Go-By and the Mustangers

In Pursuit of the Rainbow Stallion

By John M. Larsen

I never saw my father in a worse state of frustration than when he rode into our base camp in a cloud of desert dust on his horse Pepper, breathless and sweating, his face red with the excitement of the chase, only to discover that Frosty, his other horse, was gone.

This was 1945, and the BLM wanted to clean wild horses out of the benchlands that began west of the Snake River in Owyhee County, which we called the Owyhee Breaks. Word went out to any mustangers who could assist in the roundup, and my father was chosen as one of the riders. Neither my sister nor my mother, who were excellent horsemen, nor of course my ten-year-old self rode in the mustang roundup, as we were not mustangers.

What did it mean to be a mustanger? Well, to get a feel for the moment, right after WWII, the cowboy was king. A continuous stream of cowboy and Indian movies came out of Hollywood and riding that stream were stars such as John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, and Gene Autry, to name a few. By then automobiles had taken over but there was still immense love between human and horse, which had been the major mode of transportation since before biblical times. A mustanger was defined as a tried-and-true horsemen who could match the speed of a herd of wild horses to maneuver them. My father qualified because he had been a rodeo rider and was a horseman all his life.

There was a legend about the leader of the wild horse herd that the mustangers would pursue. This sorrel was called Go-By, because of his ability to elude would-be capturers, but he also had a coat that appeared to shimmer in the sunlight, which inspired a second name for him: the Rainbow Stallion. The roundup drew so much interest that MGM and two other movie news services sent crews to record the event.

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John M. Larsen

About John M. Larsen

John M. Larsen came to Idaho in 1940, went to high school in Marsing, and graduated from the College of Idaho. His parents were co-founders the Owyhee County Historical Society and from 1998 to 2018, John was either the society’s president or a board member. He worked for the City of Marsing and later was a consultant for the city until 2018.

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