On May 31, 1948, a bronze statue of seven mustangs was unveiled in front of the Texas Memorial Museum on the University of Texas Campus. At the ceremony, the great western folklorist J. Frank Dobie addressed the crowd; and as part of his speech, he told of a cowman in Jim Hogg County who had kept and raised some of the last Spanish horses on his San Antonio Viejo Ranch. That cowman was Tom T. East, Sr., who 10 years prior to the unveiling had hosted Alexander Phimister Proctor, his wife Margaret, and daughter Joanne on the ranch for most of the year 1939. The “Seven Mustangs” in Proctor’s masterpiece were painstakingly sculpted after individual horses on the ranch. J. Frank Dobie’s connection to the Seven Mustangs was longstanding – he had made the match between sculptor and cowman – he knew Tom East from years before while doing research for his book The Longhorns. Frank Dobie, working at the request of Texas University’s Board of Regents, had a $60,000 commitment from oil man Ralph Ogden to support the sculpting of an authentic group of mustangs.
The Seven Mustangs themselves – a stallion, five mares, and a colt – were the daily subject for Proctor while he lived on the San Antonio Viejo ranch. Proctor, at age 78 was working on the final masterpiece of his long career as one of the great artists of his time. For study, Proctor chose fifteen dun mares from the seventy pure strain wild Spanish horses on the ranch. Along with the stallion and the colt, Proctor admitted that those horses were the most unruly models he had ever used. While on the ranch, both his wife and daughter were getting well-accustomed to South Texas ranch life. His wife Margaret (“Mody”) was fascinated by the Longhorn cattle, the Spanish-speaking ranch hands, and everything about life on the ranch. In a letter to her other children, she writes:
“We were given a little unfurnished two room house, filled with cobwebs, with a cement floor – the kitchen windows are simply holes cut in the siding, no glass…” “As you know, being on this ranch has been a dream of ours for years. So few have the opportunity, and one can easily see why. It would be overrun if not closely guarded.”
By the time Proctor had finished the plaster casts for the life-sized sculpture, World War II had interrupted the supply of metal for the casting. The plaster casting for the Seven Mustangs was stored in a Rhode Island bronze foundry throughout the War years. Upon the end of the War, when finally the statue was cast, many of those that were closest to the project had passed away. Tom T. East, Sr. had died in 1943. The oil man Ralph Ogden also had died the next year. Finally, Proctor’s wife “Mody” had died. Daughter Joanne had since married George Holbein, of a local ranching family in Hebbronville.
It was the passion of several that resulted in the creation of a work of art that has been viewed by scores of people over the years. The Seven Mustangs is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Austin. It has reached out and inspired people for generations – and it was made possible by J. Frank Dobie, Ralph Ogden, and Phimister Proctor. But never forget – it most certainly would not have been possible without a cowman from Jim Hogg County who cared enough to conserve what was important.
Note: Special thanks to Lica East Pinkston for sharing a copy of a letter from Margaret Phister, and a copy of J. Frank Dobie’s unveiling speech.
“These horses bore Spanish explorers across two continents. They brought to the Plains Indians the age of horse culture. Texas cowboys rode them to extend the ranching occupation clear to the plains of Alberta. Spanish horse, Texas Cow Pony, and Mustang were all one in those times when, as sayings went, a man was no better than his horse, and a man on foot was no man at all. Like the Longhorn, the Mustang had been virtually bred out of existence. But the Mustang horses will always symbolize Western Frontiers, long trails of Longhorn Herds, seas of Pristine Grass, and men riding free in a free land.”
- J. Frank Dobie, (Inscription on the Southwest Pedestal of the Seven Mustangs).