Frank Hopkins

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For the British naval officer, see Frank Hopkins (Royal Navy officer). For the English cricketer, see Frank Hopkins (cricketer).
Frank Hopkins
Born Frank Hopkins
1895 (claimed 1865)
Died 1951
Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens County, New York City [1]
Nationality American

Frank Hopkins (born uncertain – died 1951) claimed he was an American professional horseman who at one time performed with the Ringling Brothers Circus. He was supposedly a legendary distance rider, claimed to have won 400 races, and was recognized by his contemporaries as supporting the preservation of the mustang.[2] None of his claims can be proven and his birth is recorded in Pennsylvania as 1893.

Though the Disney film Hidalgo was based on Hopkins' purported story, his alleged exploits are most likely fictional. He has been described as a "fabulator and a confidence man whose tales of heroic deeds were little more than tall stories." Few items in his accounts have been verified by outside, reliable, third-party sources.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Hopkins said he was born to a Lakota mother and European-American father, that he grew up in both cultures, and that he learned to ride and care for horses at an early age. There is a marriage certificate that Frank Hopkins signed in Los Angeles in 1933 where he put his age at 43. The Fort Laramie National Historic site has no record of his birth or family.


Hopkins claimed to have been a cowboy and professional horseman in the American West, where he gained a reputation for distance riding. In his autobiographical memoir (unpublished in his lifetime) and accounts to friends, he claimed to have been featured as one of the "Rough Riders of the World" in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, which toured in Europe[4] as well as the United States.[5]

A number of his stories have been debunked by many historians.[6] Examples include:

  • His claim to have won more than 400 races.
  • His claim to have raced in a ceremonial 3,000-mile ride that passed the Gulf of Syria and the inland borders of two other Middle Eastern countries, which was supposed to have taken place in Arabia in 1890.
  • His claim to have been a rider with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was disputed by the curator of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, who said Hopkins' name is nowhere to be found in the archives.[5] Hopkins has been found as listed in 1917 as being employed by the Ringling Brothers Circus as a horse handler.[5]
  • His claim to have brought 'trick riding' to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show has been disputed by the Georgian Cossack expert, Irakli Makharadze. [7]
  • His claim to be half Lakota was debunked by a descendant whose DNA showed not a drop of American-Indian blood.

In 1926 Hopkins was foreman of a construction crew, digging a subway tunnel in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In the 1940s, Hopkins claimed he was honorary chair at a Vermont Races but according to the Vermont Historical Society has no knowledge of any races in Vermont.[8] Hopkins also claimed to have won a Texas-to-Vermont endurance race at age 21, riding an 800 pound buckskin, but there is no evidence in contemporary sources that such a race was ever held.[9] Up to the time of his death in 1951, he remained an outspoken champion of the threatened mustang which he called "the most significant animal on the North American continent."[10]


Frank Hopkins is interred in Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens County, New York City.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

Hopkins' life and the story of the race in Arabia were the inspiration for the 2004 film Hidalgo, written by John Fusco,[12] directed by Joe Johnston, and starring Viggo Mortensen. The Disney Corporation marketed the film as "based on a true story" although subsequent investigations failed to find any evidence of such a race.[6] Lakota scholar, historian and doctor Vine Deloria says "Hopkins' claims are so outrageously false that one wonders why the Disney people were attracted to this material at all."[13]


  1. ^ "Frank T. Hopkins (1865 - 1951) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved June 19, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Frank Hopkins - Legendary Endurance Rider of America". Retrieved June 19, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Cowboy Who Conquers Middle East Lands Disney In Trouble". Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  4. ^ "Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Scotland". Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  5. ^ a b c Peter Harrigan, "Hidalgo: A Film or Flimflam?", in Arab News, 13 May 2003, accessed 2010-12-28
  6. ^ a b "The Hopkins Hoax". Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "Wild West Georgians". Retrieved 2015-11-20. 
  8. ^ "The Los Angeles Times slays Hopkins". Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  9. ^ "The late, great (fake) Texas-to-Vermont Horse Race". Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "All Faiths Cemetery Notables". Retrieved June 19, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Frank Hopkins", tribute website sponsored by The Horse of the Americas Registry and the Institute of Range & The American Mustang, owned by John Fusco
  13. ^ "The Hopkins Hoax - Disney versus The World". Retrieved 4 August 2015. 

External links[edit]