Little did she know that a sleepless night in 2007 would lead her to an adventure of a lifetime. Melody Aufill, teacher at Yale elementary, and her co-worker and friend, Donna McChesney traveled over 9,000 miles last summer retracing the steps of two other Oklahomans – The Abernathy Boys.
Aufill, the driving force behind the adventure, said one night while staying at her parents’ home, she found herself unable to sleep. Thinking she’d read herself to sleep, she selected a book from her father’s bookshelf.
“I thought I would read a little bit and fall asleep,” Aufill said. However, instead of getting sleepy, she became totally captivated by the story and read until her eyes simply would not stay open any more.
“I think I read until 3 a.m.,” Aufill said. “I read nearly every bit of it – I just couldn’t put it down.”
The captivating story Aufill was referring to is “Bud & Me: The True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys.” The boys, Bud and Temple Abernathy, were a duo who became famous for their cross-country travels on horseback beginning at the tender ages of 5 and 9 and ending at ages 7 and 11.
“I always answer the question before it gets asked,” Aufill said with a laugh. “Their mother was dead and their father – Jack “Catch ‘em alive” Abernathy was known for his own adventures.”
(Abernathy gained his notoriety for his ability to capture wolves by running his hand down their throats.)
It is difficult for anyone to imagine two boys riding across country on horseback alone and at such a young age – but they did. Bud and Temple, hearing their father’s tales, insisted upon their own adventures. In an attempt to appease their early wanderlust, Jack told the boys they could make a trip on their own from their home near Frederick, OK to Guthrie. However, instead of appeasing them, the trip left them wanting more. Deciding they wanted to see real, live peach trees, the boys rode to New Mexico where they not only saw peaches, but met the Governor. By 1910, the boys – then 6 and 10 – became true celebrities when they traveled on horseback from their Oklahoma home to New York City and Washington, D.C. The return trip, however, was made by automobile after the boys purchased a small car – a Brush runabout. With Temple as his navigator, 10 year old Bud drove them home.
Bud and Temple’s third and final long-distance adventure came about a year later when they were challenged to ride cross-country from Coney Island to Golden Gate Park in just 60 travel days. If they completed the trip in the allotted time and according to the rules laid down by their father and the sponsors of the challenge, they would receive $10,000. Unfortunately, it took them 62 days instead of the 60 – therefore they never received the money. At one point, a group of men offered to help them by giving them and their horses a ride on a train for part of the trip. The men promised not to tell, but the boys – showing great integrity – declined saying that even if no one else found out, they would know.
It was this series of adventures and that deep integrity that led Aufill to apply for a grant to retrace their travels as much as possible.
“I thought the experience could serve as a great teaching tool for my students,” Aufill said. “I also knew I couldn’t do it by myself, so I invited Donna.”
“Initially she asked me if I wanted to help her with a project,” McChesney said. “I agreed – thinking it would be a weekend or something. The more Melody talked, I finally asked, ‘how long of a trip are we talking about here?"”
Once the application was submitted, the waiting began. And although neither of the women believed they would be selected, the anticipation was agonizing.
“I’ll bet Melody checked the mail three or four times a day,” McChesney teased.
Finally, the word came. They had been chosen to receive $10,000 in grant money from Fund for Teachers.
“We were so excited,” Aufill said. “We couldn’t believe it.”
It’s been nearly a year now since Aufill and McChesney departed on their adventure and it’s STILL hard for them to believe.
Aufill and McChesney rolled all three of the Abernathy boys’ trip into one – beginning with a three day trip on horseback from Frederick to Guthrie. Neither of the women were accustomed to riding, but wanted to include it as part of their experience. The ladies traveled 80 miles before one of the horses became ill. From then on, they traveled via the automobile.
“We really wanted Ford to loan us a 21st century version of a horse – a nice Mustang,” Aufill said with a laugh. “But that didn’t happen.”
For 44 days and nearly 9500 miles, the women traveled from Oklahoma to New York City then across country to San Francisco. Their itinerary – charted from the boys’ trips – included stops at national landmarks such as Mount Vernon, presidential monuments in Washington, D.C., Niagara Falls, the Badlands, the Great Salt Lake, the Grand Canyon and much more. Along the way, like the boys, they met local and state dignitaries.
“We didn’t get to meet the President, though,” Aufill said. “I’d still like it if we could meet President Bush. Not only was he the President at the time of our trip, he’s somewhat of a cowboy – I just think it would be cool.”
Although they may not have experienced everything they might have wanted to, both women agree it was a life-changing experience.
“I feel so fortunate and blessed to have been able to do this,” Aufill said.
McChesney agreed, pointing out, “It’s made us more compassionate toward our students about stepping out of their comfort zones. We definitely know what that’s like now.”
Check out the Aufill and McChesney blog documenting their trip. Visit https://abernathyadventures2008.blogspot.com.