliminaries of the great cowboy-horse-bicycle race were effected last night and it will come off at the [Omaha] Colosseum, commencing April 1 and continuing one week. Last night John S. Prince, on behalf of the bicycle contestants, and Dennis Cunningham and E. Booth, representing Buffalo Bill's staff of cowboys, met at the Paxton, and after a series of wrangling over provisos the agreement was reached, the race to be for a purse of $2,000–$1,000 being put up by the bicycle riders and a similar amount by the opposite side.” Besides the purse, the race was to be for 65 and 35 percent of the gate receipts.

 

It was also agreed that two cowboys and twenty horses would race three bicycle riders (later announced to be Prince, W. F. Knapp, and W. J. “Senator” Morgan) for eight hours daily for six days. The cyclists were to relieve each other every hour, with the same privilege being given the cowboys.

 

The event, however, did not take place on April 1 as planned. The Bee noted on April 4: “There is some doubt yet whether the horse bicycle race, . . . will come off, owing to some hitch in getting the horses here.” On April 5 it announced that the race “is off—the equine contingent backing out.”

 

The public was undoubtedly disappointed but no less than one of the three cyclists who had planned to compete. The Bee said on April 7: “The postponement of the cowboy vs bicyclist race caused the normal placid and urbane ‘senator’ Morgan to have a fit on his arrival in Omaha yesterday afternoon, when he learned that the race was off.” Fortunately for novelty racing fans, plans for a new six-day match in Omaha, pitting “equestriennes against bicycliennes,” were announced May 28 in the Bee. The trainer for the horsewomen was listed as Marve Beardsley, who had participated in the London race in 1887.

 

To learn more about the programs and services of the Nebraska State Historical Society, call 1-800-833-6747, or visit our website at www.nebraskahistory.org

 (April 2013)

 

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