Rattlesnake Kate: Zero Tolerance

Rattlesnake KateEvery year, at about this time, handy dandy charts of how to identify venomous snakes make the rounds on the internet. And every year, I think, “My goal is to not get close enough to identify snake-friend from snake-foe!” Yeah, I’m not a fan of things that slither. Rest assured, if I encounter a venomous snake, I want it dead! The subject of today’s Campfire Chronicle story happens to share my views. Colorado homesteader “Rattlesnake Kate” had zero tolerance for rattlers. On one fateful day in 1925, she killed 140 of them . . . and what she did with their remains is legendary. Ah, I feel such a kinship!

Snakes in the Grass

Rattlesnake KateKatherine McHale Slaughterback was a no-nonsense kind of gal. On an autumn day, in 1925, the 31-yr-old nurse was being her usual practical self when she decided to take a horseback ride out to a nearby pond. It wasn’t just a pleasure ride. Hunters had been shooting at ducks all day and Slaughterback hoped to snag some wounded ducks for dinner. Yes, she was practical that way. So, the Greeley, Colorado native snatched up her 3-yr-old son, Ernie, and her .22 Remington rifle and set off to find some victuals.

The woman in search of dinner found a lot more than some paltry poultry! The hunt for fowl turned foul! What started out as a primitive episode of “Duck Dynasty” turned into an adventure of a lifetime. Kate and Ernie were on their way home when Kate spotted a rattlesnake slithering in the tall grass. Now, we’ve already discussed how I feel about things that slither. If you ask me, Kate Slaughterback made the only decision she could. She turned into a pioneer superhero!

If It Had Been a Snake It Woulda Bit You

RattlesnakeRattlesnake Kate had surely heard the phrase, “If it had been a snake, it woulda bit you,” and, when she actually saw a snake, she had no desire to become a statistic of an overused hyperbole. And she wasn’t going to stand around and let little Ernie become one either. Kate pulled her gun. She shot a snake. But, folks, there wasn’t just one snake. It was like a snake in the grass convention out there!No Hunting

Kate started shooting. She shot and she shot. She shot until she ran out of ammunition. Then, she did something extraordinary. She pulled a, “No Hunting,” sign out of the ground and started whacking snakes with the kind of fury only a true snake-hater could muster. She whacked and she whacked. She whacked until the dead snakes were piled up like kindling wood. All told, she shot and/or whacked 140 snakes. I can only imagine that little Ernie was in therapy for the rest of his days.Ernie

Pains in the Asp

A neighbor saw Kate and Ernie returning from their adventure. It’s safe to say that Kate probably looked like any woman who had been whacking snakes with a “No Hunting” sign for two hours. The neighbor, sensing that something wasn’t quite right, went out to inquire about her day. The neighbor and Kate rode out to the scene of the Reptile Revolution. Oh, the carnage! They collected the snakes in three washtubs and hung them out to dry.

When the people of Greeley, Colorado heard that their nurse neighbor was some sort of snake killing ninja, they hailed her as a hero. After all, they didn’t want to stumble across a passel of venomous snakes. She had done them all a tremendous favor by getting rid of those pains in the asp.

When Life Hands You Snakeskins…

Rattlesnake KateWord of Kate’s exploits spread far and wide when newspapers began reporting on the sensational story. Rattlesnake Kate was more than happy to become the 1925 version of a reality television star. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. When life handed Rattlesnake Kate 140 snakeskins, she made a fashion statement.

Lady Gaga and her meat dress had nothing on Rattlesnake Kate and her snakeskin couture. Using around fifty skins, Kate stitched up a flapper dress that was the bee’s knees! It was the cat’s meow. It was the snake’s… skin. She wore it with snakeskin shoes and jewelry made from rattlesnake rattles. Her neckband alone was made up of thirty-seven rattles. Snazzy! Kate wore the dress to numerous functions, over the years.Rattlesnake Kate

Practical Kate also used her fame to make a buck. She went into the snake business and sold snakeskins for two dollars and rattles for one dollar. She even found a way to cash in on the rattlesnake venom by milking it from the snakes and sending it to scientists in California.

Other Rattlesnake Kate Tidbits

Although she is best known for two hours of mad-capped snake whacking, Kate’s life would have been interesting even if she had never walloped a single rattlesnake.  She built her own house and worked her own farm. She even made her own moonshine in the goat pen. Kate was not above adding to her own mystique, however, so it’s unclear if some of the stories about her are fact or fiction. One such questionable story tells that she served as a nurse during WWII, at which time she broke her hip parachuting from a plane just before it crashed. Kate also was reportedly struck by lightening. Some sources say she was married six times and hint that she was involved in prostitution.

Rattlesnake Kate's dress at the Greely MuseumKate died in October 1969, at the age of seventy-five. Three weeks before her death, she left her snakeskin dress and accessories to the Greeley Museum. In 2002, the museum purchased lumber believed to have been from Kate’s home. Using pictures of the house, they numbered the pieces of lumber and reassembled the home in the Prairie Section of Centennial Village. While at the museum, you can even see the gun Kate used to shoot the first snakes and a life-size cutout of Kate in the rattlesnake flapper dress. Rattlesnake Kate House

I really wish they had the “No Hunting” sign on display, too, but you can’t have everything. The more I think about it, the more I think I may just have to get a sign to carry with me whenever I’m going into tall grass. Because, well, you can never be too careful!

Watch these rattlesnake wranglers as they safely remove angry snakes from residential areas and release them back into their natural habitat. . . . it will give you a good idea of what Kate faced on that fateful day!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

WASP Aviators of World War II, Remembered

Between rolling bandages, tending Victory Gardens, collecting blood, working in factories, raising children, and just generally keeping the home fires burning, no one would argue that American women weren’t as busy as bees during World War II. Bees, yes. But what about WASPs? Today I’d like to tell you about a group of women who never received as much press as did Rosie the Riveter . . . and that is a crying shame because these WASPs deserve to have people buzzing about them!

They were the wartime aviators known as the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a group of 1,100 fearless civilian women who volunteered to ferry newly-manufactured aircraft long distances from factories to military bases and departure points across the country. They tested damaged planes that had been repaired and they even towed targets to give military ground and air gunners some training — with live ammunition. And they did it all so that our enlisted male pilots could be released for combat duty overseas.

Heads in the Clouds

In 1942, the wartime fighter plane production was at its peak in America. The planes were flying off the assembly lines, figuratively speaking . . . and they needed to be delivered to military bases across the nation quickly. But the U.S. military was short on manpower and in desperate need of pilots. Most of the military’s pilots were serving overseas, in the thick of battle. It was a significant problem. How could they get the planes delivered without sacrificing valuable manpower? The answer was obvious. It was, however, an answer than the Air Transport Command ignored for as long as it could. Eventually, the answer could no longer be ignored. Eleanor Roosevelt launched the battle cry: “This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used.”

General Henry “Hap” Arnold
General Henry “Hap” Arnold

Women to the rescue! Yes, military leaders finally admitted that they were so desperate that they were willing to train a select group of women to fly military aircraft. So, on September 14, 1942, General Henry “Hap” Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, approved a program that would allow an elite group of women to serve as ferry pilots. With women delivering planes stateside, male pilots were able to focus their energies on battling the axis powers in their own skies.

Ready for Take Off

Nancy Love
Nancy Love

When I say that women were trained as pilots, it’s not as if these were women who had never flown a plane. While most of the male Army Air Corps pilots had to be taught how to fly after their recruitment, these women were already experienced pilots when they joined the group. An aviator named Nancy Love was called to duty and appointed director of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and she immediately went into recruitment mode. Love sent telegrams to 83 female pilots who knew their way around the clouds. Of those, twenty-eight women qualified and entered the program.

Blog5The original twenty-eight were stationed at New Castle Army Air Base in Delaware. They began ferrying light aircraft and quickly moved on to ferrying larger aircraft, like the P-38 and P-51. Later, a training school was established in Texas, operated by aviator Jackie Cochran. The sky was the limit!

Blog3In August 1943, the WAFS and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment were merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. Competition to join the WASPs was stiff. Out of the more than 25,000 women between the ages of 21 and 35 who applied to the program, 1,830 were accepted, with only 1,074 graduating to become WASPs. They each came bearing a pilot’s license, a passion for flying, and mad skills. Even though the minimum requirements stated that the women were to have 500 hours of flying time, their average hours exceeded 1000. They were women fulfilling their destinies! Plus, they probably thought the work sounded a lot more exciting than rolling bandages and planting rutabagas in Victory gardens.

Blog6Nineteen groups of women completed the exact same training as the majority of their male counterparts in the Army Air Corp. They each went through basic and advanced training, and many of women also completed specialized flight training. When their training was completed, the women were assigned to their posts.

 

Off to a Flying Start

The nation was at a patriotic high during WWII, and the WASPs were happy to do their part, but they were not always given a warm embrace. At the time, the WASPs were not considered to be a part of the military. They were hired under Civil Service as civilian volunteers, and their benefits made that clear.

In short, there were NO benefits. There was no military pension. No G.I. Bill. No public acknowledgement of their contribution. Each woman was paid $150 per month, while in training. Following graduation, they received $250 per month. From that, they paid for their own uniforms, lodging and personal travel.

Blog10The women lived as if they were in the military, however. Assigned to air bases across the nation, they roomed in barracks with six women to a room. One bathroom served twelve girls. They marched. They did required calisthenics. They were subject to inspections. They had infantry drills. And, at the end of each grueling day, taps was played.

Go Into a Tailspin

Blog2Without exception, the WASPs seemed to love what they did. (You might say they were on cloud nine!) However, as much fun as they were having, they didn’t lose sight of the dangers. Thirty-eight WASPs were killed while serving the nation. The families of those thirty-eight received no survivors’ benefits. In fact, the bodies didn’t even receive free passage home. The other WASPs would chip in to see that the bodies arrived to their hometowns.

By 1944, Congress was very close to militarizing the WASP program. That probably would have happened if not for one fact. The Allied Forces were winning the war! The WASPs had freed up so many male pilots to fight Hitler that they had worked their way out of their jobs. The program had succeeded with flying colors, but military brass was worried that the women were taking away positions from the men folk.

Blog18DismissedWhen the program disbanded, the daring WASPs did not receive a ticker tape parade. They received no military pension. No G.I. benefits. No medals to pin proudly to their chests. They simply received word that their services were no longer needed. And, just like that, each woman arranged for her own travel and made her way back to wherever it was she had come from.

Regardless of their qualifications, the women could not be hired as commercial airline pilots. It was a different time. Some of the women found jobs flying small planes, but, by and large, their days of flying professionally were at an end. OUCH! That really had to sting!

This Cloud’s Silver Lining

Blog19FightbackJust when it looked as if the WASPs would never gain recognition for their wartime contributions, something happened to change that.  They got angry! It was 1974 and the U.S. Navy made a grand announcement that women were going to be permitted to fly military planes for the first time in history. Say what? First time in history?!?! That was enough to stir up a hornet’s nest, er WASPs nest! They came out of the woodwork and told their stories to anyone who would listen. It’s one thing to be ignored. It’s another thing to sit back and watch someone else receive the recognition that is rightfully yours.

Senator Barry Goldwater and  Col. Bruce Arnold, USAF retired (son of General Hap Arnold.) with WASPs Doris Tanner, Dora Strother, and Bee Haydu.
Senator Barry Goldwater and Col. Bruce Arnold, USAF retired (son of General Hap Arnold.) with WASPs Doris Tanner, Dora Strother, and Bee Haydu.

For thirty years, the WASP records were not available to historians. No one thought of them as having been slighted because no one thought of them at all. Then, General Hap Arnold’s son, Bruce Arnold, and Senator Barry Goldwater, took up the cause. Goldwater was a WWII veteran himself and had commanded WASPs in his squadron. In 1977, the WASPs finally gained their militarization status. Their service records were unsealed and the women were flying high.

Out of the Clear Blue Sky

Blog20GoldMedalIn 2010, the United States Congress awarded the WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal. Of the 1074 WASPs, fewer than 300 women were alive to receive the honor. But those who were able made their way to Washington D.C. and finally received their just reward.Blog23

Today, the WASP archive is housed in the Woman’s Collection on the campus of Texas Women’s University. If you’re ever in Denton, Texas, stop by and pay your respects to a group of remarkable women who deserve our respect!

Watch this great video about the WASPs with wonderful documentary footage . . . I know you’ll enjoy it!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Pit Ponies: Working In a Coal Mine

Blog1One of my earliest childhood memories is of riding Midnight, a cantankerous Shetland pony that much preferred munching on a sugar cube to taking a little girl for a spin around the pasture. As I recall, Midnight didn’t really do anything Midnight didn’t want to do, though. If he didn’t feel like giving an eager child a ride, he would simply lie down and wait until someone gave him a lump of sugar or a carrot. I hope that little black equine of my childhood knew how cushy he had it!

Today, we’re going to talk about a group of ponies whose lives were anything but cushy. We’re going to talk about the Pit Ponies that worked in underground coal mines between the 1750 and 1999.

Before we begin, let me explain that Pit Ponies were used in the United States, as well as in the British Isles and Australia. However, probably because Pit Ponies were more highly regulated in the U.K., there is more available information on those animals. Therefore, many of the specifics to follow will be about the Pit Ponies that worked on the other side of the pond. It should also be noted that France, Belgium and Germany used larger draft horses in their mining. And, mules were sometimes used in the mines of the Appalachian Mountains.

Working In a Coal Mine

Blog1aWhen laws were passed prohibiting the use of women and small children as laborers in coal mines, the industry was in desperate need of more workers. I can practically hear the conversations among mine executives:

Executive A: “You know, we’ve got to get some help since we can’t use those nimble little 7-yr-olds anymore. What we need is a group of really short workers who won’t mind the low ceilings. And, it would really be great if the workers were as strong as horses!”

Executive B: “Hmm… That sounds like an impossible task. What’s strong like a horse, but shorter than a horse? If only there were short horses.”

Underpaid worker muttering under his breath: “Ponies. Ferpitysake, ponies!”

Executive A: “I’ve got it! Ponies! We could use ponies in the mines!”

In truth, there was a significant overlap in the time that women and children were working in the mines and the time that the Pit Ponies went on the job. But the idea of Pit Ponies caught on in a big way after the British Mines Act of 1842 abolished the employment of women and children less than ten years of age.

By 1913, it is estimated that there were 70,000 Pit Ponies working in the United Kingdom. Shetland, Welsh, Sable Island and Dales ponies were the most commonly used breeds.

Goin’ Down Down Down

Blog11Thanks to the British Coal Mines Act of 1911, ponies had to be 4-yrs-old before starting work. But that doesn’t mean they were 4-yrs-old before they saw the inside of a mine. For the most part, the ponies were raised and stabled underground because, even though ponies like frolicking in the sunshine, they couldn’t miss what they had never known. Underground stables were built at the bottom of the pits. Typically, each stable could accommodate fifty ponies. Ponies who were brought in when they were older were given time to acclimate to the mines and several weeks of training.

Temperament was as important as strength. Geldings were preferred. Nervous or timid ponies got their walking papers early on, as did ponies that exhibited too much willfulness. A frightened horse could kill a miner, while working in such confined spaces.blog12

Since the Pit Ponies had to be able to raise their heads, ponies of different sizes were used in different parts of the mines. Ponies up to 16 hands high were used close to the shafts, where the roofs were higher. A pony of 13 hands could be used in the haulage ways. The coalfaces required the smallest of ponies, standing no more than 11 hands. Mine inspectors measured the heights of the roofs, to insure the horses wouldn’t injure their backs.

Whop! About to Slip Down

blog13Just like with humans, working in the coal mine was dangerous work for the ponies. There were broken bones and the occasional explosion. Of course, the animals were a major investment for the mine owners and much of the available information documents how well the ponies were treated. Pit owners were often accused of caring more about the welfare of the ponies than of their human workforce. There may be some truth to that since the ponies were more difficult to replace. Prior to WWII, it is estimated that, on average, a British miner was killed on the job every six hours. By all indications, the horses were safer than the men.

blog14For all of the intrinsic sadness associated with the idea of horses rarely seeing the light of day, there are many stories about how well the animals were treated by their handlers. Later laws stated that one handler could be responsible for no more than fifteen ponies. But, generally speaking, the numbers were better than that. In many cases, each pony was assigned to one worker. It wasn’t uncommon for a pony to remain with the same handler for its entire career. As you can imagine, there was a genuine affection between the workers and animals. And, as dreadful as the idea of ponies living underground may be, they probably made for a much happier workplace.

Haulin’ Coal by the Ton

Blog2An average Pit Pony workday was an eight-hour shift (at least by the time some legislation was passed). Older animals, nearing retirement, might only work a four-hour shift. During a full shift, one animal might haul a total of 30 tons of coal in tubs!

The Pit Ponies were trained to recognize voice commands and often wore no bits. The miners respected the animals’ horse sense. On more than one occasion, the ponies were responsible for saving the lives of miners. There is one story of a pony refusing to budge an inch, just before a structural collapse. Had the animal obeyed its handler, both would have surely been killed! The selflessness went both ways. There are also tales of miners being killed while trying to rescue their horses.

Blog9The animals were rewarded for their hard work with good food. They were fed a steady diet of chopped hay and corn. That’s not counting the sweets and sandwich bits that were shared from the handlers’ lunch pails.

Too Tired for Havin’ Fun

While there is some information to indicate that horses rarely survived more than a few years underground, that doesn’t appear to be true. At least some of the animals had careers that spanned twenty years.

Blog3Most pit ponies were retired before their 20th birthdays. Since an average life expectancy of a pony is between 25 and 30 years, that sounds like they should have had some decent years to enjoy the finer things in life—like sunshine and fresh air. Yeah, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Initially, the hard working Pit Ponies were slaughtered as soon as they punched their last pony time card. When word of that got out, citizens were outraged. And, since the women and children were no longer suffering from black lungs, they had the energy to do something about it!Blog10

Retirement facilities were created for the British Pit Ponies, although the animals typically had difficulty adjusting to a life of ease. They were used to regimentation. They were even used to an environment with a constant temperature of around 55 degrees. “Freedom” was not an easy thing for these animals to grasp. For years, there were rumors that the ponies went blind underground. While that isn’t true, they did have difficulty adjusting to sunlight.

How Long Can This Go On?

Blog5

The last pony mine in the United States closed in 1971, but the use of Pit Ponies continued in Great Britain. Robbie, the last authorized Pit Pony in Britain, retired in 1999.While there are no more national mines in Great Britain that use Pit Ponies, there are said to be a few private mines where ponies are still illegally counted among the workforce.

In 2009, Great Britain honored the passing of Pip, the horse they publicly acknowledge as the last surviving Pit Pony. Pip was 35-yrs-old. In his final years, Pip’s celebrity status even garnered him a meeting with Diana, Princess of Wales. It’s an honor that was well deserved. Unlike my old friend, Midnight, a loyal Pit Pony would never lie down on the job!

Here’s an interesting video about the pit ponies, with great documentary footage. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia

Sir Barton, the Unlikely Champion

Blog1“Firsts” have always had a special place in our hearts. Let me prove it to you by giving you a little quiz.

  • First President of the United States? George Washington, of course!
  • First successful airplane flight? That’d be the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk.
  • First man to walk on the moon? Yep. Neil Armstrong.
  • First winner of the Triple Crown? What? You don’t know that one? Let’s do something about that!

In 1919, Sir Barton became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes—even though that feat wouldn’t become known as the Triple Crown until 1930. The chestnut horse was an unlikely champion whose life took more challenging turns than the tracks on which he ran. He was born in the rolling hills of Kentucky, but died on a working cattle ranch in Wyoming. . .and what happened between those two events is quite a saga.

First and Foremost

Star Shoot, sire of Sir Barton
Star Shoot, sire of Sir Barton

To quote Shakespeare, “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”  If Sir Barton was born great, it was a trait that was well hidden! As a colt, he was pretty much a dud. Oh, sure, he had a fine pedigree. His sire was Star Shoot, a Thoroughbred that had raced in the United Kingdom. His grandsire was Isinglass, who had won the English Triple Crown in 1893. Bred by John E. Madden, he shared a birthplace with Kentucky Derby winners Old Rosebud, Paul Jones, Zev and Flying Ebony.

Isinglass, grand-sire of Sir Barton
Isinglass, grand-sire of Sir Barton

Judging by early indicators, it was doubtful that Sir Barton would ever achieve greatness, either. His early racing career was what you might call . . . um, well. . . pathetic. He began racing as a two-year-old, in 1918. Out of six races, he won zero. It wasn’t that he didn’t give it his all. He was known for bolting out of the gate and petering out quickly. At least he was consistent.

John E. Madden, breeder of Sir Barton
John E. Madden, breeder of Sir Barton

Sir Barton also had a surly disposition. That wasn’t really his fault, though. He had soft feet that gave him grief. Hey, I defy anyone to run a race on painful feet and be pleasant about it! He was known to throw a shoe in the middle of a race. Once, he even threw all four shoes in the same race. In an attempt to reduce his pain, piano felt was placed between his shoes and hooves. I don’t know if it reduced his pain, but it didn’t improve his attitude. An equal opportunity grouch, the horse disliked man and beast, alike!

Madden unloaded Sir Barton following his fourth disappointing race. J.K.L. Ross, a Canadian businessman, purchased the horse for about $10,000. Hall of Fame trainer H. Guy Bedwell took over Sir Barton’s training. While he still lost his final two races as a two-year-old, he finished just out of the money in his sixth race.

Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Hat

Sir Barton

In 1919, Sir Barton was entered in the Kentucky Derby as a rabbit for J.K.L. Ross’s prize horse, Billy Kelly. Ross had a $50,000 wager that Billy Kelly would finish over the favored, Eternal. The great Johnny Loftus rode Sir Barton, in order the set an early pace and tire out Eternal. The plan was for Billy Kelly to come from behind to win. But, no one told Sir Barton about that plan! He set a pace no other horse could match and the horse that had never won a race, won the Kentucky Derby! Billy Kelly still finished ahead of tenth place Eternal, and Ross won his $50,000.

Four days later, Sir Barton won the Preakness Stakes, finishing four lengths ahead of Eternal. Yes, I said four days later! There was no squawking about the spacing of Triple Crown races back then. Ten days after the Preakness, Sir Barton won the Withers Stakes. And, finally, Sir Barton set a new track record to win the Belmont Stakes. The horse with the bad feet and a surly attitude had done what only ten other horses have ever done. He won the Triple Crown! And remarkably, all four races were won within 32 days. Take that, California Chrome!

The Man to Beat

By the following year, Man o’ War became the obvious man to beat. In a highly publicized race at the 1920 Kenilworth Gold Cup, Man o’ War left Sir Barton in the dust. In his defense, Sir Barton had lost all four of his shoes! Thanks to the wonders of documentary film and YouTube, you can watch a brief clip of that historic race in this short video.

Sir Barton never won another race. He was retired and sold to B.B. and Montford Jones, and Sir Barton began his new career as a stud at their farm in Virginia. . .but he did not last long there either.

Sir Barton Reporting for Duty, Sir!

Blog9
Remount Station in Fort Robinson, Nebraska

In 1933, the stud joined the U.S. Army’s Remount Service, where he was put to use as a stud to breed military horses. Hey, the military has always been looking for a few good men!

Remount Station in Fort Robinson, Nebraska
Remount Station in Fort Robinson, Nebraska

He started out in the Front Royal, Virginia facility and ended up at the Remount Station in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The standing stud fee for the first Triple Crown winner hit an all-time low of under $10.00. Now, that’s just insulting! It’s like Sir Laurence Olivier guest starring on “The Love Boat” or Sir Paul McCartney singing for tips in a New Jersey piano bar. (Not that those things ever happened, mind you. But it would have been insulting if they had.)

At the end of 1933, a man named Dr. J.R. Hylton, of Douglas, Wyoming, saved Sir Barton from any further humiliation by purchasing him for breeding at his cattle ranch. Hylton bred the former champion to a few mares, but, by and large, Sir Barton officially entered retirement shortly thereafter.

The Tender Toed Typhoon

Blog6Sir Barton died of colic on October 30, 1937. He was buried on the Wyoming ranch of his final owner, Dr. Hylton. At his grave was a simple sandstone marker, and no one ever paid much attention to it. When Hylton died, the ranch was sold and Sir Barton was all but forgotten, Triple Crown winner, or not.

But in 1968, thanks to the efforts of some some caring folks, Sir Barton’s remains were moved to Douglas, Wyoming. His grave site is marked with a life-size fiberglass statue of a horse. The park couldn’t afford a bronze statue of Sir Barton, but that’s OK . . . his grave seems oddly appropriate for the unlikely champion that he was.

Blog2So, why isn’t Sir Barton recognized with the same enthusiasm given to other “firsts” or even other great racehorses? It’s hard to say definitively, but it might be because he was just not very well liked . . . he was never awarded the Mr. Congeniality title! He was never embraced by fans the way Man o’ War and Secretariat were. Even the people who loved him couldn’t stand him from time to time! The son of his second owner, J.K.L. Ross, described Sir Barton as “an irascible, exasperating creature.” In his book, The Most Glorious Crown: The Story of America’s Triple Crown Thoroughbreds from Sir Barton to Affirmed, Marvin Drager dubbed Sir Barton, “The Tender Toed Typhoon!” I like that. It may not be flattering, but at least it’s memorable.

So as we look forward to another Triple Crown opportunity this year with American Pharoah, it is good to reflect on those that came before him.  They cast a long shadow, the ghosts of Triple Crowns past . . .

Happy Trails,

Anita Lequoia