March 8 is International Women’s Day. March 5 was the day Velma Bronn Johnston was born. WHE declare this “Wild Horse Annie Weekend!”
On March 5, 1912 a child was born to Joseph Bronn and Gertrude Clay. Velma would later speak of how she was saved as an infant by the milk of a mustang mare coming across the deserts in a covered wagon. When she was 11 years old she became disfigured after having to spend months in a cast in a San Francisco hospital while being treated for polio. Throughout her childhood she was often ridiculed and taunted by other children and later spoke about how this taught her empathy for others, including mustangs, that through no fault of their own were ostracized. She married Charles Johnston, her neighbor. They ran a dude ranch (on the Truckee river near Wadsworth NV) and Velma worked as a secretary in Reno.
It was in 1950 when she saw a trailer heading down the road with blood dripping from it. The truck was crammed full of wild horses heading to slaughter for pet food. The blood was coming from a colt that was being trampled to death.
That moment changed her life forever. In the years to come she was given the nickname “Wild Horse Annie” as an insult. She adopted the moniker.
In 1959 her crusade of exposure led to the passage of legislation known as the Wild Horse Annie Act (P.L. 86-234) It prohibited the use of any form of motorized vehicles to capture wild horses and well as the poisoning of water holes done either to capture or kill wild horses. Federal and state authorities rarely, if ever, enforced the law.
She continued her fight. The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (P.L. 92-195) which was unanimously passed and signed into law in 1971. This law had the intention of protecting and preserving wild horses as a priority at the time of the passage of the Act in 303 areas throughout the western US.
In 1975 the first official roundup since the Act was passed took place at Stone Cabin. Velma was there. Her protector and husband had passed away and she was ill, battling cancer. She went with a handful of observers as she received death threats for fighting against the wholesale capture and slaughter of our mustangs.
On June 27th, 1977, Velma lost her battle with cancer. She was 65 years old.
This abbreviated biography touches on the work and woman that was Velma Johnston, Wild Horse Annie.
She was plucky; she smoked, swore, played poker. Yet Velma could put on the polish as she spoke to Congress. She was not wealthy and her organization was often run over by big money animal rights groups. She made a lot of her own suits that she wore as she spoke with legislators and gave testimony. Velma and her organization were actually on the “hit list” of the Manson family as they saw her as a friend of the government as she worked on a fster care program (later became the adoption program)
We highly recommend a book by Alan Kania, who worked with Velma and stood with her at that first roundup: Wild Horse Annie: Velma Johnston and Her Fight to Save the Mustang
Our founder was so moved by the book by Kania that she was inspired to “Aplogize” to Velma. You can read that piece HERE.
Every event, story and accomplishment in the life of any human being has many layers. When we are discussing the life of someone that created a movement, changed law and inspired so many, each layer is worth a deeper understanding (again, we suggest reading the book).
The roundup at Stone Cabin was one event near the time of her death. The first roundup came with litigation as counties and states claimed the 1971 Act was unconstitutional and that they should be able to confiscate the wild horses and send them to slaughter. The courts found the law was valid and furthermore required BLM to do any future removals using the NEPA process. (more here)
Cases brought by counties in modern times echo that very first legal battle in many ways. Underneath it all simply lies a resentment that a fast way to make a buck through brutal capture and destruction is now regulated.
photos above taken over the years at Stone Cabin by WHE.
The movement begun on that day in 1950 when Velma Bronn Johnston saw that truck dripping with blood, taking wild horses off to be ground up for dog food, is still alive.
The 303 areas the Act was supposed to protect in 1971 have been reduced to 177. Most of those have populations BLM clams can only be sustained at under 100 wild horses on vast acres given to private profit livestock and mining.
We sit on the verge of the largest roundups in US history as livestock interests have taken political control and found allies in the same organizations that ran over Velma (yes, ASPCA and that other orgs undercut Velma. We really do suggest reading the book.)
This weekend we remember and honor the commitment of “Wild Horse Annie” and thank her for her stamina, grit and intelligence. Thank you Velma.
We urge you to read this article and take action. We need help to get Congress to add provisions to the release of additional funding that BLM must create management plans (HMAP) and not just roundups. Roundups, particularly large ones that increase reproduction rates after destabilizing herds, are not management and they compound problems in the long run. We need management, not removals and sterilization that will destroy the herds we have left. (HERE)
Help Keep Us In The Fight.
Categories: Wild Horse Education