By Billy Smith
Writing for “the silver screen,” as the outdated phrase goes, is the acreage of a few gifted word grazers. I don’t nibble in that pasture, but that doesn’t mean all of the stories in the cowboy/cowgirl genre have been told. Thankfully, Yellowstone and its offspring have fed an appetite for the Western lifestyle in unimaginable ways. It’s cool to be a cowboy today and, maybe cooler, to be a cowgirl—and a hard-chiseled one at that.
Nonetheless, there’s something missing. A little nugget of the cowboy/cowgirl story that’s been wrongly manifest for more than a century: an accurate portrayal of the Paint Horses in cowboy lore. The Paint Horse was a common sight in the West. Occasionally maligned for their aggressive portrayal of white-coat markings, the Paint Horse was a cow horse through and through. Despite the occasional discrimination that those splashy white markings created, the cow horse instinct was a constant.
The B-Westerns paid homage to the Paint Horse legacy of the West across at least two decades. Lucky Tex appeared in The Law West of Tombstone in 1938 and later in El Diablo Rides, Pioneer Days and in the Range Busters’ series, which also included a Paint named Silver Chief. Evelyn Finley road Lucky in Cowboy Commandos in 1943, a wonky B-movie that had its own set of Nazi bad guys who needed corralling.
Tom Keene rode an unnamed Paint in the historically significant RKO films of the 1930s. The Paint also appeared in the Son of the Borders, Scarlet River, The Cheyenne Kid and Crossfire.
Then there was John Preston’s “Dynamite, the Wonder Horse” and “Captain, the King of Dogs” during his two mid-1930s starring roles as “Morton of the Mounted.”
Bill Elliott rode an overo Paint cleverly named Pair O’Dice in the serial The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock, which didn’t really jive with history much, since Wild Bill was partial to mules. Dice also made appearances in Zorro Rides Again and in Duel in the Sun and the independently produced Sundown Riders and Tarzan’s Desert Mystery. Yeah, Tarzan’s. Desert. Mystery. The list of Paints during the heyday of the B-Westerns is long, but somehow, ending with Tarzan is probably the perfect location to put the breaks on during this sprint through history.
These white-spotted horses and their owners have fought a battle for recognition, respect and reflection. They’ve endured their own brand of bigotry. Fought for respect. Guffawed at the jokes, wiseacre comments and pure ignorance. So, I’m offering something to Yellowstone’s crafter Taylor Sheridan, an APHA lifetime member who seems to have mastered the dexterities of screen writing. Somewhere in the folds of horse folklore, there is a story. A vivid story. A story about horses with flash and people with grit. A story that grabs the imaginations of