How The Abernathy Boys Became The Most Adventurous Kids In History

Meet Temple and Louis Abernathy — the original free range children.

by Alison Zeidman
Originally Published: 

Oh so you think you’re a chill, hands-off dad because you let your kids ride their bikes a whole 2 miles to school without supervision? Sorry, but you’ve got nothing on Jack Abernathy. In 1909, he sent his sons Temple (age 5) and Louis (age 9) on a 1,300-mile horseback ride from Guthrie, Oklahoma to Roswell, New Mexico and back. The reason? He felt his sons were soft as Froyo.

It takes a certain type of father to not only allow his kids to embark on such a journey, but also encourage it. But Jack Abernathy was no ordinary father. He was the youngest-ever U.S. Marshall, appointed to the position by Teddy Roosevelt after demonstrating his ability to catch live wolves in his bare hands on a hunting trip. And ol’ “Catch ‘Em Alive Jack” was a Texas wild boy long before he became a U.S. sanctioned wild man. He played piano in saloons starting at age 6, making nearly half as much per night as the cowboys he played for made in a month. When his mom put a stop to that, his next move was becoming a cowboy himself at age 11. By age 15, he was in charge of breaking the toughest horses at his ranch.

Naturally, a man of such stock wanted his kids to follow in his considerably burly footsteps. And Temple and Louis lived up to their father’s great expectation: the adolescent Okie’s survived the trip — including encounters with wolves, vast stretches of untamed plains, and no help from Waze — and arrived safely in Roswell. Given the year, their accomplishment was astounding (anyone who’s played Oregon Trail and died countless times of dysentery will surely agree with you).

But the twins weren’t done. After the success of their 1909 trip, the world bore witness to Abernathy Kids Part II: Guthrie to New York. Temple and Louis again rode solo on horseback, making the nearly 2,000 mile journey east. Upon reaching New York, they met up with Roosevelt, who had just returned from a trip to Africa and Europe, and joined him in a ticker-tape parade.


Their dad was also there to greet his sons, but he did not spring for a train ride home. Instead, he instructed his sons to buy a Brush Motor Car (more likely, it was given to them as a PR stunt) and drive themselves home, which they did. Such accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed: A movie was made about the boys and their adventures that same year, and they had slews of admirers, including Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, and the hundreds of women Temple reportedly had to dodge kisses on the cheek from throughout their journey.

The antes were upped for the Abernathy’s for the next adventure: In 1911, they were given a chance to win $10,000 for traveling on horseback from New York to San Francisco. The conditions: They had to complete the trip within 60 days, and not stop to sleep or eat indoors at any point along the way. Temple and Louis arrived in 62 days, and the judges didn’t cut them any slack for being kids. But, they did set a new world record, and gained even more of a reputation.

By 1913 they’d made enough money off their fame to buy an Indian motorcycle for one final spectacular adventure, from Oklahoma to New York. Their step brother Anton came with them on that one, presumably because there’s only so much you can talk about with the same brother when you’re crossing the country together for the third time.

So what can you learn from the Abernathy school of parenting? Well, you probably shouldn’t strap your kid to a Big Wheel and tell her to keep pedaling until she hits the ocean. But, if you’ve ingrained the proper skillset in her and think she’s mature enough, maybe let her take the plane to visit grandma alone this year.

[h/t Adventure Journal]

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