The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 6, 2012

Man re-traces Mohawk chief’s ride on horseback

Bryan Brant traveling with horse, mule and dog to New York

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Abbey Road and Sgt. Major Jack Houdini waited in the alley and Pepper snoozed at the door to e-comm cafe Friday afternoon while their master, Bryan Brant, sat inside sipping a tall cup of hot coffee.

“A cup of coffee has become such an incredible luxury,” Brant said, smiling softly as he savored the rare pleasure of a warm beverage. “You know, people pass us going down the road, traveling 60 to 70 miles per hour. For us, that’s a week of travel.”

Brant, 39, is a Kansas resident who is riding Abbey Road from the Mississippi River in Illinois to upstate New York as he retraces the route his Mohawk chief ancestor took centuries ago.

“I’m retracing my family’s history,” said Brant, who is seven generations removed from the family’s patriarch, Chief Joseph Brant.

The route took him along the Mississippi River to Cairo, then along the Ohio. He planned his route to take him through Amish settlements whenever possible, so he would have access to the blacksmith services his horse and mule need. Brant said his animals and story draw large crowds and he found it hard to leave those communities and continue his journey.

In Ashtabula County, he followed the Western Reserve Greenway Trail to Ashtabula. He planned to take a lakeshore route into Pennsylvania.

“I’ve never seen Lake Erie,” he said.

He left Illinois on June 10 and hopes to arrive at his destination before snow falls.

“I don’t want another Donner Pass,” Brant said. “I don’t like the taste of horse.”

Riding the horse, he makes 10 to 15 miles a day. He sleeps on a bed roll whenever weather permits. “The experience of the past is simplicity,” he said. “If it is a nice night, the stars are beautiful.”

He eats a hot meal every other day or so; the most memorable meal of the trip was at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon, Ohio, where he spent the first hour talking to guests about his trip. He spent 3 1/2 hours savoring the five-course meal.

A veteran, Brant suffers from Gulf War Illness, a neurological condition similar to muscular dystrophy. He was a front-line combat medic in the U.S. Army and had a contracting business after the war, but when the illness began to take its toll on his mobility, Brant decided to enter a yeshiva in Wichita, Kansas, covert to Judaism and study to be a rabbi.

“I’m a member of two tribes,” Brant said with a sly smile.

While studying the subject of vows, Brant vowed that he would never cut his hair. Four years ago, he stopped cutting his beard. He braids both his hair and beard.

Several years ago, Brant’s mobility was compromised to the point he was forced to use a wheelchair. Frustrated with the lack of progress from conventional treatment, he threw away his medication and put himself on a therapy program of his own design. He did yoga, stretching and strengthening exercises.

By February 2008 he was strong enough to tackle the Colorado to Washington, D.C., segment of the Longest Walk. The walk united representatives from more than 100 American Indian tribes and other indigenous participants.

“That was easier (than the current journey),” he said. “We could do 30 to 35 miles a day; with the horse, we can only go 10 to 15 miles.”

He trained for his horseback journey by taking short trips around southern Illinois. His goal was to get his animals accustomed to the traffic and various urban environments they would encounter on the 1,500-mile trip to New York.

He said the trip has been good for his condition.

“My horses are a good form of therapy,” he said.

Brant said his journey was relatively uneventful until about two weeks ago, when his horse and mule decided to jump a large ditch rather than descend and ascend it. The horse stopped mid air, the saddle split in half and went flying toward Brant.

“We were all fine, not a scratch,” he said. “We’ve been very blessed. That’s the way this journey has been. We’ve been very blessed.”

The horse and mule mainly eat grass; he allows 10 minutes of grazing for every mile they travel. Their diet is supplemented with grain. Pepper has no trouble coaxing handouts from admiring humans wherever they travel. Within an hour of their stop at e-comm, Pepper had been offered a hot dog and half of a cheeseburger.

Brant and his wife Clara have two young children and are expecting a third. Clara originally planned to make the trip with him, but the risks were too great. She is staying with family and the couple keep in touch through Facebook and a cell phone, luxuries Chief Brant could not have fathomed.

Abbey Road is due to deliver a foal in early spring. Brant said he plans to spend the winter with family in New York, then, after Abbey is able to travel again, cross the St. Lawrence into Canada and continue his journey west across that nation.

When Brant crosses the state line, probably today or tomorrow, it will be a bittersweet farewell to Ohio.

“From the time I entered into Ohio, we’ve been treated like royalty. Ohio has been very pleasurable for me,” he said.

Follow Brant on his family’s Facebook page,