2002-06-27 / Front Page

American Posse rides through local area Texas horse trainer on cross-country mission ending at ground zero

Correspondent
By jane meggitt

American Posse rides through local area
Texas horse trainer
on cross-country mission ending at ground zero


Photos by JERRY WOLKOWITZ Leslie Nichols, of Celeste, Texas, rides J.J.’s Cowboy at Stargate Farm in Upper Freehold Township. He is on the final leg of his journey to ground zero in New York City. The saddle (r) that Nichols has used on his cross-country ride will be raffled off when he reaches his destination.Photos by JERRY WOLKOWITZ Leslie Nichols, of Celeste, Texas, rides J.J.’s Cowboy at Stargate Farm in Upper Freehold Township. He is on the final leg of his journey to ground zero in New York City. The saddle (r) that Nichols has used on his cross-country ride will be raffled off when he reaches his destination.

Last year was a tough year for Texas racehorse trainer Les Nichols. The owner of the 40 horses Nichols trained and managed died at the age of 46 in July. In August, Nichols left his wife. Then came Sept. 11.

The horror of that day affected him even more strongly than his personal difficulties, and he decided he had to do something to make a difference. Within a week, he had an idea, and began working on sponsorship and logistics.

By Nov. 1 he was on his way on horseback from San Antonio, Texas — destination, New York City.

He had started the American Posse, a group of individuals who would help him along the trail and attempt to raise $2 million for the benefit of the widows and children of firefighters and police officers killed in the World Trade Center disaster. The Texas cowboy, his horse, and dog Posse were riding across America, depending on the kindness of strangers.


Nichols, 41, grew up in Celeste, Texas, population 780, the hometown of World War II hero and movie star Audie Murphy.

The shadow of its famous son loomed large over the town, but Nichols could not emulate his hero by serving in the military or joining a police or fire department because he had lost an eye as a youth.

After Sept. 11, he knew he had to do more.

"I couldn’t just give $20 and a pint of blood," said Nichols.

On the road, the trio have endured floods, freezing rain, snow, and heat. Nichols was almost run over by a diesel truck, and fell off a railroad embankment.

Still, most of it has been "a beautiful, breathtaking ride … the hills of Arkansas and Tennessee, the farms of Kentucky, the Ohio River Valley, Amish country."

He is "overwhelmed by people, their love and generosity. I could never have made it without volunteers, police and firemen. I can’t wait until Posse members are added to New Jersey," he added.

"It quit being about me the day I left the door of the Alamo," he said.

He hopes that in a hundred years, people will still remember Sept. 11, and he draws an analogy between the New York City police and firemen and the Texas shrine.

"We never forget our heroes at the Alamo. If you’re a Texan, you can’t walk by it without your hair standing up. Those people knew they were going to die," he explained.

"It’s one thing to lose people on a battlefield, another in a cowardly act like [the World Trade Center attacks]," he said.

Nichols estimates he has visited at least 160 towns, and participated in countless memorials and rallies. Although he has not yet met any widows and children of the World Trade Center attacks, he did meet the grandparents of Thomas Earhardt Jr., who was killed at the Pentagon.

One of Nichols’ recent stops was Upper Freehold, where his horses stayed at Art Morano’s Stargate Farm.

His horse, J.J.’s Cowboy, is an 11-year-old thoroughbred racehorse. The trip is just a respite from his racing career; Nichols intends to put him back on the track when the ride is over. He bought the horse for $800 as a foal, and J.J. has earned over $80,000 in 53 starts.

His alternate horse is Sandtrack, a 10-year-old thoroughbred who has not raced. Although a thoroughbred might not be the first breed that comes to mind when undertaking a cross-country trek, Nichols said, "I train thoroughbreds for a living. I know them, know what it takes. I want a horse that will walk all day and have something left at the end. He’s a thrifty, good-doing horse.

"A quarter horse couldn’t have kept up. Only a thoroughbred could do a long haul, 15 to 20 miles a day. Some days we only rode 10 or 12 miles. We’re not doing endurance," he added.

Posse is a year-old cowboy collie that Nichols bred himself. The dog is 7/8 border collie and 1/8 Australian shepherd.

Posse has a job while on the trail. Although on a lead, he runs ahead of J.J. and Nichols and hunts for holes, so the horse will not be injured by stepping in one.

Nichols, J.J. and Posse are scheduled to make several local appearances before boarding the Staten Island Ferry July 4 to arrive at ground zero. They will be at Monmouth Park where they will lead a post parade June 29.

Nichols will be honored at a reception held by Colts Neck Polo and Colts Neck Trail Riders at Bucks Mill Park June 30. He will ride with the president of the Colts Neck Trail Riders, Lisa Singer, whose boyfriend died at the World Trade Center.

A hand-tooled Western saddle by Jim Taylor will be raffled off for the benefit of the 9/11 Fund.

For more information, visit Les Nichols’ Web site at www.americanposse.org.


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