"In hindsight, they (the mustangers) wish they hadnt have made so much fun of her and they wished they hadnt gave her the name that spread like wildfire. They also wished that they had paid attention to business at the time, because, basically, they didnt think that one woman could change Nevada around." - Dawn Lappin
Wild Horse Annie ot the Rescue
In 1950, a Nevada woman noticed blood dripping from a truck ahead of her and she followed it. What Velma Johnston found horrified her. Wild horses, many of them injured, had been packed into the truck and hauled to a shipping yard where they would be sent to a pet food factory.
This was legal. Hunters known as "mustangers" were licensed by the Bureau of Land Management to rid the range of mustangs. The horses were captured for slaughter, poisoned or just gunned down as the panicked animals were hunted by plane or truck.
Though shy, this ranchers wife, who suffered from the aftereffects of polio and was sensitive about her appearance, decided she must take action.
In 1952, Johnston, among others, convinced the Storey County Nevada Commission to ban the hunting of horses from airplanes. But she wanted more. Next, she lobbied the Nevada Legislature, where a heckler derisively named her "Wild Horse Annie." His name-calling backfired. The nickname stuck and the movement grew like wildfire.
Wild Horse Annie got newspapers, magazines and television interested in the plight of wild horses. And she encouraged grade-school children across the nation to write to Congress. The massive letter-writing campaigns paid off. In 1959, the hunting of wild horses by airplane was banned. On Dec. 15, 1971, the United States Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act protecting these living remnants of the Old West.
Johnston founded WHOA (Wild Horse Organized Assistance), which continues to advocate the cause of the mustangs, and which helped coordinate the first auction efforts of the Bureau of Land Management.
Today, the president of WHOA is Dawn Lappin, who also operates a wild horse refuge in Nevada. In the past 20 years or so, she has adopted hundreds of horses.
Wild Horse Annie died in 1977. But her legacy lives on, wild and free.