Francis Aubry: Skimmer of the Plains

800 miles in 5 days, 15 hours

Francois X. Aubry was a short man; at 5′ 2″ he wasn’t very imposing. But, he was the greatest speed and distance rider in the history of the United States.


Francis Aubry, called “Little Aubry”, was restless by nature – energetic and agile. The Albuquerque Tribune stated that:

“This dapper young French-Canadian…was equally at home on a dance floor or in a boxing ring. He was a graceful man of remarkable endurance and agility – a trail blazer and a recordsetter…[he was a] boon companion and a dashing cavalier – popular among the men and more then popular among the women.”

He was reported to have “small hands and feet,” brown eyes and hair, an alert nature, a quick temper, and could speak two languages. He was a successful entrepreneur; guiding as many as three trains of cargo across the American Desert. Thus, he received the nickname “Skimmer of the Plains.”

A contemporary had this to say about the fiery little man:

“Aubry appears to be restless when stationary, and only contented when making these appalling journeys.”

One of these “appalling” journeys was his record-setting ride from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri. On September 12, 1848, he left Santa Fe, New Mexico and began his 800 mile trek to Independence. He would remount in cities along the way, or drive a few horses in front of him along the way, “California style.” He paused only to remount, do business, and occasionally down a cup of coffee.

He ate in the saddle, and slept in the saddle; and when he couldn’t sit up, tied himself into the saddle.

Along the way he encountered a 24-hr cold rain, mud, flooded streams, a scalped man at one of his stations, the death or collapse of six horses and a 40 mile trek on foot when he lost his remount. His favorite Mustang, Dolly, pulled a double ride; 200 miles in 26 hours.

A bullwhacker he met along the way reports:

“I met [Aubry] when he was making his famous ride… He passed my train at a full gallop without asking a single question as to the danger of Indians ahead of him.”

When Little Aubry rode into Independence, and stopped in front of the Merchant’s Hotel, onlookers had to cut him from the saddle, which they found caked in blood. He had slept 2 and a half hours.

Aubry won his bet. He had ridden 800 miles in 5 days, 15 hours. He had won $1000 in prize money (worth about $50,000 today).

But, that isn’t why he raced. He states:

“…it’s not the money I care about. I’m riding to prove that I can get more out of a horse and last longer than any man in the West.”

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