living history in the VIRGINIA range, nv
The story of the Virginia Range mustangs is typical of many wild horse herds across the American West and it stretches back to California's Spanish colonial period.
Whether wild horses had always had a home on the range or were an introduced native species, they were a common sight on mission and rancho lands 1697-1821. Rancheros captured and interbred the horses they called mustangs (drifters) with Spanish horses to bring New World excitement to the practice of jineta – the kind of horsemanship glorified in the legend of Zorro, that emphasized grace, balance and speed.
Trained and ridden by virtually enslaved Native American vaqueros,these valuable horses became a means of escape. Soon,a pipeline of stolen horses ran from Southern California, through Nevada to Oregon.
Vaqueros weren't the only ones to claim their freedom. The stolen horses joined generations of mustangs throughout the West, surviving just as they had in prehistoric times, by adapting to deserts, forests and snowy mountains.
VIRGINIA RANGE WILD HORSE PROTECTION
Although this rugged and romantic heritage gave us the Virginia Range horses, they were nearly lost by 1950 when men discovered another way to reap the riches of the Nevada range. Pilots of small aircraft spotted wild horses from the air, zoomed down to chase them out of hiding and pursued them for miles. Once the mustangs slowed to stumbling exhaustion, a ground crew took over. They roped and dragged the horses into truck beds. Bewildered and injured, they were hauled to factories where they were processed as dog and chicken food.
The Virginia Range mustangs might have vanished if a rancher named Velma Bronn Johnson hadn’t been driving to her day job as a secretary along the road which would become Highway 50. Late for work, she was stuck behind a slow-moving truck and suddenly realized it was packed with bloody mustangs.
Velma fought to end the cruel money-for-meat roundups. First, she tried plain-talking, but the horse hunters laughed at her. She persisted and the mockery turned nasty. She earned the nickname “Wild Horse Annie” not for her advocacy, but for a facial disfigurement caused by childhood polio treatment.