Educators to retrace path

Zeke Campfield
The Sunday Constitution

FREDERICK – Bud and Temple Abernathy may have come and gone, but at least two Oklahoma educators are determined to help their story live on.

Melody Aufill and Donna McChesney, fifth – and sixth-grade teachers in Yale, are retracing the footsteps left by the Abernathy Boys, who in 1910, at the ages of 6 and 10, took their first of many horseback trips from Frederick across the country by themselves. “They were just such remarkable kids, and I think that’s in all kids – maybe not to do that, but to do something adventurous,” Aufill said. “The things that are there, that are documented, we want to do them as closely as possible, and we’re going to take that spirit with us.”

A week into their trip – funded by a $10,000 Fund For Teachers grant – Aufill and McChesney have already ridden 80 miles on horseback, visited with a local historian in Roosevelt, toured the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and saw Quanah Parker’s original home at Eagle Park in Cache.

They have also stumbled into many unexpected happenings, much like the Abernathy Boys must have during their treks.

Aufill compared the crashing of her laptop computer – used to post updates on their blog – to a time when Temple got sick from drinking bad water on a trip to Santa Fe. “They were only a couple days into their trip when he got sick, and they could’ve turned around and gone home, but they didn’t,” Aufill said. “They had several things like that happen.”

“When Bud and Temple went on their journey, I’m sure everything wasn’t perfect,” added McChesney. “But instead of giving up when they had problems, they just kept on going.”

The two teachers first got into the story of the Abernathy Boys after Aufill used a book written by Temple Abernathy’s wife, Alta, in her literature class last year. She fell in love with the story, and then her students fell in love with the story.

“Most people when you tell them are just amazed, but amazingly, most people haven’t heard the story,” she said.

In the story of the Abernathy Boys, the boys’ father, Jack Abernathy, was of high esteem in this region, and his coyote-catching antics caught the attention of then President Theodore Roosevelt, who came by train for a hunting excursion on Abernathy’s land. After Bud and Temple mapped out their own trip to go visit Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., their father relented and they set out east on horseback. Town after town they were greeted like celebrities, taken in by mayors and governors and meeting with reporters along the way. Roosevelt was no longer president when they arrived, so they headed north to New York City and rode in a tickertape parade upon Roosevelt’s return from an African safari before driving themselves home in a Brush car.

Later, the boys trekked to Santa Fe as well as rode from New York to San Francisco in 62 days.

Aufill and McChesney have mapped out a trip that combines all the boys’ adventures and includes visits with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (“He was intrigued by the story,” Aufill said. “He loved it.”), tours at the White House in Washington, D.C., a Broadway play in New York City and, as an homage to the time Bud and Temple were stranded by their horses in the middle of the Utah desert, some time alone in the middle of nowhere. “We’re actually going to go sit out in the Salt Lake Desert for a couple hours, just to get the feeling,” Aufill said.

They also hope to meet today’s counterpart to President Roosevelt.

“We don’t have everything exactly planned, but I’m holding out to meet President Bush,” McChesney said. “Where’s Teddy Roosevelt when you need him?”

Their goal is to take their school lessons above and beyond the normal text-book experience, so all the while, they are posting their daily activities online for students back home, keeping a daily journal and taking plenty of pictures and video.

“We want to experience some of the same experiences they did,” McChesney said. “We’ll just be able to build on what (Aufill) was able to do just by reading the book.’

Aufill said the artifacts, maps and pictures they collect along the way will be useful in helping the kids prepare their own projects and presentations.

“We want them to pick an aspect – the National Parks we visited or maybe one of the cities we saw – and build a presentation off of that,” she said. “This is what I’m passionate about, but they are going to have to pick something to study and read about and do an in-depth story on, whether it’s fashion, sports or something out of this book.” The two said, despite a handful of setbacks, the trip is going exactly as planned.

“It was such a beautiful time to ride through the wheat fields, see the different patterns in them and see all the wildlife,” McChesney said. “If you want to take a good look at what’s around, you gotta do it by horseback.”

They’ve been duly impressed by how passionate the Frederick community is about their famed Abernathy Boys.

“I’m just amazed at the pride Frederick has in its community,” Aufill said. “We are excited, they are excited for us and the hospitality has been excellent. It’s a neat experience.”