What is the Bucking Bronco state and horse name?

"There's a bronco that's been bucking on a certain state's plate since before 1938. What is the state and the bronco's name?"

That exact question came from a contest called Outwit the West. About 200 teams apparently competed for a large cash prize in a scavenger hunt, and ALPCA received quite a few questions in August and September of 2004 asking for the answer.

Well, we are always happy to help non-license plate collectors, but like a lot of history, there's also a mystery. One answer is most popularly accepted -- and then, there is what we believe to be the real answer.

So, for the condensed version, or the answer that most probably matches the contest answer, the answer is:

State: Wyoming
Horse's name: Steamboat

OK. That's the short answer. But if you want to know more, please read on...

A photo published in Persimmon Hill, the PRCA magazine in 1978 (vol. 12, No. 2) was described as showing the horse and rider from which the license plate was designed, back in 1936. The magazine identified Clayton Danks on Steamboat. Many references accept that as the answer.

A long-time rancher in Wyoming, who also happens to be a longtime license plate collector and authority on Wyoming history, was quite sure this was not Steamboat. Our friend, whom we will call Old George, took this magazine over to his friend's house. His friend was Dr. J. S. Palen, who was the veterinarian at Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) during that time.

Ed McCarty on Silver City, Post Card from 1909
(courtesy Wyoming Tales and Trails)

Old George remembered that Steamboat had at least two white 'socks' and this photo showed four brown feet. Dr. Palen confirmed this: "I don't know who that is, but it is the model used by True to make the license plate design". Lester Hunt, Wyoming Secretary of State, is credited with the idea to put a bronc and rider on the plate, and Allen True is the artist credited with designing the actual image of the horse and rider that was used.

But who was it, exactly? Old George says: "When I told him that Robert Hanesworth (25-year committeeman for the CFD) identified the picture as Ed McCarty on Silver City, Dr. Palen's response was equally positive: "If Bob says that's who it is, then that's who it is". The picture is shown in the CFD history book called "The Daddy of Them All".

In a backhanded way, Lester Hunt's design comment confirms this: "I reversed the design because it looked better facing to the right". No doubt it does look better facing to the right, but Mr. Hunt's real reason for the reversal was that legally, it is a picture of nobody, and neither he nor the State of Wyoming could be sued for unauthorized use of a design or failure to pay royalties to a photographer.

Old George continues "During my endeavors to confirm the identity of the symbol, I have come to the conclusion that everybody connected with the design knows very well who it is; they just do not want the public to know."

Ed McCarty was from Goldsmith, Wyoming and was a champion bronc rider in 1919. The picture was taken by a Union Pacific photographer named Stimson. The horse Silver City was a Wyoming native.

So, Old George concludes: "We have a Wyoming cowboy on a Wyoming horse, contesting at a Wyoming rodeo on our license plates, which is the way it should be. I am satisfied that this is the correct version of the story. In one way or another, two gentlemen who were intimately connected with the CFD from its beginning until well into the 1960's have said it is so."

If it's good enough for good Old George, it's good enough for us.

WORTH NOTING: A different horse and rider design was used on the Cheyenne Frontier Days souvenir license plates issued in the 1920s and 1930s.

More info with additional pictures can be found here.

-Jeff Minard
ALPCA license plate research historian

Last updated: Monday, 31-May-2021 16:14:28 UTC