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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"
Mustang Gray

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
The young South Carolinian who hit Texas in 1835 went by the name of Mabry Gray. But it might have been Maberry, Mayberry or Mabery. Historians aren't sure about the correct spelling of his given name, but no one disputes his nickname.

Naturally, therein lies a tale.

Not long after he came to Texas, still as green as spring grass, Gray joined in on a buffalo hunt. As he and his fellow hunters galloped after a running herd, Gray became separated from the rest of his party.

But that soon proved to be the least of his problems. Gray's horse, adrenaline surging through its veins, couldn't stop running. The animal stumbled in its frenzy, throwing Gray to the prairie. When Gray got to his feet, he saw his horse had kept going, already well on its way to the horizon.

Unharmed by his tumble to the ground, Gray optimistically awaited his horse's return. Too, he expected to soon see his companions riding to his rescue. But neither happened.

Gray started walking, hoping to cut the trail of his fellow hunters or find his horse. By dark, he realized he was on his own. With no water and no food, he lay down in the grass and tried to get some sleep.

Up at daybreak, he headed toward a clump of trees he could see in the distance. When he got to timber, he found a wounded buffalo laid up in the cover. Still armed despite his fall, Gray put the shaggy animal out of its misery and used his Bowie knife to cut away as much meat as he could carry.

At the next mott of timber he reached he found water. Gray quenched his thirst, built a fire and cooked dinner. Resting in the shade after eating, he noticed a herd of wild horses warily approaching the water hole.

The mustangs came within rifle distance, but shooting one would do Gray no good. He needed a live horse. Pondering what to do, it occurred to him that he could cut strips from the hide of the buffalo he had killed and make a crude lariat.

Back at the water hole with his green hide rope, Gray climbed one of the trees, tied his new lariat around a strong limb and made a lasso on the other end of the rope.

Eventually, the horses came back for a drink. This time, whether used to Gray's smell or too thirsty to care, they trotted beneath the trees.

Gray picked the horse he liked best and managed to lower the lariat around its neck. Wide-eyed with fear, the horse snorted, pawed and reared up on two legs, but the rope held. Over the next several days, Gray did a lot of gentle talking and stroking. When he thought he had the horse sufficiently tamed, he climbed on his back. The horse quickly bucked Gray off.

Several more days went by as Gray worked to gain the horse's confidence. Finally getting the horse calm enough for him to tie a length of his lariat around its nose to serve as a bridle, Gray got on the horse and managed to stay there.

Even so, the horse was not in the mood for a leisurely ride. Thinking he was free again, the mustang rapidly departed for elsewhere, Gray clinging desperately its neck.

Not that Gray had any real choice, but all he could do was let the horse run itself down. When that finally happened, Gray had himself a tame, rideable horse.

From then on, Mabry Gray was known as Mustang Gray.

By 1846, when the U.S. war with Mexico began, Gray had been in Texas for 11 years. He was as tough as that buffalo skin rope that had saved his life years before.

He commanded a Texas Ranger company in the Corpus Christi area during the war, protecting settlers from Indians while the Army and other Ranger outfits fought in Mexico.

Two years after the war, however, Gray ran onto something he couldn't tame - cholera. Dead at 31, he was buried at Rio Grande City. His grave has long since been lost.

Someone wrote a ballad about him that many Texas mothers used for years as a lullaby:

"There was a noble ranger,
"They called him Mustang Gray;
"He left his home when but a youth,
"Went ranging far away."

Mike Cox
October 4 , 2003
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