Bill took many a trainload of horses East, but never had he a more eventful trip than that first one for Mr. Spreckles. The horse "pullman" bedded twelve horses to the car, to keep booths narrow enough so the horses couldn't be tossed round during transit. Including his fee, he figured it cost Spreckles at least one hundred twenty-five dollars a head to get the horses safely to the Eastern Market. He knew, too, he couldn't tolerate any trifling on the part of his men, the grooms, or even the train crew.
His "horse pullman" had scheduled overnight stops at Ogden and at Omaha, so he wanted to give the horses a chance to rest and get over the nervous effects of their journey before going on to New York. Also, he wanted them to arrive in the best condition and without having to suffer any unpleasantness along the way. So when members of the train crew coupled a sheep car onto the horse pullman, his temper flared. Immediately, he uncoupled the odious car. Later, he discovered the sheep car again had been attached to his horse train, and again he uncoupled it. Sheep were unfit to ride on the same train as his blooded animals.
"Let me tell you, you big galoot," he shouted at the brakeman, "If you couple that stinking car of yours to my horses again, I'll put you in a car with a bunch of wild stallions...tell that engineer I don't want anymore loud whistle blasts either."
Standing on top of the freight car, Bill looked more than twice his two hundred pounds. The trainman decided it was healthier to let the sheep go on another train.
It was a trip that paid off handsomely, for the horses averaged one thousand dollars a head. But, more important, it was a trip that was to catapult the young trainer to fame. My brother Everett loved to repeat this story, and his eyes would brighten whenever he told it.
Madison Square Garden was staging one of its horse shows so popular during that decade, and Bill decided to attend it. A wild stallion had been selected to be tamed with a prize offered to anyone who could as much a pick up a hoof. Bill knew he could match wits with any wild horse, but, being unknown to the Garden exhibitions, he did not want to appear too forward. So, while he was trying to make up his mind, another husky young lad came up to accept the challenge. The stranger approached the animal confidently, but when he reached too quickly for the halter, the frightened stallion showed its temper by baring its teeth.
William, with his quickness of mind, knew full well an angry horse will attack. Keeping his eye on the horse's challenger, he saw the untamed stallion charge for the would-be tamer. The young man quickly lost interest in the prize and made a rush for his seat, with the angry horse following.
When the nose of the horse touched the marked barrier behind which sat the audience, William knew it was time to stop him. So with thunderbolt speed, he grabbed the horse's tail with a mighty left hand, and the halter with the other. Then, with a fast jerk and a powerful shove, the horse spun from his feet to land upon his back, less than two feet away from the first row of boxes!
Still holding the untamed horse, Bill faced the panic-stricken crowd and in a confident voice, shouted, "This animal can be gentled in less than one hour. Would you like me to try?"
"Let's see you do it," the audience shouted.
"Go ahead," challenged the master of ceremonies.
Some of the more timid men and women in the boxes got up to go, but Bill commanded them, "Keep your seats. In a few minutes any little child in the house will be able to ride this horse."
They sat down, confident the might of this young man would work its miracle. The astonished horse seemed paralyzed, as the spellbound audience watched Bill both tire and charm the fractious animal, according to the method he had been taught by his Irish father and Seamus Kelly in Hawaii.
He first tied the horse's tail in a loop, using a small rope he carried with him in his coat pocket for whatever occasion might arise, and often did while working around the corrals. It was the singular head and tail method he had found so effective in quickly mastering a fractious horse. Then he put the halter rein through the loop, and pulled the horse's head around to the horse's side, not too far as to make the animal uncomfortable, yet tight enough to keep him in perfect control. The animal now could be turned loose in the straw-covered arena, while the fascinated audience onlookers saw the powerful animal twirl around and around. There was a thick tenseness in the packed Garden; all seemed afraid the stallion might break loose again and charge once more.
But Bill knew the stallion couldn't go anywhere. He knew, also, that when the horse was convinced there was nothing else he could do he would, in time, stop. And it did not take long for the once frightened animal to put his trust in this big man who had responded to his fearful cry for help from the vast throng of people who had him completely surrounded.
When the horse stopped, the master of ceremonies handed the "professor" a long whip as Bill had requested. Then Bill touched the horse gently over his body, keeping this up until the animal was completely assured that man and no intention of hurting him.
Now, "Professor Mullen," as the master of ceremonies referred to Bill, began to work first one side of the horse, then the other side. The crowd marveled at the trainer's mastery over the stallion as well as his method for quieting him. They could see he didn't use the whip with its cutting thongs. He didn't use spurs with sharp points, cruel bits or nose tortures. He didn't use a suffering post. All he used was his will to convince the animal there was no need to try to defend himself.
After thirty minutes of tactful handling, Bill gently loosened the tie hold on his head. The horse was now free, yet he remained close to the man who had proven to him he was his friend. He had no reason to leave this man's side.
Bill then invited anyone in the audience, even a little child, to come forward and get on the animal's back. He knew the horse would never be more gentle than he was now.
Yet no one came. So William threw himself on the horse's back and rode him with only a halter on, while the entire Garden applauded wildly. Some people cringed, as though they would prefer to see a horse held by a cruel bit than by a youth's quiet confidence. Bill sensed the fear that still gripped the audience who, even with so graphic a demonstration, could not accept the power of gentleness.
So, smiling, the tamer leaped off the animal and, after saddling and bridling the now-gentle stallion, Bill rode around the arena while the crowd cheered madly. They felt they were safe from this spirited animal now that his tamer had put a bit in his mouth. Bill knew they were eager for drama, so he rode the horse up to the very tip of the rope that marked off the barrier between the arena and the audience, and brought the stallion up on his haunches. He turned him around, made him take off in the other direction.
The audience was delighted with this example of perfect horsemanship. They had never seen such skill! Better still, the horse was convinced his master sat on his back!
Now the recently-gentled animal was unsaddled. A girth was buckled on him and one forefoot was secured to it so Bill could demonstrate how the horse could be made to lie down and get up at the trainer's will. Finally, Bill turned to the master of ceremonies and said, "Now if you would like to bring in a harness and Democrat (cart), I'll hitch him to it and drive him around the ring so everyone can observe that a wild horse can be tamed and put into harness in less than one hour's time."
"Let's see you do it. Let's see you do it." Cries came from all over the great hall. To tame and harness a charging stallion all within an hour! It was impossible.
The Garden hands rushed in with the requested equipment.
In a little more than forty minutes from the time the untamed charger had stampeded toward the dress circle, the smiling young man was seated in a cart, driving around the ring as if he had hitched a gentle plow horse to his cart.
The New York papers next morning gave a full account of the most astonishing horse show ever staged in the Garden. Certainly, America now accepted the young, unknown Mullen as the World's Greatest Horse Trainer.
Only one person in the world could have done it (the account in the NEW YORK SUN read), the handsome young horse tamer from San Francisco who spoke in an Irish brogue and who, by some strange coincidence, was talking in Hawaiian to two stable hands. His name? William Mullen, who gave a performance with a wild charger he had never seen before, putting this trainer to the greatest test of skill and judgment and supplied the Garden with all the excitement of a Roman amphitheater, but with none of the cruelty. He proved, however, he was not a gladiator but an educator, and taught his horse as well as his audience that a horse is bad only if he is badly treated. Gentleness had conquered brute force.
Bill took out of his pocket the clipping from the New York paper of his horse taming feat; unfolded it carefully; and read it again and, with half a smile, keeping most of the rejoicing inside himself, folded it up again and put it back into his vest pocket. In the days ahead he was to read it many more times. And his children would read it too, for many years to come, even when horseless carriages would replace the horse whom American men so loved above all other sports.
To Chapter Three
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