Velma Bronn Johnston (often Johnson) (March 5, 1912 — June 27, 1977) was one of the voices responsible for gaining federal jurisdiction over wild horses and burros on public land. The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law in 1971 after passing both Houses of Congress without a dissenting vote. The Act essentially created a mandate that the unregulated practice of “mustanging” was illegal and wild horses and burros would be managed humanely as “integral to the landscape” as “living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West.”
(Please read: Apology to Velma; a letter to the woman not the myth)
“Mustanging,” was a brutal practice of capture and sale to slaughter. This practice had outraged the American public at large. However the law had a huge backlash from those that had profited from running horses down in the desert, hog tying them to wait for the kill truck and then grinding them up for fertilizer and chicken feed.
For Perspective on the work of Velma Johnston read here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/09/15/perspective-1975-first-blm-wild-horse-capture/
One such backlash was the “Burn’s Amendment.” Snuck into an omnibus spending bill before Thanksgiving recess, this bill reopened the doors for wild horses and burros to be sold legally to slaughter. READ and take ACTION HERE.
One day in 1950, on her way home from work as a secretary in Reno, Velma saw a slaughter truck on the road. Out of the back of the truck blood was dripping. She followed the truck and found wild horses were on their way to “processing.” This began her lifelong crusade to save our majestic wild horses.
In 1959 the “Wild Horse Annie Act” was implemented to stop the use of motorized vehicles, like the planes and trucks seen in the film “Misfits,” on state land in Nevada.
Velma relentlessly documented the horrors of what was happening to our wild horses. With her loyal husband, Charlie Johnston, in full support and often on the range with her, they waged a campaign that spread the truth across the nation. As Charlie and Velma could not have children (Velma was struck with polio as a child) they opened their ranch to children and began a program that included a massive letter writing campaign.
That campaign was a vital component to gaining the 1971 Act.
In 1972 Velma made the following statement to Congress:
“And it climaxed ten years of struggle against the powerful forces aligned against any effort to curtail the slaughter – forces comprised of the domestic livestock industry, the target animal industry, and pet food manufacturers, and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management – custodian of the public lands – which looked upon the commercial harvesting of the animals as an expedient means of range clearance to make more forage potential available to the vested interest groups. From an estimated two million at the turn of the century, their numbers have been reduced to an estimated 25,000 in the late 1950’s. Even though the burros were not commercially exploited, they fared no better than the horses, and claims of overpopulation and possible competition with other fauna led to systematic extermination programs. In addition, would-be Nimrods have found them to be ideal target practice.”
Velma stayed active in the crusade and oversaw early removals to ensure safe capture. She continued to report to Congress.
As the first government roundups began Velma was diagnosed with high blood pressure and a heart condition. But that is not what finally killed her. On June 27, 1977 “Wild Horse Annie” died of lung cancer.