MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Lawrence Ferguson has lived every cowboy’s dream by literally riding off into the sunset.
These days, he’s more likely to hit the road when the sun rises, except for an occasional day or two off so he and his horse can rest up while on an epic journey. So far, it’s taken them through Arkansas and into Oklahoma, with Ferguson’s sights set on Texas.
The News-Capital caught up with Ferguson when he rode into McAlester’s Old Town on Thursday, where he stopped to adjust his saddle and buy a bottle of soda pop. While adjusting his saddle rigging, he related how he began his journey in Arkansas.
“I’m riding from Fayetteville,” Ferguson said. Where’s he headed?
“I’m thinking about San Angelo,” said Ferguson, although he added that his heart isn’t totally settled on a destination.
The next step on his journey was to make it to the McAlester Union Stockyards. Some new friends he met while riding between Eufaula and McAlester hoped to get him a room at an inn and make arrangements for his horse, a gray named Leon, to spend the night in a stockyard corral.
That would be great, said Ferguson, who spent the previous couple of days camping along the shores of Lake Eufaula.
“I ain’t looked in a mirror in 13 days,” he said, wondering if he was looking a little scruffy. Not at all. Dressed in jeans, boots, a tan shirt and a white hat that’s seen some weather, he looked like a regular working cowboy.
“I’ve been a poor farmer,” he said.
Wherever he ends up, Ferguson said “I’m hoping to get some ranch work.”
He and Leon started on their journey earlier this month. During the brief break at Old Town, Leon took a break from nibbling at some grass to take a nip at Ferguson, who acknowledged the gray gelding can be a little contrary on occasion. He said he’s owned the horse, which is around 19, about 10 years.
What inspired him to start a ride all the way from Fayetteville to San Angelo?
“I had a chicken farm in Fayetteville,” Ferguson said. “We lost our chicken contract.” He told how the chicken operation had been a family business.
“I was the low man on the totem pole — so I rode off,” Ferguson said. San Angelo caught his attention because of a publication he’d read back on the chicken farm.
“We would get the Livestock Weekly from San Angelo,” Ferguson said. He also likes some of the cowboy and horse training-related shows he’s watched “on RFD-TV,” he said, referring to the rural cable channel.
Ferguson’s keeping no particular schedule.
“Some days I go five miles and some days I go 35 miles,” he said. “I stayed in Eufaula on the lake for two nights.”
Ferguson stopped to adjust his rigging not far from J.J. McAlester Antiques in McAlester’s Old Town. When Ferguson said he’d seen the 1969 John Wayne film “True Grit,” the conversation turned to how Wayne, portraying Rooster Cogburn in the film, rode to J.J. McAlester’s store — more like a trading post at the time.
Now, the J.J. McAlester store is just up the street.
If it was good enough for John Wayne, Ferguson felt it was good enough for him. Ferguson dipped his hat as way of saying goodbye, climbed into the saddle and rode past J.J. McAlester’s Antique Mall as well as all the other antique stores in Old Town, heading south.
He continued down U.S. Business 69, so he could double back toward the stockyards while avoiding the most congested parts of the regular highway traffic.
Thanks to the generosity of the people in the city, he put his horse up for the night in a corral at the McAlester Union Stockyards and he also found room at an inn, the Happy Days Hotel.
It felt so good to sleep in a real bed that he said he slept in on Friday — “burning daylight” as John Wayne said in his move, “The Cowboys.”
Ferguson seemed touched by the generosity of those he’d met in the McAlester area.
“There’s so many good people in the world,” Ferguson said Friday. “I feel so blessed by what everybody’s done for me. McAlester is such a nice town.”
Robin Burge and her family played a big part in finding that help, finding those in the city willing to put Ferguson and Leon up for the night and help with everything from a hotel room and a corral to providing horse feed and a collapsible watering trough Ferguson could take with him on the road to help in watering Leon.
Burge said she spotted Ferguson riding down the highway earlier in the week as he traveled between Eufaula and McAlester, where he was close to exiting off for a camping area. When she learned about his multi-state trek, she felt compelled to help him. She also felt impressed with his endeavor.
“It’s an inspiration to see someone follow his dream,” Burge said. “This is a pretty unique dream. It takes a commitment.”
She hopes there is someone in the other towns and cities through which Ferguson will traverse who will also help a rider and his horse get a little farther down the road.
“He’s a real genuine guy,” Burge said. “I wanted to help on this leg and hope somebody will help him on the next leg.”
When Ferguson had climbed into the saddle back in McAlester’s Old Town, the News-Capital asked if he’s carrying a cell phone.
Ferguson said he’s not. He performed both a symbolic and a practical act back in Arkansas.
“I threw it down when I left,” he said.
Ferguson planned to ride to Kiowa, where arrangements were made for him stay the night at a local ranch. He said he was getting a later than usual start, due to the comfort of a real bed. Still, like the proverbial cowboy, Ferguson felt the itch to be back on the saddle again.
“I’m going to eat lunch and I’m going to saddle up and head south,” he said.
Information from: McAlester News-Capital,http://www.mcalesternews.com
—By JAMES BEATY , McAlester News-Capital
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