Wild Horse Annie
Save Our Wild Horse
Wild Horse Annie’s real name was Velma Johnston. She was given the name
Wild Horse Annie when she was fighting for the protection of the wild
horses and burros by men who thought the name was funny. Velma saw it as
a badge of courage and the nickname stuck.
Velma Johnston was born in Nevada. She grew up on her parents' ranch,
where the ranch horses were treated humanely and trained using gentle
methods. When she was 11, she contracted polio and was in a body cast
for six months. The cast caused some disfigurement and Velma had to
learn to deal with schoolmates who were cruel to her because she looked
different. Like most children who are teased Velma withdrew and
concentrated on her studies and working with the animals on the ranch.
At that time, there were no humane laws in place to protect the wild
horses. Most, if not all, ended up at slaughter plants where they ended
up in chicken or dog food and their capture methods were cruel. Wild
horses were chased by airplanes until they dropped from exhaustion. Some
were chased by trucks, and when caught, their nostrils were wired shut
so they could barely breath, and their necks were roped to tires to slow
them down while the truck went on chasing the rest of the herd. Horses
were shot and left to suffer and die. The trapped horses were then
packed into trucks, so tightly that they couldn’t move or if they fell
they were trampled to death.
Velma wrote, "Although I had heard that airplanes were being used to
capture mustangs, like so many of us do when something doesn't touch our
lives directly, I pretended it didn't concern me. But one morning in the
year 1950, my own apathetic attitude was jarred into acute awareness.
What had now touched my life was to reach into the lives of many others
as time went on."
One morning as Velma was driving to work, she noticed blood dripping
from the truck in front of her. She followed the truck to a rendering
plant. She had to be careful not to be seen as the “Mustangers” were
notoriously rough characters. Velma saw that the blood was coming from a
truckload of mustangs. A yearling had fallen in the truck, and could not
get up; it was stuck between two other horses. The yearling was being
trampled to death by horses packed in too tight to even move. Outraged
by this, Velma set out on a crusade to stop such abuse from ever
In 1952 Velma was able to get Storey County, where she resided, to pass
a ban on the use of aircraft to capture wild horses. In 1952, along with
Nevada State Senator James Slattery, Velma helped pass a law that
prevented mustang roundups by planes and cars on private property.
Federal property under the Bureau of Land Management was exempted from
Since 80% of the land in Nevada was either federal or state lands Velma
continued to fight for better protection of the mustangs.
On 8 September 1959 the campaign resulted in the federal legislature
passing Public Law 86-234 which banned air and land vehicles from
hunting and capturing wild horses on state land. This became known as
the /Wild Horse Annie Act/. ^
Velma Johnston continued her campaign and in 1971, the 92^nd United
States Congress unanimously passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and
Burros Act of 1971. It was signed into law by the then President Richard
M. Nixon on 15 December, 1971. This act prohibited capture, injury, or
disturbance of wild horses and burros and for their transfer to suitable
areas when populations became too large.
In 1959, Velma was featured in Time magazine. The 1961 Western “The
Misfits” on a script by Arthur Miller, the last film of Clark Gable and
Marilyn Monroe which also starred Montgomery Clift, portrayed a horse
roundup just outside of Reno and in the way against which Johnston had
protested; in the film, Monroe's character becomes disgusted with the
method, which leads to a climactic clash between the characters. Velma
appeared in the Robert McCahon's 1973 Western /Running Wild/ as herself,
starring alongside Lloyd Bridges and Dina Merrill.
Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnston died at age sixty-five of cancer in
Reno, Nevada on 27 June, 1977.
A TIMES article about Wild Horse Anne written in 1959.