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Steamboat on a 1979 Wyoming license plate registered through 1980.

It is a most-recognizable emblem, one that is so attatched to the great state of Wyoming. The unique horse-and-rider has a long history that dates back more than a hundred years, and for nearly all of those years, it has been known as Steamboat.

The most Steamboat sightings are the ones that adorn every Wyoming license plate. But Steamboat is now a proud symbol that can be seen just about anywhere in the Cowboy State, on just about anything. The University of Wyoming Cowboy football helmet is traditionally a showcase for Steamboat. And every other UW team has the state symbol on their uniforms as well.

The original Steamboat, the horse for which the state symbol was first patterned, was a bucking champion more than a hundred years ago. In fact, it was a picture of Steamboat, with bronc-rider Guy Holt aboard, that was used by the University of Wyoming in 1921, for the design of its emblem. The University had announced that “Cowboys” was to be the nickname, and it needed a symbol as well. The picture of Steamboat and Holt had been taken at the 1903 Albany County Fair.

From that point on, the striking emblem would be known, and often affectionately referred to, as Steamboat. There was even an earlier example of the great symbol that dates back to World War I. In 1918, a Sheridan, Wyoming, National Guardsman serving in France, drew a bucking bronc on the company drum. It was said to be a drawing of his own horse, and would become the symbol of the “Bucking Bronco Regiment”.

It wasn’t until 1936, when the State of Wyoming stamped the familiar silhouette on its license plates. And the American License Plate Collectors Association has insisted that Steamboat isn’t Steamboat at all. Lester True came up with the design for the plates, using a photo of a horse with four brown feet. Steamboat had white socks. The horse from the photo has been identified as “Silver City” and the rider, Ed McCarty.

Well, whomever it is that is riding which horse is really immaterial. For nearly a hundred years, that everlasting symbol of the Cowboy State has been…Steamboat.

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