By Linda Kor
There are plenty of stories about the Old West; tales of men who lived life in the saddle, traveling the dusty trail, their horse their only true friend and confidante. Today such stories sound more like folklore given the demands of a modern world that leave little opportunity for such a lifestyle of solitary simplicity.
But there are, in fact, a few who still live such a life and Jeremiah Brinkley is one of them. His treks across the U.S. aren’t bucket list items, for causes or mid-life rebellions. For Brinkley, this is a way of life. He has traveled the back roads and freeways of America for 25 years, his only companion a horse named Anna Marie.
He calls Springfield, Mo., home, but only as a place marker. It’s obvious that for Brinkley home is with “Anna,” as he affectionately calls her, out on the open road. His most recent venture has taken him from Missouri to California, traveling as much along old Route 66 as possible so that he and Anna could experience the ocean. Last week Brinkley stopped for a short while in Holbrook and visited about his travels.
With his grizzled beard, sunburned face and sparkling blue eyes, Brinkley looks like Santa Claus in the off-season. He wears sneakers, not boots, but gives a nod to the Old West by wearing an old straw cowboy hat which has country singer Ronnie Dunn’s signature scribbled across the brim, a reminder of a chance meeting he had with Dunn in California.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Brinkley’s journeys is, when after careful thought, he said he couldn’t recollect a bad experience on the road.
“If I could wish for anything it would be that people could see how good people really are. You hear all these bad things in the media, but I’ve never seen that,” stated Brinkley. He recalled how the people he’s met often offer food, a place to rest and sometimes even temporary work. As if to prove the point, a truck pulled up alongside Brinkley as he spoke and the driver offered some flakes of alfalfa for Brinkley’s horse. He just smiled, thanked the driver and Anna enjoyed her meal.
When asked what he thinks about as he walks mile after mile along the roadside through weather, traffic and honking semi trucks along the freeway, his answer was immediate.
“Well, I’m a Christian so I do a lot of talking with God. I tell him my problems and worries and he helps me along,” Brinkley replied.
This week is special as he plans to celebrate Anna Marie’s ninth birthday with a frosted carrot cake for her to enjoy. There were three other horses before Anna, but it’s obvious that she holds a special place in his heart.
“Anna was born to me, she’s been my best friend, my sweetheart and the most gentle creature you’ll ever meet,” said Brinkley of his companion, who has crossed 33 states with him.
He explained how he has found everything he needs alongside the road, from tools and jackets to food and clothing. “I’ve found halters, bridles and I’ve even found money. One time there was a whole basket of clothing, and once I found one of those great big wrenches that I brought into town and someone bought it for $300. That fed me for awhile,” he said with a grin.
Anna is well accustomed to the road and even when 18-wheelers pass by at high speeds with horns blaring in greeting, the horse barely twitches an ear, but there was one incident that got the best of her.
“It was a moose and her baby. For some reason she saw that and took off through the woods. I tracked her for six miles as I spotted my supplies along the way and finally found her in someone’s tack barn eating feed,” he recalled.
As many years as Brinkley’s been traveling he now has a specific mission in mind.
“I’m looking for my siblings. I have 13 of them, and I haven’t seen them since I was three and I’d like to find them,” he said, noting that all of his adopted family has passed with the exception of his father, who is in poor health. “I even changed my name back to Brinkley in the hopes that someone might hear about me that might know my family.”
His birth family is from St. Louis, Mo., and while the Internet might provide more clues, technology is not something with which Brinkley is familiar.
“I have a Facebook page that a friend manages for me in California, but that’s just because he asked if he could. Sometimes I borrow someone’s iPhone and let him know where I’m at or what I’m doing, but other than that I don’t know much about that sort of thing,” he said.
Brinkley is heading back to Missouri, but it only took a second for him to add that from there he’d be heading east toward the Atlantic. “Now that we went to one ocean, I guess we should go to the other. Then maybe down south to Florida,” said the traveler.
Wherever he goes, Brinkley does so at a leisurely pace, telling people of God’s good graces, the kindness of people and the value of gratitude.
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By Linda Kor