In 1950 Velma Johnston, a shy Nevada ranch wife, came upon a horse trailer leaking blood. When she discovered the destination of the trailer and its occupants—a trio of terrified and badly injured wild horses—she launched a crusade that eventually reached the halls of Congress and changed the way westerners regard and treat the bands of mustangs and burros that roam their region.
Wild horses have been a subject of bitter controversy in the West for decades. To some, they are symbols of the West’s wild, free heritage. To others, they are rapacious grazers that destroy habitat and compete with domestic livestock and indigenous wildlife for scanty food and water. For years, free-ranging horses and burros were rounded up and shipped to slaughterhouses to be killed and turned into pet food. This practice provided an income for the “mustangers” who trapped and sold them, but it also involved horrendous cruelty and abuse of the animals.
Velma Johnston, who became known as “Wild Horse Annie,” undertook to stop the removal of wild horses and burros from US public lands and protect them from the worst aspects of mustanging. Her campaign attracted nationwide attention, as it led her from her rural Nevada County to state offices and finally to Washington, DC. Author Alan J. Kania worked closely with Johnston for seven years, and his biography provides unique insight into Wild Horse Annie’s life and her efforts to save the West’s wild horse herds through the passage of protective legislation.