The Great Horse Race of 1908
In 1908, the advent of the automobile on the streets of Denver was cause for concern. After all, the horse had been the preferred means of conveyance since gold was discovered in them thar hills just fifty years prior. It made sense that The Denver Post sponsored a spectacular publicity stunt showcasing the endurance and reliability of the horse – a 500-mile overland horse race from Evanston, Wyoming to Colorado’s capital city. Resident actress Cathrine Countiss saw this as the perfect opportunity to horn in on the press coverage.
On May 21st, Cathrine delivered a letter to the Horse Editor at The Denver Post.
To Horse Editor, Denver Post As a horsewoman who learned to ride upon the plains of my native Texas, I am keenly interested in the Great Endurance Race. Such competitions help develop stalwart Americanism. Before the contestants leave for Evanston, I will be glad to have them honor me by attending our performance of “Graustark” at the Tabor Grand on Monday night. Very sincerely, Cathrine Countiss
Her letter was printed in the paper the next day along with her fancy feathered portrait and that of a toothy Post race rider, Bob Brennan. Miss Countiss upped the ante by offering the winning rider a pair of solid silver spurs, and promised reserved seats in stage boxes at the opera house to the cowboys.
Cathrine had just opened Denver’s summer theatrical season with her own stock company of ten veteran actors, and was starring as Princess Yetive in Graustark based on a popular romance novel of the day. Hosting a herd of rough and ready Denver Post riders before a packed audience was just the media attention the Cathrine Countiss Company needed.
On the night of May 25th, before the Post’s special train left Denver for Wyoming, the newspaper invited the cowboys to a fine dinner at the Adams Hotel, who then marched to the Tabor Grand and were greeted with applause as they paraded into the house. The two dozen riders intended to stay for just the first act, but unanimously agreed to remain until the final curtain. During the ardent love scene where Miss Countiss, the Princess of Graustark was in the embrace of her lover, rider Hungry Bud McDonald remarked in a stage whisper that echoed throughout the house – Say fellers, if I only had a rope!
On May 30th, Wyoming Governor Marshall Hadsell fired his pistol to start the epic endurance race pitting Western saddle broncs against thoroughbred race horses. The race is legendary among horsemen and was dramatized and romanced in the 1975 film Bite the Bullet starring Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, and James Coburn. A week later, over 25,000 Denverites assembled along the finish line to cheer the cowboys home. Among them was Cathrine, of course, silver spurs in hand ready to award the winner. The next day The Denver Post ran her picture in the paper proudly sitting side-saddle on a rather tired-looking mount. In theatrical fashion, one must never let an opportunity to be seen escape without notice.
Images: The Denver Post; Cathrine Countiss Estate Archives; Denver Public Library Digital Collection,Western Heritage Collection, Photograph X-24748