It was on August 26, 2017 when a particular image pleased my friend’s soul. As I listened to his story we journeyed full circle as I observed delight, distress, annoyance, then back to delight. I found my own emotions traveling in many directions as I hung on to his recollection of a time past. My friend is Bryant Rickman and this personal account reveals his powerful connection to this breed of horse.
The setting was in the Chahta Isuba Ranch cabin where Bryant opened with his story of ‘Documentary’ for our blog. He was about two sentences in when he sprang up, “turn that off,” (meaning the recorder), snatched his phone and began hammering buttons. My first thought, “there goes my story, again.” However, after 16 years of friendship I deem myself adequately familiar with Bryant and recognize he typically has a noteworthy detail to share.
“Look at this,” he said pointing to a picture on his phone, and with Jim Stephens on one side and me on the other he scrolled through several photos. Earlier that day Bryant received a text message with a few pictures from his nephew, James Carlile. The photos, all off a game camera James had placed on private conservatory property located in the Blackjack Mountain area. “Look here,” Bryant said, “this is a stallion that I haven’t seen since we removed the horses from the mountain. I really thought he was dead.” As he looked intently at the photo I witnessed an unquestionable connection between him and this horse. “I can’t believe this is him,” he said. “This has to be him, I’m almost positive this is him.”
Before long Bryant had John S. Hockensmith’s book “Spanish Mustangs in the Great American West” opened on his lap. He was comparing the picture on his phone to one in the book, considering every detail and conclusively declaring, “it’s him, look here, same spots and markings on side and leg,” he put down the book. Looking up with the smile of a kid in a candy store, he announced, “this is him, he’s alive!”
Now Jim and I had no knowledge of what horse he was speaking of, but that joyous vibe in the room was contagious and we found ourselves nodding and smiling right along with Bryant. We were anxious to hear about this horse so we had Bryant pinned down on the couch, the “play” button on the recorder was punched, and I now bring you Bryant’s remembrance of a specific horse and the memories attached.
‘Criss’ was Bryant’s first mare mustang and he spent many of his childhood years riding every chance he could. They spent most of their days together until he went away to college and found he couldn’t spend quality time with her like he wanted or needed to. It was around that same time his Uncle Clarence had been inquiring about ‘Criss’ and her two babies. His grandchildren had moved from California and he wanted them to learn how to ride a horse. He wanted them to ride on something safe. “He was one of my favorite uncles so I let him have my horses for enough money to pay for my books and stuff my second year at Wilburton,” Bryant stated.
Two years later Bryant graduated college, and he and Darlene were married in May 1970. “When little Odie come along a year or two later I started wanting a horse for him and I started realizing I really wanted that horse back. So, I went and tried to get it back, all their kids had already learned how to ride you know, but by then my uncle had got attached to her and he couldn’t let her go because he liked her too much.” Even now as Bryant recalls that day you can sense the letdown he felt. “So that was out of the question. Then my dad and Milton kept telling me “well if you’ll go up to Gilbert Jones he’s got horses like Ole ‘Criss’ and like Ole ‘Bird’.” Bryant told them he didn’t think anything like that existed, “I heard that all the horses he had he brought here come from Utah and New Mexico and places like that.” After his dad and brother convinced him that some of the horses came out of the mountains in Southeast Oklahoma, Bryant decided to meet this Gilbert Jones character.
Living up there on the mountain was a family whose daughter I had in my Agricultural Education/FFA class in Hugo. When she had grown up she moved to the city and later passed away from tick fever. Her kids ended up coming back and living with their grandparents up there in the mountains by Medicine Springs. “I ended up giving them a horse and those kids were tickled to death.”
At that time the family had one horse that was running out in the wild, ‘Pretty Girl,’ a black mare with a blaze face who ran with “Looksee II’s’ band. “Gilbert told me she belonged to the grandfather, LC. He always talked about what a good little mare she was and said her daddy is Ole ‘Kiowa Chief, we know that.” The family knew they had ‘Pretty Girl’ but never saw her, she just ran in the mountains and they only knew what Bryant would tell them if he saw her. “LC offered to sell her to me for like $500 and I told him I’d give them $700 I think is what it was. Because she had four babies with her that they hadn’t seen. One of them is this horse’s daddy that is in the picture. Anyway, it’s quite a deal.”
Bryant bought the mare with little information. He only knew LC said he bought her from a guy he worked with down at Valliant. He told me the guy had said “she was just an old Choctaw pony.” Bryant had asked, “you don’t know whose horses she came out of or nothing?” He was told no, LC had no information about the horse except that the family had some pretty good horses and that they had done a lot of stuff with them.
“Well I had already traded for the horse, Gilbert said we would register the mare because she was that good you know. The grandma to this horse in the picture, they called her ‘Pretty Girl’ and I changed her name to ‘Kiowa Bird’ cause her daddy was ‘Kiowa Chief’ and she went back to Ole ‘Bird’ which was the mama to my mare, ‘Criss.’ So, I called her ‘Kiowa Bird’ after I bought her.” Gilbert had told Bryant he’d register colts out of her also as he knew what kind of line she was out of.
LC had since moved his family from Medicine Springs and several years later Bryant ran into him at an auction. They got to visiting and talking about the horses and Bryant told him, “I’ve still got a real pretty stud that’s the grandson of ‘Pretty Girl’ you know.” During their conversation LC mentioned “an old boy from around the Messer area or somewhere around north of Hugo had owned the horse.” Bryant seemed confused, “Oh, I thought you said he was from Valliant.” So, LC cleared up the misunderstanding and told Bryant that he had worked with him down in Valliant but he lived around Messer. “Well do you remember who it was,” Bryant asked, “I might know them if they live out there, I’d almost have to know them.” LC answered, “Well yeah, the old boy’s name was Will Hammons.” Bryant couldn’t believe his ears, he had the horses now for seven or eight years never realizing they went back to his original horse that he had let his Uncle Clarence have. Will Hammons was Clarence’s son-n-law and owned all the babies out of Bryant’s original mare, ‘Criss.’ All that time deep down he knew he wanted those horses, he just had no idea why and now he came full circle owning the bloodline he originally began with as a young boy.
“I haven’t seen this horse since 2010, I haven’t seen him for seven years. I saw him the last day that we could catch horses, it was in February of 2010 and I haven’t seen that horse since then. And if James hadn’t had wanted to put that game camera up I wouldn’t know. I always thought he was there, and I felt like he was there but…” ~Bryant
What a story!! One picture, a thousand words, a vault of memories. From his own childhood, through his adult years and into his retirement days he has upheld an unshakeable and loyal adoration for this bloodline of horses. This story makes it indisputably clear in my opinion, these horses thrive in the mountains they once called home. It is also accurate in stating they would survive, without human interference, affording them the chance to live out their lives naturally, as we ourselves want the chance to do.
(Disclaimer: I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from memoirs of those sharing their stories. In some instances, I have not used full names or have changed the names of individuals. There may be instances I have changed places, identifying characteristics and details and places of residences for the safety of the horses. Please remember these are based on memories of our story tellers, if you feel there are inaccuracies please contact us and I will be happy to review and make any necessary corrections. Thank you.
By A Horse’s Tale from A Horse’s Mouth
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