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Wild Horse Annie

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Wild Horse AnnieWild Horse Annie
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 happening again.

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 the law.

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.

Wild Horse Annie