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Overland Westerners: Introduction

Overland Westerners: Images

The Odyssey

Chronological List

Alphabetical List

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Bill Reese Bio

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Introduction

The Overland Westerners Collection was acquired from the personal archives of Bill Reese, an award-winning western artist. This acquisition was made possible through a field program formalized by the A. Keith Brodkin Contemporary Western Artists Project.

This project is critical to achieving the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center's goal to preserve, expand, enhance and make available its collections and, more specifically, to provide future artists, art historians, educators, and researchers with materials that document contemporary western art...a major collecting strength of this Museum. These materials, which are often overlooked and lost to posterity, include the personal papers, studio ephemera, photographs, and interviews of contemporary western artists. Effectively, this project preserves artists careers for posterity.

The Odyssey

"Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind. For fleeting dreams have two gates: one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those which pass through the one of sawn ivory are deceptive, bringing tidings which come to nought, but those which issue from the one of polished horn bring true results when a mortal sees them." - Homer, Odyssey

At a time when R. F. Scott reached the South Pole and V. Stefansson and R. Anderson explored Arctic Canada, George W. Beck, a 30-year-old, disillusioned, part-time logger in Washington, dreamed of fame, riches, and making a reputation for himself by making the longest horseback ride on record. To this end he planned with three of his companions in 1911 to ride on horseback to every capital in the 48 states, arrive at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, put on a show on the midway, and write and publish an account of this odyssey. Moreover, there lurked the possibilities of lecture tours, appearances on vaudeville stages, and a filmed travelogue.

Joining Beck in this adventure were his younger brother, Charles C. Beck, an unemployed railroad employee who lived at Port Blakely on Bainbridge Island; Jay B. Ransome, a 38-year-old brother-in-law living in Shelton, Washington; and Raymond G. "Fat" Rayne, a 20-year-old friend also living in Shelton.

While Charles, Jay and Fat prepared the horses and tack in Shelton, George sought financial support. To underwrite this dream, George went to Seattle and ordered postcards and calendars to advertise their journey, show their zigzag route across the country, and sell as keepsakes. He also reached an agreement with The Westerner, a Seattle magazine, by which the riders would sell subscriptions and the magazine would cover their sojourn. C. A. Osier, author of numerous articles about the Overland Westerners, wrote,

"This deal worked fairly well for the Overland Westerners in the western states, bringing in a fair amount of money, many meals and often lodging in small-town hotels. Mid-westerners and folks Down East and in the Deep South, however, showed little interest in a publication from the Far West."

With five horses and a 60-pound, one-year old Gordon Setter and Newfoundland named Nip, the enthusiastic quartet began their journey on May 1, 1912 from Shelton. Their first stop was Olympia, Washington 18 miles away where Governor Marion E. Hay awaited. For the next three years averaging 22 miles a day, these travelers would stop at each of the 48 state capitals in the United States, rendezvous with the state's governor or his surrogate, and endure numerous disappointments and hardships including hunger, theft, weather extremes, and rugged trails. Moreover, financial woes came when The Westerner folded before the trip was half completed leaving them bereft of corporate sponsorship.

But, in spite of all this, they persevered. While in Boise, Idaho in June 1912, George rode in a show produced by a traveling 101 Wild West Show. He rode Pinto, a 15-hand, 912-pound, six-year-old Morgan Arabian horse originally used as the packhorse. As the journey progressed, the original horses, suffering from fatigue and saddle sores, were traded for fresh horses with the local people. More often than not, the Westerners had to pay a premium in addition to trading the weary horses. Becoming George's favorite, Pinto was never traded or sold.

Arriving in Madison, Wisconsin on November 25, 1912 in the cold and flying snow, George Beck wrote, "Time for us to head south. Fact of the matter, we are way behind time. The ducks and geese are already there. Here we are thawing out bridle bits, sitting on cold rumps on frost-bitten saddles. We're dumbheads, but we're going to keep on being dumbheads."

By May 1913 the group was in Florida having gone through Tennessee and Alabama. Beck wrote,

"We aren't much shakes in the South. The best thing I can say, it's warm and we all got thawed out. The country is porely [sic] and the folks seem do-less -- just settin' around waitin' for something to happen...Cards, calendars, subs [subscriptions] were of little interest. We were just four men ridin' horseback."

In October 1913 they found in Maine a lovely country and fine people, mildly suspicious of four fellows who had nothin' better to do but ride horseback - but friendly nevertheless." From there they continued through Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

During 1914, a story about a $20,000 prize offered by the Northwestern Stockmen's Association circulated. Denied by Beck, the story stated that if the party reached San Francisco with Pinto on June 1, 1915, they were to receive $1 for each mile. While Beck hoped that the prize money was a reality, he observed "but as of now, we are hustling for our expenses and we're sleeping on barn floors, in haystacks and in abandoned shanties." Meanwhile, the Panama Canal opened in August.

By November 1914 the travelers began the last leg of their trip. Ransome wrote in his diary about the cattle country of Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico:

"These are horse people, cattle people, out-of-door people. They are on their own, and they know damn well we are on our own, and are not craving sympathy. We can't buy a bed or meal in this part of the country. It's all give and no take. They just want to talk horse and gear and pump us for yarns about our trip. We don't have to tell them about our hardships on the trail; they know all about rough going in a raw new country like this."

They reached Sacramento, California on May 24, 1915, the final state capital. Between them they had spent $9,000, had endured 1,127 days of riding, and had used 17 horses, several of which had died on the trail. Anticipating large enthusiastic crowds, the four with Nip and Pinto moved on to San Francisco and the Exposition. They arrived on June 1 to no crowds and no riches. They were greeted by one spectator's demand to "get them hayburners off the street." They had achieved fleeting fame through columns in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Call and The Examiner, but as Osier writes the midway at the Exposition was flopping, "dying in the breeze from San Francisco Bay." Beck wrote, "The pot of gold we had been pursuing had moved out, way out into the Pacific Ocean." Six months before, Alexander Graham Bell in New York had telephoned Mr. Watson who at this time was in San Francisco to celebrate the first transcontinental telephone line.

Beck's disheartened saddle mates sold their horses, saddles, bridles, and gear and took a train to Seattle and home. Beck stayed in San Francisco unsuccessfully lobbying vaudeville agents, theatrical and moving picture people, and authors like Jack London, Rex Beach, and Peter B. Kyne to write their story. He returned with Nip and Pinto to Puget Sound on a tramp steamer. He attempted to write a book about his adventures, but he said, "I wrote it sweet enough, but it came up sour." Surely Beck's dreams had passed through Homer's sawn ivory gate.

Beck worked as a shipwright at Johnson's Shipyard in Port Blakely and ran the Blakely "Please-U" silent movie theater. Osier wrote, "Shacked up alone on Bainbridge Island, he daily walked or rode lonely logging roads trying to reconstruct the happy, carefree days when he and his buddies were riding the long, endless trail to fame and fortune." In 1948 a drunken Beck drowned in a six-inch-deep roadside ditch. His cabin contained diaries and an unfinished manuscript titled "Longest Horseback Ride on Record."

According to the Long Riders' Guild, the Overland Westerners rode a total of 20,352 continuous miles in North America from 1912 to 1915 making this the longest documented ride in the 20th century. Having recently acquired vintage photographs which document this odyssey, the Dickinson Research Center is exhibiting several of them.

"What is the end of fame? tis but to fill A certain portion of uncertain paper: Some liken it to climbing up a hill, Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapor." - Lord Byron, Don Juan

Written by: Chuck Rand, Research Center Director

Chronological List

State Capital Date Governor
1. Washington Olympia 1912 01 - May Marion E. Hay
2. Oregon Salem 1912 11 - May Oswald West
3. Idaho Boise 1912 18 - June James H. Hawley
4. Montana Helena 1912 21 - July Edwin L. Norris
5. North Dakota Bismarck 1912 12 - September John Burke
6. South Dakota Pierre 1912 28 - September Robert Scadden Vessey
7. Minnesota St. Paul 1912 27 - October Adolph O. Eberhart
8. Wisconsin Madison 1912 25 - November Francis E. McGovern
9. Illinois Springfield 1912 13 - December Charles S. Deneen
10. Tennessee Nashville 1913 17 - January Ben W. Hooper
11. Alabama Montgomery 1913 22 - April Emmet O'Neal
12. Florida Tallahassee 1913 15 - May Park Trammell
13. Georgia Atlanta 1913 05 - June Joseph Mackey Brown
14. South Carolina Columbia 1913 24 - June Coleman L. Blease
15. North Carolina Raleigh 1913 07 - July Locke Craig
16. Virginia Richmond 1913 28 - July William Hedges Mann
17. Maryland Annapolis 1913 18 - August Phillips Lee Goldsborough
18. Delaware Dover 1913 August Charles Miller
19. New Jersey Trenton 1913 28 - August James F. Fielder
20. Connecticut Hartford 1913 10 - September Simeon Eben Baldwin
21. Rhode Island Providence 1913 14 - September Aram J. Pothier
22. Massachusetts Boston 1913 20 - September Eugene Noble Foss
23. New Hampshire Concord 1913 26 - September Samuel D. Felker
24. Maine Augusta 1913 04 - October William Thomas Haines
25. Vermont Montpelier 1913 October Allen Miller Fletcher
26. New York Albany 1913 12 - November Martin H. Glynn
27. Pennsylvania Harrisburg 1913 John Kinley Tener
28. West Virginia Charleston 1913 29 - December Henry D. Hatfield
29. Ohio Columbus 1914 James H. Cox
30. Michigan Lansing 1914 04 - February Woodbridge N. Ferris
31. Indiana Indianapolis 1914 24 - February Samuel Moffett Ralston
32. Kentucky Frankfort 1914 16 - March James B. McCreary
33. Mississippi Jackson 1914 27 - April Earl LeRoy Brewer
34. Louisiana Baton Rouge 1914 08 - May Luther Egbert Hall
35. Texas Austin 1914 18 - June Oscar Branch Colquitt
36. Arkansas Little Rock 1914 George Washington Hays
37. Missouri Jefferson City 1914 Elliot Woolfolk Major
38. Iowa Des Moines 1914 18 - September George W. Clarke
39. Nebraska Lincoln 1914 John H. Morehead
40. Kansas Topeka 1914 15 - October George H. Hodges
41. Oklahoma Oklahoma City 1914 13 - November Lee Cruce
42. Wyoming Cheyenne 1914 23 - December Joseph Maull Carey
43. Colorado Denver 1914 29 - December Elias Milton Ammons
44. New Mexico Albuquerque 1915 25 - January William C. McDonald
45. Arizona Phoenix 1915 03 - March George Wylie Paul Hunt
46. Utah Salt Lake City 1915 William Spry
47. Nevada Carson City 1915 Emmet Derby Boyle
48. California Sacramento 1915 24 - May Hiram W. Johnson

Alphabetical List

State Capital Date Governor
11. Alabama Montgomery 1913 22 - April Emmet O'Neal
45. Arizona Phoenix 1915 03 - March George Wylie Paul Hunt
36. Arkansas Little Rock 1914 George Washington Hays
48. California Sacramento 1915 24 - May Hiram W. Johnson
43. Colorado Denver 1914 29 - December Elias Milton Ammons
20. Connecticut Hartford 1913 10 - September Simeon Eben Baldwin
18. Delaware Dover 1913 August Charles Miller
12. Florida Tallahassee 1913 15 - May Park Trammell
13. Georgia Atlanta 1913 05 - June Joseph Mackey Brown
3. Idaho Boise 1912 18 - June James H. Hawley
9. Illinois Springfield 1912 13 - December Charles S. Deneen
31. Indiana Indianapolis 1914 24 - February Samuel Moffett Ralston
38. Iowa Des Moines 1914 18 - September George W. Clarke
40. Kansas Topeka 1914 15 - October George H. Hodges
32. Kentucky Frankfort 1914 16 - March James B. McCreary
34. Louisiana Baton Rouge 1914 08 - May Luther Egbert Hall
24. Maine Augusta 1913 04 - October William Thomas Haines
17. Maryland Annapolis 1913 18 - August Phillips Lee Goldsborough
22. Massachusetts Boston 1913 20 - September Eugene Noble Foss
30. Michigan Lansing 1914 04 - February Woodbridge N. Ferris
7. Minnesota St. Paul 1912 27 - October Adolph O. Eberhart
33. Mississippi Jackson 1914 27 - April Earl LeRoy Brewer
37. Missouri Jefferson City 1914 Elliot Woolfolk Major
4. Montana Helena 1912 21 - July Edwin L. Norris
39. Nebraska Lincoln 1914 John H. Morehead
47. Nevada Carson City 1915 Emmet Derby Boyle
26. New York Albany 1913 12 - November Martin H. Glynn
23. New Hampshire Concord 1913 26 - September Samuel D. Felker
19. New Jersey Trenton 1913 28 - August James F. Fielder
44. New Mexico Albuquerque 1915 25 - January William C. McDonald
15. North Carolina Raleigh 1913 07 - July Locke Craig
5. North Dakota Bismarck 1912 12 - September John Burke
29. Ohio Columbus 1914 James H. Cox
41. Oklahoma Oklahoma City 1914 13 - November Lee Cruce
2. Oregon Salem 1912 11 - May Oswald West
27. Pennsylvania Harrisburg 1913 John Kinley Tener
21. Rhode Island Providence 1913 14 - September Aram J. Pothier
14. South Carolina Columbia 1913 24 - June Coleman L. Blease
6. South Dakota Pierre 1912 28 - September Robert Scadden Vessey
10. Tennessee Nashville 1913 17 - January Ben W. Hooper
35. Texas Austin 1914 18 - June Oscar Branch Colquitt
46. Utah Salt Lake City 1915 William Spry
25. Vermont Montpelier 1913 October Allen Miller Fletcher
16. Virginia Richmond 1913 28 - July William Hedges Mann
1. Washington Olympia 1912 01 - May Marion E. Hay
28. West Virginia Charleston 1913 29 - December Henry D. Hatfield
8. Wisconsin Madison 1912 25 - November Francis E. McGovern
42. Wyoming Cheyenne 1914 23 - December Joseph Maull Carey

For more about the Overland Westerners

Overland Westerners, Box # 1, Folders 1-5, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Center holds a number of the vintage photographs taken at many of the state capitals. In a related journey, Bud and Temple Abernathy, two children without adult supervision, rode 4,500 miles from New York to San Francisco in 62 days in 1911. Read more about this in Judy Alter's "The Wild Ride of the Abernathy Boys," Persimmon Hill, V.19, No. 1 (Spring 1991), 20-25.

Overland Westerners, Box #19, McCracken Reference Library, Bainbridge Island Historical Society and Museum, Bainbridge Island, Washington. The Museum possesses two original journals written by George W. Beck labeled No. 1 (1912) and No. 5 (1913).

Judith Hartstone. "Three-Year Journey No Mere Tall Tale from the Saddle." The Bremerton Sun, Sunday, April 17, 1994.

The Long Riders' Guild. http://www.thelongridersguild.com/Records.htm

Cuchullain O'Reilly. "Four Forgotten Heroes Rode 20,000 Miles." Riding Holidays. (website no longer available)

C. A. Osier. "Saddled, Bridled, Ready to Ride." Frontier Times, V. 41, No. 1 (Dec-Jan. 1967), 36-38, 48-49.

C. A. (Joe) Osier. "20,000 Miles in the Saddle from Dixie to the Rockies, four horsemen plod toward their 'pot of gold'." Empire Magazine, (Aug. 30, 1964), 10-12.

C. A. Osier. "U.S. Horseback Tour of 1912." Seattle Times, Sunday, July 18, 1948, 5.

A Brief Bio of William F. "Bill" Reese

Reese's paintings have been described as having the qualities of "good, strong color, excellent draftsmanship, uncluttered composition, and appealing subject matter." Reese's philosophy is "that a work of art is nothing more or less than the sharing of a feeling or experience. This must be done on a very personal level to be fine art. I've found the greatest satisfaction, as far as my own work is concerned, in the reflection of my own surroundings and interests."

Born in Pierre, South Dakota on July 10, 1938, William F. Reese began drawing and painting cows and horses at an early age. After attending Washington State University, he married Fran who essentially became his highly intuitive business counselor. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles, California to attend Art Center School of Design at night. During the day he painted signs for a living.

In 1966 Reese and his family, which now included two children, returned to Washington. After a near death experience due to a ruptured appendix in 1970, he determined to pursue an art career and quit the sign painting business. Having been awarded the Childe Hassam Award in 1967, Reese had his first major exhibition at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington in 1972.

Reese began his long association with this museum in 1977 as a guest artist at the National Academy of Western Art Annual Exhibition. During the late 1970s and early 1980s he traveled extensively with other artists to Mexico, Spain, France, Holland, and China. He has had numerous one-man shows and has garnered numerous awards for his work. He has also educated many students through his art workshops and demonstrations.

In 1994 Reese restored an historic building for his gallery and studio in downtown Wenatchee, Washington where he continues to paint and sculpt. For more about Reese's life and career read Wm. F. Reese by Mary N. Balcomb. The Research Center also holds two recent interviews with Reese in its collections.

Bill Reese

William F. Reese accepting the 1991 Robert Lougheed Memorial Award for Best Display of 3 or more Works at the National Academy of Western Art (NAWA) Annual Exhibition at this museum.

The works were Leaving Kaltag, Lights Over Kaltag, and Yukon Nights.

In 1991 Reese also won the NAWA silver medal for his drawing entitled The Old Pro.

Reese Conducting Workshop

Bill Reese conducting an art demonstration during the 1991 National Academy of Western Art Annual Exhibition.

Reese studio 3

Reese's studio in Wenatchee, Washington.

Reese studio 1

Bill Reese's Gallery in Wenatchee, Washington.

Reese studio 2
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