Monday, December 29, 2014

A List of Names Never Forgotten

I wonder, “For how many decades can useful DNA cling to an old horseshoe?”

In the early 1970s, when she sold the house my grandfather had relocated from a parcel that they had assembled as part of our ancestral ranch down, she had one last thing to do before living in shifts with her four children.

The old house had originally belonged to my great-grandparents.  Moving it down to Main and Third in Saint Anthony, Idaho and fitting it above a new basement probably cost more than a new house but it had been where my great-grandmother died during the Great Influenza.

As she packed possessions to move, my Grandmother Adah made sure a heavy box of artifacts was shipped to me where I was just completing college.

In the box were pairs of horseshoes that had been worn by favorite horses trained and bred by my great grandfather and grandfather.  Each had been mounted on a beam in the basement etched with the names of the horses, Darby, Baby Queen, Bill, Thousand Springs and Senator Dubois.

Unfortunately, my grandmother didn’t keep them in any order, nor did she write down the names,  but they were made indelible in my memory from hearing and seeing my grandfather use them to tell the story of the long line of horsemen and horsewomen from which we are descended.

I remember when I was age 8 or so, helping grandpa add a pair while he held me up to print the name Dolly above them, the name of one of the five draft horses he had kept on the ranch after turning it over to my parents to operate after dad returned from WWII.

Not all of the horses named along the beam were work horses such as Gypsy had been, a pure black hand me down quarter horse, given to me as my first horse when I was age five.

Some were used for breeding quarter horses and/or raced and paraded as thoroughbreds at surrounding community celebrations.

The fame of some of those horses extended beyond their mythical esteem in my eyes.  Darby had been ridden in the parade in Salt Lake City for Theodore Roosevelt and his Roughriders.

Queen was trained by my great grandfather and given to my grandfather as a boy.   Bill was the first horse my grandfather trained and raced in community celebrations and rodeos.  Bill ran a quarter mile in 24 seconds once.

My great grandfather bought Senator Dubois as a retired racehorse.  Even at 20 years old, Senator turned in a quarter mile in 22.5 seconds when ridden by my grandfather in one of the early War Bonnet Roundups down in Idaho Falls.

Winning the 3/8ths mile event, it was the last for both of them.  Newly married, my grandmother, who would work right alongside my grandfather while training horses as well as mules, felt it was too dangerous.

Or to hear his version, at age 25, he was getting too heavy to race.

The War Bonnet started in 1911, and they were married in 1914, to give an idea of the timeframe.

One of my great grandfather’s contemporaries was the real Senator Fred Thomas Dubois (pronounced in Idaho and Wyoming with heavy emphasis on DEW followed by a quick tailing boys,) rather than the way his French Canadian parents had intended.

There is a tiny town named for him about 50 miles west of our ranch and another about 160 miles east in Wyoming. I suspect they were named for him because he broke with his party to support conservation and not because he did everything possible to disenfranchise Mormons prior to statehood.

Dubois first came to Idaho as the US Marshall for the territory about three decades after my ancestors settled along the Rockies.  At the time he was first appointed Senator of the territory, Mormons began settling up in the furthest nook of the Upper Snake.

He was not reappointed after his second term and left Idaho for good about the time our ancestral ranch was forged a mile west of the Henry’s Fork River, the closest you can be to Montana and Wyoming and still be in Idaho.

I suspect the irony was not lost on tiny Mormon settlements along the Tetons as my great grandfather and grandfather rode Senator Dubois at celebrations and in parades.

I doubt that being able to see the names along the beam in that 1915 house, which is still in use at 3rd and Main, would not help me specifically tie the shoes back to their owners.

But one set could probably be identified by DNA as belonging Thousand Springs.  He was a grandson of Man o’ War (shown in the image in this post,) arguably the greatest horse to ever race.

When he was 30 years old, Man o’ War died of heart failure seven months before I was born in mid-1948 but more than fifty years later, horsemen in a poll still ranked him America’s “Horse of the Century.”

In the era between WWI and the 1930s, horseracing, along with track and field, were the most popular sports in America; the NFL, NBA and MLB of that period.  In the wake of WWI, Man ‘ War inspired the entire nation.

I never knew his grandson Thousand Springs and my family’s tie to the great horse.  My grandfather felt he was a bit temperamental and mean,  but he is still legend enough in that Teton-Yellowstone nook of Idaho to be mentioned in books alongside my great grandfather who died in late 1936.

Thousand Springs is a cousin to Seabiscuit, made famous in the early 2000s in a book, documentary and movie including a memorable Randy Newman soundtrack.  Seabiscuit inspired Americans during the Great Depression as his grandfather had done after WWI.

With a two car garage in place of my grandmother’s famous flower garden, the Saint Anthony house is still there at 249 W. Main Street a block equitant from the Catholic Church and the Henry’s Fork.

So I suspect I could track down the current owners and learn if there are any names etched on that beam that I may have forgotten.

At age 31, Gypsy, horse I inherited as a hand-me-down from my father when I was five years old, died not long after I left for college.

Grandpa had passed away two years before and I never had the heart to check during visits home with grandma to see if a pair of Gypsy’s shoes were up on that beam.

I suspect not, although my Bowman side was pretty stoic except when it came to horses.   Whenever that big black cross between a Belgian draft horse and possibly one of those thoroughbreds crosses my mind so does her scent when I would blow into her nostrils as a sign of affection.

When she moved out of her house in the early 1970s and began rotating her time with each of her four children including my dad, her youngest and only son, Grandma Adah made certain a set of artifacts made its way to me at college.

They were pairs of horseshoes my grandfather had nailed to a beam in the basement of their home in St. Anthony, Idaho and that he used as I was coming up to repeatedly tell me the story behind each pair and about the long line of horsemen from which I descended.

They are priceless even without the specifics because they were the means by which my grandfather would tell me our family’s story, the same reason they are so pivotal to history museums.

One set belonged to Thousand Springs, a grandson of Man o’ War, arguable the greatest thoroughbred racehorse of all time and familiar to fans of books, movies, musicals and documentaries as the grandfather of a cousin, Seabiscuit.

At the age of 30, Man o’ War died of heart failure, seven months before I was born in mid-1948 a few years after horseracing slipped in decline except for the Triple Crown.

But more than five decades later, a poll that included horsemen declared him the American race “horse of the century.”

I descend from a long line of horsemen but even as the only son of an only son and the end of that line in both talent and name.

Already my eye had been caught by the cool 1950s cars St. Anthony Motors would then showcase right on the street where we turned off the old Yellowstone Highway for the two blocks to Grandpa and Grandma’s house, by backing them in at an angle.

That heritage today is carried on in the Pacific Northwest by my niece Megan, a stalwart at REI, who learned her lifelong love for horses when very young while going to the racetrack with her grandpa.

I can bet they spent most of their time in the stables and saddling paddock where accompanies by escort ponies, horses and riders warm up before a race.

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