Velma Bronn Johnston

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Velma Bronn Johnston with her horse and dog at her ranch

Velma Bronn Johnston (March 5, 1912 — June 27, 1977), also known as Wild Horse Annie, was an animal rights activist. Johnston led a campaign to stop the removal of wild mustangs and burros from public lands. She was instrumental in passing legislation to stop using aircraft and land vehicles to capture wild horses and burros and to cease branding them and causing their death.[1]


Velma Bronn was born in Reno, Nevada to Joseph Bronn and his wife Gertrude Clay and grew up on the family’s "Lazy Heart Ranch". In 1923 she contracted polio and was confined to cast for six months.[2] She married Charles Johnston and they took over operation of the ranch and later turning it into the "Double Lazy Heart Ranch", a dude ranch for children. The name of the ranch was changed so as to include Charles in the family business. Johnston also worked as a secretary for an insurance company.

Johnston became involved in the campaign to save the wild horses after something she saw while driving to work one morning in 1950. Following a truck loaded with horses on its way to a slaughterhouse she saw blood dripping from the back of the over crowded truck. This inspired her to do further investigation and to bring her findings to the attention of the public. She collected evidence and began speaking to ranchers, businessmen, politicians and in schools about the treatment and roundup methods used on wild horses and burros.

On her initiative and Nevada State Senator James Slattery's actions, Nevada passed a bill that made mustang roundups by planes and cars illegal on private property. The limitation to private property was a condition of the Bureau of Land Management. As large parts of Nevada were thereby excluded from the bill, Johnston continued to fight for a better protection of the mustangs.

On 8 September 1959 the campaign resulted in the federal legislature passing Public Law 86-234 which banned air and land vehicles from hunting and capturing wild horses on state land. This became known as the Wild Horse Annie Act.[3]

Johnston continued her campaign and in 1971, the 92nd United States Congress unanimously passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.[4] It was signed into law by the then President Richard Nixon on December 15, 1971. This act prohibited capture, injury, or disturbance of wild horses and burros and for their transfer to suitable areas when populations became too large.

In 1959, Johnston was featured in Time magazine.[5] The 1961 Western The Misfits on a script by Arthur Miller, last film of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe and also starring Montgomery Clift, portrayed a horse roundup just outside of Reno and in the way against which Johnston had protested; in the film, Monroe's character becomes disgusted with the method, which leads to a climactic clash between the characters.

Johnston herself appeared in the Robert McCahon's 1973 Western Running Wild as herself, starring alongside Lloyd Bridges and Dina Merrill.

Johnston died at age sixty-five of lung cancer in Reno, Nevada on June 27, 1977.[6] She is buried alongside her parents, husband and brother in the Mountain View Cemetery in Reno, NV.


  1. ^ David Cruise, Alison Griffiths. Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Annie Johnston. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4165-5335-9. Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "More About Wild Horse Annie". Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  3. ^ "Dawn of an American Legend". Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  4. ^ "The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (Public Law 92-195)". Bureau of Land Management. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  5. ^ "ANIMALS: Wild Horse Annie", Time Magazine, 27 July 1959, retrieved 30 December 2009 
  6. ^ Find a Grave entry

Further reading[edit]

  • Marguerite Henry (1966). Mustang. Wild Spirit of the West. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company. (children's novel)
  • Alan J. Kania (2012). "Wild Horse Annie: Velma Johnston and her Fight to Save the Mustang." University of Nevada Press. (non-fiction biography)
  • Deanne Stillman (2008). "Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West." Houghton Mifflin. (adult novel)

External links[edit]