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Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Parker County in North Central Texas is named for her Uncle Isaac. Yet had it not been for her son, Comanche warrior Quanah Parker, Cynthia Ann Parker’s name might have been lost to history, along with countless other victims of brutality on the Western frontier.

When Quanah Parker appeared as part of the posse in the 1908 silent short The Bank Robbery, it was a pivotal moment for the fledgling movie industry and the beginning of America’s love affair with the bygone Western frontier. In his recently released book “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel connects the saga of Quanah Parker with the making one of Hollywood’s most iconic movies.

Directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne, and released by Warner Bros. in 1956, The Searchers was based on Alan LeMay’s novel of the same title, inspired by the story of Quanah Parker’s mother, Cynthia Ann.

In 1836, nine-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker and four family members were abducted during a Comanche raid on their isolated pioneer stockade, in the newly created Republic of Texas. Five others, including Cynthia Ann’s father, uncle and grandfather were savagely killed and dismembered. Twenty-four years later, having assimilated Comanche culture and mothered three children by tribal chief Peta Nocona. Cynthia Ann was discovered by Texas Rangers, following the Battle of Pease River, and released to her uncle, Isaac Parker.

Terrified by her white “captors,” Cynthia Ann more than once attempted escape with her infant daughter Prairie Flower, before resigning herself to her fate. Despite well-meaning efforts by a succession of Parker family members who took her in, Cynthia Ann pined for her Indian family until her death in 1871.

“She was virtually a prisoner among her own loving kindred, but they did not realize it until it was too late,” said Isaac Parker.

The transition to the white man’s world was much easier for Cynthia Ann’s son, who had evaded capture until 1875. Practical, as well as savvy, Quanah Parker helped enforce reservation laws and negotiate peace with the few remaining renegade bands that remained on the High Plains. He also made friends and eventually became business partners with influential ranchers such as S.B. “Burk” Burnett, E.C. Sugg, and Dan Waggoner, and even won over Theodore Roosevelt, who invited him to participate in his 1904 inaugural parade.

Proud of his white blood, Quanah Parker tracked down his mother’s unmarked grave in 1910 and had her reburied near his home in Comanche County, Okla. According to his son-in-law, Aubrey Birdsong, at the reburial, Quanah Parker said, “I love my mother. I like white folks….When people die today, tomorrow, ten years, I want them be ready like my mother. Then we all lie together again.”

Quanah Parker died in February 1911 and was buried next to the grave of his mother and Prairie Flower. The funeral was attended by 1,200 people, evenly divided between Indians and whites. His headstone bears the inscription: “Resting Here Until Day Breaks and Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears Is Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches.”

Connections: High Brow Cat and the self-starter

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Jack Waggoner was just a toddler, when he accidentally locked himself inside the tack room of the horse barn on the farm of his grandfather, Edward A. Deeds, near Dayton Ohio.

“I don’t know how long I was locked up,” Waggoner told me in a 2003 interview. “I was only three and when they found me, I had scratched grooves in the door trying to get out and all of my fingernails were torn off.”

Edward A. Deeds

Waggoner thinks the incident might have triggered the asthma attacks he suffered whenever he was near horses. Fortunately for the Western performance world, Waggoner outgrew his allergy to horses and developed a program with a 1988 colt by High Brow Hickory that made Waggoner the all-time leading breeder of cutting horses and High Brow Cat the all-time leading sire of cutting horses.

In 1945, when Waggoner was three, Edward Deeds’ barn was famous not because of horses, but because of horse power. It was there, in 1908, that Deeds’ partner and co-worker Charles Kettering began work on an ignition system that would revolutionize the auto industry.

After Cadillac ordered 8,000 of the new ignition sets, Deeds and Kettering founded Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO), and developed the first reliable automobile self-starter, in 1911. At the start of World War I, DELCO expanded to include the Dayton-Wright Company, with Orville Wright and H.E. Talbott. Dayton-Wright manufactured the DeHavilland DH-4, the only American-built bomber to see action in World War I, and the plane in which Orville Wright, who made the first ever manned, powered flight, in 1903, made his last flight, in 1918.

Jack Waggoner

“When they sold Delco to General Motors, they drew straws to see who would stay and run the power (company) for Dayton and who would go to General Motors,” said Waggoner. “My grandfather won and he stayed in Dayton and we all heard of Charlie Kettering because he lost.” Kettering became vice president of General Motors Research Corporation in 1920, a position he held for 27 years.

Born in 1874, in Granville, Ohio, Deeds worked his way through nearby Denison Univsersity and upon graduation, studied the relatively new science of electrical engineering at Cornell, one of the first universities to offer a degree in the field.

By 1899, Deeds was working in Dayton for the National Cash Register Company, where he oversaw the building of that company’s first electrical generating system. He left NCR for two years to design and build the famous Shredded Wheat factory at Niagra Falls, known as the “Palace of Light.”

Deeds returned to NCR in 1902, as a vice president and assistant general manager, and hired young Charles Kettering, an electrical engineer from Ohio State University, to work on his idea for an electric cash register. It proved to be an inspired and enduring relationship, with Deeds as the “idea man” and business mind and Kettering as the inventor and technical genius.

Deeds retired from NCR in 1914. At the time he returned as the company’s president, in 1931, he was serving on the boards of 28 corporations, from the General Sugar Company to one of the most powerful banks in the world. He served as president of NCR until 1940, then as honorary chairman, until his retirement in 1957.

Moraine Farm, Edward and Edith’s sprawling home and site of the famous Deeds barn, was the first private home in the United States to have an airstrip, and the Deeds’ yacht, “The Lotosland,” was the first private boat in the world to carry an amphibious airplane.

Edward Deeds died at Moraine Farm in 1960 and is buried at Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, also the final resting place of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Charles Kettering, and NCR founder John H. Patterson.

Will Rogers Coliseum and the Public Works Administration

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

For or against, rich or poor, public welfare has benefited all Americans. Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas, where cutting horses and riders are currently headed to compete in the 2012 NCHA Futurity, is a good example. The iconic landmark, as well as economic boon to the City of Fort Worth, could not have been built without federal funds from the Public Works Administration, later known as the WPA.

“The business of the America people is business,” said President Calvin Coolidge during the Roaring Twenties, a time of rapid economic growth, scant federal oversight, and rampant speculation, as brokers lent small investors two-thirds of the face value of their stock purchases. The historic stock market crash of October 29, 1929 definitively marked the end of the prosperous twenties and the beginning of a dire economic depression.

By 1933, one year after progressive Democrat candidate Franklin Roosevelt soundly defeated incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover, Fort Worth, a bastion of self-reliant conservatives, made its first application for federal funds, which it would continue to rely upon until the beginning of World War II.

Will Rogers Memorial Complex, consisting of the coliseum, as well as an adjoining 208-foot tower and an auditorium, was a beneficiary of these funds, which were supplemented by the City, local leaders, and the US Centennial Commission. It was Texan John Nance Garner, Roosevelt’s vice president, who was instrumental in getting a substantial appropriation from the Centennial Commission. But it was Fort Worth newspaper publisher and civic leader Amon Carter who appealed to his friend, Franklin Roosevelt, for federal funding to construct the coliseum and auditorium to be completed in time for the 1936 celebration of the Texas Centennial.

Although Dallas had been selected as the official site of the Centennial, Carter and civic leaders convinced officials that Fort Worth should be designated as the “Livestock Division” of the celebration, which they dubbed the Frontier Centennial. The domed coliseum, designed by Herbert M. Hinckley Sr., was revolutionary for its time, offering an unobstructed interior view thanks to its unique use of arched steel trusses in the roof. The magnificent 200 x 10-foot tile friezes, running across the upper outside facade of the buildings and depicting people and scenes from Texas history, were designed by Herman Koppe, who was also responsible for other decorative elements reflective of WPA-era architecture, including Art Deco and Moderne style fixtures and motifs.

Coliseum and auditorium construction had barely begun in 1935, when Will Rogers, beloved American humorist, movie star, social commentator, syndicated columnist, and friend to Amon Carter, was killed in a plane crash. Of Cherokee heritage, Rogers was born in Oklahoma and worked his way from cowboy to circus performer to vaudeville and beyond. Yet he never forgot his cowboy roots. When Carter proposed that Fort Worth’s new entertainment complex be named in honor of Rogers, there were some dissenters, but Carter won out.

Fittingly, no one appreciated a good cowhorse more than Rogers, a frequent visitor to Texas, and to the ranch of George W. Saunders, who owned a gotch-earred gelding that Rogers liked to ride. “It was worth the trip to the brush country,” Rogers said, “just to sit above ol’ Gotch and feel his shoulders roll, watch his ears work and his head drop low when he looked an ol’ steer in the eye and dared him to try to get back to the herd.”

Connections: Paul Revere, King Tut, Andy Griffith, Bob Dylan and Guys and Dolls

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Paul Revere rightly gets the credit, but he couldn’t have done it without Brown Beauty, the mare he borrowed for his midnight ride to warn the colonists that British soldiers were headed for Concord.

Steve Martin

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized Revere in his poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” but Steve Martin gives voice to Brown Beauty in his homage “Me and Paul Revere,” which he wrote and performed with his award-winning bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers on Tuesday, at Revere’s historic home in Boston.

Copley's portrait of Paul Revere

Martin, the comedian famously known for his “King Tut” performance on Saturday Night Live in 1978, is also a talented banjo player, as well as writer of fiction, music and lyrics, and art collector. His interest in Paul Revere was sparked by John Singleton Copley’s famous portrait of the silversmith that hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, specifically because the artist portrayed Revere as “a working man with his sleeves rolled up, and it is just something that really wasn’t done (at that time)”

Later, after reading “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by David Hackett Fischer,” Martin decided to write “Me and Paul Revere,” as told from the perspective of the horse “to make it more interesting and entertaining.”

Broadway composer Frank Loesser famously wrote Paul Revere, albeit a racehorse, into the lyrics of opening number, “Horse Can Do,” the awarding winning musical “Guys and Dolls, which premiered in 1950 and was made into a movie starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon, in 1955.

Bob Dylan also invoked “Paul Revere’s Horse” in the first stanza of “Tombstone Blues,” a ballad he wrote and recorded during the turbulent 1960s (1965):

The sweet pretty things are in bed now, of course,
The city fathers they’re trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse,
But the town has no need to be nervous.

Andy Griffith’s interpretation of Paul Revere’s ride, as told to Opie and his school buddies, and Deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith in the early 1960’s, might be the most fitting and certainly the most poignant. Griffith died yesterday, July 3, at the age of 86.

It’s about time!

Thursday, June 21st, 2012


In a unanimous 7-0 decision this week at Laurel Park, the Maryland Racing commission voted to change Secretariat’s official time in the 1973 Preakness to 1:53, which eclipses the previous Preakness record of 1:54 set by Canonero II in 1971, as well as the 1:53 2/5 shared by Tank’s Prospect (1985), Louis Quatorze (1996) and Curlin (2007).

Secretariat’s record times in the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5) and the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes (2:24, against wind in the backstretch) also still stand. His official electronically recorded time in the Preakness was charted at 1:55, but changed to 1:54 2/5 two days later based on the Pimlico clocker’s manually recorded time. But two staff members of the Daily Racing Form independently clocked the performance at 1:53 2/5, increasing doubt about the validity of the track’s “officially” adjusted time.

“It is wonderful for the sport to remove an asterisk and wonderful for the legacy of Secretariat and his fans, who believed he set the record in all three Triple Crown races,” said Leonard Lusky, who represented Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery. It was Chenery and Tom Chuckas, president of Pimlico race track, who requested an investigation into the matter, and modern film synchronization techniques were called upon to resolve the controversy once and for all.

Click here to watch Secretariat’s awe-inspiring Preakness performance; note that rider Ron Turcotte never uses the whip.

Connections: Black Caviar and Mr. Crimson Ruler

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Black Caviar, the 5-year-old Australian sensation, who scored her 21st consecutive win on May 12 in Adelaide, has interesting connections to North American horses, including Crimson Saint, who connects to the late, famed Quarter Horse breeder B.F. Phillips, Jr. and Dash For Cash.

Black Caviar (1999) was sired by Bel Esprit, winner of more than $2 million and one of the best sprinters of his generation in Australia.

Bel Esprit was sired by American-bred Royal Academy (1987), sire of 160 stakes winners and the earners of more than $120 million. Royal Academy, whose best lick on the track was at the mile, died this past February at Coolmore Australia.

Royal Academy was sired by Northern Dancer’s son Nijinsky, a British Triple Crown winner who became leading sire in Great Britain and leading broodmare sire in North America.

Royal Academy’s dam was Kentucky-bred Crimson Saint (1959), who equaled the four furlong record in :44.80 at Oaklawn Park, and set a track record of :56 flat at Hollywood Park. Crimson Saint’s sire, Crimson Satan, won the Charles H. Strub at Santa Anita by 5 3/4 lengths, while clocking :21 flat for the first quarter.

Crimson Saint’s greatest claim to fame, however, came as a broodmare. She was in foal to Triple Crown champion Secretariat in January 1976, when she was purchased for $295,000 by prominent Kentucky horseman Tom Gentry. The foal, a filly from Secretariat’s second crop, was stakes winner Terlingua, who would produce Storm Cat, one of the most influential stallions of modern times.

Mr. Crimson Ruler, photo by Sally Harrison

Crimson Saint’s first foal, a chestnut colt named Mr. Crimson Ruler (1975), was also sired by Secretariat, but never raced. Instead, he was purchased as a yearling by B.F. Phillips Jr., the same year that Phillips’ homebred Quarter Horse colt Dash For Cash was named AQHA world champion and champion 3-year-old.

Phillips believed that the proper Thoroughbred bloodlines could improve the performance of Quarter Horse runners. And he had proven his theory with Dash For Cash, whose dam, Find A Buyer, was a Thoroughbred, and whose sire, Rocket Wrangler, was by Rocket Bar, a Thoroughbred son of Three Bars.

Although at first glance Secretariat seemed an unlikely cross for Quarter Horses, his sire, Bold Ruler, was a world champion sprinter at 3.

“You can pick the Bold Rulers out on their conformation,” said the late Arthur B. Hancock, Jr., owner of Claiborne Farm and syndicate owner of Nasrullah, Bold Ruler’s sire (Hancock also imported Princequillo, sire of Secretariat’s dam, Somethingroyal, and syndicated Nijinksy II, sire of Royal Academy). “I see the same musculature as Nasrullah. They all had an extra layer of muscle beside their tail running down to their hocks. It is a good sign when you see it in a Bold Ruler. It means strength and speed.”

As a Quarter Horse breeder, Phillips had noticed the similarity in conformation between Dash For Cash and Secretariat, which was confirmed by the late equine artist Jim Reno, who measured both Secretariat and Dash For Cash for larger-than-life-size bronze sculptures.

There was a pedigree connection between the two stallions, as well, through Imperatrice, who was Secretariat’s second dam (Somethingroyal was her daughter), and the fourth dam of Dash For Cash.

Mr. Crimson Ruler was overshadowed at Phillips Ranch by Dash For Cash and never lived up to expectations as a sire. From 16 Quarter Horse crops (a total of 296 foals), he produced just four stakes winners, and his top money earner was Mr Crimson Bug (LTE $133,045), third in the Rainbow Derby. At the time of the Dash For Cash Futurity Sale in July 1984, Mr. Crimson Ruler had sired just one Thoroughbred winner and no stakes-placed runners.

Kentucky Brand Pipe Tobacco Derby Day Contest

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

An eight-year-old with pigtails walks into a neighborhood drugstore in 1954 and asks to buy a package of pipe tobacco. It might have happened, but not for this eight-year-old, who blanched at the thought of being questioned.

Instead, I stared furtively at a counter display which promised that I had a chance to win a Thoroughbred, if I sent in the best name for the colt, plus the wrapper from a package of Kentucky Club pipe tobacco.

Initiated in 1954, the annual Kentucky Club contest received close to a million entries by 1964. One year a bundle of entries (there was no limit on the number of one could submit, as long as each was accompanied by a wrapper) was sent in by a nun who, according to an article in the April 13, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated, persuaded her pupils’ fathers to save their Kentucky Club wrappers for her.

Another contestant purchased 100 packages of Kentucky Club, tore off the labels so that he could submit 100 names, then gave the contents of the packages to a veterans hospital and claimed a charity deduction on his income tax return.

“Prize” horses in the annual contest were two-year-olds selected by Ted Atkinson, the first active jockey to be inducted into Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame. Atkinson’s mounts included racing giants such as Bold Ruler, Nashua and Tom Fool. Sires of prize horses ranged from Citation to Your Host to Count Fleet, and some of the horses went on to achieve modest success, like Aurecolt, the 1956 selection, who won his first start and $2,600. Others never made it to the post.

While first prize in the contest included a colt, plus two choice seats and all expenses paid in Louisville for four days during the Kentucky Derby, there were a total of 500 prizes, including (second through tenth) hi-fi sets with “full concert realism,” and the remainder, 8-piece sets of English highball glasses decorated with a picture of that year’s prize colt.

Although it might be hard to imagine today, pipe smoking was trendy through 1970, when everyone from Bing Crosby, with his mellow voice and ever-present pipe, to Ronald Reagan endorsed tobacco, and pipe cleaners were something you purchased at the tobacco counter rather than a craft store, as today.

Pipe smoking began to decline in 1970, when cigarette and tobacco advertising was banned on television and radio, and print ads, and packages were required to carry the Surgeon General’s warning. The decline also spelled the end for the Kentucky Club Derby Day contest.