Unaccompanied Minors: Boys, 10 and 6, Travel Solo from Oklahoma to New York City — by Horse!

Hi Readers — What a story! The boys traveled by themselves, over a thousand miles, to meet the President.

Okay, so it happened in 1910. Still, what  a great reminder of what kids are CAPABLE of ! And today we dither about sending them to play at the park before dinner! Jeez Louise — let’s get a little perspective! Here’s the Wikipedia entry about the amazing Abernathy boys — Louis and Temple:

Louis (sometimes styled Louie) Abernathy was born in Texas in 1899 and Temple Abernathy was born in 1904 in Tipton, Oklahoma. Their father was cowboy and U.S. Marshal Jack Abernathy.

In 1909 the boys rode by horseback from Frederick, Oklahoma, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and back. Louis was nine, and Temple was five.[2]

When the boys completed their Santa Fe journey, they began planning a cross-country horseback ride to New York City, again by themselves, to meet Theodore Roosevelt when he returned from his trip to Africa and Europe. They made that trip in 1910. They were greeted as celebrities, and rode their horses in a ticker-tape parade just behind the car carrying Roosevelt. While in New York, the boys purchased a small Brush Motor Car, which they drove, again by themselves, back to Oklahoma, shipping their horses home by train.[3][4][5]

In 1911, they accepted a challenge to ride horseback from New York to San Francisco in 60 days or less. They agreed not to eat or sleep indoors at any point of the journey. They would collect a $10,000 prize if they succeeded.[6]

After a long trip, they arrived in San Francisco in 62 days, thereby losing the prize but setting a record for the time elapsed for the trip.

In 1913, the boys purchased an Indian motorcycle, and with their stepbrother, Anton, journeyed by motorcycle from Oklahoma to New York City. This was their last documented adventure.

Abernathy kids (LOC) by The Library of Congress

There they are! And here’s a  lovely song by a descendant  — with fantastic old photos in the background. – L

29 Responses

  1. I’m all for the “free range kids” concept, but really what is the point of this story? These kids were “extreme” even for their own time. Most reasonable parents then and now would not let these “adventures” (stunts) take place, even if they were 100% true – the risks for serious injury or death are simply too high. We all know that here should be some reasonable limits on the things that we allow our children to get into. “Free range” does not mean “let them do whatever they want no matter how dangerous”.

  2. Today’s kids couldn’t travel to the end of the block
    without having a movie playing in their DVD player on while they texted on their cell phone. Heck today’s kids wouldn’t even be allowed to sit on mom or dad’s lap and get to steer down the hiway…

  3. What an awesome story. I wonder if there was a biography written of the boys? I bet that would be an interesting read.

    Now, along the more normal lines of this blog, don’t forget that what these boys did was newsworthy because it was unusual and that by no means were all children of the time so self-sufficient and capable, but it just goes to show exactly what (some) kids can do when given the opportunity!

  4. Imagine how much suntan lotion they must have gone through!

  5. Jet & Tim said what I was thinking, and I love to read a story of their adventures.

  6. The kids were resourceful enough to feed and take care of themselves for the duration of the trip. How many parents feel that their kids could do that?

  7. If there isn’t already a biography written about them someone please write it! I’d totally read their story and I’ll even buy it in the old-fashioned paperback version (vs kindle). 😉

  8. It’s not about “let them do whatever they want no matter how dangerous,” but “look what a couple kids were capable of, and look how their parents respected this.”

    More notable about this story is that the children were celebrated for what they did. In this day in age if two kids traveled alone like that, their family would be vilified and the children would probably be taken from their parents by DCFS. I think this story is less a commentary on what they did and more a commentary on the society in which they lived.

  9. (Just to hear you scream…) but times were so different back then!

  10. For those looking for a book about these adventures, try http://www.amazon.com/Bud-Me-True-Adventures-Abernathy/dp/0966216601/ref=la_B001K8UK38_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341873045&sr=1-1 which was written by Temple Abernathy’s widow. It is even available for the Kindle. That just took a few seconds for me to find.

  11. By today’s rules, these kids couldn’t even complete their journeys on Amtrak.

  12. Think how the times were back then. No real acess to law enforcement by way of phone or flagging one down on the streets. No DNA testing on corpses. Think of all the hand guns which I beleive all most everyone carried. Kids with jobs real jobs. Children leaving home at a early age to set out on their own lives. Children were routinely put on trains to meet up with family members in the Midwest.

    Now children have to be walked into school, can’t walk to the corner to wait for the bus. Can’t visit a library for fear of an elderly man
    there reading the large print readers digest. They are unable to make any true decision on Thier own.

    Kids back then were resourceful did what they needed to.

  13. My own Uncle at the age of 11 was sent the length of the country (three trains, one overnight ferry crossing) in charge of my 8 year old uncle and my 5 year old Dad. They were met by relatives between trains. We travelled the trains/buses where necessary from about the same age. My kids now travel the buses and have done for a long time. Once they know what to do, they’re on their own. They did their first solo school trip (public as there were no school buses) including a kilometre walk at one end at the age of 7 and 5. (I was aiming for 6 and 8 but they were ready waaay before that!)

    The only issue any of us ever had was the odd bus that neglected to stop and pick up kids. At 14 and 16, I think they would be fine going almost anywhere now.

    viv in nz

  14. Lenore, thanks for this great story! I wonder how many boys were inspired to do big things because of their example? Our society needs to hear more stories like this.

    Here’s another page of great info about the boys:
    http://tillmancountychronicles.blogspot.com/2011/03/brush-was-remarkable-car.html

  15. Here’s a nice video with historic photos – with song sung by an Abernathy relative:

  16. […] Unaccompanied Minors: Boys, 10 and 6, Travel Solo from Oklahoma … Comments […]

  17. That story reminds me of my husband’s great uncle’s experience. Uncle Ben (born around 1897, died in 1992) was an accomplished violinist as a child and became a professional violinist and music teacher. When Ben was around 14 or 15 he and his family (parents, sister, brother) traveled from New York City to California. They stayed in California for an unknown period of time. When it was time to go back to New York, Ben’s parents realized that they didn’t have enough money to afford his train fare. Ben stayed behind and got a job playing the violin in a silent movie theater. Back in those days movie theaters had live orchestras that played the accompaniment to the films. When Ben saved enough money, he moved on to another city and played in its movie theater’s orchestra. I don’t recall how long it took, but Ben worked his way back to New York playing his violin in silent movie orchestras.

    Now 14 or 15-year-olds in the States aren’t allowed to walk, ride their bikes, or take a bus within their own cities by themselves.

  18. My dad commuted from Edmonton to Vancouver Island to attend a school there. His family put him on a train in Edmonton, and the next day he had to get off the train in Vancouver, and met his ride to the ferry, and then a ride from the ferry to the school.

    He was often late to school by more than a day because if the train was late he missed his ride, and would have to stay overnight before he could catch another ferry.

    The school never once contacted his family to let them know.

    My daughter made the same commute (to a different school, but within walking distance of dad’s old school), and if her plane was late the school was on the phone to me within minutes! I mean, really, what was I supposed to do about the plane’s delay??!!

  19. Tim, I think Lenore’s own words explain what the point is:

    “Still, what a great reminder of what kids are CAPABLE of ! And today we dither about sending them to play at the park before dinner! Jeez Louise — let’s get a little perspective!”

    It’s not that we shouldn’t bat an eye at kids that young traveling cross country by themselves by primitive means. It’s that kids can and do accomplish and survive a lot, and before we get excited about whether it’s safe for a 6 year old to walk to the bus stop at the corner or for a 12 year old to play at the park with other people but without Mommy, we should stop and think about things like this — not because they were common or to be generally encouraged, but because the “range of normal” for childhood freedom was shifted enough for things like this at least to be *possible,* not all that long ago.

  20. Pentamom, I was going to respond to Tim, but I think you said it best. Yes, these kids were unusual, but they still did it. We have infantalized our children to the point of incompetence.

  21. At Amazon you can click on the book’s cover and read a few pages of:

    “Bud and Me: The True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys”

    http://www.amazon.com/Bud-Me-True-Adventures-Abernathy/dp/0966216601

    Very interesting.

  22. Okay, I just found this great page:

    “Abernathy Philosophy for Child Rearing”

    http://tillmancountychronicles.blogspot.com/2011/03/hunting-party-participants-were.html

  23. My grandfather was the youngest of 13 kids. When his mother died, he was still a young teenager, but his father couldn’t care for him in the Depression. So he walked my Grandpa out to the top of the first hill near their house, knelt and prayed with him, and gave him whatever money he could. Grandpa hitchhiked from that house in North Carolina to Kansas so he could live with his older brother. Later on, Grandpa lied about his age to join the Civilian Conservation Corps and got a tattoo. Subsequently, he finished high school, married my grandma, and got a Doctor of Divinity degree. Okay, maybe some of this was embellished–Grandpa liked a good story. But his free-range spirit took him far in life.

  24. I miss those times when kids had so much more freedom. But let’s not forget those were safer, more innocent times. Today’s America is a much more dangerous place for children. *voice dripping with sarcasm*.

  25. Great link, Steve.
    I agree with this:
    “They have been too busy and too healthy to get any bad ideas into their heads.”

  26. Heck, I wish I could persuade my kids to walk up to Cape Reinga (some 1000 km away). That would keep them busy…

    Because it’s school holidays down here, close to the bottom of the world, and my ‘baby’, (11 already) had a new friend over to hang out. My kids, like most here on this site, having been roaming the neighbourhood for years, and their friends just join them when they’re visiting.

    Not this friend. Mum gave me a list of what child was and wasn’t allowed to do. No going off the property, no lighting fires (my kids love to light candles or small tin fires outside to cook marshmellows etc….). Coward that I am, I just stood there flabberghasted and took it. And Mum wasn’t nasty or anything, just ‘different’….

    Believe it or not, they had fun anyway (kid was actually quite a livewire!), swinging themselves on the hammock trying to smash their heads into the patio door, tying said hammock high up in the tree, and then using it as a fort.

    Just hope she doesn’t tell her mum….

  27. @Jynet, your dad sounds wonderful! While she’s an adult and he was a teenager, I wish my mum had quite the same sense of direction etc.(She has spent almost her entire life on one reasonably small island, in her defence).

    My dear mum is in her early seventies, and a couple of years ago she was off to visit my brother in Seattle. As she was off to Europe after that, it was cheaper to fly into Vancouver first and then travel south. My brother originally wasn’t going to be able to meet her, but no problem, it’s only a couple or so hours down to Seattle…

    Just before she flew out, we were chatting about the trip.

    “It’ll be fine,” she said. “I know what to do. I just have to hop on the Toronto bus, and then it’s all south to Washington….”

    Many kids would do a better job free-ranging than some adults! (Needless to say, my brother volunteered to pick her up!)

  28. […] not to be over-protective, but I suspect that I am. For example, I would never allow my children to ride from Oklahama to New York, unaccompanied, on horseback. Let me tell you about my recent tentative […]

  29. I am pretty proud that I have well traveled kids. My daughter has been all over traveling by air and train to visit with family and friends. I believe that when we raise our children with common sense, they will do the right thing and be better more self sufficient people.

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