40 years since haylift

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. It was 40 years ago today that the efforts to save a band of wild horses captured national attention.

The headline in the Feb. 27, 1969, edition of The Record-Courier said, "Haylift Saves Pinenut Wild Mustangs," and within a week the story was picked up by the two Reno newspapers and the Sacramento Bee. Soon the story was covered nationally on NBC's Huntley-Brinkley nightly news program.

The story of the starving mustangs began on Feb. 24, 1969, when a snowbound herd of wild horses was spotted in the Pine Nut Mountains. The Douglas County Sheriff's Posse was notified and rescue efforts began with the enlistment of Lake Tahoe Helicopters.

The R-C story read, "According to Max Jones, Douglas County Justice of the Peace, private pilot and longtime 'friend of the mustangs,' who was one of the first to learn of their plight, the haylift operation is scheduled to be resumed as often as weather permits, is one of the greatest humanitarian gestures of the decade, where no one involved has asked anything more than the opportunity to help the wild creatures.

"Jones gave commendation to Ed and Jeanine Court, owners of the newly Minden-based helicopter service, who said, 'You get the hay, we'll get it to the horses.'"

Court's helicopter pilots made runs to drop hay for a herd of about 30 horses stranded in deep snow on Bald Mountain. The horses were too weak to be bothered by the helicopters or by the men breaking up and scattering the hay.

Timothy hay was donated by Don Parks, Duane Mack and Herb Witt. Others ranchers donated more hay as the operation went on for more than a month until the horses were strong enough to get to their regular feeding areas when the snow melted.

A spirit of volunteerism arose in Carson Valley of the sort usually seen in the cooperation of neighbors working in barn raisings. Everyone worked for the cause. Fuel was donated, money was raised by service clubs and through bake sales organized by Douglas County school children. A benefit cocktail party at Harvey's Casino had raffle prizes of donated paintings and a diamond from Leonard Ludel.

Max Jones and Ed Court received words of encouragement and donations to the Pinenut Mustang Fund in the mail. The R-C reported that the fund received $7,000 in donations from people from every state and Canada.

The news of the haylift renewed the public's interest of wild horses. People followed the story and were made aware that mustangs were rounded up for sale to packing plants for dog food under loosely enforced laws.

The R-C printed letters from school children from around the United States and Canada. A headline on March 27, 1969, read, "New York Kids Say Save Mustangs, Trap Poachers."

The haylift drop ended by April 3, 1969, and legislation was outlined by the Pinenut Mustang Association to protect the wild horses from poachers. The R-C reported that Douglas-Ormsby assemblymen Lawrence Jacobsen and Dr. John Homer hoped to introduce a bill to halt the chasing of mustangs.

Wild horses have been in the news since. Protection for wild horses was introduced in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971. The Bureau of Land Management had a wild horse adoption in Carson City on Feb. 21. The protection of wild horses was brought to the attention of Nevada legislators by the Nevada Commission of Wild Horses earlier this month.

The band of the 30 wild horses stranded in the Pine Nut Mountains 40 years ago was symbolic of an idea of the wild West that people didn't want to die.

n Sharlene Irete is R-C People Editor and may be reached at sirete@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 210.


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