Wyoming’s Bucking Horse Logo Dates Back To WWI — And It’s Not Steamboat

There are few things that say “Wyoming” more than its bucking horse and rider logo. What’s not as well-known is its origin. It was drawn during World War I by a Wyoming artist fighting in the war. And it wasn't based on Steamboat.

LW
Leo Wolfson

July 07, 20248 min read

World War I soldiers sit on a large cannon that's sporting George Ostrom's bucking horse and rider logo.
World War I soldiers sit on a large cannon that's sporting George Ostrom's bucking horse and rider logo. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

There are few things that scream “Wyoming” more than its iconic bucking horse and rider logo. What’s not as well-known is the true origin of the logo, which has an intriguing story with as many twists and turns as the artist who drew it.

The logo came under fire last week when animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called for Wyoming to take the logo off its license plates and offer other alternatives because the bucking horse promotes rodeo, a sport the group opposes as cruel.

Like many in the Cowboy State, Clearmont resident Jeanne Camino said she finds PETA’s anti-bucking horse campaign ridiculous because the origin of the original design has nothing to do with rodeo.

And she would know. Camino is the granddaughter of George Ostrom, who is widely credited for designing the first bucking horse insignia during World War I.

“I really have a problem with organizations like PETA that come in and try to change the whole narrative of the state of Wyoming because there’s a bucking horse on the license plate,” Camino said. “I just have a hard time believing that something that has been a part of this state for as long as it’s become a state, that we have a little group of activist people that wanted it completely taken away, and there’s no logical background to why they think it should be taken off.”

Story Behind The Drawing

It was Ostrom, who as a member of the Wyoming National Guard stationed in France and Germany during World War I, designed the bucking horse insignia as a logo for his battalion.

The actual inspiration for the logo had come much earlier, Camino said.

In 1913, he bought a young colt from some Crow Indians at a rodeo in Sheridan and named the horse Redwing, according to a 1958 interview Ostrom gave that’s now on file at the Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

At the time, Redwing was too young for Ostrom to bring with him as he fought in the Mexican Border War.

By the time he returned home to Sheridan, Redwing had grown up to become a fine sorel that Ostrom ended up breaking and training.

Ostrom then signed up to fight in World War I, serving as a member of the 148th Field Artillery Brigade for the Wyoming National Guard.

  • A cannon with George Ostrom's bucking horse and rider.
    A cannon with George Ostrom's bucking horse and rider. (Wyoming State Archives)
  • An American military unit overseas during World War I with the bucking horse and rider displayed prominently.
    An American military unit overseas during World War I with the bucking horse and rider displayed prominently. (Wyoming State Archives)
  • One of George Ostrom's sketches from World War I.
    One of George Ostrom's sketches from World War I. (University of Wyoming Heritage Center)
  • George Ostrom and his famous horse, Redwing.
    George Ostrom and his famous horse, Redwing. (University of Wyoming Heritage Center)
  • George Ostrom is largely credited with designing the original bucking horse insignia for Wyoming.
    George Ostrom is largely credited with designing the original bucking horse insignia for Wyoming. (University of Wyoming Heritage Center)
  • Jeanne Camino is the granddaughter of George Ostrom, who created the iconic Wyoming bucking horse logo during World War I.
    Jeanne Camino is the granddaughter of George Ostrom, who created the iconic Wyoming bucking horse logo during World War I. (Courtesy Photo)

And Bears, Too

As a prank, Ostrom said he attempted to bring Redwing with him on the Army train leaving town so the horse could be with him in Europe. After receiving some initial interest, but then being told the horse was too young to travel, Ostrom kept working at it. He then went to a baggage car and made a stall for Redwing, which he took to Cheyenne.

Redwing quickly became the most popular horse to ride among the officers in Cheyenne, but he wasn’t the only animal resident within the battalion ranks. They also had two bear cubs that would amble across the grounds and over to the kitchen at night for handouts.

One night, the regiment was lined up for a parade that was being led by a major officer. As soon as the young bruins cut across the parade grounds and eventually came into Redwing’s sightline, the horse bolted, leaving the major airborne for a second before falling.

This, Ostrom said, was the inspiration for his famous drawing.

Ostrom painted the original bucking bronco design on a bass drum with black camouflage paint when the troops were requested to submit a design for their battalion’s logo.

While he was painting, a high explosive shell fell into the drum, causing a paint brush laying on the rim of the drum to fall loose and make “some of the most beautiful little dabbles across the drumhead and right across the bronco,” Ostrom said.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Ostrom said the colonel and acting general immediately closed the competition and chose the bucking horse logo as the winner. It wasn’t long before every piece of equipment belonging to the battalion bore the insignia.

While in the war, Ostrom drew many sketches of battle scenes he had seen before his own eyes. These were done with pen and ink as he was colorblind, Camino said.

Redwing eventually made it to France, but the two were separated during the war and Ostrom said the horse never saw battle.

When the war was over, the pair reunited, but unfortunately it was a reunion short-lived, as Ostrom could not afford to ship Redwing back to the states. He ended up selling the Wyoming horse to the French government for $165.

“That’s the last I seen of Redwing, and I think he spent his days there,” Ostrom said.

What About The License Plate?

The bucking horse logo chosen for the Wyoming license plate was designed by Colorado resident Allen True after being commissioned by then-Secretary of State Lester Hunt for the task.

True had painted the murals in the Wyoming House and Senate chambers nearly two decades earlier, according to the Wyoming Historical Society.

Although there’s no evidence that True took inspiration directly from Ostrom’s design, Suzi Taylor, an archivist at the Wyoming State Archives, said a strong argument could be made that it indirectly influenced what True produced.

It was because of Ostrom’s drawing, she said, the bucking horse symbol became something of a cultural icon in Wyoming after World War I, as many returning veterans felt it symbolized their service.

The design started showing up in various locations around Wyoming, including an exhibit in Lander.

“The inspiration was there,” Taylor said. “It was just a different artist with a different interpretation.”

There are some critical differences between the license plate logo and Ostrom’s design, the Wyoming Historical Society notes. True’s design, unlike Ostrom’s, shows only three of the horse’s legs. In addition, the back of True’s horse is not hunched. Both cowboys are waving their hats, but their arms are at different angles.

Hunt, who was from Lander, copyrighted the bucking bronco in his name to be used on the state’s license plates, drawing outrage from some of Ostrom’s fellow troops who said the state had stolen it, Ostrom said.

Ostrom himself wouldn’t go that far, but said the drawing “might have given someone a good idea.”

Hunt took full credit for designing the logo.

After initially being rejected by Hunt in his request to make a memorial out of the design for the Wyoming troops who served in World War I, Ostrom later convinced Hunt to dedicate the copyright to the state of Wyoming.

“Mr. Hunt had a very good idea and done it, so now the bucking bronco is on your license plates and merrily going down the road,” Ostrom said.

  • Wyoming Secretary of State Lester Hunt with an image of George Ostrom's original bucking horse and rider drawing.
    Wyoming Secretary of State Lester Hunt with an image of George Ostrom's original bucking horse and rider drawing. (Wyoming State Archives)
  • Lester Hunt with a 1936 Wyoming license plate featuring the bucking horse and rider.
    Lester Hunt with a 1936 Wyoming license plate featuring the bucking horse and rider. (Wyoming State Archives)
  • Morris Dutch Coorthell riding Steamboat in the 1910 Albany County Fair.
    Morris Dutch Coorthell riding Steamboat in the 1910 Albany County Fair. (Wyoming State Archives)
  • A 1908 postcard featuring legendary rodeo bronc Steamboat in action in Albany County.
    A 1908 postcard featuring legendary rodeo bronc Steamboat in action in Albany County. (Wyoming State Archives)

Decades Later, He Gets His Due

In 1973, Ostrom was officially recognized by former Gov. Stan Hathaway for his design of the insignia.

The image is such an important identifier for Wyoming that in 1990, the Wyoming Centennial Commission used it as the mark for the Wyoming Centennial Celebration, according to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office.

Although many people also confuse the bucking horse design with the extremely similar University of Wyoming’s logo, Taylor said they have totally different origins.

That bucking horse, she said, was inspired by a photo taken of the legendary rodeo horse Steamboat in the early 1900s at the Albany County Fair.

The first team at UW to sport this logo was the baseball team, which counted future Gov. Milward Simpson as one of its players. Simpson is the father of former Wyoming Senator Al Simpson.

A Wyoming Life

Ostrom went on to live the life of a true Old West cowboy, working as a livestock counter, silversmith, saddle maker and artist. Known as “PoPo” by his granddaughter Camino, Ostrom also helped build a road between Sheridan and Rapid City, South Dakota.

Although he was a well-known trapper of wolves, Camino said her grandfatgher cared deeply about the species and advocated for their existence when they nearly went extinct in Wyoming. He was also an ally to local Native Americans and was given a number of headdresses by members of the tribe.

“There was no end to what he could do,” Camino said.

He even had a beer with Buffalo Bill Cody once, who he described as “kind of a homely fella, but nice.”

Through it all, Ostrom had a small bucking horse insignia on his International Harvester Scout off-road vehicle.

“It was what George Ostrom stood for,” Camino said.

Ostrom died in 1982 at the age of 94. Camino worries that his story and the true origins of the bucking horse could be lost for future generations if not properly told.

Some of Ostrom’s work can be found in the Wyoming National Guard Museum and State Museum in Cheyenne.

“I want people in Wyoming to know exactly where the original bucking horse came from and how important it is to remember that,” Camino said. “If we can’t try to keep this alive it’s going to die.”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter