Editor’s Note: The following column originally appeared on Jan. 17, 2016.
John L. Roundtree came to Texas in 1839. It was not long before he heard the legend of a beautiful white stallion running free between the Guadalupe, San Marcos and Blanco River Valleys, a stallion that had evaded all attempts to capture him. Roundtree, in his memoirs, described the story. Actually, there were several stories of the white stallion, all blended into one, making this the greatest horse story in Texas. His passion for freedom was admired by all who knew the story. The animal had the markings of a pure-bred Arabian, perfect in body, his alertness and vitality was superb. He was pure white and his tail was so long it touched the grass. There was no information on where the stallion had originated. His herd of mares, normally numbered from fifty to sixty head, double the size of most wild mustangs.
He led his mares to watering places along the Guadalupe and Blanco Rivers and was said to range south as far as the Nueces River Valley but always returned to his favorite grazing grounds. A Mexican rancher named Santa Ana Cruz was determined to catch the horse for the reward of five hundred dollars offered by a number of ranchers or have the animal for his own herd. Cruz had a ranch with numerous vaqueros who had chased the stallion at different times for more than seventy miles. When they gave up and returned to the ranch the stallion was back grazing in the area with his manada or herd of mares. Santa Cruz picked 12 riders, furnished each of them with two horses selected for speed and endurance, and placed them in the direction the stallion might be expected to lead his herd After a scout saw the stallion and his manada go to water on the Guadalupe, the nearest rider of the twelve men began the chase. The white horse moved out in the direction of San Antonio. The first day he did not keep his usual direction but on the second day he had circled back toward his favorite range. He was crowded harder, his mares lagged more and on the third day he crossed the Guadalupe again, heading southwest. For three days and three nights the Santa Cruz men ceaselessly pursued him. The time picked for the chase was during the full moon in June and the country covered was mostly open prairie.
Before the third day, every animal in the manada following the stallion had been run down but the stallion never broke his ground covering trot. The men finally gave up and returned to the ranch. The stallion had continued toward the Nueces River and the wide open country. In that dry part of the country the water holes were few and far between. About three miles from one of the water holes in one of the canyons there was a small ranch owned by a Mexican family. The water hole was boxed in by canyon walls on both sides and a high bluff above, leaving only one entrance and one exit. All stock and animals watered at the large pool, the only watering place within a radius of many miles.
One hot afternoon a vaquero from the ranch saw a lone white horse approaching in a slow pace from the north. At the instant of seeing him the Vaquero hid and watched as the horse approached. His behavior indicated he had smelled the water. He was very gaunt, indicating he had not drunk for some time, but his movements were sure and alert. Here was the chance for the vaquero to capture the famous stallion. He knew the stallion would drink deep and come out logged with water. The vaquero placed himself in a position for a sure throw with his rope when the animal emerged. He did not have long to wait. Within a few minutes the long sought-for-stallion emerged, his ears working and his body refreshed. He saw the trap and made a dash. The stallion had travelled more than two hundred miles from his range on the Guadalupe, in great circles evading his pursuers. His great endurance was at last wearing out and the water that had refreshed him now loaded him down.
The loop went over his head but he did not run away at full speed, but stopped, indicating he had been roped before. The vaquero guided his pony around a mesquite tree and used it as a snubbing post, causing the stallion to be forced to draw up close. After tying him up, the vaquero rode quickly back to the ranch for help and returned two hours later with two more men. Three ropes were placed over the stallion’s head and he was led back to the ranch. They tied him to a spot on the ranch where there was plenty of grass, brought a half barrel of water for him to drink, then left him. When night came he was still standing where they had tied him, not having taken a mouthful of grass and not having drunk any of the water. He didn’t even look at the water. For ten days and ten nights he remained there, not moving, grass all about him, water at his nostril’s tip, without taking a bite or one swallow of water. Then he lay down and died.
I guess he felt like Patrick Henry who said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” As he had lived, he had died, noble and never surrendering.