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A cross-country cowboy; 75-year-old man arrives in NY Mills to spread message

Sam Benshoof/FOCUS 75-year-old Doc Mishler, riding horses cross-country to raise awareness of starving children, stayed in NY Mills on Thursday night.

Dolly Tumberg at Mills Lanes in New York Mills had an unusual, well-traveled visitor last Thursday night.

Doc Mishler, a 75-year-old man traveling across the country on horseback, stopped in to spend the night on Tumberg's lawn.

Mishler left Dayton Beach, Fla., on March 14, bound for Winnipeg, Manitoba with his three horses, Chief Spirit, Justice and Charity. Mishler plans on visiting the Hutterite community located in Winnipeg.

The purpose of Mishler's ride is to raise awareness of starving children throughout the United States.

This isn't Mishler's first rodeo, so to speak. In a separate trip, he already rode from Montana to Washington, D.C. by way of California.

Even without his horses, Mishler's appearance conjures up images of cowboys and the Old West. With his cowboy hat pulled low over his face, a handkerchief tied around his neck and his beard a mixture of black and grey, Mishler reminds you of days gone by.

From 1976-86, Mishler worked as a bail bondsman in Indiana, what he called a "life of money." Giving up that lifestyle, he went back to school and obtained a PhD in philosophy.

In the mid-1990s, Mishler taught philosophy at Western Michigan University. In 1996, he was diagnosed with cancer.

"When I was diagnosed with cancer, I started looking at the Bible critically," he said, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with his life. In 1998, he moved to Montana, where he worked as a horseback trail guide.

A few years later, Mishler said that he decided to give away all his belongings and travel on horseback preaching his message.

"It's amazing how much we think we need," he said. "We have so much in this country."

The question Mishler is asking as he rides across the country is, "Can all the children be fed?"

In a letter that he hands out to people throughout the trip, he writes, "Every single day 35,000 children die of hunger and hunger-related illnesses on earth."

"That's unacceptable," he said.

Just as children are at the heart of his message, Mishler also looks forward to meeting children throughout his travels.

"The joy I find in the children I meet is great," he said. "We need to listen to the children. The children are our future."

"Divine intervention"

Mishler's arrival, Tumberg said, made the day pretty interesting.

"I don't know how long it's been since we've had a horse in our parking lot," he said. "It was fun visiting with him. It's not real often you meet someone like him."

Mishler said his arrival in NY Mills was "divine intervention," as he had never before heard of the Great American Think-Off, sponsored every year by the NY Mills Regional Cultural Center.

On Friday morning, Mishler went to the cultural center and spoke with Director Jaime Robertson, where he made a pitch for the adoption of "Can all the children be fed?" as next year's think-off question.

"What the world needs is more debate like the think-off," Mishler said. "If there were more debate, there'd be no more war. All too often people start yelling and screaming at each other."

In addition to spreading his message about hunger, Mishler has a lighter goal during his travels as well - to let kids ride his horses.

"Many a child has never had a chance to ride a noble steed," he said. "They've never experienced that joy."

Before leaving NY Mills on Friday morning, Mishler let Tumberg's grandkids ride his horse Charity. Both were quick learners.

"Want to hear God laugh?"

"I've become the man I've always wanted to be," Mishler said, unhitching his horses on Friday morning. "A lot of things have happened along the way."

When asked when he thought he might make it to Winnipeg, Mishler smiled, and recited one of his favorite phrases.

"Want to hear God laugh?" he asked. "Tell him you have a plan."

He has no idea how long it'll take him to get to Canada, and that's okay with him.

"I think it's wonderful not to rush," he said. "The Lord knows. He has a plan. Most importantly, I just take care of my horses."

As he set off on a trot from Mills Lanes down Centennial Drive, which would take him to Highway 10, to Perham and lunch at the Station House Restaurant, then to Fargo and I-29 and eventually Winnipeg, Mishler called out to no one in particular, "Can we feed all the children? Can we?"