Mustangs have always been part of Annie Bronn’s life and heritage. Her father, as an infant, survived his family’s move to Nevada only because one of their team had just had a colt; the mare’s milk supported not only her own offspring, but the human child as well. As an adult, her father ran a freighting business, using mustang teams to haul over the mountains. As a child, Bronn loved horses and worked with them doing tasks usually reserved for older hands, as the horses trusted her. As a tween, suffering through not only the after effects of polio, but the limited treatments of the early 1920s, a painting of mustangs sustained her emotionally.
The belief that others respected the animals as she did evaporated one day when, driving to work, she pulled onto the road behind a truck carrying injured horses to the slaughterhouse to be used for animal feed1. She worked to expose this to the public, feeling (rightly as it turned out) that while there were a great many people in favor of this, many more would be as outraged as she. After a great deal of networking, information gathering and public speaking work on Bronn’s part (and legislators in Nevada) pushed a bill through the state legislature to protect mustangs from hunting procedures involving air pursuit in conjunction with trucks on the ground, on state-owned land in Nevada.
The catch? Eighty-six percent of land in Nevada at the time was federal land. Bronn continued campaigning, and in 1959, the “Wild Horse Annie” Act (P.L. 86-234) prohibited pursuit by motorized vehicles and poisoning water supplies. Her struggle continued through the 1960s, until the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (P.L. 92-195) passed in 1971; the establishment of refuges on federal land helped a great deal. This still required vigilance on the part of the organizations which she founded and others with which she worked to enforce the new laws; there is to this day a great deal of land in the Western United States which is uninhabited by people, and in the Fifties and Sixties, the issue of how to enforce these laws over areas with little access by road was a concern, to say the least.
The book is somewhat telescoped, in order to make for better reading: while the events are all very true, they were spread out over a greater number of years than they appeared to take in the novel. While in reality, it makes a great deal of sense for Henry to tweak events to make for better reading–there’s a reason why her works are always in the fiction section of the library along with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books–I’ll confess to being a trifle crestfallen. I’ll just have to remind myself that what Johnston did is still important: she fought for legislation to protect mustangs from inhumane hunting techniques. “Dumb” animals they may be, but horses can still feel fear and pain. Apparently, the fight continued, both in Nevada and outside of it, after Mustang was published in 1966.
1no, the purpose for which they were used isn’t the horrifying part. Unless you’re a vegan, get over it.