Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston Hardcover – Mar 16 2010
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"Anyone who cares about the plight of America's Mustangs has heard the name Velma Johnston, but too few know the extraordinary and heroic lengths to which she went to save these horses. In Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs, authors David Cruise and Alison Griffiths have given us a remarkable gift; a provocative, in-depth look into this amazing woman's life in a story brimming with adventure and inspiration. Not only is this a fascinating and powerful book, it is also a tremendously important one. I couldn't put it down, and when I finished reading it my faith in the power one person has to make a difference was renewed."
--Melanie Sue Bowles, author of The Horses of Proud Spirit and Hoof Prints: Stories from Proud Spirit
“Velma Johnson was a strong willed individual who made a difference. As a child she suffered from polio and in her era, careers for women were limited. She overcame these obstacles and stopped the atrocious abuse of wild horses.”
--Temple Grandin, author, Animals in Translation and Animals Make us Human
“Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) is one of the most important people in our American history. She single-handedly saved our mustangs and with that our western heritage. This is an important book and Cruise and Griffiths have done a spectacular job of bringing home her story.”
--Madeleine Pickens, National Wild Horse Foundation
“This book captures the essence of the extraordinary life of Velma Johnston and what she was able to accomplish for the American Mustang. All of us who love and admire mustangs and horses in general owe this courageous woman a great debt of gratitude for exposing the plight and possible extinction of this breed. Through her tireless efforts she was the difference in helping make the world a better place for these wonderful animals that are part of our Western heritage."
--Monty Roberts, New York Times best-selling author of The Man Who Listens to Horses
"It doesn't get more American than the mustang, and without Wild Horse Annie, we would not have any. Now, as wild horses are making their last stand, it's important to honor her legacy and continue the battle. Thanks to this well-researched and timely book, we can."
--Deanne Stillman, author of Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West
"For 25 years, one extraordinary woman waged a lonely war against the cruel and greedy forces that were systematically removing the wild American mustangs from even the most inhospitable of federal lands. This book is a thoroughly researched and riveting tribute to the life and achievements of Velma Johnston and her struggles – against massive odds - to protect her beloved mustangs."
--Martin Harbury, author of The Last of the Wild Horses
About the Author
David Cruise and Alison Griffiths began writing together in 1983 and are the authors of seven bestselling books, including Fleecing the Lamb, Lords of the Line, Net Worth, On South Mountain, and The Great Adventure. Griffiths hosted the acclaimed financial television show “Maxed Out,” for three years and she writes the nationally syndicated columns, Alison on Money and Me and My Money. They have two daughters and divide their time between their small farms in southwestern Ontario and Brooksville, Florida. Please visit wildhorseanniestory.comSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is one of the best biographies I have ever read, and deeply, deeply moving.
We have here in Velma Johnston such a courageous woman who, in the face of all odds, both personal, social, regional and national, trudged on and on, year after year, almost all of her adult life, to save the Mustangs, and other wild horses, from extinction. That any exist today is due to her efforts.
As the authors state, we are reminded in this book that one individual person can make a difference.
I was a little dubious about its having two authors, as I couldn't fathom how a consistent tone and voice could be accomplished by two different individuals. Yet consistency there is, and the book does read as if written by one person, honestly, eruditely (the amount of research that has gone into it is stupendous), and compassionately. The painstaking writing of it took many years.
The authors do not shirk from painting a well-rounded picture of Velma Johnston (aka Wild Horse Annie) who, like the rest of us, was far from perfect. But the thought of her brings tears to my eyes, she was just so brave!
This is not an easy book to read because of the graphic descriptions of the torture of these beautiful animals by the callous, the insensitive, the greedy and the inhumane. Unfortunately, it is still going on to this day, and the authors point out the rescue efforts of Madeleine Pickens, wife of the billionaire, as being one of our greatest hopes at this time (her National Wild Horse Foundation website contains further information as to the present status of the wild horse, which is still in grave danger).
Many thanks to the authors of this book for their very successful efforts.
CODA: Despite pleas and even a lawsuit from Laura Leigh, Project Manager of Herd Watch, trying to prevent the scheduled Tuscarora Roundup in Elko County, Nevada, the BLM conducted a "gather" on July 10th that was scheduled to remove over 1,100 wild horses from the Elko County area. The gather started at 6:30 a.m. and by 9 a.m., the BLM contractor had gathered 228 wild horses. Subsequently, seven horses died due to dehydration and complications related to water intoxication during the removal process and/or at the holding facilities. In last winter's "gather" in the Calico Hills, 100 horses, as well as dozens of pregnant mares, died in one of the bloodiest mustang operations to date. On July 12th the BLM announced that it is temporarily suspending the Tuscarora wild horse gather. The work of Wild Horse Annie and her successor, Madeleine Pickens, goes on.
Except, Henry took liberties with the history of Velma Johnston, eventually even claiming that she "owned the rights" to Velma's life (p. 261). The fictionalization of Wild Horse Annie was seemingly approved by Velma Johnston herself, writing "This clean, noble public image of Girl of the Golden West that I have become [via the book] is surely having a reforming influence on me" (p. 176).
So what WAS the history, and story, of Mrs. Charles C. Johnston, aka Velma Johnston, aka Wild Horse Annie? Authors David Cruise and Alison Griffiths painstakingly researched the voluminous archives, including the correspondence written by Velma Johnston herself. The evolution of Wild Horse Annie into a free-roaming horse activist, then into a national celebrity, is a most interesting tale. And it is a tale best understood in this book, Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston, and not Marguerite Henry's version.
Velma Bronn was born in 1912, and in 1923 she contracted polio. The disease and the initial treatment (a full body cast) left her disfigured and in pain for most of her life. However, she persevered with her studies (and her love of wild horses), eventually getting her dream job - to be an executive secretary.
Cruise and Griffiths write, "One spring morning in 1950 the trip [to her job in Reno] passed uneventfully until she caught up with a livestock truck" (p. 42). To say that the next few hours were eventful for Velma would be an understatement. What she experienced changed her life in profound ways. The livestock truck was full of bleeding, injured, and dying wild mustangs, bound for slaughter into pet food.
One result of this experience eventually became the passage by the US Congress of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. What happened between Velma's original experience with a mustang roundup, and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, is the the main substance of this book.
Here are a few of the tidbits I found interesting:
In an editorial for the "Reese River Reveille" newspaper, editor Jack Taylor wrote in 1959 that, "The true picture of a wild horse is a runty, moth-eaten, mangy little scrub critter of no value anywhere outside a can. He is a curse to the stockman, a nuisance to the big game hunter and a pain in the neck to the Bureau of Land Management whose job it is to see that the open range is properly apportioned to feed all living animals dependent on it. Getting him out of the picture as far as possible can be likened to a housewife's zeal in getting rid of cockroaches in the kitchen and moths in the clothes closet" (p. 127).
Over 50 years later, there are still those who would agree with Taylor. However, there seem to be more that agreed with Velma Johnston, that there is room for wild horses, and that they have a right to be present, and unmolested, on public land. "My commitment to the wild ones is total," she wrote (p. 255).
After her retirement as an executive secretary, her employer, Gordon Harris, wrote to Velma, "The world is made of of three kinds of people - those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who don't know what's happening. Go, girl, go! And remember this is the first day of the rest of your life. You belong to the first group so keep on making things happen" (p. 255).
There are many heroes and villains in this story of Wild Horse Annie. There are people and organizations who were very supportive of Velma's work (Christine Stevens and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, for one), and those that chose to exploit her efforts for their own agendas and purposes. And authors Cruise and Griffiths go beyond the development of Velma, the animal activist. This is also a tender love story, of Velma and Charlie, of Velma and her friends, and of Velma and Hobo, her horse.
This is truly an extraordinary, well-researched and written biography of a unique individual. And the true story is really more amazing than the fictionalized one written by Henry.
Karen A. Sussman
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