MovieChat Forums > Hidalgo (2004) Discussion > Biography of Frank Hopkins

Biography of Frank Hopkins

Frank Hopkins (1865? – 1951) was a cowboy from the United States. He was known by his stories about his own exploits, and was an activist for the preservation of the Spanish Mustang.

Hopkins made a number of disputed claims, including claims of being a famous endurance horse racer who won over 400 races, and his involvement in a legendary 3,000 mile horse race which, supposedly, took place in Arabia in 1890. This story was adapted into the 2004 film Hidalgo, which received generally positive reviews. However, some argue that most of Hopkins' claims as depicted in the film, including the existence of any such race in the first place, are 'tall tales' or hoaxes.

In 2006, John Fusco, the screenwriter of Hidalgo, responded to the disputed items. He admitted that he took parts of Hopkins' 1891 desert memories and "heightened the 'Based On' story to create an entertaining theatrical film" but asserts that the story of the man and his horse are true. Fusco offers quotes from those who knew Hopkins along with information found in old texts to verify his story.

According to the film, the descendants of the horse Hidalgo, for which the movie was named, live among the Gilbert Jones herd of Spanish Mustangs on Blackjack Mountain in Oklahoma.


Frank T. Hopkins and Hidalgo : True American Legends
An EquestrianMag Exclusive Article
From the rocky roads of Arabia to the fiery sands of Syria, Frank T. Hopkins and his painted mustang, Hidalgo, suffered over 60 days of torturous riding in 1890 to claim victory in the greatest long-distance endurance race of the time.

The son of an Army scout and a Sioux mother, Hopkins was born in Wyoming with the love of horses in his blood. As time went on, Hopkins would grow to love the mustang most of all. Hopkins had served as a courier for General George Crook, riding many Indian ponies long and hard along the way. He instinctively understood exactly how powerful and strong mustangs were and loved them for it.

In 1877, a group of captured Sioux ponies was about to be destroyed, as a way to break spirit of the Sioux warriors. Upon urging from Red Calf, a Sioux chief who was a boyhood friend, Hopkins bought one of the ponies for three dollars—a small white-eyed mare that could run all day without tiring. He later bought a pinto stallion from an Apache and bred the two. This pair would form the basis of Hopkins’ beloved White-y line of mustang endurance horses, which would eventually yield the impressive Hidalgo.

Hopkins was a famed endurance rider who rode his mustangs to victory in at least four hundred long-distance races. In 1890, while competing at the Worlds Fair in Paris, Hopkins was invited to enter a 3,000-mile endurance race like none other. This elite race had taken place in Arabia each year for at least a thousand years—a non-Arab rider had never competed before, let alone won. But that was soon to change.

Hopkins learned of the race from Ras Rasmussen, an Arab who was showing some of his horses at the fair and had taken a great fondness to the American rider. As an endurance rider, the opportunity to take part in such a challenge was irresistible to Hopkins and he eagerly agreed to join the race. Hopkins chose to ride Hidalgo, his favorite mustang. A cream and white pinto stallion, Hidalgo was eight years old at the time of the race.
“A true legend, Frank T. Hopkins and his mighty Hidalgo live on in American horse history as the greatest pair of endurance racers ever.”

The race started in Arabia and wound around the Gulf of Syria, then jagged inward along the borders of the two countries. Much of the ride was over treacherous limestone where food and water were scarce. Over one hundred horses started the race but many quit during the first week.

A seasoned rider, Hopkins had a habit of staying back and conserving his horse’s energy during the first leg of any race and this one was no different. By day fourteen, Hopkins and Hidalgo began passing the competition and gradually became the race’s leaders. They reached the finish line an incredible 68 days later, more than a full day ahead of the next rider. A lack of proper food had caused Hidalgo to lose a lot of weight over the course of the race, but he finished strong nonetheless.

Against all odds, Hidalgo had beaten the best of the best. Brutal conditions couldn’t keep him down. A lack of food couldn’t stop him. It seemed as though the tougher the environment, the better Hidalgo performed. As a distant relative to the Arabian horses he had competed against, Hidalgo had finally come home at last. Knowing this in his gut, Hopkins decided to leave Hidalgo in Arabia with Ras Rasmussen so that he could breed with the horses of his ancestry.

A true legend, Frank T. Hopkins and his mighty Hidalgo live on in American horse history as the greatest pair of endurance racers ever. Over a hundred years have passed since that infamous race, but their memory lives on even today. When we need to reach out to our heroes for inspiration, Hopkins and Hidalgo are still there—proving once again that nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough.

* Editors Note: Accounts of Frank Hopkins and Hidalgo are filled with disputed and often conflicting information. This article gathers information from various sources and pieces together a popular account. By labeling it as a "True American Legend", we are acknowledging that this account, whether true or not, has become a legend, and that Hopkins and Hidalgo have had a major contribution in that capacity. We understand that details in this account may differ from the Disney movie Hidalgo, but unfortunately, we cannot verify the details of either.


28. Frank Hopkins - 2006 UPDATE

By John Fusco

That controversy, of course, was the impassioned crusade that came to be promoted as “the Hopkins Hoax.” This campaign against Frank was started by husband and wife founders of an international equestrian guild. The attacks appeared online while “Hidalgo” was still filming in the middle of the desert—a total surprise to all involved with the production. The would-be debunkers—who had never heard of Hopkins before the announcement of the movie-- began denouncing him as a fraud, a self-promoting charlatan, and “ghoul.

Hopkins was known as one of the rare riders who put his horses first, and had a reputation for preaching humane horsemanship. According to Dipper Brislawn, daughter of Spanish Mustang legend Robert Brislawn, Hopkins competed in these extreme events for one reason only: to prove the endurance ability of the Mustang and make a utilitarian case for the preservation of the breed.

All we had were 72 years of writings in horse history books, magazines, and newspapers, referencing Frank T. Hopkins as one of the greatest distance riders who ever saddled a horse. We had the recorded oral histories of western ranch families and Native Americans who grew up on tales of his rides, like the Blackfeet elder, Leo Pard, who recounts the Hidalgo story in his native tongue, the way his elders told him.

The critics might have then understood more fully why Albert W. Harris, 1930’s endurance champ, Arabian horse breeder, and author of the acclaimed book “Blood of the Arab,” dedicated that book to Frank Hopkins and wrote two chapters on him and his horse Hidalgo. More importantly, perhaps, they would have learned of the local consensus that Frank’s younger wife by 32 years, Gertrude, was planning to pen a book about her celebrated husband’s earlier days out west.

Gertrude Hopkins put pencil to paper.hey were composed by Gertrude who knew little about horses or the west, but knew that there was great interest in her late husband’s legendary reputation for extreme rides. The popular biographer, Robert Eastman, wrote her and indicated a publishing deal if she could provide enough material. Gertrude ammended accounts of his legendary rides, but she also penciled in some rollickers and monkeydoodle: like Buffalo Bill was 7 feet tall; like Geronimo was Sitting Bull’s brother; some material was hand-copied directly from books like Black Elk Speaks; other purple passages resemble a neophyte effort to write a Zane Grey western.

Peggy Conroy, a successful breeder of dressage horses who also holds credentials in the field of geology, emailed to say that her mother and her father were distance riders in the 1940’s and pals with Frank Hopkins. Her family’s evaluation: “Frank Hopkins was the ultimate in horsemanship.

Lt. Col. William Zimmerman, 96, of Amarillo, Texas, wrote in with that very question. The former Signal Corps Meteorologist e-mailed to say that the Frank Hopkins in the movie “Hidalgo,” was the same Frank Hopkins who lived a few houses away from him in Forest Hills, NY, in 1920 when the Lt. Col. was a young boy. “He was a famous horseman, retired in the east,” Lt. Col. Zimmerman, writes. “I was the envy of the boys in school (Public School #3) because Frank’s daughter, who was in my class, invited me to her birthday party. The boys knew that I might get to meet Frank Hopkins—the great horse rider.”
XXXLt. Col. Zimmerman remembers that Hopkins was somehow involved with “movie pictures” that were being filmed often in that area by the New York Film Company, and that Teddy Roosevelt once spent a few days there participating in a film of some kind. (We sent Lt. Col. Zimmerman’s emails to a local newspaper reporter in Forest Hills, NY, and he has confirmed every address and building that Col. Zimmerman references from that period; that newspaper is currently working with him on an unrelated historical article about the old neighborhood and this new discovery of the Hopkins house).

Hopkins’ own desert memories of 1891 and turned them into an action-adventure celebration of a story that has long fascinated me. Today, some critics actually believe that Hopkins himself dreamed up bandit ambuscades, hunting leopards, daring rescues, a three second victory margin, and the dramatic name of the race: the Ocean of Fire. He did not. I did. Movies are entertainment and I obviously heightened the “Based On” story to create an entertaining theatrical film. 3,000 miles is a long ride without some rising conflict.

John Fusco is a writer and Spanish Mustang preservationist. He is the founder of the Choctaw Indian Pony Conservation Program. A long time fan of Frank Hopkins’, he initiated this site in 2002, in association with the Horse of the America’s Registry, as a tribute site to Hopkins and an informational site on Spanish Mustangs. Among his movie credits are “Thunderheart,”“Dreamkeeper,” “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron,” and “Hidalgo,” which won the 2005 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America.


Nice bit of info caprice. I look at Hidalgo the way you look at the dime novels back during the old west. Also the same thing can be said of movies. Find a good story and make it great. The same thing has happened since the beginning of time. Stories passed down for generations, each changing a bit as they moved on from mouth to mouth, year to year, family to family. Robin Hood, Santa Clause. There's a grain of truth in most stories you hear. Louis L'Amour said "I think of myself in the oral tradition--as a troubadour, a village tale-teller, the man in the shadows of a campfire. That's the way I'd like to be remembered--as a storyteller. A good storyteller." Anyone mad at the movies should be mad at anybody who ever told a story and embellished it.

Uh....oh,oh, it's the pancakes! You don't like pancakes, I will get you somethin else!


Bodyspiritsoul, explain this to Gilgrease Museum because honor this man whether like it or not have been for at least 50 years.


OK, so was Hidalgo released on Blackjack Mountain OK (as the film depicts) or was he left in Arabia as this article states?


Yes it is film in Blackjack Mountain OK.

Blackjack Mountain is 17 miles (27 km) long mountain ridge trending from northeast to southwest in Pushmataha County, Oklahoma.

The highest peak has an elevation of 1,250 feet (380 m). The town of Rattan is south of Blackjack.

SouthwestSpanish Mustang Association,
one of the original Spanish Mustang

In 2004 Americans fell in love with a legendary Spanish Mustang, thanks
to the Disney film Hidalgo which paid tribute to America’s wild
horses and Frank Hopkins - a man who devoted his life to protecting
them. Descendants of Hidalgo still range free in Blackjack Mountain near
Finley, OK, along side original strains of the Choctaw Indian Horse.
Having endured centuries of change in an increasingly industrial world,
the survival of this herd is now threatened.

The Oklahoma Land and Timber Company has, with very little warning,
terminated the grazing leases on Blackjack Mountain, demanding that the
horses be removed by February 29, 2008. However, prior to the company
canceling the annual grazing lease, they, along with other timber
companies, had already began spraying some 200,000 acres the horses
shared with cattle and other wildlife. These chemicals are being used to
eradicate the vegetation used by grazing animals and wildlife, thereby
eliminating the need for these animals for fire control. “The endangered
horses on Blackjack Mountain are a part of our American history. The
Choctaw Indian Horses survived the horrific Trail of Tears in the
1830’s, only to face Government slaughter campaigns right up through the
1950’s when a cleansing policy under the euphemistic name of a Tick
Eradication Program nearly wiped out the remaining horses,” says John
Fusco, Spanish Mustang preservationist and writer of the movies,
Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, Hidalgo and the upcoming
Forbidden Kingdom. “Today, the Choctaw Horses are a nearly-extinct
strain, so the news of this heartless assault on their last stronghold
is shocking.”

Board of Directors members John Fusco, Bryant Rickman, Dr. Phillip
Sponenberg and Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Sanctuary
Founder Neda DeMayo have joined forces to create *The Gilbert Jones
Choctaw-Cherokee Conservancy - A Project of Return To Freedom and The
Rickman Family.

The goal is to start a conservancy in Oklahoma, to preserve the genetic
and cultural treasures of the original Choctaw and Cherokee tribal
strains and America’s Spanish Colonial Mustangs in viable healthy herds
for generations to come. Under the umbrella of Return to Freedom, a
501c3 non-profit corporation, the immediate need is to start raising
initial funds to purchase enough acreage for the Conservancy.. But
securing a safe haven for the horses is only the first step in an
ongoing, collaborative preservation effort. An integral part of the
Conservancy is the eventual creation of the Gilbert Jones Heritage
Museum, which will serve to enrich the public through the education of
the cultural heritage these horses represent.

“Along with the endangered Choctaw and Cherokee strains, the records of
Gilbert Jones indicate that the last Spanish Mustangs of the “Hidalgo”
line, known as the White-Y line, are also hanging on by a thread up
there,” says Fusco. “Like Frank Hopkins, the subject of my movie,
Gilbert Jones was an ardent champion of these threatened horses from
history. His work has been passed down into the hands of Bryant Rickman,
and now Mr. Rickman needs our help.”

The Board is launching a major capital campaign to raise funds to help
the Rickman’s continue the legacy of this historical herd. For
information on how you can help with this effort, please visit . **
Email: [email protected]