Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where True western symbols came from


“It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.”

___Thomas Jefferson

After recently noting some disagreement about which horse and rider’s likeness might actually grace Wyoming license plates, and commenting on the tendency of our neighbors-to-the-north’s reference to Colorado folks as “greenies,” I have encountered another interesting twist in my tale.

As it turns out, the designer who developed the “Cowboy State’s” plates was actually a “greenie.”

According to three venerated Colorado institutions, the Colorado Historical Society, the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Public Library, which are hosting the Allen True exhibit opening Oct. 2, at all three locations, True designed the bucking bronco and rider on Wyoming license plates.

Allan Tupper True was a prolific muralist, magazine illustrator, and studio painter who produced commissioned works all over the American West including the capitols of Colorado and Missouri, as well as Hoover Dam and Denver’s Civic Center.

“The bucking horse and rider first appeared on Wyoming license plate in 1936,” according to information from University of Wyoming. “That design was developed by the then Secretary of State, Lester C. Hunt (who later became the Governor of Wyoming, and a U.S. Senator) in 1935.”

Hunt commissioned True to do the work. The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Web site confirms that.

“In 1935, Secretary of State Lester Hunt proposed legislation to make changes to the Wyoming license plate design to combat the problem of wide-spread counterfeiting of Wyoming's license plate. Therefore, Secretary Hunt commissioned Mr. Allen T. True of Littleton, Colorado to 'put to paper' his concept for a new license plate design which included the famous Bucking Horse and Rider,” says the state's site.

Though, the University of Wyoming says it was really Hunt who planted the seed.

“It was his idea to use the bucking horse and rider,” according to the University of Wyoming’s official Athletic Site. “The horse and rider he utilized for the license plates differs from the Steamboat image. For plates, Hunt used a photo of a rider named ‘Stub’ Farlow, and a horse called ‘Deadman.’ ‘Deadman’ belonged to the Jackson Hole Frontier Association.”

“This symbol has been a part of the University of Wyoming Athletics Department since the early 1920s, when UW Equipment Manager Deane Hunton obtained a photograph of a cowboy, Guy Holt, riding the world famous bucking horse Steamboat.”

I always thought that perhaps the horse’s name was a reflection on the town in Northern Colorado, but ...

“Steamboat was born on a ranch between Laramie and Bosler in 1901, and is regarded as one of the greatest bucking horses ever. Hunton traced the photo, and had it made into a logo that was utilized by UW athletic teams. In later years the symbol more closely resembled the logo on the state’s automobile license plates which was a depiction of another horse and rider,” according to UW Athletics.

“Whether it is Steamboat or Deadman on those Cowboy and Cowgirl uniforms, one thing is certain … the bucking-horse-and-rider-logo is one of the nation’s best and most distinctive.”

Maybe so, but it is important to know the 'True' origin of things.

As for the Denver art exhibits, the Denver Public Library will focus on Allen Tupper Trues’ magazine work, the Denver Art Museum will display True’s paintings, and the Colorado History Museum features full-scale murals, studies, photographs, and other objects that True produced over the life of his career. Colorado Public Television will air “Allen True’s West,” at 8 p.m. on Thursday, midnight on Friday and 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 4.

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See related story

Once a 'Greenie,' always a 'Greenie.'

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