A bronze statue rises before the Athletics Complex on the University of Wyoming campus. It's an adrenaline-filled display: a man clings to a bucking bronco for dear life, hoping to conquer that eight-second ride. The bronco in question is an icon of Wyoming, a legendary figure that adorns University of Wyoming memorabilia and, rumoredly, inspired the Equality State's license plate. His name is Steamboat, the Unrideable Horse.

A Horse Like No Other: How Steamboat Became a Legend

The origin of this legend begins rather murkily. Legends differ; some say Steamboat was born on the rugged plains of the Laramie Valley sometime in the mid-1890s or the Foss Ranch in 1896. Though accounts differ as to his origin, what is known is that Steamboat was sold to Swan Land and Cattle Company’s Two Bar Ranch. It was at Two Bar Ranch that he began his bucking career.

“I guess he thought bucking was his business,“ ranch hand Jimmy Danks said of Steamboat (It Happened in Wyoming.) The horse's skill with bucking became quickly apparent—he had a signature style of explosive jumps and 'sunfishing,' or curving his body into the shape of a crescent. His first show took place at the Mountain and Plain Festival in Denver in October 1901.

Did You Know? Buffalo Bill Cody nearly bought Steamboat for $2,000. But, when his representative Cravel Pagus couldn't ride the horse, so the offer was rescinded.

By 1903, Steamboat's notoriety on the rodeo track had grown to legendary status. He was a tornado, a hurricane of muscle and fury that could unseat even the most seasoned rider, and it seemed the horse relished doing so. At Cheyenne Frontier Days, he rode for the Irwin Brothers Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show (not to be confused with Cheyenne Frontier Days, the Daddy of 'Em All.) He earned the moniker 'The Outlaw Horse' and was named 'Worst Bucking Horse of the Year' in 1907 and 1908 - an honor as significant in the rodeo circuit as 'World Champion.'

Perhaps one of Steamboat's most legendary performances took place in Laramie at the Albany County Fair in 1903. There, World Champion Bronc Rider Guy Holt attempted the impossible and rode the notorious Steamboat. It was the show of a lifetime.

Did You Know? Steamboat earned his name from "the high shrill whistle" Steamboat’s nose made after being broken in an accident. During castration, he smashed his nose on the ground. Two men from Two Bar held him down and cut out the broken bone. As a result, his breathing sounded like whistles.

“He was beautiful, completely black, except for the white tufts of hair at the bottom of his sturdy legs… He slapped his full tail to the left and then to the right, much to the crowd’s delight.” read a chronicle of the era. “The crowd came alive as Steamboat exploded, shooting straight into the air. He landed on ramrod legs that seemed as if they were made of steel.” (It Happened in Wyoming)

Guy Holt was eventually unseated, his nose bleeding from the force of the ride. Steamboat won that battle, a battle now immortalized in the statue displayed at the University of Wyoming Athletics Complex.

Is Steamboat the Bucking Horse on the Wyoming License Plate?

What bucking horse marks the Wyoming license plates and state memorabilia is unclear. Many believe it is Steamboat and Guy Holt, while others claim it's Stub Farlow riding Deadman or Red Wing, owned by George Ostrom. (University of Wyoming) Regardless, the symbol of Steamboat remains engrained into Wyoming culture, as thousands of students at the University of Wyoming carry his silhouette with them on their jerseys, water bottles, and binders every day. They carry that legend with them well beyond the halls of UW after graduation.

The Passing of a Legend

Steamboat bucked at Cheyenne Frontier Days for 11 years before an unfortunate accident at another rodeo led to him contracting a blood disease. Steamboat was returned to Frontier Days one last time before leaving this world. Rumor has it he was buried at Frontier Park, where his story had grown into the legend it is today. He would go on to be one of only five horses named to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Citations:

A century of life after steamboat: Features: September 2014: Vol. 16 no. 1: UWyo Magazine: University of Wyoming. UWYO Magazine. (n.d.). https://www.uwyo.edu/uwyo/2014/16-1/features/century-after-steamboat.html

Papa, P. W. (2013). It happened in Wyoming: Remarkable events that shaped history. GPP.

Steamboat: Wyoming’s wildest resident. American Heritage Center (AHC) #AlwaysArchiving. (2024, March 11). https://ahcwyo.org/2022/07/25/steamboat-wyomings-wildest-resident/

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